Michigan quarterback Nick Sheridan, who is starting due to Steven Threet's injury, says his team must avoid big mistakes.
TONY DING / AP Enlarge
COLUMBUS - Michigan doesn't have to play perfect to pull a shocking upset of rival Ohio State today, Wolverines coach Rich Rodriguez said this week.
There's a "but" in this equation, however.
"I don't want to say we have to play perfect to win, because if you say that, who can play perfect?" Rodriguez said. "But we're going to have to execute well."
So UM has to play almost perfect in its 2008 season finale?
"Yeah, I think you have to play really well against Ohio State anytime you play Ohio State," Wolverines quarterback Nick Sheridan said. "Probably us more so than any other team playing Ohio State because their emphasis is on us just as much as ours is on them."
There are ample reasons why the No. 10 Buckeyes are 20 1/2-point favorites today, starting with their 9-2 record compared with UM's 3-8 mark. The Wolverines have already lost more games than at any time in school history, while Ohio State still has a Big Ten title and BCS berth in its sights.
Next, the Wolverines haven't mastered Rodriguez's spread-option offense and have struggled mightily to move the ball and score points at times. The Buckeyes, meanwhile, have the second-ranked defense in the Big Ten.
Though Ohio State is not exactly an offensive juggernaut (ranked 10th in the conference, just ahead of UM), it has the ability to spread out or play power football. The Wolverines couldn't stop bruising running back Chris "Beanie" Wells last year and have a history of poor showings against opposing spread offenses.
To beat the Buckeyes for the first time since 2003, UM must overcome most - if not all - of its deficiencies and weather the crazed atmosphere inside Ohio Stadium.
"You lose games the same way all the time, generally - penalties, turnovers, three and outs, unable to sustain drives," said Sheridan, who said to win his team had to "try to avoid mistakes, turnovers, and try to take advantage of the opportunities given to you if the other team makes mistakes."
Injuries could cause UM further problems. Sheridan is starting at quarterback because the Wolverines' regular starter, Steven Threet, is out with a separated shoulder. Right tackle Stephen Schilling sprained a knee in practice this week and is likely out, and just about all of UM's primary running backs are trying to get healthy from some recent ailment.
Then there's the hostile, road atmosphere in Columbus. Much has been made of the Wolverines' youth - at least four freshmen, and probably more, will play for UM on offense - and it's hard to know how they'll respond to the elements senior defensive tackle Will Johnson described this way.
"The fans are all riled up and [flipping] you off and calling you names and stuff," Johnson said Monday. "It's fun."
With so many factors seemingly going against them, the Wolverines' best plan of attack may be to forget them all and simply go out and play.
"At the end of the day, it's a football game and guys here have won football games," Sheridan said.
CAPTAINS PICKED: Rodriguez named Johnson and fellow seniors Terrance Taylor, Tim Jamison, and Mike Massey as UM's permanent captains for 2008.
Rodriguez prefers selecting new game captains each week and naming permanent captains for that season - almost like handing out year-end awards - before the team's final game.
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