Michigan offense gets taste of Ohio State defense

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 21, 2003

ANN ARBOR, Mich. - Ohio State's defense is impressive, but it hasn't played Michigan.

The Wolverines' offense is spectacular, but it hasn't faced the Buckeyes.

One of college football's best defenses will match up against one of the top offenses when No. 4 Ohio State plays at No. 5 Michigan for the outright Big Ten title and an automatic BCS bid.

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The Buckeyes give up just 50.5 yards rushing per game - 10 yards less than the second-ranked team against the run - on 1.6 yards an attempt.

''I think that (statistic) has to be one of the best in modern football history,'' Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said.

Ohio State ranks sixth in the nation in points allowed (15.1) and total defense (275.7).

The Wolverines score 37.4 points a game, ranking ninth in the nation, with the 14th-ranked offense that averages 188 yards on the ground and 270 yards in the air.

''I think Michigan is as explosive on the offensive side of things as any team in the country,'' Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said. ''Our guys know that they're in for their stiffest challenge of the year.''

Michigan's Chris Perry runs for 130 yards a game, ranking third in the country, and he's scored 17 touchdowns.

Some Wolverine running backs - such as Tim Biakabutuka (313 yards in 1995) and Jamie Morris (210 yards in 1986) - have had big games to help the Wolverines beat Ohio State. But Perry isn't focused on joining that select group.

''I could care less if I have 1 yard rushing,'' said Perry, who is 65 yards from being the fourth Michigan running back with 1,500 yards. ''As long as we win, I'm happy. You're defined by winning. Nobody cares if you ran for 200 yards and lost.''

Offensive tackle Tony Pape said the key to a win will be Michigan's running game. Pape will often be matched up against defensive end Will Smith, who has 10.5 sacks and a Big Ten-best 20 tackles for losses.

''It will be a defining game for me facing a player like Will Smith,'' Pape said.

Center Dave Pearson said the game will determine how Michigan's offensive line is viewed.

''If we can go out and be successful, we will be viewed as a good offensive line,'' Pearson said. ''If we are not successful, we will be the downfall of the team.''

The Buckeyes want to stop the run, then fluster John Navarre.

''You have to get some pressure on the quarterback and get him thinking and do some things so he gets confused,'' strong safety Will Allen said. ''With any good quarterback, you've got to get him thinking a little bit to mess up the whole rhythm of the offense.''

Carr didn't choose to be serious when he was pressed about his plans on offense.

''I think we're probably going to have to throw every down,'' Carr said. ''You'll probably see us with no backs in the backfield and just throwing.''

All jokes aside, Carr is looking forward to devising a game plan.

''That's the fun of the game, trying to find out a way to win and a way to offensively have some success,'' he said.

Because most teams have been forced to throw a lot against Ohio State, some have had success doing it. The Buckeyes are the Big Ten's seventh-ranked team against the pass, giving up 225.2 yards a game.

Passing, however, may make Michigan happy.

Navarre has completed 58.7 percent of his passes for 2,782 yards with 21 TDs and eight interceptions. He said Ohio State has the best defense he's seen.

''Some teams we've played had a good secondary and some had a good defensive line,'' Navarre said. ''I think this team has a great defensive line, a great corps of linebackers and a very solid secondary. They have the whole package.''

When the senior drops back to pass, he has talented targets.

Braylon Edwards (68 receptions, 901 yards, 12 TDs) and Jason Avant (42 receptions, 706 yards, 2 TDs) are the best pair of receivers in the Big Ten. No. 3 receiver Steve Breaston is capable of turning a short pass into a long gain. And Perry, who has caught 37 passes, is just two catches away from breaking Michigan's record for receptions by a running back.

''It's not like you can say, 'Well, let's match up on these three guys, and we won't worry about the rest,' because they're all capable,'' Tressel said. ''So it gives you a ton of problems.''