Michigan closes its regular season with a home game against Ohio State in the 2013 version of The Game. Here are five things to watch on Saturday in Michigan Stadium:
1. How Devin Gardner responds to the pressure: If the Wolverines want a shot in this game, Gardner needs to play his most composed and impressive game of the season. He’s going to need to make plays with his feet to keep the pass rush at bay and he’s going to need to make plays downfield to his receivers to help keep that defense honest. He has been hit a lot in the past month, and the offensive line is also going to have to perform its best of the season as well as the Buckeyes are coming into this game as the Big Ten’s leader in sacks.
2. Michigan’s run game: Here’s another area of the game in which the offensive line will need to excel. Yes, a lot of this production will fall on Derrick Green, who Hoke said will be the No. 1 back on Saturday, to make the right reads, but the line needs to make holes and create push at the line of scrimmage. Green needs to find those holes and make plays because the bulk of the rushing yardage really can’t come from Gardner if the Wolverines want to keep Gardner safe and taking as few unnecessary hits as possible.
3. The health of the Michigan linebackers: Desmond Morgan and James Ross both exited the Iowa game early and were limited at points in practice this week. It will be interesting to see how they respond against the Buckeyes. The linebackers have been Michigan's most consistent position group this season and the defense will need that core to perform well again this Saturday if it wants to find consistency and success against the Buckeyes attack. Expect Greg Mattison to dial up some pretty interesting blitzes for the Wolverines, so with Jake Ryan possibly going after OSU quarterback Braxton Miller, the Wolverines will need strength from Ross and Morgan in the middle of the field.
4. Wolverines defense putting pressure on Miller: Speaking of those blitzes, that’s another thing to keep an eye on. The defensive line has improved through the season, and while the four-man rush isn’t exactly where Mattison wants it to be, it will need to find some kind of success against Miller. But with that, the pass rush will need to be smart. Miller can make plays with his feet and defenses have paid the price for going guns blazing against Ohio State without also doing it in a smart fashion. If Michigan just goes all out without technique, this could get ugly.
5. Run it out or rein it in? Ohio State is a two-touchdown favorite over the Wolverines. But since the BCS rankings came out, Urban Meyer has started really putting it to teams, racking up style points and drawing eyes to the high-scoring offense. If the Buckeyes take a big lead on Saturday, Meyer will have an interesting predicament: Should he keep running out the score and have Miller go to work? Or should he rest his starters with the Big Ten title game next weekend and get some backups (one of whom, Kenny Guiton, could still do work against Michigan) some time in the Big House?
Now, if that does happen and this becomes an ugly game, I would imagine some Michigan fans won't want to watch until the end. So I’ve also compiled a list of what to watch ... if you don’t want to watch (aka, what else is going to be on TV at noon):
1. The Karate Kid (Ion)
2. Keeping up with the Kardashians marathon (E!)
3. Happy Gilmore (MTV)
4. Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (Spike)
5. Brady Bunch marathon (TV Land)