Michigan's clash with Big Ten rival Ohio State on Saturday will be a riveting, back-and-forth battle. But in the end, Buckeyes dual-threat quarterback Braxton Miller will be the difference.
There are a few things going for Michigan heading into this matchup.
One, Miller is coming off an uncharacteristicly mediocre performance in a nail-biting 21-14 victory over Wisconsin last week, rushing for just 48 yards on 23 carries.
Michigan is also coming off three straight wins behind quarterback Devin Gardner, who could actually pose more problems for the Buckeyes than Denard Robinson.
But Michigan's run defense can be exploited by a strong rushing attack, and that's what will matter in Columbus.
The Wolverines' run defense is certainly not bad. It has allowed 3.74 yards per carry this season, 33rd in the FBS (via CFBStats.com).
But Michigan's loss to Nebraska and the overtime win over Northwestern in the past few weeks give me pause.
Michigan allowed running back Ameer Abdullah to rush for 4.2 yards per carry and dual-threat quarterback Taylor Martinez to rush for 4.1 yards per carry in the 23-9 loss to the Cornhuskers on Oct. 27.
On top of that, the Wolverines allowed 248 yards and a touchdown on the ground in the 38-31 overtime victory over Northwestern two weeks ago.
While Miller had an off game against Wisconsin last week, that certainly hasn't been the trend this season. The sophomore has rushed for 1,214 yards (second among FBS quarterbacks) and 13 touchdowns on 5.9 yards per carry. That includes rushing for 136 yards against a tough Michigan State run defense on Sept. 29.
Of course, you could also say that Gardner and Robinson pose a similar threat to the Buckeyes' run defense. But keep in mind that Ohio State held Martinez to 40 rushing yards on 18 carries in its 63-38 victory over Nebraska on Oct. 6.
Also, the season-ending injury to lead running back Fitzgerald Toussaint last week against Iowa hurts Michigan's running game.
I don't expect Miller to run wild against Michigan on Saturday in Columbus. But I do expect him to cover enough ground to help Ohio State prevail and finish the season undefeated.
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