Football 101: Keys to Michigan-Ohio State

The Michigan-Ohio State game will provide many interesting strategies and personnel matchups, but the most intriguing will occur on passing downs.

Look for Michigan to substitute into their nickel package with five defensive backs when Ohio State has its spread personnel in the game. The Wolverines will have three defensive linemen, three linebackers and five defensive backs in the game. Shawn Crable, who is a 6-foot-5, 245-pound linebacker, has the ability to align as the fourth defensive lineman. This helps Michigan's athletic front utilize a variety of pass rush combinations.

Brandon Harrison will be Michigan's nickel back in the game and will be the adjuster to Ohio State's third wide receiver. The Buckeyes' talented trio of wideouts, Ted Ginn Jr., Anthony Gonzalez and Brian Robiskie, are tough to match up with. Quarterback Troy Smith has excellent decision making and mobility out of the shotgun, which makes Ohio State difficult to pressure, too. Keep an eye on this third-down matchup.

Michigan's Pass Rush
Michigan has the biggest linebackers in college football and its 3-3-5 alignment takes advantage of the talent it has at those positions. The Wolverines love to cause havoc on opposing offenses by rushing five defenders and playing man-free coverage behind it in the secondary.

Michigan will align in a three-down look with Alan Branch, LaMarr Woodley and Rondell Biggs all down in three-point stances. Crable moves around in a two-point stance and has the flexibility to align almost anywhere, but he usually aligns over the guard or center.

Look for Michigan to rush five defenders on the snap with linebacker Prescott Burgess blitzing the center/guard gap. The remaining six Michigan defenders will play man-free coverage on OSU's five eligible receivers. The free safety will be the eraser, meaning he will be the free man in the middle of the field.

Michigan Defense
Michigan defense Launch play breakdown

Ohio State's 11 Personnel
Ohio State features one of the most powerful offenses in the country. The Buckeyes like to align in their 11 personnel, which means one tight end and one running back are in the game. OSU wide receivers Ginn, Gonzalez and Robiskie have given defenses matchup problems all season out of this set.

Ohio State has two favorite routes out of its spread formation against man-to-man coverage.

• The Buckeyes love to send Gonzalez on crossing routes from his slot position. Ginn, the flanker, will run a deep square in behind him.

• Ohio State also likes to run the wheel route with Gonzalez (in the slot) and Robiskie crossing each other. The deep ball to Ginn also is an option on any snap.

Ohio State Offense
Ohio State offense Launch play breakdown

UM Defense vs. OSU Offense
When Michigan's nickel with five-man pressure is aligned against Ohio State's favorite routes, it provides many interesting matchups. Pass protection is always the key and how the Buckeyes handle the big Wolverines front will be a factor. However, Michigan's ability to match up with the talented Ohio State receivers in man-to-man coverage will be a challenge, too.

Michigan D vs. Ohio State O
Michigan-Ohio State Launch play breakdown

How will Michigan handle the talented Ohio State receivers in man-to-man coverage? How will the Buckeyes protect the quarterback? We will find out Saturday (ABC, 3:30 ET).

Editor's note: As architect of Texas A&M's Wrecking Crew defense (1989-93) and Notre Dame's defensive coordinator (1994-96) and head coach (1997-2001), Bob Davie has been recognized as a top X's and O's coach.