Friday, December 13, 2002
Capital One Florida Citrus Bowl:
Michigan vs. Auburn
By David Norrie
Special to BCSfootball.com
This may offend some people from Purdue, but at this point in the season, Michigan is the best team in the Big Ten.
The Wolverines are seven points away from playing in the National Championship Game, but instead will face Auburn on New Year's Day in the Capital One Florida Citrus Bowl (ABC, 1 p.m. ET). Their losses against UCLA, Purdue and Northwestern could have very easily been wins.
The question mark in the game is can Michigan handle Auburn's rushing attack? Auburn has tremendous balance with Rudi Johnson at tailback and a surprisingly effective fullback, Heath Evans.
Ultimately, the key to this game is which team plays better run defense. Michigan has a running game to match Auburn with Anthony Thomas, and the combination of Drew Henson and David Terrell gives the Wolverines an edge in the passing game.
When Auburn has the ball:
|Heath Evans was Auburn's leading rusher in the SEC Championship Game, running for 69 yards on eight carries.|
The Tigers want to give Johnson 25-30 carries. He's extremely physical and hits the creases very quickly. He's capable of wearing down a defense. Evans is a potent secret weapon both running and catching the football from the fullback position.
Quarterback Ben Leard has good experience and accuracy, and can choose from a number of big targets in Ronney Daniels, Marcel Willis and Reggie Worthy and tight end Lorenzo Diamond.
Michigan's defense has proven to be vulnerable against balanced offenses. If the Wolverines don't take care of Johnson consistently, this game will turn into an upset in a hurry.
When Michigan has the ball:
Players to watch:
Auburn CBs Larry Casher and Rodney Crayton: They will have their hands full against David Terrell and Marquise Walker.
Michigan's front seven: It's always a tough day at the office dealing with the Auburn power running game.
When Michigan is hitting on all cylinders, the Wolverines' offense is as good as any in the country. Thomas is capable of breaking the 200-yard mark against anyone. However, Michigan's real advantage in this game is its big-play capability through the air. Henson can make all the throws and Terrell proved last year he can absolutely take over a New Year's Day bowl game.
Auburn's defense faces a similar challenge to Michigan's in that the Tigers must take away Thomas early. But if Auburn has to use too many defenders on the line to take away that run threat, big plays in the passing game will be its undoing.
David Norrie will broadcast the Capital One Florida Citrus Bowl with Sean Grande and Chip Tarkenton. He is a regular contributor to BCSfootball.com.