Michigan vs. Ohio State: Halting Buckeyes backfield is key

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Angelique S. Chengelis breaks down Saturday's Michigan-Ohio State game at Michigan Stadium (noon., ABC / WWJ 950, WTKA 1050).

Buckeyes to watch

Ezekiel Elliott: Ohio State’s lead running back tops the Big Ten in rushing, averaging 143.3 rushing yards per game in conference play. He’s also first in scoring (9.3 points per game) and all-purpose yards (149.1 yards per game). He had an FBS-leading streak of 15 consecutive games with at least 100 yards rushing that was snapped last Saturday against Michigan State. Elliott has 17 rushing touchdowns this season, including five of 55 yards or more, including an 80-yarder. He has averaged 23.4 yards on his TD runs. Elliott is No. 3 on OSU’s all-time rushing list with 3,598 yards not far behind Heisman Trophy winner Eddie George is second (3,768).

J.T. Barrett: The Buckeyes’ 6-foot-1, 225-pound quarterback has accounted for 15 touchdowns in his last five games, including eight rushing and seven passing — Barrett accounted for five touchdowns in the victory at Rutgers, his first start of the season. The Texas native was voted a co-captain by teammates before the season and is 13-2 as Ohio State’s starter. Last season, Barrett was the Big Ten Quarterback of the Year and Freshman of the Year.

Joey Bosa: Ohio State’s defensive end is considered a top NFL draft pick. Bosa leads the Big Ten with 12.5 tackles for loss in Big Ten competition. The junior tied a career high with three tackles for loss and and tied a career best with seven tackles in the win at Illinois. He is frequently double-teamed and sometimes has faced triple teams, but Bosa is tied for first among active sack leaders with 25 in 39 career games.


Overlooking recent history: Ohio State has dominated the series with the Michigan in recent years, as the Buckeyes have won 11 of the last 13 meetings. Michigan last beat the Buckeyes in 2011, the first season of then-coach Brady Hoke. The current players know what’s at stake and what history means, but they can’t overthink that as they ready for the annual rivalry game.

Stopping the run: Ohio State leads the Big Ten in rushing (230.4 yards) for a reason. For one, Ezekiel Elliott but don’t forget about Braxton Miller. The two are among the top-10 active rushers in the FBS and they have combined for 6,879 yards and 70 rushing touchdowns. Michigan will have plenty to contend with as far as Elliott and can’t afford to allow an Indiana-type performance when the Hoosiers gained 307 yards against Michigan’s highly rated defense.

Rudock on a roll? Since being knocked out of the Minnesota game late in the third quarter with bruised ribs, Rudock has played his best football of the season. He had a Michigan-record six touchdowns at Indiana and he has become the first Michigan quarterback to have three straight games of 250 yards or more passing — he threw for 337 against Rutgers, 440 at Indiana and 256 at Penn State last Saturday.

Home sweet home: The Wolverines’ last victory over Ohio State was at Michigan Stadium in 2011 (40-34), and the last meeting in Ann Arbor came down to the wire. Quarterback Devin Gardner, who played the last quarter and a half on a broken foot could not convert the two-point conversion to win the game. Ohio State won, 42-41. Michigan was unbeaten in Big Ten road games this year and its only home loss this year was to Michigan State, 27-23.

Rankings matter? Those who play in this game say the rankings and the records don’t matter, but this marks the first time since 2012 both teams are ranked heading into The Game. Three years ago, Michigan was No. 20 and Ohio State was ranked No. 4, and the Buckeyes won in Columbus, 26-21. Michigan is No. 12 and Ohio State is No. 8 heading into this game.

Facts and figures

* When the Buckeyes and Wolverines take the Michigan Stadium field, it will make the 112th time these two teams have met. The series began in 1897 and has been played every year since 1918.

* Michigan is unbeaten in Big Ten road games this season (4-0), but Ohio State has won a school-record 17 consecutive road games at the opponents’ home venue, the longest such streak in the nation. The Buckeyes are undefeated (17-0) in road games under head coach Urban Meyer, who took over in 2012.

* OSU junior receiver Michael Thomas enters Saturday’s game with at least one catch in 27 consecutive games played, dating to the 2012 Michigan game

* Michigan tight end Jake Butt is the sixth tight end in school history with 1,000 career yards. He is the team’s second-leading receiver with 566 yards on 43 catches, and he has three touchdowns.

* Jourdan Lewis, Michigan cornerback, has a season-record 21 pass breakups this year. He leads the nation in that category with an average 1.91 pass breakups a game.

Ezekiel Elliott looks for an opening in the line Saturday.