Early in the fourth quarter of their game against Iowa (a 42-17 blowout win), Michigan fans started chanting: “Beat Ohio!”
The Wolverines don’t actually play Ohio this week. They play Ohio State, and they play in Columbus where Michigan hasn’t won since 2000.
However, they are bringing a very talented outfit to the Shoe.
Defensively, Michigan is led by Jake Ryan, who averages almost 7 tackles a game and has 13 tackles for loss this season.
The Wolverines have not allowed a single team this season to throw for 200 passing yards against them. They are 12th nationally in total defense. They are only allowing an average of 18.09 points per game. No team has given up fewer points in conference games than Big Blue.
These certainly aren’t the tickle bears anymore.
Offensively, Michigan is fourth nationally in red zone efficiency, and they have 54 plays from scrimmage that have traveled 20 yards or more. Of all their weapons, none is as explosive as Denard Robinson.
Robinson is fourth on Michigan’s all-time rushing list. (He just passed Tyrone Wheatley and is 120 yards shy of tying Jamie Morris for third place.) He’s so dynamic, that when the quarterback’s throwing arm went wonky due to nerve damage in his elbow, the team moved him to running back, and he rushed for 98 against Iowa.
Replacing Robinson at quarterback has been Devin Gardner, the first Wolverines player to score six touchdowns in a game since Steve Smith in 1983.*
Who will be under center against the Buckeyes remains to be seen, but Gardner had 314 passing yards against the Hawkeyes, so UM has the luxury of either going with experience or riding the hot hand.
Both Robinson and Gardner are mobile, which has helped Michigan’s offensive line. They have only given up 11 sacks this year.
Meanwhile, the Wolverines have been mostly average on special teams, at least as far as statistics go. Their return men on punts and kicks are middle of the pack. They’re ranked dead last in the conference in kickoff coverage, are 90th nationally in kickoff return yardage defense, and they’re 81st nationally in net punting.
Michigan is 15/18 on field goal attempts this season.
With no obvious Achilles heel, you might wonder how Michigan has managed to lose three games this season. Well, two of those losses came to the teams currently sitting atop the BCS standings. The other was a road loss to Nebraska.
The Buckeyes play “The Team Up North” this Saturday at noon.
Ohio State will have plenty of motivation. Not only do they have a perfect season on the line, but with a win, the Buckeyes would also guarantee that Michigan fails to reach the Big Ten title game.
*That little nugget is courtesy of the Associated Press.