The Showdown at the Shoe today pits No. 1 Ohio State against No. 2 Michigan. The winner of the super-sized matchup clinches the Big Ten title and advances to the BCS national championship game. Yesterday, columnist Ron Musselman looked at what Michigan has to do to win. Today, he examines what Ohio State has to do to be victorious.
COLUMBUS - Ohio State coach Jim Tressel has practically owned Michigan's Lloyd Carr, going 4-1 in head-to-head matchups.
And Buckeyes quarterback Troy Smith has a pretty good stranglehold on UM counterpart Chad Henne, winning both of the first two meetings.
Tressel's Buckeyes, led by Heisman frontrunner Smith, have won 18 consecutive games, the longest winning streak in the country.
Tressel and Smith both need to come up big again today - Tressel with his play-calling, Smith with his arm and legs - for Ohio State to beat Michigan.
The Wolverines figure to draw inspiration from the passing of legendary coach Bo Schembechler yesterday, but remember, they have lost two in a row to the Buckeyes and four of the last five.
An Ohio State victory would give Tressel a 5-1record against Carr, who was hired by Schembechler as secondary coach in 1980.
Ironically, that's the same mark Carr compiled against John Cooper, Tressel's predecessor. Cooper's dismal 2-10-1 record against the Wolverines
ultimately got him fired.
Tressel was about as interested in talking about his record against Carr this week as Carr was in talking about the Buckeyes' recent domination.
"I don't have any answers," said Tressel, who is a remarkable 4-1 in bowl games, 7-2 against top-10 teams and 61-13 overall. "The Ohio State-Michigan game has gone on, and sometimes you come up on the good end, sometimes you don't. But if anyone pretends to think they have the answer, they've got a problem."
Carr is 16-6 against top-10 teams and 113-34 overall.
Enough about the coaches.
Plenty has been written already about Smith, who has pulverized the Wolverines' defense twice already to the tune of 723 yards and five touchdowns.
Smith has been passing a lot more this year and doing less running.
"He can throw the football," Carr said. "He's a guy that's got great mobility. He's extremely tough. If you watch him over the course of his career, he's proven he can take punishment and get up and compete. I think he's an outstanding quarterback."
Smith is Ohio State's all-time completion percentage leader, connecting on 62.9 percent of his passes. And he ranks third in total offense with 6,554 yards.
Smith, a fifth-year senior who beat Justin Zwick out for the starting job midway through the 2004 season, has tossed 50 touchdown passes for the Buckeyes, seven shy of Bobby's Hoying's mark.
But the Wolverines have a new defensive coordinator (Ron English) and a new attitude. And they figured to have a few new wrinkles for Smith.
"I'm not sure we can stop him, but we hope to slow him down and limit his big plays," English said.
The Wolverines can't focus on Smith alone.
Ohio State has plenty of other weapons on offense. Receivers Ted Ginn Jr. and Anthony Gonzalez have combined for 96 catches, 1,350 yards and 15 touchdowns. And Brian Robiskie and Brian Hartline have combined for 35 receptions and six scores, giving the Buckeyes one of the top receiving corps in the country.
Ohio State tailback Antonio Pittman has rushed for 1,032 yards and 12 TDs this season. He has had six 100-yard games.
But only one team, Minnesota, eclipsed the 100-yard rushing mark against Michigan's top-ranked run defense - and the Gophers managed just 108.
"Their defense is big and strong," Ohio State center Doug Datish said. "There is no denying that they are tough and physical, because they have a fundamentally sound unit. I think they are probably the best defense we have played against all season."
Ohio State's defense also has been stingy. The Buckeyes are allowing the fewest points in the country at 7.8 per game.
They have limited seven of their 11 opponents to seven points or fewer.
Ohio State is 11th nationally in run defense, surrendering 90.2 yards per game.
The Buckeyes will have to keep Michigan tailback Mike Hart under wraps, as well as Henne, in order to win the game.
Hart has been a tremendous back, but he won't be confused with Jamie Morris or Tim Biakabutuka, at least not in this series.
Ohio State's front four of Quinn Pitcock, who has a team-leading eight sacks; David Patterson; Jay Richardson and Vernon Gholston will have to pressure Henne, who also has plenty of targets to throw to, including Mario Manningham, Adrian Arrington and Steve Breaston.
Middle linebacker James Laurinaitis is the leading tackler for the Buckeyes, who have increased their takeaways from 12 to 27 this year. That total
includes 21 interceptions.
Special teams play also could be critical for the Buckeyes.
Ginn is No. 2 in the Big Ten in punt returns (12.1 yards). He has six career touchdowns, including one against Michigan as a freshman in 2004. He also has averaged 20.2 yards on kickoff returns.
Punter A.J. Trapasso has a 41.2-yard average and has downed 14 punts inside the 20, and kicker Aaron Pettrey has made 8 of 9 field goals and 47 of 50 extra points.
But the only two stats that really matter for the Buckeyes are Tressel 4, Carr 1; Smith 2, Henne 0.39.96196 -83.00298