Game of the Week: No. 7 Ohio State vs. No. 23 Michigan
Ohio State run offense vs. Michigan run defense
Last week's 28-21 loss to Illinois ended a three-game streak in which Ohio State produced at least 200 yards rushing. The Buckeyes managed 180 on the ground and rank 24th in the nation in run offense. Sophomore TB Chris Wells is wearing a brace to protect a bum thumb, but that won't diminish his threat as a runner. He has emerged as one of the nation's best with 1,241 yards this season. Wells has rushed for 599 yards and six touchdowns in the past four games. Maurice Wells is an effective backup, and QB Todd Boeckman last week showed he can add an extra dimension to the running game by rushing for 68 yards against the Illini. Michigan has been vulnerable to the run of late. The Wolverines have allowed an average of 173 rushing yards in their past four games, including 232 in last week's loss to Wisconsin. Michigan has allowed a 100-yard rusher in each of the past three games. Terrance Taylor is Michigan's first defensive tackle in a decade to post 50 tackles. LB Shawn Crable is second in the nation and leads all players at his position in tackles for loss with 24.
Ohio State pass offense vs. Michigan pass defense
Boeckman failed to throw two touchdown passes in a game for the first time all season last week when he came up empty against Illinois. He also threw three interceptions for the second time this season. Overall, Boeckman has proved to be a capable quarterback. He has completed 65 percent of his attempts for 2,121 yards and 23 touchdowns with 11 interceptions. Poor protection was at least partially responsible for his bad outing a week ago, but the Buckeyes' offensive line still has allowed just 14 sacks all year. Brian Robiskie is the definition of a big-play receiver, with 10 of his 48 receptions going for touchdowns. Brian Hartline is a nice "possession" receiver, and he has 45 catches. Michigan appeared inept in pass defense while surrendering six touchdown passes in its first two games. Since then, the Wolverines have allowed only five scoring tosses and have snatched 11 interceptions. SS Jamar Adams has a team-leading three interceptions and 13 passes broken up. Michigan has recorded 31 sacks to rank 22nd in the nation, and 11 players have at least one sack.
Michigan run offense vs. Ohio State run defense
A Michigan tailback has rushed for at least 100 yards in 10 of 11 games, and Mike Hart is responsible for eight of those. Hart has hit triple digits in every game in which he has played. He was a leading Heisman Trophy contender until suffering a sprained ankle Oct. 13 that has forced him to miss three games. The Wolverines' running game is obviously at its best with Hart in the lineup, but Carlos Brown has played well in Hart's absence. Michigan backs have the luxury of running behind a line anchored by All-American tackle Jake Long and All-Big Ten guard Adam Kraus. Ohio State had problems corralling Illinois quarterback Juice Williams and gave up an 80-yard run a week ago, but the Buckeyes still rank fourth in the nation in run defense at 82.7 yards per game. Illinois' Daniel Dufrene and Washington's Jake Locker are the only players to manage 100 rushing yards against the Buckeyes. LB James Laurinaitis is tough in the middle, and OLBs Larry Grant and Marcus Freeman make it difficult to run outside on the Buckeyes.
Michigan pass offense vs. Ohio State pass defense
Mario Manningham and Adrian Arrington are as good as any receiving duo in college ball. Manningham has six consecutive 100-yard games, and has 62 receptions for 1,062 yards and 11 touchdowns this season. Manningham has had two touchdown catches in four of the past five games. Arrington is much more than a complementary receiver, with 56 catches for 716 yards and six scores. Strong-armed QB Chad Henne has been limited because of a sore shoulder, but expects to play. Ohio State allowed four touchdown passes a week ago, but still has surrendered just nine all year. The Buckeyes have also grabbed 10 interceptions. Malcolm Jenkins is All-American material at cornerback, and DE Vernon Gholston has accounted for 10 of the Buckeyes' 38 sacks.
Ohio State kicking game vs. Michigan kicking game
The Buckeyes and Wolverines are similar on specials teams. Both teams struggle on kickoff returns, but are solid on punt returns. Ohio State's A.J. Trapasso and Michigan's Zoltan Mesko are solid punters who consistently pin opponents inside the 20. Perhaps the biggest difference is that Ohio State K Ryan Pretorius has more experience. He has converted 17 of 21 field-goal attempts, with a long of 50 yards. Michigan's K.C. Lopata, who was given the job in midseason, has made all eight field-goal attempts.
Ohio State coaching staff vs. Michigan coaching staff
Jim Tressel is 72-15 in seven seasons at Ohio State and has guided the Buckeyes to a national championship, two berths in the BCS national-championship game and three Big Ten championships. He has won five of six games against Michigan coach Lloyd Carr, who is one of just eight coaches in history to win five Big Ten championships. Carr, who guided Michigan to a national championship in 1997, is the seventh-winningest active coach with a 121-39 record. Carr's teams are 17-8 against opponents ranked in the top 10, and he's 9-1 against top-10 teams in games played in Ann Arbor.
Ohio State will win if
First and foremost, the Buckeyes offensive line must protect Boeckman, who was ineffective when under pressure a week ago. They also must capitalize on Michigan's problems in stopping the run and get a productive game out of Chris Wells. Perhaps the best way to contain Manningham is to have Jenkins follow him everywhere he goes on the field.
Michigan will win if
The Wolverines must get production from their running game, which they did not get in a loss to Wisconsin last week. The Big Blue will also need Manningham to make big plays in the passing game. In turn, the defense must avoid giving up big plays, which has been a factor in the Wolverines' three losses.
As expected, Hart and Henne have vowed to return from injuries to try to get their first career victories over Ohio State. When healthy, Hart is one of the premier running backs in America. Henne is a big-play quarterback. Michigan needs them both at full strength, but neither may be.
Buchanan's pick: Ohio State 31-27 Other Rivals.com expert picks: Steve Megargee, national college football writer: Ohio State 21-20 Mike Huguenin, college sports editor: Ohio State 31-24 Bill King, Rivals Radio host: Ohio State 28-21 Check out the rest of the Rivals.com Expert Picks.
Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.