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Buckeyes head north

November 29, 2013
By SETH STASKEY - Buckeye Blitz ( , Times Leader

Thanksgiving week means only one thing as it pertains to football fans in Ohio and "the state up north."

It's time for "The Game."

And you can bet your bottom dollar or last piece of leftover pie that emotions will be running high come Saturday afternoon when the Buckeyes and Wolverines meet in Ann Arbor.

"It's not just another game," said OSU head coach Urban Meyer earlier this week. "Our players know that. There's an extra pep in the step. Our players get it."

For the 110th time in their history, the Buckeyes and Wolverines will clash in what's arguably not only the greatest rivalry in all of college football, but in all of sports.

As has become the case, "The Game" will kick off at high noon with well over 100,000 people shoehorned into Michigan Stadium.

"This is one of the weeks in football where if you are passionate about the University of Michigan or passionate about Ohio, it's exciting," said Michigan head coach Brady Hoke. "It's such a great rivalry that we are fortunate to be able to play and to be able to coach in it."

Like always, winning for Ohio State or winning for Michigan is the most important factor because how the respective team fares against the other shapes the legacy of those who play and coach in "The Game."

"The pageantry and rivalries are unique in college football," Meyer said. "Do we make a big deal out of this game? Absolutely. Do we make a huge deal over the top about rivalry games? Yes, we do. That's the way I was brought up. We kind of go over the top here, and we always have."

The Buckeyes are looking to complete their second straight undefeated regular season and head into next weekend's Big Ten Championship Game against Michigan State with a chance to continue to peck away at the leads of Alabama and Florida State in the BCS Rankings.

Don't think for a minute that Meyer has uttered one word about Michigan State, Big Ten Championship or BCS this week around the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.

Meyer has been down this road before when he was at Florida. He led the Gators into their annual rivalry game against Florida State and then, three times, had his team playing in the SEC Championship Game the following week.

"You talk about blowing out your staff and our players and then throw in final week and those types of things that our players are dealing with right now," Meyer said. "Our focus is on this on, but we know what's coming. You have to be disciplined in in the way you practice and I'm going to warm our coaches about sleep and taking care of yourself because the next two weeks are going to be brutal."

While the Buckeyes have another game following this one, the Wolverines will await their bowl invitation. Michigan is 7-4 despite starting the season as winner of its first five games.

Last week, the Wolverines were dealt a tough 24-21 setback at Iowa. That was a game that Michigan appeared to be comfortably ahead in.

The Wolverines aren't looking to play spoiler of the Buckeyes 23-game winning streak, according to Hoke. They're just trying to win because it's what they do every week.

"This game is for our seniors," Hoke said. "It's important to win these types of games for those fourth and fifth year guys who have given a lot to this university and program. That's what you talk about. We talk about ourselves and what we have to do. This game is about us playing our best football for our seniors and the great rivalry."

The Wolverines struggles have been because of inconsistencies on offense and their inability to keep opposing defenses out of their backfield.

Devin Gardner, who led Michigan to its win against Notre Dame in Week 2, has been facing constant duress.

He can probably expect to see some more with OSU's improving defensive front and the Buckeyes commitment to blitz Ryan Shazier more from his linebacker post. He's coming off a 20-tackle performance in last week's win against Indiana.

"I think every one knows (how a team's played before this game) because in teams that care about rivalries, it doesn't matter," Meyer said. "We'll get their best game."

Gardner has ran for 473 yards and 10 touchdowns. The Wolverines passing game has been effective when Gardner has remained upright. He's thrown for 2,509 yards and 17 TDs.

Senior Jeremy Gallon has had a tremendous season for Michigan at wide receiver. He's caught 71 passes for 1,109 yards and eight touchdowns. Fitzgerald Toussaint is the Wolverines' leading rusher with 613 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Devin Funchess has proven to be a top-notch complement to Gallon. He's made 43 receptions for 686 yards and five touchdowns.

The Buckeyes offense has been nothing short of a juggernaut with the two-headed monster of quarterback Braxton Miller and senior running back Carlos Hyde leading the way.

"They have a very good team with a lot of veterans who have played a lot of snaps," Hoke said. "You've got to make sure you get hats to the ball. They're explosive offensively and they're aggressive in what they do."

Miller makes it all go. He's actually worked himself back into the Heisman Trophy discussion, but still remains an extreme long shot. He's ran for 738 yards and five touchdowns. His passing continues to improve. He's landing 68 percent of his throws and has 1,626 yards and 19 touchdowns.

"Braxton Miller is a different quarterback than he was," Meyer said. "People make the comment that he's having fun and he's having fun because he knows what he's doing. He's confident in the personnel around him and that wasn't the case last year."

Hyde is one of those pieces around Miller who has been outstanding. He became the first running back on a Meyer-coached team to rush for 1,000 yards last week. He's reached the milestone in just eight games. Averaging 7.7 yards a carry, Hyde owns 1,064 yards and has scored 13 TDs.

Corey "Philly" Brown and Devin Smith have made 49 and 40 catches, respectively. On top of their work catching the ball, both are highly skilled blockers. Dontre Wilson is becoming more and more of a weapon and Jordan Hall is getting healthy. Throw in Jeff Heuerman and the veteran offensive line and it's not hard to see why OSU averages 48.7 points and 530.9 yards a game.



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