It’s rivalry week, and what awaits Ohio State this year is, in many ways, a wounded animal.
Michigan has lost three of their last four, the most recent of which came in a breathlessly heartbreaking fashion. Up 21-7 at half, the Wolverines still managed to fall 24-21 to the Iowa Hawkeyes; and really it shouldn’t have been that close.
Michigan was outgained 407 yards to 158, and Iowa had 21 first downs to Michigan’s 10. Similar offensive woes have plagued the Maize and Blue all season.
It starts in the trenches. Michigan’s offensive line has given up 20 sacks…in just the past four games. They’ve used five different combinations of starters up front, and they’ve given up more tackles for loss (102) than anyone else in the FBS.
They’ve struggled to settle on a starting running back as well. Fitz Toussaint is their leading rusher, but only averages 3.4 yards a carry. The Wolverines as a team have just 353 yards more than Carlos Hyde. They are ranked 100th in the nation in rushing yards a game.
The passing game is a little bit further along, but quarterback Devin Gardner has flashed at times, and been guilty of costly mistakes at others. He has 11 picks for his 17 touchdowns. He may also be injured. (Some writers described him as being unable to move his shoulder after this past Saturday’s loss, although he told those writers that he was “fine.”)
Gardner’s leading receiver is Jeremy Gallon, and if he has a reception against Ohio State, he will tie Braylon Edwards for the Michigan school record with catches in 38 straight games. Gallon no doubt gets the most out of every inch of his 5’8″ frame.
A much larger target would be 6’5″ tight end Devin Funchess. He has more receiving yards a game than any other Big Ten tight end. He also has more receiving yards this season than any other Michigan tight end in history.
On defense, Michigan may be 7th in the conference in the amount of points they give up, but they have come a ways since their Tickle Bear days.
Defensive end Frank Clark has tackles for loss in six straight contests. Defensive back Blake Countess leads the Big Ten in interceptions with 5. Raymon Taylor has 4 himself to go along with 9 pass breakups. Linebacker Jake Ryan, out of Westlake, Ohio, has improved since returning from an ACL tear, and tied his season high with 5 tackles against the Hawkeyes.
However, they are still giving up over 27 points a game in league play. Plus, there’s no word yet on the status of starting linebacker Desmond Morgan and Michigan’s leading tackler, James Ross III (81), who both had to leave the Iowa loss early with injuries.
On special teams, Kicker Brendan Gibbons has been hot and cold this season. He’s 15/20 with a long of 47, although last year, he demonstrated the ability to make a kick from 52 yards out.
Perhaps not surprisingly, coach Brady Hoke is starting to hear from fans, who think he may have underachieved in his first three seasons at the helm, prompting AD Dave Brandon to issue a vote of confidence this week. Yes, they were an impressive 11-2 in 2011, but they were 8-5 last year, and currently sit at 7-4. If Ohio State beats Michigan, they’ll finish 3-5 in Big Ten play, which is exactly what Rich Rodriguez accomplished in his third year coaching the program.
It will be a noon start in Ann Arbor tomorrow, and you can, of course, listen to the game on 97.1 The Fan. Our coverage will start at 6:30 in the morning.