Michigan shifts attention to earning 1st win in Columbus since 2000, staying in B1G hunt
ANN ARBOR -- Almost a full quarter remained in Michigan's win against Iowa, but the words were unmistakable.
"Beat Ohio!" the crowd of 113,016 chanted, 13 minutes still showing on the scoreboard. "Beat Ohio!"
Michigan did a nice job not looking past Iowa, which had lost four in a row. But after dispatching the overmatched Hawkeyes 42-17, it now can set its sights on The Game, which will have a lot at stake despite Ohio State's postseason ban.
"I could hear 'em a couple times chanting it, but at that point, we were still focused on the game because we've seen some crazy things happen," senior safety Jordan Kovacs said. "We same some crazy things last week (against Northwestern).
"It's a big game, year in and year out. It's thee game. It's going to be intense, it's going to be hard-hitting. We're going to enjoy this one tonight, we'll get in (Sunday) and watch some film and we'll be ready. We'll be ready."
The No. 23 Wolverines sit at 6-1 in conference play heading into the final weekend of the season, although Nebraska (9-2, 6-1) maintained pace with a rout Saturday of Minnesota.
Michigan needs the Cornhuskers to lose Friday night against Iowa -- the team it just trounced itself -- to punch its ticket to Indianapolis. Nebraska holds the tiebreaker after beating the Wolverines last month in Lincoln.
That victory came largely because Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson was knocked out in the second quarter with a damaged nerve in his throwing elbow and then-replacement Russell Bellomy flopped in his place.
Having Bellomy, and not Gardner, as the backup quarterback now looms large for the Wolverines. It could prove to be the difference between playing for the Rose Bowl and playing in the Capital One Bowl.
Michigan still has a shot, but must figure out how to win in Columbus for the first time since 2000 to stay in the hunt. It has lost five straight games there, although one of Ohio State's wins was vacated due to NCAA sanctions.
The Wolverines' evolving offense could help.
Gardner is 3-0 as the starting quarterback after posting three of the team's four best passing days of the season. He racked up a season-best 314 passing yards against Iowa, completing 18-of-23 passes and joining Steve Smith as the school's only quarterbacks to account for six touchdowns in a game.
The twist, though, is Robinson made his return to action against Iowa -- but did it at tailback and receiver, as well as quarterback. He led Michigan with 98 yards rushing on just 13 attempts (7.5 yards per carry) and added two catches for 24 yards.
Although the element of surprise is gone, Ohio State now has a whole new dimension of Michigan offense for which to prepare.
"It definitely does (make Ohio State think more), unless they don't want to think about it, and that's fine with me as well," Gardner said with a grin.
It will be the first matchup between Michigan coach Brady Hoke, who is 1-0 in the series, and first-year Ohio State coach Urban Meyer. The Buckeyes are 11-0 and angling for their first undefeated regular season since 2006.
They can't play in a bowl, but Michigan can. And which bowl it goes to could hinge on whether it breaks that skid in Columbus.
"It's fun," Hoke said of the series. "It is fun, because it's a great rivalry and there's a lot of respect on both sides for both programs. I mean, you ask, it's fun. It's going to be fun."
That's four "funs" in two sentences.
That's a lot of fun.