Opponent Preview: Michigan Wolverines

Devin Gardner

The 109th meeting in the greatest rivalry series in sports kicks off Saturday at noon, and Michigan enters Ohio Stadium with an 8-3 squad for this year's version of The Game. Get the skinny on Michigan's season, stats, results and more in this season's final opponent preview.

No. 20 Michigan (8-3, 6-1)
Saturday, Nov. 24
Noon ET, ABC
Ohio Stadium; Columbus, Ohio.

The Wolverines
Head coach: Brady Hoke, 19-5, second year (66-55 overall)
2011 record: 11-2 (6-2 Big Ten Legends Division, second place)
Series mark: Michigan leads 58-44-6
School location: Ann Arbor, Mich.
Enrollment: 41,942
Colors: Maize and Blue
Stadium: Michigan Stadium
Fight song: "The Victors"
Game Notes, including depth chart on page 17

When Brady Hoke was hired at Michigan a year ago and defeated Ohio State in his first opportunity, there was talk about how the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry was back.

When OSU hired Urban Meyer, the talk intensified.

While this season hasn't developed the way Michigan had hoped, there is plenty of reason to believe another golden era of The Game is on the way. Both coaches are from Ohio and understand the rivalry, and Hoke has an appreciation for what Ohio State brings the table as they prepare to meet Saturday.

"It really is a great environment," the Kettering native said of Ohio Stadium. "We have a lot of respect for them. They have good football players, and always have and always will. They play with a passion. Their fans are passionate about their school, which is what makes college football so great and this rivalry so great. So I can't speak to winning down there, losing down there. I've done both. It's a fun week I can tell you. Fun week of practice, fun week and fun game to be involved with."

A year ago, Michigan seemed charmed, winning a number of close games in Hoke's first season on the way to an 11-2 record and Sugar Bowl victory.

This year, Michigan is 8-3 coming into the Ohio State game, but the Wolverines have reason to believe they're better than that. Two of the losses have come to the Nos. 1 and 2 teams in the country in Notre Dame and Alabama, and the loss at Nebraska came after three-year starting QB Denard Robinson was injured during the contest.

The Wolverines are still alive for the Big Ten championship as well, as the Maize and Blue would go to Indianapolis to play Wisconsin if Nebraska loses Friday and Michigan beats OSU. It's been up and down campaign for U-M, but some goals are still on the table.

"I think you see as a team we're pretty resilient," Hoke said. "I would say that's what this group is. You know, they've been through two approaches, two styles of how you go through a football program. They have done a great job with it. They've worked hard. They're a fun group of guys to be around. I just think the world of them."

Michigan is also seeing out a tough senior class that has been through the best and worst of the Hoke and Rich Rodriguez eras.

In A Nutshell
Michigan's offense has turned it around. After being held without a touchdown by both Michigan State and Nebraska on Oct. 20 and 27, Michigan has averaged 38.3 points per game since Devin Gardner has become the signal caller. Gardner, who was playing wideout before Robinson was injured, has led 13 touchdown drives of 60 or more yards in those three games while putting up gaudy numbers.

The junior is 46 of 70 (65.7 percent) throwing this year for 834 yards, seven touchdowns and three interceptions while looking good through the air. Gardner also has caught 16 passes for 266 yards and four touchdowns and rushed for six more touchdowns, including three vs. Iowa.

Meanwhile, Robinson returned to the field in the Iowa game but did not throw any passes, lining up at running back instead and rushing 13 times for 98 yards while catching two passes. Listed third all-time in rushing yards for a quarterback, Robinson has 144 rushes for 1,044 yards and six touchdowns. Through the air, he's 89 of 166 (53.6 percent) for 1,319 yards, nine touchdowns and nine picks in Michigan's pro-set style.

Redshirt freshman Russell Bellomy has played in five games, going 4 for 21 for 46 yards and four interceptions.

At running back, Fitzgerald Toussaint looked like a potential star last year, but he got off to a tough start this year then suffered a season-ending leg injury vs. Iowa. He had rushed for 514 yards this year. Sophomore Thomas Rawls has impressed and will have to step up, as he has 52 rushes for 240 yards and four touchdowns. Senior Vincent Smith is versatile and provides depth.

Wideouts Roy Roundtree, Jeremy Gallon and Drew Dileo each average more than 18.0 yards per catch. Gallon is just 5-8 but has 34 catches for 617 yards and two touchdowns while rushing 11 times. Roundtree is a senior with 25 catches for 461 yards and two scores, while Dileo has a 16-303-1 line.

Devin Funchess must be watched, as the true freshman tight end has caught five touchdowns among his 14 catches and is a tough matchup at 6-4, 229 and good speed. Mike Kwiatkowski, A.J. Williams and Brandon Moore add depth.

The offensive line has given up only 11 sacks this season. The anchor is junior left tackle Taylor Lewan, a second-team All-Big Ten choice a season ago. Fifth-year senior Ricky Barnum entered the year as the starting center but has settled in at guard, while classmate Elliott Mealer of Wauseon, Ohio, is the No. 1 snapper. Right guard Patrick Omameh of Columbus DeSales is a fifth-year senior who has started 40 straight games, while junior Michael Schofield is the right tackle after moving over from left guard, where he started last season.

Michigan is second in the nation when it comes to plays allowed of 30 yards or more, as the Wolverines have ceded only 25 in 11 games. Overall, the Wolverines are 12th in the nation in yards allowed (303.5 per game) and 17th in scoring (18.1 points). The Wolverines are getting it done despite a total lack of a pass rush, as the team is 97th in the country with 1.36 sacks per game.

Senior Craig Roh is the leader of the defensive line with 49 consecutive starts. Roh has 26½ tackles for loss and 10½ sacks this season, and in 2012 the end has made 32 tackles to go with 5½ TFL and a team-high four sacks. On the other side, sophomore Brennan Beyer has made 15 tackles, while Cleveland Glenville product Frank Clark has 21 stops, seven TFL and a forced fumble.

Michigan has found a rotation of three productive tackles as well. Senior Will Campbell, a highly touted recruit out of Detroit in 2009, has finally started to contribute in his final campaign with 34 tackles and a TFL. Junior Quinton Washington has added 24 tackles, two TFL and a forced fumble, while junior Jibreel Black of Cincinnati Wyoming has 17 tackles, three TFL, a sack and a forced fumble.

A true sore spot in seasons past, the Michigan linebackers have turned into a productive unit. Sophomore strongside linebacker Jake Ryan has become one of the better playmakers in the Big Ten. The Cleveland St. Ignatius grad has 75 tackles, 13 TFL, 3½ sacks and three forced fumbles. Fifth-year senior Kenny Demens is a third-year starter with 72 tackles, six TFL and an interception, while the weakside spot could be split between three players. Desmond Morgan missed the Iowa game with injury, and the sophomore has 67 tackles and should be back vs. OSU. A pair of true freshmen has chipped in, as James Ross III has 34 stops and Cincinnati Colerain product Joe Bolden has 28 tackles.

Michigan's pass defense statistics have been impressive. The team has allowed only 152.1 yards per game through the air, best in the nation, though the defense has faced only 276 attempts, sixth-fewest in the country. The team's passing efficiency mark is 30th in the country, even without sophomore Blake Countess, who was injured for the season in the Alabama game.

Fifth-year senior cornerback J.T. Floyd has stepped up, as he has 43 tackles and five pass breakups. Sophomore Raymon Taylor starts on the other side and has two interceptions while making 37 tackles. Junior Courtney Avery of Lexington (Ohio) High School is the fifth DB and has 14 tackles and a fumble recovery.

Fourth-year starter Jordan Kovacs continues to play safety, and the physical former walk-on from Curtice, Ohio, has 59 tackles, five TFL, two sacks, an interception and a forced fumble. Junior Thomas Gordon is the free safety, and he has 67 tackles and two interceptions along with a forced fumble.

Brendan Gibbons is a Lou Groza Award semifinalist who has made 14 of16 field goals with a long of 52 yards. Punter Will Hagerup averages 44.7 yards per punt, but the team's net punt is 81st in the country. Gallon and Dennis Norfleet split returns and must be watched, while Michigan has struggled with kickoff coverage.

Possible Ohio State edges: The Buckeyes could be able to run the ball well against a Michigan team that isn't great up front and has been outflanked at times this year. Defensively, Ohio State has matured into a very good unit capable of slowing down any team in the country.
Possible Michigan edges: Robinson is a weapon with the ball in his hands that is tough for any team to stop, while his pairing with Gardner was shown to be dangerous against the Hawkeyes. The defense's solid numbers against both the run and pass show a physical unit that rises to the occasion when need be.

Results/Notes
Sept. 1: vs. (2) Alabama in Dallas, L 41-14. Alabama opened up a 31-0 lead on the way to the win as Robinson was held to 27 rushing yards and threw a pick-six, while Bama totaled 446 yards.
Sept. 8: vs. Air Force, W 31-25. Robinson had touchdown rushes of 79 and 58 yards while accounting for 426 yard and four touchdowns, but Air Force ran for 290 yards.
Sept. 15: vs. UMass, W 63-13. The Wolverines had little trouble as Robinson threw for 293 yards, rushed for 106 and totaled four touchdowns.
Sept. 22: at (11) Notre Dame, L 13-6. Michigan turned the ball over six times, including interceptions on five straight passes, but the defense gave up only 239 yards.
Oct. 6: at Purdue, W 44-13. The Wolverines jumped on the Boilers early, while Robinson accounted for 340 yards and Toussaint ran for two scores.
Oct. 13: Illinois, W 45-0: Michigan gave up only 134 yards and Robinson accounted for four touchdowns for the third time this season while Ryan made 11 tackles.
Oct. 20: Michigan State, W 12-10: Gibbons kicked the game-winning 38-yard field goal, his fourth three-pointer of the day, with nine seconds left, snapping Michigan's four-game losing streak in the series.
Oct. 27: at Nebraska, L 23-9: Robinson was injured early, and Bellomy was intercepted three times as the Huskers held Michigan to 188 yards.
Nov. 3: at Minnesota, W 35-13: Michigan played for the first time in TCF Bank Stadium and kept the Little Brown Jug behind Gardner's three touchdowns.
Nov. 10: Northwestern, W 38-31 (OT): Gardner's 1-yard run in OT was the difference and Demens made the game-winning stop. Gardner accounted for four touchdowns and hit Roundtree on a late Hail Mary to keep the game alive.
Nov. 10: Iowa, W 42-17: Gardner ran for three scores and threw for three more to become the first U-m quarterback to do that since 1983.

Five Fast Facts
1. Michigan's third-down offense is one of the best in the country. The Wolverines are 75 for 144, a mark of 52.1 percent that is eighth in nation.

2. The Wolverines became the first team in college football history with 900 win when they reached the mark with the victory vs. Michigan State.

3. Four Michigan players have switched numbers this year as part of the school's "Michigan Football Legends" program. The previously retired numbers have been brought back into circulation this year and given to some of the team's players, who are wearing patches that commemorate the legendary Wolverines.

Kovacs is wearing No. 11 in honor of brothers Francis, Albert and Alvin Wistert; Ryan sports Bennie Oosterbaan's No. 47; Moore is wearing Ron Kramer's No. 87; and Morgan has been given Gerald Ford's No. 48.

4. Hoke is the first Michigan coach to go undefeated in his first two seasons at home since Fielding Yost I 1901-02.

5. Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison was hired from the Baltimore Ravens and also spent the 2005-07 season working as Urban Meyer's defensive coordinator at Florida.

Last Time Out
As far as Ohio State was concerned, the 108th renewal of what is known simply as The Game boiled down to a little too much Denard Robinson and not quite enough Braxton Miller.

The Michigan quarterback outdueled his freshman counterpart from OSU and rallied his team from a 24-23 halftime deficit for a 40-34 victory Saturday at Michigan Stadium. The win was the first for the Wolverines in the series since 2003.

Robinson was the star of the show, running and throwing for 337 yards and accounting for five touchdowns. The junior QB carried 26 times for 170 yards and two scores, and he completed 14 of 17 passes for 167 yards and three TDs.

As superlative as that performance was, Miller turned in one that was nearly its equal. The Ohio State quarterback totaled 335 yards of offense, rushing 16 times for 100 yards and a touchdown and completing 14 of 25 passes for 235 yards and two touchdowns. The attempts, completions and yardage were all career-highs.

As good as Miller was, he could have been even better. Three times in the game, he overthrew wide-open receivers on plays that could have resulted in touchdowns. The last one came in the final two minutes when he led senior wideout DeVier Posey too far. Had Posey been able to gather in that pass, he would have had an easy touchdown.

The game featured 816 yards of total offense, including 444 from the Wolverines. Robinson led the charge, of course, but Michigan also got 120 yards on 20 carries from junior running back Fitzgerald Toussaint.

The performances by Robinson and Toussaint allowed each to move over the 1,000-yard mark for the season, marking the first time in Michigan program history the team has boasted two 1,000-yard rushers in the same season.

While Toussaint proved to be the perfect complement to the shifty Robinson, Miller did not have the same luxury. OSU tailback Boom Herron was held to just 37 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries as the Buckeyes accounted for only 137 yards on the ground.

The victory allowed Michigan to finish the season with a 10-2 record and look forward to its first major bowl game in four years. Meanwhile, Ohio State dropped to 6-6, the poorest regular-season record since an identical mark in 1999.

The Buckeyes drew first blood by taking The Opening kickoff and marching 80 yards on only six plays. Miller completed 3 of 4 pass attempts during the drive, including a 64-yard touchdown bomb to a wide-open Brown. OSU sophomore kicker Drew Basil added the extra point and Ohio State had a quick 7-0 lead only 2 minutes and 17 seconds into the contest.

The early score seemed to fire up the Ohio State defense and it held the Michigan offense to a three-and-out series on the Wolverines' first possession. But when U-M got the ball back after a short Ohio State punt, Robinson took a quarterback draw and raced 41 yards down the home sideline. Michigan kicker Brendan Gibbons tacked on the PAT, tying the score at 7 at the 9:15 mark of the first quarter.

Michigan made it 9-7 less than a minute and a half later when Ohio State left tackle Mike Adams was called for holding in the end zone, giving the Wolverines a safety. And they made it 16-7 following a short 52-yard drive when Robinson dropped in a 26-yard touchdown pass to receiver Junior Hemingway.

The Buckeyes appeared to have something going early in the second quarter after Miller scrambled for a pair of third-down conversions. But the freshman QB misfired badly on another third-down, overthrowing a wide-open Posey, and Ohio State was forced to settle for a 45-yard field goal from Basil to make it 16-10 with 10:37 remaining until the half.

OSU got a huge break three plays later when Howard stripped Robinson and recovered the ball at the Michigan 11. Three plays after that, Miller faked U-M defender Craig Roh at the line of scrimmage and linebacker Kenny Demens near the 5, hopping into the end zone for a 19-yard touchdown.

Basil added the extra point and the Buckeyes had regained the lead at 17-16 with 7:51 to go in the second quarter.

But the Wolverines answered right back with a nine-play, 80-yard touchdown drive capped when Robinson executed a perfect read option, faking to Toussaint before taking the ball up the middle for a 6-yard touchdown. Gibbons added the PAT and Michigan was back in front, 23-17 with 4:35 remaining until the break.

OSU came back less than 3½ minutes later with a 66-yard scoring drive to wrestle back the lead before halftime. The possession was marked by a coach's challenge of a third-down pass play from Miller to tailback Jordan Hall. Officials ruled the 4-yard sideline catch just past the first-down marker, and after video replay upheld the call, Miller followed on the next play with a 43-yard touchdown pass to Posey.

Basil's extra point accounted for the fourth lead change of the first half, giving the Buckeyes a 24-23 advantage at the 1:21 mark of the second quarter.

Michigan wasted no time getting the lead back, taking the second-half's opening possession 80 yards in 11 plays. Robinson ran five times for 10 yards and completed all three of his passes during the drive, including a 20-yard touchdown to wideout Martavious Odoms. Gibbons' extra point made it 30-24 in favor of the Wolverines with 9:05 remaining in the third quarter.

Ohio State sliced into that lead with a 21-yard field goal from Basil at the 12:05 mark of the fourth quarter, but the Buckeyes could have had more. Michigan punter Will Hagerup mishandled a snap late in the third quarter and OSU's Tyler Moeller tackled him at the U-M 32.

Miller later scrambled for 23 yards to give his team a first-and-goal at the Michigan 5, but three chances to get the ball into the end zone failed before the Buckeyes settled for three points from Basil.

The Wolverines tried to put the game on ice on their next possession when Robinson engineered an eight-play, 75-yard drive during which the Michigan QB accounted for 45 yards including a 4-yard touchdown toss to tight end Kevin Koger. After Gibbons' PAT, Michigan enjoyed its biggest lead of the afternoon at 37-27 with 8:32 to go.

And back came the Buckeyes. Miller connected on three straight passes – a 36-yarder to tight end Jake Stoneburner, a 16-yard screen pass to Hall and a 20-yard flip to tight end Reid Fragel. The Wolverines were flagged for a personal foul penalty when Fragel was tackled out of bounds, pushing the ball to the U-M 4, and Herron followed with a 4-yard touchdown run.

The drive covered 80 yards, took only five plays and 1:23, and Basil's extra point made it 37-34 with 7:09 remaining.

That was nearly Ohio State's final gasp. With the Buckeyes' defense running on fumes, the Wolverines appeared to move 80 yards for another touchdown. But Toussaint's 5-yard touchdown run was ruled by video replay to have been stopped at the one-foot line, and one the next play, Robinson's sweep around right end to the end zone was wiped out by a pair of U-M penalties.

The first flag was for a holding penalty and the second was a dead-ball personal foul, pushed the Wolverines all the way back to the 26-yard line with a third-and-goal. Robinson threw incomplete and U-M was forced to take a 43-yard field goal from Gibbons to make it 40-34 with 1:59 remaining.

That gave Ohio State one final possession, but Miller could not engineer the comeback. He had Posey breaking free down the far sideline on a third-down play, but overthrew his receiver. On the next play, the QB converted a fourth-and-6 play with a desperation 7-yard run, but that only postponed the ending.

The next two plays garnered only 4 yards and Miller was forced to spike the ball on third down. Then on Ohio State's final play, freshman receiver Evan Spencer tipped Miller's pass into the air and it was intercepted by Michigan cornerback Courtney Avery with 0:39 remaining.

The Wolverines took over on downs, Robinson took a kneel-down and the streak was over.

While Michigan can look forward to a possible BCS berth, Ohio State will likely undergo a coaching change in the next few days. Urban Meyer is expected to be named the new head coach early next week.

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