landing spot. will be interesting to see how he does.
Lots of room for improvement this week (for example, I think Florida State and West Virginia can probably move up, and there are certainly cases to be made for other teams to be included at the bottom of the ballot), so comment away. Resume chart lives here.
A new commit for the Wolverines means this hits the front page. Action since last rankings:
11-21-10 Notre Dame loses commitment from Justice Hayes.
11-22-10 Michigan gains commitment from Justice Hayes.
11-23-10 Northwestern loses commitment from Sean Cotton.
11-24-10 Iowa loses commitment from Melvin Gordon.
11-25-10 Purdue gains commitment from Doug Gentry.
11-27-10 Penn State gains commitment from Matt Zanellato.
Rivals and Scout have updated their rankings over the past couple weeks, so there are some shakeups in there.
|Big Ten+ Recruiting Class Rankings|
|Rank||School||# Commits||Rivals Avg||Scout Avg||ESPN Avg|
Rivals rankings are on the "RR" scale, which is on a scale from about 5 to about 6.1. Unrated prospects are given a 5.1 rating, on par with the worst of any Big Ten commit last year. Scout is on the 5-star system (unranked players earn star), and ESPN uses grades out of 100 (unranked is 40 or 45). Full data after the jump.
Before Desmond Howard, before I knew there was a thing such as rushing stats (let alone scoring defense), I learned to watch Michigan football with my dad and his friends. This is the opposite of a stadium experience: standing, hollering at refereeing, displays of game-induced emotions, etc. are not appropriate. The way old Jewish men watch football is to sit on very comfortable couches, the day's host holding the remote, while his wife puts out a spread of non-nutritious delectables that he isn't allowed to eat. We talk about this guy's law firm, that guy's consulting business, and by the end of the game everybody's had a chance to get their really cool thing out there.
My dad's best friend's really cool thing is usually an update on his nephew, Ann Arbor-born Mayer Hawthorne. This is typically prefaced with "my nephew's in the entertainment business…" Except this time, the Hawthorne update was totally one-upped by another old guy, who was like "my son's in entertainment too: Mike Posner, have you heard of him?"
For those not familiar with Posner (pictured above—you know, the one who isn't a tiny 2-star freshman safety) his shtick is Justin Timberlake oohhh girrrl cooing while looking like a well kempt bad-ass. If you apply this same formula to punk, you get Good Charlotte. If you apply it to rock, you get Nickelsuck. If you throw in Jeebus you get Creed. The formula is old, annoying, and tremendously successful. More importantly, it has been giving the music world's innovators and intellectuals and poets jealousy fits since Elvis Presley realized dodging tackles didn't require tacklers, and Big Joe Turner's friends muttered the '50s slang equivalent to "WTF!"
If you haven't yet figured out where I'm going with this analogy, Ohio State is Mike Posner, and every other teen idol, and boy band, and crappy formulaic rock band whose astounding popularity has deigned to piss me off. There's nothing creative about it, and any edge is some sort of manufactured, watered-down version of something that got stuffy parents upset 10 years ago. You will never say to yourself "gee, that is a really brilliant Creed lyric" the same way you'll never say "that play that Tressell came up with was absolutely genius."
Really, the Posners and Timberlakes added their own ludicrous hours and amazing talent to the formula, just as Ohio State's starters have probably put their bodies through more pain over the last three years than Michigan's football program has given my soul. But that's small consolation to those who imagine themselves artistically superior when the guy cooing on a Carson Daly show is getting megamillions and adulation and a blank check of support from the industry.
I will no more ever understand why people will keep going gaga for Mike Posner or Nickelsuck than I will understand why they keep committing to play football for Jim Tressell, except if every song is going to have the same beat anyway, it's best that everybody who likes music for its beat will agree on one song so everyone knows the words.
And there's the rub: cool begets cool.
All of this music bitching is hypocritical from a Michigan fan like me, because I had zero complaints when Michigan was chugging along on Bo's fumes and the cachet of four decades of success.
A Rich Rodriguez team is musical superiority, but just as a band will be judged by hits and concert turnout, a college football team is measured in wins and rivalry wins. Those of us declaring "Peanut Butter Jelly Time!" in late 2007 weren't doing so solely because Michigan's playcalling was going to be a lot smarter. The dancing bananas were because we were Warner Bros. and figured we'd just co-opted the college football equivalent of Nirvana: by 2010, painted fake buffoons obsessed with the smell of their own reverb were supposed to be toppling before 60-21 obliterations in Columbus. This was our destiny!
I spent the second half of my college years as the best friend of Oblivion, an intellectual Ann Arbor hard rock band (sample mp3) that we were convinced was going to make big. Those years provided plenty of opportunities to harden hatred and envy of Creed's success-based success. Eventually, we all managed to at least stop worrying so much about how much money Scott Stapp was making, and concentrate on making better music. Likewise, hating the Sweater Vest for his substantively vapid program gets Michigan nowhere. Michigan's purpose is to beat him, not be him.
And us: we're the friends, really with no more ability to generate Michigan wins over Ohio State than Mayer's uncle has of making a nerdy soul singer cooler than Mr. Posner's son.
1. There's a rhythm to Detroit Jewish baby boomer football viewing, where the interruptions for plays are conversational interludes that allow the speaker to think of the right word (proper word selection is important in this sub-culture) or to move on to the next thing.
1970s-80s Michigan football was perfect for this kind of fandom, a steady beat of 3-yard play, setup, 4-yard play, setup, 4-yard play, setup, OH!, setup, 4-yard play, setup, 0-yard play, setup, AWW, punt, who wants pie?
Michigan in the Rich Rod Era is no better fit for that room than I am: 25 YARD PASS!, setup wait no it's called back, setup, GREAT PAAA aww he dropped it, setup GO GO GO GO DAMMIT, setup, HEY REDZONE, setup, WHAT A THROW 1ST DOWN ON THE 5 – WAIT HOLDING HOW WAS THAT HOL—interception—Wait no that hit the ground, REVIEW REVIEW—0 yard run EXPLODING SQUIRRELS! Fumble.
It's tense, and punctuated, a Pavlovian tease-fest that goes to the red zone more than 60-somethings go to the bathroom, and just as often comes away with nothing more than a fart.
2. If you were around M in the early '00s he's that guy in Athletic Mic League—you know, the white one.
3. FYI: A fellow Wylie E. Groves Falcon. Also, Misopogal thinks he's awesome.
4. Golly gee whiz?
5. Or 40 years ago, if you're talking devil horn hand gestures.
6. It's not the subject. Muse does as much religion as Creed, and Muse is awesome. Furthermore, my favorite album of all time makes a hundred overt references to Catholicism. It's just that it does so in brilliant metaphorical lyrics and musical compositions written to complement the poeticism of those lyrics, all in the context of a cohesive, album-long concept:
7. Lefsetz.com, who is basically my Brian for music, says Mayer's just a marketing creation too.
What We Need is a Miracle
Do you know the penalty for a head coach who loses a 7th game in a row to Ohio State?
Death by torture!
They shove a living snake up your ass!
No, but that's very creative.
People start making up irrational reasons for axing you!
The lead singer of Oblivion summed up his feelings on our head coach's job in this text from last night:
Two totally irrational reasons to get rid of Richrod: 1.) "Miracles" never happen when he's coaching, and 2.) he's the unluckiest son of a bitch on the planet.
I have no rational reasons to not see another year with dilithium, only irrational ones.
The miracles thing was echoed in the comments yesterday in a TWIS bid by longtime MGoBoarder Tim Waymen:
I'm quitting the internet. No more TV, I want to stay the hell away from the Midwest except for Ann Arbor. This sucks.
Forget it. If he goes, he goes. He's a good coach, but maybe just not the right man for Michigan. I also blame God and the universe, karma, etc. How is this fair? We haven't had any miracles. I hoped that today would bring redemption for RR, but instead people now have a stronger case against him. Not just a close loss, but we're getting destroyed in a game I sincerely thought we could win.
That was in a thread criticizing – of all things – the refereeing, by the way. This is a typical response to any fanbase that remembers its good years better than its bad ones. Go back far enough and you'll find a group of unhappy Israelites at firemoses.com who thought parting the Red Sea and climbing a mountain to get directions straight from a 5-star deity is nice and all, but none of this is getting to us to the Promised Land. Dayenu.
More of this continued in the Emo Diaries of the week:
- Dr. Rodbaugh, Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Pimp, by Undefeated dream season of 1992 has the user tags Antietam, drang, and sturm, and basically says the fans deserve a new coach because this is a world where math is boring and (as once pointed out by Stephen Maturin) the verdict of the masses is seldom wrong.
- An avid follower of Brian's (currently) SB Nation column This Week in Schadenfreude, Meechigan Dan noted that recent championship teams all had a point when their brilliant coaches got their teams called in for the 'freude.
- JonSobel is sick of the bickering and arguing, says RR is Bo and Yost et al., but wants to fire him because it would shut everybody up.
- Oakland Press columnist and local radio press's Bob Wojnowski weighed in, earning him a ruthless MGoFisking by Ann Arbor Cardinal.
It's clear now that, while Dave Brandon is (I hope to God) going to be spending the next few months making this call the right way, i.e. exploring all avenues of information and options, we're going to be using a lot of Internet to share our views on it. So, before we embark on When Should We Fire This Guy: Round 3, let's set some ground rules:
Keep Rich Rodriguez
Fire Rich Rodriguez
|Let's first admit:||
1. We are disappointed with the results to date. Even if this year met expectations for the beginning of this year, 3-9, 5-7 and 7-6/8-5 was not the start to RR's Michigan career we envisioned.
2. Rich Rodriguez has made terrible, possibly fireable mistakes in his handling of the defense, especially in building his defensive staff.
3. Even with expected improvements, the 2011 team is probably not at a championship level.
4. Jim Harbaugh is a strong candidate, would unite the fanbase, and might not be this available again.
5. Keeping Rich Rodriguez as a win-or-go lame duck in 2011 is an anchor on recruiting, one that has been putting a noticeable damper on this already.
6. Unless RR can outperform expectations next year, something he's never done at Michigan, we've already lost the battle of perception.
1. This is a legitimately great offense, perhaps among the best in Michigan history (despite being young and mistake-prone) and Rich Rodriguez is the reason the offense is so good. Without him, we're looking at a rough transition, probably more transfers.
2. He's been building the program with integrity and keeping to his bedrock principles.
3. We haven't yet seen what RR is fully capable of. This is young guy who was a proven winner before coming here, and a big 2011 is not only possible, but could lead to several decades of great football.
4. If we fire RR and Harbaugh doesn't come/work out, we could become Notre Dame.
5. It's not exactly easy to find established coaches who share Michigan's higher academic expectations and also keep up with the Joneses of Ohio State and the SEC who have no such compunctions.
|Best-case scenario:||Jeff Casteel replaces Greg Robinson as defensive coordinator (although this probably keeps Gibson) and we see immediate returns in the bowl game. The defense gets to average in 2011, while the offense reaches maturity and we are next year's Oregon. This leads to Top 5 recruiting classes in 2012 and 2013, and we're a 10-win machine again until RR retires a Hall of Fame coach with 4 national championships in the 2030s, when his star disciple is given the reigns.||Jim Harbaugh takes over, convinces most of the recruits and players to stay, and rides the positive press of a new hire to finish 2011 recruiting strong. He manages to translate RR's players to a wide open and almost as effective Spread HD offense, while bringing a new attitude to defense. We beat MSU and OSU, and then in 2012 upset Alabama, and the Empire of Bo witnesses a Justinian revival.|
|Worst-case scenario:||This offseason witnesses more transfers and injuries, and another failure of a DC is brought in and told to run the 3-3-5 though he's never coached it before. A loss at MSU makes RR a lame duck, recruits know it, and the team goes on to a lame 7-win season, followed by a depressing coaching search that seriously uses the words "Brady Hoke" again.||Well, first let's imagine Harbaugh doesn't want to come, or that he was just lucky to have some great players at Stanford and can't repeat that. Players recruited to play for RR quit on him or transfer out, and it's 2008-2010 all over again, except by the time New Guy has his guys the Ohio State ticker is up to 10 years and Michigan State is a solid, Wisconsin-level Big Ten 2nd tier power.|
|Outlook for 2011||Offense is older and probably less prone to big mistakes, but the defense is very far away and we really have zero evidence that the defense can get better since it has regressed every year under this regime. However, the schedule is easier, with Ohio State at home and some of the tougher Big Ten teams off the schedule, and an Oregonian romp is not outside the realm of possibility.||Rebuilding with a new coach is a major gamble, especially because we would be firing the best possible person to run next year's offense given the personnel and their system experience. However, it's an instant press success, and a good hire cuts the anchor that head coach job speculation puts on recruiting. 2011 under any coach but Rodriguez probably has 1 or 2 more losses than otherwise, a sunk cost to regime change.|
|Outlook for 2012 and beyond||Continuing with Rich Rod means we are effectively putting all of our chips down on the bet that he will be successful next year. Otherwise, it's another wasted year, another class of guys who weren't recruited by their future head coach, and the likelihood of pulling out a miracle replacement is substantially lower than it is now.||Another rebuilding phase now would be a huge gamble on the new guy. However, keeping RR is also a gamble, and if there is going to be a regime change again, better to do it earlier. Michigan still has enough cachet that a bout of good press and success can attract 4- and 5-stars. I doubt Calvin Magee stays if RR goes, but it's possible that a few positives of the Rodriguez era can be retained in the fabric of the program and what we end up with is a rebirth of Bo's legacy that has had a Barwicizing wake-up call.|
Next comes a crap bowl, and then next year, which should be better just because so many of the starters return, and even the most ardent supporters of the coaching staff agree that some of them (the coaches) won't.
Luck and miracles are X factors that don't mean anything beyond the psychological mindset of the team, recruits, and donors. Not having a single Big Ten caliber cornerback or free safety option after three years of running the team, linebackers who still look clueless as 5th year seniors, alignment mistakes that one trip through a Jeff Casteel instructional video could clear up: these are long-term problems that may not be fixable without drastic action. Ray Vinopal is a gutsy kid who has already outperformed his highest recruiting expectations, but even so there's about 20 teams in the country who would probably take him right now over their free safety.
The Decimated Defense split blame between shitty luck, shitty recruiting/retention by Lloyd, and shitty retention/recruiting/player development by Rich Rod. A year later, the shitty luck has continued, and the shitty retention/recruiting/development by Rich Rod has gotten even worse than the Carr year it replaced. At this point, the defense is more than half the fault of the current head coach. Any discussion of firing him should begin there, and any case for keeping him must demonstrate that this trend can be reversed. Conversely, we're all agreed that Rodriguez can coach/recruit/scheme offense better than any candidate we could hope to replace him with.
Those parameters set, go forth and discuss, keeping every comment, for or against, higher minded than anything put out on the subject by the Detroit media. Given the spectacularly low (the opposite of Mornhinweg-ian) bar they're setting, this shouldn't be too hard. Then again, a substantive debate on a coaching fire/keep situation on an Internet message board is probably just asking for a miracle.
After jump: More Diaries.
"I felt good first quarter, first half. Really we moved the football, just didn't finish drives. Poor execution at critical times when we needed to. They made some plays, and to win a game like this you have to finish more drives." Worst game of the year finishing.
Denard - "I don't know what play it was, but he dislocated a couple fingers on his left hand." Third and fourth fingers. He likes to grip it with his left hand when he runs, so loss of feeling was a problem. Denard lobbied to go back in initially. He went in one drive, then realized he couldn't play like he wanted to.
"We had some drops, which hurt us." Denard was pretty sharp, but the window is smaller against very good coverage. Guys have to make some difficult catches. WR corps was a little thin today without Hemingway, and with Stokes going out. "You have to make those kind of plays to beat a good football team."
Tate's experienced enough to make plays. Ohio State's defense is good: "They're athletic defensively." They made plays in the passing game, breaking up passes "I mean some bang-bang stuff." In the first half, it was M shooting themselves in the foot. "Some of that was them, but a lot of that was us too."
Hagerup - "He violated a team rule, so he didn't make the trip."
Early in the game, the D was hitting the right gaps, tackling well. That faded later in the game. "That's just my view from the sidelines."
Kickoff return touchdown: "Yeah, it was awful." Didn't get the kick they wanted (maybe because of wind), and the coverage wasn't there.
Postgame speech: "I don't know if I need to share it with everybody. We talked about some things. I don't need to share everything with y'all."
"I'm ticked. What you want me to go jump out there and hold hands with all the Buckeye fans and sing kumbaya? I wish we'd played better." Will be mad for a while, then move on to the next one. "This will sting for a little bit, which it should. We'll think about it a little bit, which we should. But you can't replay it, unfortunately."
Has the defense improved over the course of the season? "Some. Not as much as I'd like." It's not at a Michigan level. He can't chew out freshmen, because they're going to make the mistakes. Need them to play like 3rd-4th year guys. "They are what they are, and they'll grow from this."
Job security: "I'm going to work tomorrow as always." No outside chatter will change how they work. "I took this job to make us the best program in America. And sometimes it takes a little longer to mold the program the way you wanted to mold it. Sometimes you get more obstacles in your way," but he's not deterred from the goal. "I think the worst is behind us. I know it is." People are entitled to their own opinions, but the coaches, players, and people in the program feel confident it will happen. "It's been a lot slower than our fans wanted, I don't blame them for that."
On outside perspective of the program's progress: "Sometimes people see what they want to see... I know what I see, and I'm in the middle of it. Maybe some people don't want me to have success. I would think most people that follow Michigan and love Michigan do, because they love our school and love our program."
Progress is being made. Rich sees it in practice, and can see the positive attitude. Likes how recruiting has gone last 2 years and is going this year.
Rich and his coaches aren't used to this either: "We're used to playing in Championships and BCS bowls, and all that, too. It's been frustrating as heck. But I'm not deterred, because I know where I'm at, I know what we're doing, I know what we have in the program, and I know what we need to do to fix it." He will evaluate everything with the program to improve it whenever he can.
Will have to watch film to see why turnovers have gotten worse over the course of the year. The team isn't at the point where they can overcome that.
"A couple personal fouls. The stuff after a play is silly. There's no need for extracurricular stuff after the play. there's enough intensity during the whistle." They haven't had many pre-snap penalties this year, but had an important today taking back a 20-yard gain because a true freshman was lined up wrong.
Team meeting Monday, talking about bowl preparation. The guys have their finals in a couple weeks. They'll lift a bit to stay in shape. Rich has a preliminary bowl practice schedule in mind, but won't finalize it until they know date and location of bowl game.
OSU is a good team, Michigan needed to take advantage of opportunities if they wanted to win, and it didn't happen.
On his interception: Knew a shot to the goal line was coming. "I just broke on the ball. I thought I might have a chance to return it, but didn't make it far enough."
Do they worry about Rodriguez's job security? "Not at all. We play for each other."
Ryan Van Bergen
"It obviously hurts a little more when it's Ohio State." They wanted to send the seniors out with a win. "You gotta take personal responsibility, everybody has to be accountable. Nobody played their best game for us today." Disappointing for today, but promising for the future and sending the seniors out with a bowl game.
Doesn't know why they didn't play well. Mentality and game pan were good. Mental mistakes "kinda plagued us a little bit in the second half of the season, and that definitely was evident today."
"Focus on controlling what we can control," try to execute, not worry about their coach's job status.
Used more of a 4-man front to get some size up against their line. Gave the OSU OL some problems, "I think we made some plays in the front 7 to stop that run... For the most part, we were pretty stout in the run game."
|WHAT||Michigan vs Ohio State|
|WHERE||Ohio Stadium, Columbus, OH|
|WHEN||Noon Eastern, November 27th 2010|
|THE LINE||OSU -17|
|TELEVISION||National on ABC|
Mostly sunny, mid 30s
0% chance of rain
Image at right via reader Brian Walline.
Run Offense vs. Ohio State
You know, from skimming the Ohio State blogs in my reader I'd picked up a narrative of safety injuries and a somewhat disappointing performance from the defensive line that led me to believe the OSU defense was something less than its usual self. Then I go and check the stats as I do and they're third in rushing and total defense. They are fifth in pass defense. This is nationally, not in conference. So… not so much.
As anyone who's followed the Gordon Gee-Boise/TCU spat knows, a weak schedule has something to do with that. OSU has not played the Big Ten's #1, #4, or #5 offense and is the #2 offense.. They've had almost the kindest league schedule possible to date. However, in their matchup against #3 Wisconsin the Badgers only managed 330-some yards of offense; Iowa was held under 300. Do not be taken in by complaints about Orhian Johnson or fretting about freshman Christian Bryant—this is a smokescreen.
The sack-excluded numbers in the league (minus Indiana, which didn't seem even slightly relevant) reflect this:
College teams average 4.9 yards an attempt when you take out sacks; Ohio State has been somewhere between good and ridiculous through the Big Ten. This is not a huge surprise given the overall numbers.
Michigan's rushing offense is almost as shiny in the national stats at tenth. They have four triple option teams ahead of them—on a YPC basis they're fourth nationally. The last couple weeks opponents have really truly dared Denard Robinson to throw by putting a linebacker over the slot receiver and moving their safeties up into the box (Purdue) or just outside of it (Wisconsin). Rain and a crappy half for Robinson (plus a worse one for the defense) allowed both opponents to get away with their hyper-aggressive defenses. In the second half Robinson started hitting receivers who found themselves in single coverage deep and Michigan ripped off touchdowns on four of five drives, with the fifth headed inside the Wisconsin twenty before a Roundtree drop led to the inevitable batted-ball-to-INT combo.
There are risks involved with going so aggressive, especially when your safeties are indeed injury-plagued and young, and it doesn't seem like Tressel's style to go damn-the-torpedoes. It doesn't look like he'll have to, anyway, with those numbers above. I predicted Wisconsin would back off and Michigan's run game would bounce back. The former definitely didn't happen and the latter may have looked like it did but that relies heavily on a couple of meaningless draws at the end of the first half. This week, Ohio State probably will back off and it will be something like a fair fight on the ground.
Given OSU's results to date expecting something magnificent is foolhardy. The most relevant game above is probably the Illinois game, in which heavy wind and Nathan Scheelhaase's youth—that was his first Big Ten start—gave the Buckeyes an idea of what was coming before the snap. Michigan does have a better rushing offense than the Illini—they're about eight tenths of a yard to the good—and should provide more threat through the air than Scheelhaase, so you can/should expect something more effective than 4.1 YPC. Hitting 4.5-4.8 seems realistic. They'll need more than that to win, though.
Key Matchup: Denard versus Last Safety To Daylight. Okay, I'll take the bait: if safety is a weakness for the Buckeyes, Michigan might be able to spring a long touchdown on the ground, which would be nice.
Pass Offense vs. Ohio State
If Orhian Johnson is three times worse than Ohio State fans say he is we've got it in the bag.
Denard Robinson's sustained bout of inaccuracy lasted until halftime of the Wisconsin game, after which he was ruthlessly effective. He hit several downfield passes, picked apart the Wisconsin zone, and landed himself almost 10 YPA by the time the day was over. That's not enough to dismiss the previous three or four games, in which Robinson slew scoring drives by the hundreds* with passes behind or above but rarely in front of open receivers. It is encouraging. Robinson is in the top 20 in passing efficiency in an offense that throws about 40% of the time. While his legs are a big chunk of that, they are, you know, his legs. He gets opportunities others don't because of them.
Michigan's got some complications, however. Martavious Odoms is done for the year and both other starting wideouts appeared on this week's injury report. It sounds like Darryl Stonum will be good to go, but the perpetually questionable Junior Hemingway is questionable again. Je'Ron Stokes and Jeremy Jackson may get more time than Michigan coaches are comfortable with. Roy Roundtree exists, though, and Michigan can shift its production around without affecting their efficiency too much—usually the choice is not between covering the outside guy and covering Roundtree, but dealing with Robinson and covering Roundtree.
On the other side of the ball, Ohio State fans still manage to sound disappointed in the #7 pass efficiency defense in the country. They are pretty weak at getting to the QB—hardly better than Michigan—and they do have safety issues and they don't have a shutdown corner like they usually do. They've also missed two of the league's best QBs in Kirk Cousins and Dan Persa. Like the rush defense, they haven't played a big chunk of the Big Ten's good passing offenses. They played 1 and 2, but haven't gotten to 3-6 yet. Performance against 1 and 2:
This just in: Wisconsin's Scott Tolzien. Anyway, that's a bad performance in a game Wisconsin hardly threw in and a pretty good one against Iowa. Everything else is brutal strangulation of doe-eyed innocents and the Jacory Harris Interception Spectacular. There aren't many good comparables for Michigan.
Assuming Tressel plays it low-variance, Michigan won't have a ton of opportunities to hit it deep but this will open up the underneath stuff, especially Roundtree's hitch routes, or more likely a variation on them that Ohio State hasn't scouted to death. We've seen QB Lead Oh Noes disappear over the past few weeks; maybe that can be used to exploit Ohio State's youthful safeties. The last time they ran it they had Martell Webb streaking open for what would have been a touchdown if Martell Webb wasn't pretty slow and the ball wasn't chucked directly at an Illinois safety.
*(This may be a slight exaggeration.)
Key Matchup: Robinson's Accuracy versus That Stuff Whatever That Was. No one has been able to consistently defend the run and pass against Denard, so they've chosen the run and have been right more often than not. Michigan needs two halves like the second against Wisconsin—occasional error, mostly deadly—to have a shot.
Run Defense vs. Ohio State
Ohio State doesn't quite have the Badger ground game, with emphasis on "quite". Wisconsin is 12th, Ohio State 17th, with OSU trailing the Badgers by a quarter yard per carry. The main guy is Boom Herron, a compact, powerful runner without a ton of shimmy. He makes a lot of yards by sliding through tackles thanks to his low center of gravity and tree trunk legs. He's not likely to break anything long. He's what Kevin Grady was supposed to be.
Backup Brandon Saine has found himself marginalized as the season goes along. He's a lot like Michael Shaw, combining blazing speed with a lack of tackle-breaking power and a nasty tendency to avoid the intended hole. He's come on as a receiver out of the backfield and in the slot and will probably get a half-dozen carries.
And then there's Pryor, infrequently utilized but wildly effective when deployed. If you take out OSU's sacks he's averaging 8.2(!) YPC on 87(!) attempts this year, numbers that boggle the mind when combined. 87 carries takes the YPC outside the realm of fluke, so… how does a guy averaging 8 yards a carry only get 87 attempts? Tressel, yo. I get the argument you'd like to spare your QB hits against teams with little chance of winning, but Ohio State desperation catchup mode is the spread option. This is frustrating to both Michigan and Ohio State fans.
The script last year against Michigan was similar: OSU came out and ran their I-form "Dave" package with little success most of the day; when Michigan scored to draw within a touchdown out came the spread option. Pryor ran right down the field, touchdown, flood of Michigan interceptions, ballgame. Michigan doesn't have Brandon Graham anymore so the regular package should be more successful than it was last year, hampering Michigan's ability to get the three and outs that kept them in that game.
Key Matchup: Michigan Tacklers versus Herron's Thighs. With Mouton and Demens around it's likely that FBs will be taken on near the LOS and Michigan will have opportunities to get the Buckeyes in long-yardage situations in which Pryor's had some difficulty. One of the many, many problems against Wisconsin was Michigan tacklers not tackling, or giving up two or three yards after contact. That seems like it might be more fixable than Greg Robinson's beaver brain or the incredible youth of everyone.
Pass Defense vs. Ohio State
Terrelle Pryor hasn't exactly developed into the world-beating Vince Young (except better!) imitator he was supposed to be out of high school. Against the good defenses on OSU's schedule he does stuff like this:
The other somewhat average pass D on the schedule was Penn State; Pryor threw just 13 times, completing eight.
Unfortunately for Michigan, "good" is nowhere in the conversation when it comes to Michigan's pass defense. They're looking up at "putrid" and hanging out with "fairly good reason to go insane." I think they peed on my couch and tried to sop it up with a handful of crushed Cheetos. I do not mean this as a metaphor.
They're currently idling at 92nd in pass efficiency defense. Pryor's performance against Indiana, Purdue, and Minnesota, the—sigh—closer comparisons for Michigan's crew of befuddled freshman and slow guys:
Good Lord. Pryor meets a level of defense at which he is suddenly mediocre or worse; below that he is a ruthless bomb-thrower. Adding it all up gives you a quarterback who's 14th in passer efficiency this year and still hasn't had a good game against a real defense.
Pryor's main targets are his outside receivers. Both have around 50 catches, with Dane Sanzenbacher averaging considerably more YPC and has nine touchdowns to Posey's five. The tailbacks and TE Jake Stoneburner are secondary targets, and then there are guys scattered down the roster with the occasional catches. The line's pretty mediocre at pass blocking, giving up almost two sacks a game (59th) despite being 85th nationally in pass attempts.
Even Pryor and the OSU passing game is something of a paper tiger, that fact obviously has no relevance against the Michigan secondary. Scott Tolzein's passes never hit the ground last weekend; Wisconsin went away from the passing game because the run game allowed them to. Amongst the many things the Michigan pass defense cannot do are pressure the quarterback (1.5 sacks per game, 94th), cover receivers (yeesh), tackle, and provide anything more than a slight hindrance to quarterbacks more competent than a rain-soaked Sean Robinson.
Key Matchup: HAHAHAHAHA
OSU's been good with the ball in its returners' hands, solidly above average in punt returns and very good at kick returns. They've been worse than bad in coverage, giving up 12.7 yards a punt return and yielding a touchdown against Miami. Two kickoffs have been returned for touchdowns, too.
The usual story at kicker: OSU's Devin Barclay is 16 of 19, Michigan's blah blah blah. This week I can point out their proficiency at onside kicks, though.
Key Matchup: STOP KICKING THE DAMN BALL
- OSU aligns in the spread, the formation in which Terrelle Pryor is actually quite effective.
- OSU aligns in the I.
- Robinson inaccuracy allows yet more creepin' on the run game.
(Site note: Jebus. One of the "worry ifs" from last week was "Scott Tolzien completes every pass he throws.")
Cackle with knowing glee if...
- Orhian Johnson turns out to be a true freshman two star.
- Denard goes back to his UConn form.
- Ohio State's years-long defiance of karmic comeuppance goes supernova.
Fear/Paranoia Level: 10 (Baseline 5; +1 for Terrelle Pryor Eats Baby Seals And I Can See The Club For Miles, +1 for Despite Everything This Is The Top D In The League By All Measures, +1 for Ours Is Not Very Close HA HA HA, +1 for Turnover Margin: 5 vs 101, +1 for They Are A Much Better Football Team)
Desperate need to win level: 10 (Baseline 5; +5 for The Game)
Loss will cause me to... continue repeating "I expected 7-5" until the bowl game.
Win will cause me to... dissolve.
The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:
There's no reason for optimism, as not even the Epic Pryor Meltdown scenario seems to result in a win a week after Wisconsin didn't throw in the second half.
Tressel won't even have to risk it, as he should be able to grind it out on the ground with success and watch his excellent defense bottle Denard up sufficiently to stake the Buckeyes to a two-score lead they'll maintain most of he day. They'll take the Maserati out of the garage and run the inverted veer when/if Michigan brings it within a score, immediately going down the field to push the margin back out. The defense will be toyed with.
Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
- Pryor throws fewer than 20 times.
- Two Michigan drives die on the vine around the OSU 35.
- The bitter hollowness of defeat has a piquant familiarity, almost like an old friend.
- Ohio State, 35-20.