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Published: Friday, 11/29/2013 - Updated: 2 years ago


Gap in talent reflected in records for OSU, UM


Everyone but Michigan’s players, coaches, and a handful of immediate family members expects The Game to be The Romp.

Ohio State opened as a 13-point favorite, and a flood of action on the Buckeyes has since pushed the line to 16 points. If covered, it would mean OSU’s most lopsided win at Michigan Stadium since 1961.

But is the gap between these Big Ten blue bloods — the Buckeyes winners of 23 straight, the Wolverines losers of four of their last six — really that huge?

The Blade broke down each position group for Saturday’s noon game at the Big House and gave OSU the nod at seven spots and UM at one. As of press time, not enough precincts had reported to call another battle.

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Here’s a closer look:

Quarterback: Braxton Miller would have been a safe bet to crash the Heisman ceremony had he not missed three games in September. The dual-threat junior is completing more than two thirds of his passes and leads the Big Ten in total offense with 296 yards per game during conference play. Michigan’s Devin Gardner has been OK (2,509 yards passing, 17 TDs), at least when upright. Often given little chance behind a patchwork line juggled five times since October, he has been sacked 20 times this month. Edge: OSU.

Running back: This vote was called when OSU’s Carlos Hyde returned from a three-game suspension. Hyde (1,064 yards, 13 TDs) has bruised for almost five times as many yards by himself the past four games (621) than Michigan has as a team (130) in the same span, combining with Miller to lead a Buckeyes rushing offense that ranks sixth nationally (314 yards per game). UM’s Fitzgerald Toussaint (613 yards) hasn’t been the same back since 2011, and freshman Derrick Green has shown only occasional bursts of his five-star potential. Edge: OSU.

Offensive line: If Ohio State’s front is the brick house fending off the big bad wolve(rines), Michigan’s is the one made of sticks. The Buckeyes’ senior-loaded line anchored by all-conference left tackle Jack Mewhort is their biggest strength, while UM’s greener group is its biggest headache. The Wolverines rushed for a combined minus-69 yards in losses to Michigan State and Nebraska this month and have allowed a staggering 102 tackles for a loss. Edge: OSU.

Receivers/​tight end: On principle, maybe the Buckeyes’ offense should get the clean sweep. OSU wields one of the most prolific units in Big Ten history — its 73 TDs blowing past the school record — while Michigan’s minus-three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust attack is 96th nationally. But the Wolverines have their share of playmakers. The silver linings include receiver Jeremy Gallon (1,109 yards) and tight end Devin Funchess (686 yards, five TDs). Senior Corey Brown (49 catches for 596 yards, nine TDs) leads OSU. Edge: Even.

Defensive line: Both sides have strong fronts. OSU is one of three FBS teams yet to allow a 100-yard rusher this season (Wisconsin and Syracuse are the others), while Michigan’s rush defense is 14th in the country (116 yards per game). But the Buckeyes’ youthful line — led by sophomore Noah Spence (seven sacks) — is a whole lot meaner to opposing quarterbacks. OSU is second, behind only Louisville, with 36 sacks. Look out, though, for UM reserve end Chris Wormley. The Whitmer grad has 2½ of UM’s 21 sacks and should be a future star. Edge: OSU.

Linebacker: While Butkus Award finalist Ryan Shazier will be the best defensive player, Michigan is deeper. Junior star Jake Ryan is back from an ACL injury, accompanied by James Ross III (81 tackles) and Desmond Morgan (69 tackles). OSU will benefit from the expected return of Shazier’s sidekick, junior Curtis Grant, who missed the past two weeks with ankle and back issues. Edge: UM.

Defensive backs: And you thought Ohio State’s secondary was sketchy? As if the Wolverines needed another issue, their pass defense ranks 80th nationally (236 yards per game). The Buckeyes are 81st, but when in doubt, go with the talent. NFL-bound OSU junior cornerback Bradley Roby is a game-changer, with three interceptions and a league-best two blocked punts. Edge: OSU.

Special teams: Michigan gets major points here, if only for holder Drew Dileo’s sprinting slide to set up Brendan Gibbons’ last-second field goal for the ages against Northwestern. But the Buckeyes’ punt units give them the edge. They have blocked three punts, returned one punt for a TD, and Ray Guy Award semifinalist Cameron Johnston has a league-best average of 43.5 yards per boot. Edge: OSU.

Coach: Ohio State’s Urban Meyer has won two national championships and is 23-0 since arriving in Columbus. Brady Hoke enjoyed a dream opening act at UM but has since acquired a bad case of whiplash watching rivals OSU and Michigan State zip past. His wins on signing day have given way to a 15-9 record the past two years — the same mark Rich Rodriguez has at Arizona. Never mind the dreaded vote of confidence he just received. A dispiriting loss Saturday will flip on Hoke’s seat warmer heading into next season. Edge: OSU.

Blade sports reporter Rachel Lenzi contributed to this story.

Contact David Briggs at: dbriggs@theblade.com, 419-724-6084 or on Twitter @DBriggsBlade.

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