It’s that time of year. It’s time for The Game.
With OSU coming off of a 42-27 win over Indiana, the Wolverines limp into The Game with a 5-6, 3-4 record, as a loss would keep them out of postseason play for the first time since the 2009-10 season.
As the Buckeyes and Wolverines prepare for the 111th meeting in the rivalry, The Lantern sports editors are prepared to give you five things to look for as the two teams are set to square off at noon Saturday in Ohio Stadium.
1. J.T. Barrett will need to eliminate turnovers in order to win/stay in the Heisman race
The redshirt-freshman quarterback has thrown three interceptions in his last two games, and if that trend continues, the Buckeyes could be in for a rough game against Michigan.
While the Wolverines have won just five games this season, they boast the ninth best total defense in the country.
The Michigan defense is led by an Ohio native, redshirt-senior linebacker Jake Ryan, who is second in the Big Ten in total tackles and is set to play his final game against the Buckeyes.
Players such as Troy Smith, Charles Woodson and Desmond Howard have locked down the Heisman Trophy because of big days in The Game, and if Barrett wants to have a chance at the most coveted individual award in college football, he will need to play the game of his life on Saturday.
2. The Buckeyes will have to lock down Devin Funchess
The junior tight end turned wide receiver has been Michigan’s lone bright spot on a mostly inept offense.
The Wolverines are averaging just 20.3 points per game, a number that ranks last in the Big Ten conference.
Funchess, however, has shined for the Wolverines, ranking seventh in the Big Ten in receiving yards per game (62.5) which is far and away the best on the Michigan roster. Funchess has 55 receptions on the year, giving him 23 more than the next closest receiver for the Maize and Blue.
Last year against the Buckeyes, Funchess caught four passes for 41 yards and a score in Ann Arbor, Mich. His touchdown would have been the game-tying score, however Michigan’s two-point conversion attempt failed as OSU escaped with a 42-41 victory.
3. Ohio Stadium will need to be loud
OSU coach Urban Meyer said after a 42-27 win that the Buckeyes responded as much as the fans responded during the game.
If that is any indication, the OSU faithful will need to be in full force if they want their Buckeyes to defeat the Wolverines.
Ohio Stadium was quiet for much of the game against the Hoosiers and did not even come close to reaching capacity as only 101,426 were officially in attendance.
If OSU fans want their Buckeyes to perform well in The Game, they will need to pack Ohio Stadium.
4. OSU should be on the lookout for Devin Gardner of 2013
Gardner is a redshirt-senior quarterback for the Wolverines, and as a redshirt-junior, he nearly derailed the Buckeyes’ season.
He posted 451 passing yards and five total touchdowns against OSU last year, but threw a pick on a two-point try at the end of the game as the Buckeyes held on for a 42-41 win. Heading into that game, Gardner had probably never played so well in his life, and he certainly hasn’t replicated that performance since.
So far this season, Gardner has thrown just eight touchdowns to 14 interceptions, and hasn’t thrown for a score on the road, where the Wolverines are 1-3.
If his poor play continues, OSU should win. But if Gardner of 2013 returns — and the Buckeyes always expect Michigan to step up its game against them — then it could be another long day for the defense.
5. Senior defensive lineman Michael Bennett is primed for a huge game
On Monday, Meyer said Bennett has been “outstanding” for the past month.
That outstanding play came after a slower-than-expected start to the season, but with Bennett playing in his last game at Ohio Stadium, he could be ready to dominate.
The Centerville, Ohio, native isn’t a Lombardi Award finalist like sophomore defensive lineman Joey Bosa, but he’s arguably just as important to the Buckeyes’ success on defense. Bennett has 7.5 tackles for loss and just three sacks this season, but almost always wins his one-on-one battles and rarely puts a foot wrong.
If he goes for a big game on Saturday, he has a chance to go down as the best player in this senior class.