Published: Friday, November 17, 2006
KEY MATCHUPS \ Ohio State vs. Michigan
Key matchups in No. 1 Ohio State vs. No 2 on Saturday:
*Michigan RB Mike Hart and OL vs. Ohio State LB James Laurinaitis and DT Quinn Pitcock Hart ranks sixth in the nation with 124.8 yards rushing a game, running for at least 90 in every game, and the junior hasn't had a fumble recovered by an opponent since the Big Ten opener in 2004. In two losses against the Buckeyes, Hart has run for just 76 yards on 27 carries. Laurinaitis, a finalist for the Butkus and Bednarik Awards, and Pitcock, a Lombardi Award and Lott Trophy finalist, lead a front seven that has a trio of sophomores, including Laurinaitis, and four seniors. Laurinaitis and Pitcock combine for nearly 20 TFLs.
Edge: Ohio State, slightly.
*Ohio State QB Troy Smith vs. Michigan DE LaMarr Woodley and OLB Shawn Crable The Wolverines don't want to let Smith sit in the pocket on passes or lose contain and give him lanes to dart through. It's a tough task and the responsibility of pulling it off lies most with Woodley and Crable, a Massillon native. With 11 sacks, Woodley is one away from tying the school record and Crable has blossomed this year. Smith has become an all-time star in the series, with consecutive performances that are unmatched according to former Michigan coach Bo Schembechler, and is Heisman Trophy front-runner. He has accounted for more than 700 total yards and five touchdowns in two come-from-behind wins over Michigan.
Edge: Ohio State, because you can't go against Smith.
*Michigan QB Chad Henne and WR Mario Manningham vs. Ohio State CB Malcom Jenkins and FS Jamario O'Neal: Henne is 27-8 as starter at Michigan, and was the first true freshman to start in a Rose Bowl in 2004. He has thrown three TDs and two INTs vs. the Buckeyes. Manningham, from Warren, had eight TDs in a four-game stretch before needing knee surgery 1 1/2 months ago and has slowly come back. Jenkins, who like Manningham is a sophomore, has four interceptions this season returning one 61 yards for a score against Penn State. O'Neal has started in six games since Anderson Russell was injured, and will need to prevent Manningham from getting deep.
Edge: Michigan, if Manningham is up to speed.
*Ohio State RB Antonio Pittman and OL vs. MLB David Harris and DT Alan Branch Pittman has run for over 100 yards in six games this season, but was held to less than 75 yards four times, and ranks fourth in the Big Ten with 94 yards rushing a game. The junior is one of five players in school history with back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons. Harris, Michigan's unsung star, helps Michigan lead the nation in run defense. His 85 tackles almost double the total of the second-leading tackler. The 6-6, 331-pound Branch is 11th on the team in tackles, but takes up space and engages blockers to free up teammates.
*Michigan PR/KR Steve Breaston vs. Ohio State P A.J. Trapasso and K Aaron Pettrey Breaston is the Big Ten's all-time leader and the NCAA's active leader with 1,599 yards on punt returns and scored on an 83-yard punt return last week against Indiana. With 1,857 yards on kickoff returns, he trails just four players in conference history. Trapasso is tied for fifth among Big Ten punters with a 41.2-yard average and has landed 14 of his 40 punts inside the 20. The high-scoring Buckeyes are also the best in the Big Ten in kickoff coverage, thanks to Pettrey's long kickoffs.
*Ohio State PR/KR Ted Ginn Jr. vs. P Zoltan Mesko and K Garrett Rivas Ginn has a Big Ten-record six punt returns for TDs, including one this season a 60-yarder against Michigan State and four in 2004. He ranks eighth in the conference with an average of 20.2 yards on kickoff returns with a season-long 37-yard return against Northwestern. Mesko is tied with Trapasso among conference punters, making a remarkable journey to the football field from Romania, where he survived the revolution. Rivas has a strong and accurate leg, cutting down on opposing returns.
Edge: Ohio State.
*Ohio State's Jim Tressel vs. Michigan's Lloyd Carr Since he was hired in 2001, Tressel has said the right things about the rivalry telling fans at a basketball game on the day he was hired that they would be proud of the Buckeyes in 310 days in Ann Arbor. And he backed up his talk with a win that year and in four of five games against the Wolverines. Carr hired new coordinators during the last off-season, helping Michigan have its best season since he led it to the 1997 national championship. Carr inspired his team by showing the movie "Cinderella Man" this season. He is 6-5 against Ohio State, 5-1 against former coach John Cooper.
Edge: Sweater vest.