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THE Game is on

• Buckeyes seek perfect 12-0 mark Saturday vs. rival Michigan

November 23, 2012
By SETH STASKEY - Buckeye Blitz ( , Times Leader

It's finally arrived.

Ohio State's defacto bowl game is just hours away.

The atmosphere Saturday afternoon at Ohio Stadium might be crazier than a bowl game since the undefeated Buckeyes will look to wrap up a perfect 12-0 season against arch-rival Michigan at high noon.

"We can talk about this game now," said first-year Buckeyes' head coach Urban Meyer. "The team meeting room is electric in here when you start talking about this game."

Meyer has been preaching to his team since the team landed from last Saturday's overtime victory against Wisconsin that the objective for Saturday isn't totally about going undefeated for the season. It's about beating Michigan because, in essence, that's the most important game on the schedule regardless what the records are.

"Will we be defined by this one game?," Meyer asked even though he already knows the answer. "You usually are. Regardless of what happens, this is the game. Our kids and our coaches know that, but that doesn't change anything you do."

Meyer has spent time this week talking with defensive coordinator Luke Fickell. The two didn't always talk about whether or not it would be Denard Robinson or Devin Gardner would be starting at quarterback.

"I think this is just a pure, intense rivalry," Meyer said. "It doesn't matter who's undefeated, who's fighting for what, who's playing for what. Luke Fickell tells me the story they had a couple of times where it was just stolen from them. I don't believe it's because they're undefeated. I just believe it's because the rivalry game is that intense."

The rivalry has actually gotten a little steamier since Brady Hoke was hired at Michigan before the 2011 season. Hoke is an Ohio native, normally refers to OSU just as Ohio and has really made a strong effort in recruiting the fertile Buckeye State.

"It adds fuel to the fire," Meyer said. "This is a very intense game when it's home."

Hoke and the Wolverines won in Ann Arbor last season, 40-34. All told, however, Ohio State has won 8-of-10 in the series, which is entering the 109th meeting between the two storied programs.

" I think it's just such a great game from the standpoint of the rivalry and the excitement about it," Hoke said. "It's a fun week. I mean, it's a fun week."

The Buckeyes have climbed to No. 4 in this week's Associated Press polls. Since they're ineligible for post-season play, the Buckeyes aren't ranked in the USA Today Poll or the BCS rankings.

However, a victory Saturday could leave Ohio State as the only undefeated team in the nation when all of the dust settles after the bowl season. Actually, it might not take that long because Notre Dame is the only other undefeated team in the country and it plays at USC Saturday night.

Let's be honest, finishing undefeated in major college football -regardless of the league teams play in - is difficult.

"You saw last week with Kansas State and Oregon that it's hard to do," Meyer said. "It's a credit to a bunch of players and assistant coaches that keep that focus because you can't control the noise outside of this building. I can control them here."

The idea of playing spoiler to the Buckeyes doesn't add any kind of motivation for the Wolverines. First and foremost, Michigan is still trying to win the Legends Division title and advance to the Big Ten Championship game next weekend in Indianapolis.

"If you need anything to get amped up more or whatever for this football game, then you don't know college football and you don't understand the importance of this great rivalry," Hoke said.

Before the Buckeyes begin scoreboard watching, they realize they have to take care of their business Saturday at high noon or it will be moot.

Ohio State must find a way to contain the Wolverines' offense and it starts with either Robinson or Gardner.

Robinson began the season with Heisman Trophy hype, but has been banged up and not had the kind of season most envisioned for him. Gardner was named the Big Ten's Offensive Player of the Week after last week's victory against Iowa.

So who will start on Saturday?

"Denard continues to get better every day, so I would say it's probably up in the air," Hoke said.

Robinson - similar to OSU's Braxton Miller - is the dual threat quarterback. He's ran for 1,044 yards and 6 touchdowns this season. He's thrown for 1,319 yards and 9 touchdowns. Gardner, who played at Inkster High School in Michigan and faced Steubenville Big Red at Harding Stadium as a senior, has thrown for 834 yards and 7 scores.

"I know Denard ... I recruited him," Meyer said. "I have great respect for him as a person and as an athlete. He's one of the finest athletes in America, so you'd better know where he is at every snap."

The Wolverines were dealt a serious blow last week when running back Fitz Touissant was seriously injured.

He underwent surgery, thus the Wolverines will be without his nearly 600 yards rushing.

Jeremy Gallon and Roy Roundtree - an Ohio native - are the top options in the passing game for the Wolverines.

The Buckeyes' defense was solid again last week though Wisconsin's Montee Ball did tie the national record for touchdowns in a career. However, it rose to the occassion several times when the Buckeyes' offense had been struggling.

Sophomore linebacker Ryan Shazier continues to be impressive from his linebacker spot. He's the Big Ten leader in tackles with 110. Senior defensive lineman John Simon was a man among boys last week. He now has 14.5 tackles for loss, which leads the conference.

Bradley Robey has been the anchor the defensive backfield. He leads the nation with 19 pass defenses, which includes two interceptions and 17 breakups.

"They're very physical and they have very good speed," Hoke said. "I'll be honest with you, I love watching John Simon play. I have a lot of respect for him because from point A to point B, he goes. I also think they have speed at the linebackers and they flow well."

The Wolverines' defense is led by a balanced attack with Jake Ryan, Kenny Demens, Thomas Gordon and Desmond Morgan.

That quartet and several others have the unenviable task of trying to figure out a way to slow down OSU sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller.

The Davey O'Brien Award finalist has accounted for 3,054 yards of offense and 27 touchdowns. He's ran for 1,204 and 13 scores. He's done all of that and he's coming off probably his worst game of the season last week against the Badgers.

"They're running the football very well; they're scoring more points than anybody else in the conference," Hoke said. " I think Carlos Hyde is a big back who is physical. And Braxton (Miller), with what he does with his athleticism, that's part of it. And his uniqueness and his ability to make people miss."

Junior running back Carlos Hyde has blossomed this season as the Buckeyes' feature back.

He's ran for 824 yards and 15 touchdowns.

A big game on Saturday would make him the first 1,000-yard running back in the Meyer spread attack.

Philly Brown, Devin Smith and senior Jake Stoneburner are the leaders in the receiving corps. Brown has 52 balls this season.



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