Michigan: 2 Questions before the game
The game Saturday comes down to two questions: 1) Can Ohio State stop Mike Hart? and 2) Can Michigan get to Troy Smith? Answer those questions correctly and Big Ten Championship glory is yours for the taking.
To answer the first question, the answer is no.
I can say without a doubt that Mike Hart is the best running back in the country within 15 yards of the line of scrimmage. He routinely turns 2-3 yard losses into 5 yard gains. As a result, despite the fact he has only 3 or four plays over 25 yards, Hart is 6th in the nation in rushing, averaging 124 yards and a TD a game.
Ohio State on the other hand is 11th in rushing defense, allowing 90.2 yards rushing a game. When faced with decent running backs, OSU's D has given up yards in bunches. Texas was one dimensional and still gained 172 yards on the ground. Tony Hunt of Penn State, by no means a burner and running behind a line made out of duct tape racked up 135 rushing yards. In case people have forgotten, OSU gave up 171 yards to Garrett Wolfe of Northern Illinois. NIU plays in the MAC. While a decent team, should not rack up that kind of yardage against a "premier" defense. In all of these games OSU knew the run would be their opponent's primary weapon, yet were unable to stop it.
Michigan's offensive line is better than the three previously mentioned teams, and the stats back this up. Michigan has given up only 14 sacks and is 12th in rushing offense at 194 yards per game. These comparisons are important because Michigan has a very capable quarterback and a stable of excellent receivers for OSU to concentrate on too. Great Line. Great Back. Mike Hart and Michigan will run on OSU.
To answer the second, the answer is yes.
Troy Smith is an excellent Quarterback. Very hard to bring down. Very accurate with the ball. Strong delivery. He's also accustomed to lots and lots of time in the pocket or on the rollout. I personally think he'll make some plays during the game. However, so will the Michigan defensive line. Michigan is first in the nation with 40 sacks, 26 of those are from Michigan's front four.
The time Smith is used to having, especially over the last few weeks, will not be there. OSU's last four opponents rank 105, 108, 37 (Illinois), and 89th in total defense. Smith will also be forced to hold the ball a lot longer than he's used to. An oft cited stat is that Michigan ranks 65th in pass defense in terms of yardage. Yes, Michigan does give up 200 yards a game. A closer look reveals that Michigan has faced the most attempts in nation (402), yet is ranked 4th in completion percentage (51.24%) with one of the lowest yards allowed per attempt ratios in the country. The fact that Michigan can defend the pass means Smith's receivers will be covered a lot closer than he's used to, forcing him to hold the ball a little longer. This will allow Michigan's Defense to get to him.
Is Michigan going to shut him down? No. Don't be stupid. Smith's one of the best QB's in the country. He'll make a play or two. But he's going to have hands in his face and a lot of dirt on his jersey. As highly mobile QBs with good arms like Kellen Lewis of Indiana, Drew Tate of Iowa, Drew Stanton of Michigan State, and John Stocco of Wisconsin what they think of Michigan's ability to contain them.
Facts are this is a very even game. Based on what I've seen of both teams I think Michigan should win a close one.