so much for that
First... in the words of Rasheed Wallace: "The Game! The Game!" Reading RJYH definitively proved to me that Alabama (the state) has no equal when it comes to college football fervency and Warren's recent post about handling the "Shroud of Bear" put any lingering doubts to rest, except those about the sanity of an entire state. But don't tell me that today. Alabama-Auburn may have more passion behind it, but they'll never run out in late November to find the world around them frozen. There's something biblical about cold-weather football, and I'm not talking my nipples-are-somewhat-erect cold. I'm talking the kind of cold that makes a stadium resemble March of the Penguins, the kind of cold that goes beyond annoyance and causes 110,000 people to concentrate very hard upon not dying. It exemplifies the nobility in certain kinds of sheer stupidity.
And there are times when it doesn't feel particularly cold at all.
In that vein, one last linkdump for your edificiation. Blah Me To Death has collected dozens of links as a starting point. Sam at BC&RS exhorts you to wear your blue, and also forwards an email that's being batted back and forth amongst the students:
-Bring water bottles and change (remember, the nazi gate-watchers
won't let you bring them in when they're opened, so if you're planning
on bringing your own special refreshments, make sure to hide it well),
and when you're done drinking your "water", make some noise!
If you're interested. Oh, yeah, and:
don't be a jackass...
Amen, though since I doubt anyone reading is the type of person to be said jackass, the take-home message is to do something about any jackassery you should see. There are east coast frat boys out there, people: let them know to save that stuff for when they're back home spending daddy's money at the Meadowlands.
Vijay at IBFC is having a Rebus contest. I only got the first one.
Wojo checks in with a column that shows he's paying attention:
Quickly, the Buckeyes' obsession returned, and things really got nasty last year in Columbus (city slogan: "$#@& Michigan").
Oh, Wojo, lone bright spot in Detroit's sports opinion scene. The OZone must be putting on the reverse jinx or something, predicting a 24-20 Michigan victory.
Meanwhile, we have proof that Buckeye fans are nuts:
"You see," Peterson continued, getting spiritual about why the rivalry means so much down here, "this is God's team. You can just put Heaven, Ohio," for the dateline.
Look. I could try to put a joke here. But all it would do is distract from the sublime quality of the above quote. So just read it again.
Yes, the bouncing sport gets underway tomorrow against Central Michigan. The Chippewas do not look to be a threat after dropping a game to a D-2 school. Michigan is favored by 25. Poster Central40 on The Wolverine posted some impressions from an open practice he attended that has good news...
-Horton: Really impressive. Looked smooth and in control during drills, didn't push the envelope, but was almost too unselfish-- maybe trying to get others involved. Looks to be ready for a big year.
-Abram: Welcome back. Abram was money from the outside and finished well on the fast break (often 1 on 1). Guy is Mr. consistency, will never wow you, but you'll look up at the scoreboard and see he's put up 15-20 points.
-J. Smith: Guy is continuing to prove the doubters wrong. People said he can't handle the full court pressure-- he broke it with ease. People say his jumper is broke-- he nailed multiple threes and made a lot more than he missed. People said he misses the clutch free throws-- nailed 2 sets of 2 when team sprints were on the line (all four swished). Most impressive of the freshmen (thus far), hands down. Always thought this guy would be well suited for college and Amaker isn't looking like the idiot that everyone thought he was for taking him early.
-Harris: Started out slow, but finished better. Still looks slowed by his foot, doesn't look explosive or quick. His shot was a little off and he didn't take it to the hole all that much. I will reserve further judgement until the CMU game, but he looks like he's 80% out there.
-Sims: Blah. Same old, same old. Looks like an all-star the time and a tennis star (to quote SBell) the other half. Would love to see the guy play pissed off one game-- he'd have 25 and 15.
Sounds like the other two freshman are very raw at the moment.
Scout has more on Alex Legion, by the way. Does not sound like a Crawford-esque decommit is even a remote possibility.
Yeah, I don't think I can top the coaches one, so this may be a letdown, but you get what you pay for.
|The Unabomber||Wackjob||Jeffery Dahmer|
|Advantage: Michigan (Bombing People > Eating People)
|Arthur Miller, Crucible playwright who pulled his 5x2 on Marilyn Monroe||Famous Author||RL Stine, guy who writes the "Goosebumps" series|
|Does it matter?||Humorist||Bruce Vilanch|
|Vastnormous Advantage: Michigan|
|Tom Freakin' Brady||Quarterback||Kirk Herbstreit|
|Lucy Liu||Hottie||Patricia Heaton|
|Clarence Darrow||Famous Law Talkin' Guy||N/A|
|James Earl Jones, Darth Freakin' Vader||Voice of God Guy||Jack Buck, legendary announcer and sire of demonic Joe Buck|
|Google co-founder Larry Page||Internets Superhero Guy||Wikipedia co-founder Larry Sanger|
|Selma Blair||Chick Who Made Out With Sarah Michelle Gellar Guy||N/A|
|Ann Coulter||Woman Some Find Hot, Inexplicably||Melina Kanakaredes|
|Advantage: Eeeew. Push
(Note: Michigan is spared a huge black mark because Michael Moore went to UM-Flint.)
Another Michigan blowout: 10-0-2. They never stood a chance.
(In the interests of focusing more on Ohio State only the first half of the game was charted, since the starters made their exit at half time. Copious thanks to Vijay at IBFC for providing a video as I again forgot to tape the game. Bad Brian, very bad Brian.)
|1||10||O34||Scramble||Henne||2||Henne rolls out and keeps rolling. (TA)|
|2||8||O32||Pass||Bass||7||Bass motions out of the backfield, making this a 4 WR set and catches a simple stop route. (CA)|
|3||1||O25||Pass||Avant||10||Slant to Avant. Ward claims that Henne is going up top on the slant. Perfectly thrown. (DO)|
|1||10||O15||Run||Grady||3||Henige can't move the IU DL out and Grady eventually runs into him. He didn't have anywhere else to go.|
|2||7||O12||Pass||Grady||7||Batted at the line but Grady catches it an picks up a first down. (BA)|
|1||G||O5||Pass||Avant||Inc||Probably a touchdown if Porter doesn't grab Avant's arm, forcing him to attempt a one-handed stab at the pass. (CA)|
|2||G||O5||Pass||Avant||Inc||Fade is overthrown. (IN)|
|3||G||O5||Pass||Ecker||5||Touchdown lasered into Ecker just out of the DB's reach. (DO)|
|Drive Notes: Touchdown, 7-7, 9 min 1st Q. After the Grady deflection the color guy, who is almost as incompetent as Ward, starts waxing eloquent about how Henne has an inordinate number of balls tipped at the line. More on this below. It's crap. Also: I didn't think much of this drive to start but there are a few really excellent throws in here.|
|1||10||O48||Run||Jackson||1||Zilch.Linebacker is unblocked into the hole as the pulling Henige doesn't do anything useful.|
|2||9||O47||Pass||Breaston||23||Slip screen to Breaston off a quick count. The IU DB actually does a really good job of getting outside the other slot receiver and into Breaston's way, but a half second after Breaston gets his head around he just changes direction and goes zip upfield. (CA) BTW: Ward gets this spot wrong by 10 yards.|
|1||10||O24||Run||Jackson||3||Well blocked. Jackson doesn't make all he can of this. Hart does better here.|
|2||7||O21||Run||Jackson||5||Fake end around that the DE does no bite on, getting inside of long and closing down on Jackson.|
|3||2||O16||Run||Bass||8||Bass motions into the backfield and takes a pitch. He is freaking fast.|
|1||G||O8||Pass||Avant||8||I'd be doing my Yosemite Sam soft coverage act if this had happened to us. A long handoff from the eight yard line as the DB is playing way too far off Avant. Good recognition of an unlikely situation by Henne. (CA)|
|Drive Notes: Touchdown, 14-7, 6 min 1st Q.|
|1||10||M39||Pass||Breaston||12||This is a five wide shotgun look. Breaston runs a slant that he then cuts outside to an out... this route has a name, help me out here. Anyway, it's open and Henne lays it in there so Breaston can run after the catch. (DO)|
|1||10||O49||Pass||Massaquoi||6||Play action; Henne checks down to the short option. Throw is slightly behind Massaquoi. (CA)|
|2||4||O43||Run||Grady||0||Thoroughly depressing, as this run play is totally jammed at the line.|
|3||4||O43||Pass||Manningham||14||Manningham's open on a crossing route into an area that Ecker's route has vacated. Henne is again very accurate here. (DO)|
|1||10||O29||Run||Grady||2||Draw. Henige's man disengages and disrupts the play.|
|2||8||O27||Pass||Manningham||Inc||Caught in the endzone but it's out of bounds. Better footwork is a touchdown. (CA)|
|3||8||O27||Pass||No one||Sack, -8||Same guy who made the play on the first down draw beats Henige and rolls around the defensive end, who's getting doubled to make the sack. (marginally TA, as Henne could have gotten rid of the ball if someone was open immediately, but I'm not charting this one.)|
|Drive Notes: Missed FG(52), 14-7 1 min 1st Q.|
|1||10||O26||Pass||Manningham||3||WR screen is surprisingly well defended. (CA)|
|2||7||O23||Run||Grady||5||Grady's forced to cut back outside of the tackle. He makes two after contacting the tackler.|
|3||2||O18||Run||Bass||7||Dude Bass is fast. This is a fake end around from the receiver in motion paired with an outside pitch to Bass.|
|1||10||O11||Run||Grady||9||Pitch out to Grady; he makes an excellent swift cut behind an overpursuing linebacker.|
|2||1||O3||Run||Grady||3||Ends up about a foot from the goal line.|
|Drive Notes: Touchdown(Missed XP), 20-7, 12 min 2nd Q.|
|1||10||O16||Run||Grady||7||Another pitch that Grady gets the corner on.|
|2||3||O9||Run||Grady||2||Third pitch in the last five plays.|
|3||1||O7||Pass||Massaquoi||Inc||There's a DE on Henne instantly on the waggle and he is forced to toss it immediately. (TA)|
|4||1||O7||Run||Bass||-1||Same end-around pitch play that we ran on the last drive. Bass actually stiff arms the safety coming up to make a play but can't keep his balance afterward and steps out just before lunging over the first down marker.|
|Drive Notes: Downs, 20-7, 8 min 2nd Q.|
|1||10||O40||Pass||Henne||Inc||Transcontinental is going to be a touchdown if Breaston can just get it there. That's why he's a wideout. (Not charted.)|
|2||10||O40||Pass||Grady||8||Scren. I think the reason ours work so well generally is because we've gone away from the screen where all four defensive linemen are released into the backfield that defensive linemen no longer buy. Ours are partial screens where in only a couple blockers are released and are thus not as obvious from the snap. (CA)|
|3||2||O32||Run||Grady||32||Touchdown wherein Grady is seemingly going to get stuffed at the LOS but powers through a tackle and rumbles, stumbles, etc, into the end zone. He showed POWER, as EA NCAA Football Kirk Herbstreit might say.|
|Drive Notes: Touchdown, 27-7, 6 min 2nd Q. Does this count as a three and out?|
|1||10||M30||Run||Jackson||3||Well blocked by the line but Avant misses the safety and Ecker can't seal the linebacker as they converge.|
|2||7||M33||Pass||Avant||22||Heartening to see Henne nail Avant on this play, as it's the deep crossing route he's missed so often this year. This time he steps up and hits Avant perfectly. (DO)|
|1||10||O45||Run||Breaston||30||Reverse. Henne gets a hell of a block. I still think this stuff would work against OSU. Why run it now?|
|1||10||O15||Pass||Avant||Inc||Either a ridiculously overthrown pass or a miscommunication. I think it's the former, actually. (IN)|
|2||10||O15||Pass||Avant||9||Slant is somewhat behind Avant, but he makes an excellent catch. (CA)|
|3||1||O6||Run||Jackson||6||Touchdown. Jackson pushes forward to about the one and then lunges forward with the ball to finish for a touchdown.|
|Drive Notes: Touchdown, 34-7, 3 min 2nd Q.|
|1||10||M31||Pass||Avant||18||A ton of time. Henne finds Avant on the deep crossing route again. (DO)|
|1||10||M49||Run||Grady||18||The quick-hitter we run with Grady slightly offset finally works as Michigan opens up a gashing hole and the linebackers don't react quickly enough to it.|
|1||10||O33||Pass||Grady||0||Screen that doesn't work as Stenavich never releases his guy, instead driving him into the play.|
|2||10||O33||Pass||Manningham||14||Wide open underneath the zone. Manningham dodges out of bounds swiftly. (CA)|
|1||10||O19||Pass||Massaquoi||Inc||Henne wings it over the head of an open Massaquoi. (IN)|
|2||10||O19||Run||Jackson||4||A similar play to Grady's 18 yarder earlier in the drive.|
|3||6||O15||Penalty||Manningham||5||Henne finds Manningham and the IU player hits him early. Manningham has to run this past the sticks, though: he was a yard short of the first down. (CA)|
|1||10||O11||Pass||Massaquoi||Inc||Henne manages to find a tiny window between two IU defenders low. It's a tough catch for Mass but a makeable one and a good throw. (CA)|
|2||10||O11||Pass||Breaston||11||Touchdown on a corner route that Henne lays right in Breaston's hands. (DO)|
|Drive Notes: Touchdown, 41-7, EOH.|
It's just Indiana.
Yeah, but still...
|Team||Dead on||Catchable||Inaccurate||Bad Read||Throwaways||Batted|
The screen count in this game is only 3, so our downfield good:bad ratio is 15:6, obviously a massive improvement over Henne's typical 1:1 this year. IU's defense had something to do with that--it's hard to make a bad read when no one is covered--but his accuracy was dramatically increased this week, defenders in the area or no. No, he wasn't being regularly pressured and the IU defenders were generally accomodating. We've heard that story before and it ends with Henne winging the ball well over the head of his intended target and severely fouling up the offense against, say, Wisconsin. This was different.
We need him to replicate this performance against OSU. That doesn't necessarily mean putting up the same numbers--OSU will do a better job of getting to Henne and covering our receivers. It does mean taking advantage of the opportunities the Buckeyes yield. He'll still make his share of poor-to-aaaargh decision against Ohio State, but if he can be efficient when he does find an open guy, it's hooray beer time.
You said you would yell about batted passes.
Henne does not have an abnormal number of passes batted at the line, as the chart above shows. Keep in mind that there are probably four or five incidents of passes being deflected downfield by defenders (and Tim Massaquoi once) lumped in there. He's really averaging slightly over one a game, and many of those were screens on which the tackle failed to get a cut on the offensive lineman.
The batted passes were an obvious issue in one game against Notre Dame and all of a suddent he's John Navarre in this department to many. It's just not true.
What was the deal with all the fancy shmancy trickeration?
I touched on this earlier in the week with a TIC assertion that Michigan was setting up Ohio State for the trick play by running their trick plays, but, er, in reality I'm not a fan of the decision to dump out the exotics against the Hoosiers. That pitch play they ran to Bass is money if the opponent doesn't have it scouted; now Ohio State does. Ditto for the fairly obvious transcontinental. It seems that they're trying to get Ohio State to respect the misdirection and thus open up their more conventional running game. Either that or they're just practicing it. Personally I would prefer to teach Ohio State to respect the misdirection by using it to score a first-quarter touchdown.
In any case, this week's profusion of exotics coupled with the frequent fake end-arounds Michigan was running against Northwestern imply that Malone does indeed have something unusual in mind for Ohio State. It seems like Michigan has acknowledged the fact that a plow-ahead running game is just not going to work on Saturday and will thus get the low variance portion of their yards via less manly means. This helps explain the transcontinental: the WR screen is going to be a staple and Michigan would like it to work the first couple times they use it, so keeping a Buckeye linebacker or two in the middle for an extra split second is desirable.
The offensive line?
Still shaky. Adam Stenavich has been invisible all year, which is perfect for a left tackle. He's shut down every pass rusher he's faced. But the guards were beaten regularly against Indiana of all teams. This happens on a regular basis, and I think the coaches are aware of this. Rueben Riley started rotating in very early in this game, seeing time at both left and right guard. I think Michigan will start the seniors but it's very possible that Riley--not much of a tackle but an effective guard last year--usurps one of the starting positions by the second quarter if the Buckeye DTs are regularly beating one of the starters. Kraus and Long still have health questions, so that's four starters with question marks above their heads. I don't think that's so good against Ohio State.
What does it mean for Ohio State?
If Henne can be as accurate as he was against Indiana we have a very good chance. He's not going to get off as lightly as he did against the Hoosiers, though. The happy feet he displayed against Notre Dame cannot return even though the pressure he will feel will likely be comparable. I've lost all faith in the guards. They're going to get beaten.
To run we need Mike Hart back. No offense to Jackson or Grady, but Mike Hart is on another level, to use a horrible-but-true sports cliche. He can be effective if we establish that Henne is going to be a downfield threat. If the Buckeyes are allowed to focus on him he'll be making his magic happen five yards in the backfield.
Expect misdirection. They've been setting it up for the past three weeks and are integrating it into the gameplan on a regular basis. They know they can't expect to line up and blow the Buckeyes off the ball. Expect a large number of simple throws for Henne that allow Breaston, Manningham, and Bass to run at defensive backs in space. It's going to be a WR screen festival. I'm okay with that: given our strong-armed quarterback, excellent edge blockers in Avant and Ecker, lighting bug receivers and the shallow Buckeye secondary, it's likely to be far more effective than running it into the teeth of a top-five run defense.
We're going to finesse this game, and it's the right decision.
(continued from yesterday. Thanks again to Tom.)
How can I put this diplomatically... how in the damn hell is Troy Smith the fourth most efficient passer in the nation? His statistics are somewhat mindboggling: 10 completions for 249 yards versus MSU, 14 for 226 versus Indiana, 14 for 233 against Minnesota, 13 for 298 against Illinois. How much of that is Smith, how much is it Ginn and Holmes, and how much is four crappy defenses?
I'm going to have to give the Abe Simpson "a little from column A, a little from column B" routine, along with another couple columns thrown into the mix as well.
Column A: It's almost certainly partly the fact that Smith has settled in as the full-time starting quarterback, getting all the reps and "not looking over your shoulder" confidence that comes with that lofty perch.
Column B: It doesn't hurt that guys like Ginn and Holmes have repeatedly shown the ability to take a 10-yard out and turn it into a 60-yard touchdown pass.
Column C: Part of that is the fact that Indiana, Minnesota, Michigan State, Northwestern and Illinois are not exactly the '85 Chicago Bears on the defensive side of the field. Especially in the MSU game, it was crappy tackling that helped Smith throw for eleventy billion yards on just a handful of short routes.
Column D: Antonio Pittman's emergence (may be somewhat linked to column C, above), which has forced defenses to respect the fact that yes, Ohio State actually has a tailback who's good at tackle football for the first time in three years.
Frankly, I don't think that anyone can tell you what the exact mixture of these four elements is. There's probably at least some of each factored in there.
And with all due respect to the fine folks they'll face on Saturday, if the offense blows up for another orgy of points and yardage, I think there will still be some lingering questions from a few corners about just how good they really are. Unless they get a chance to face Miami or some other similarly stout defensive team in a bowl game, I think it may remain one of those great unanswered questions.
If they get shut down this weekend, we will have our answer. Of course, I won't be too concerned about that, as I'll be on top of the press box at Michigan Stadium trying to figure out if the impact with the ground will allow me the sweet, merciful release of death or just add extreme physical pain to the mental and emotion anguish that will already be coursing through my body.
How good is this offense in reality? It's hard to tell with the last five games against pushover defenses. (Granted, Michigan did not burn the field up against Minnesota.)
Well... we know they're damn good against shaky defenses. This (and the next question) all really have the same answer as the last one.
I like the fact that the offensive line is getting a good push. I like the fact that Troy Smith now looks like he's taking time to at least get to the second receiver on his progressions before tucking and running with the ball. I like the fact that Pittman is suddenly blowing people up, running over guys, and running past others. I like the fact that the coaches seem to be making a real effort to get guys like the tight ends and backs involved in the passing game.
I think their consistency over the last month has been an indication that they're at least a good offense. Are they great? I'd love to be arguing this point next week with another 40 point game on the list of evidence.
I have essentially the same question about Antonio Pittman: is he for real? He's ran wild of late--against those sketchy defenses--but Penn State and Texas clobbered him pretty good. How would you rate him in the Big Ten?
He's behind Maroney, for sure. He's behind a healthy Michael Hart (remember him?) as well. Calhoun has been so good this year, but a lot of it came against dreadful defenses.
Beyond that? I have a hard time getting too scared about Albert Young, Tony Hunt, Jarod Void, Jason Teague, or any of the other guys in that next clump of "good but not great" backs.
Based on what we've seen out of Pittman over the last month or so, I think you could make a decent argument that he's number three or four on the list, and maybe even a spot higher if you take Hart's injuries into account.
How has the offensive line performed, especially true freshman Alex Boone? How do you think they'll hold up against the Michigan defensive line?
Boone has been a pleasant surprise, at least to me. All the recruitniks had him pencilled in as a first-year starter, but given the incredibly unreliable nature of recruiting and recruiting coverage, I was a little leery of lumping him in as "the next Orlando Pace" rather than "the next Derek Morris."
I don't know how much you're going to see Boone. He was really playing recently because the normal RT, Kirk Barton, was banged up. He was back last week in some spot duty. You'll probably see some combination of the two on Saturday. That could help them stay fresh against LaMarr Woodley, which would make me happy.
The line on the whole has been pretty good this yearâ€”they're opening holes and giving Smith time to throw. I don't think they're going to blow Michigan's line off the ball by any stretch of the imagination, but I think they're going to be able to move the ball on the ground at least somewhat reliably (4 ypc, maybe? Please?).
I know Alan Branch and Gabe Watson have looked great at times, but Woodley is the guy on Michigan's d-line that just scares the crap out of you. I would assume that OSU will keep a back or TE in to help block, at least until they can figure out how reliably they'll be able to contain him without the extra assistance.
Do you think Michigan has a better handle on mobile quarterbacks?
Better? Sure, but that's like saying France has a better handle on defending against Germany. "Better" doesn't set the bar very high.
Troy Smith is not going to go off for 175 rushing yards or whatever he had last year, simply because I think Michigan is going to sell out to stop that from happening. There's going to be at least one spy on him on every play.
Mobile quarterbacks have still given that defense some problems this year, especially when they're able to roll out and throw.
The problem is not fixed, but it won't be nearly as glaring an issue on Saturday. My guess is that Smith should finish with 50-60 yards rushing. If he gets more than that, the Wolverines could be in trouble.
How do you think Ohio State will attack the Michigan defense?
Based on the fact that I think Michigan is going to sell itself out to stop Pittman and Smith from running the ball, the Buckeyes probably have to stretch the field a little bit early to keep those safeties from creeping up. If I was Jim Tressel, I would seriously consider running Ginn and Holmes on fly routes on opposite sides of the field, and sending Gonzalez on a 20-yard post on the first play of the game. Just send a message that you'd better not get any ideas about cramming eight or nine guys in the box. You need to keep taking those shots every now and then, when you see those safeties getting nosy. It doesn't always need to be a bomb, but a 20-yard out or slant every drive or so would go a long way toward opening things up for the run game.
If they can get those guys to back out, then look for a steady diet of runs up the gut (if they can get Watson out of the way), possibly off that fake end-around to Ginn, and plenty of those little speed option plays they've been running.
Tressel is still Tressel. You're not going to see Smith putting the ball up
40 times on Saturday unless the Buckeyes fall way behind. He'll probably run, run, run and try to set up that fake-option pass that killed MSU.
But he's probably going to have to throw it early to get the run game going.
How many opportunities will Breaston get? Are Huston's kickoffs returnable? How is your punter doing?
Huston had something like 17 kickoffs in a row that went for touchbacks this month. He had a couple that were returned last weekend, but part of that was due to the fact that he was kicking into a stiff wind. I'm also not sold on the fact that the coaches didn't tell him to kick short once or twice, just to get the kick coverage guys some game experience.
For most of the year, they've been like outfielders in one of those Little League games where the pitcher has hit puberty before anyone else and is consequently just blowing the ball past everyone. You want those outfielders ready on the off-chance that one of the hitters has hit puberty, too, and Steve Breaston has a 5 o'clock shadow in the batter's box.
The punter (redshirt freshman A.J. Trapasso) has been pretty good this year. He had one screwy play early in the year where he dropped the ball on a snap, but other than that he's been solid. The gunners (especially #14, a backup DB named Antonio Smith) have been good this year. They need to have a great game Saturday.
It would not bother me at all if Trapasso just kicked it out of bounds 35 yards down the field all day. I think Michigan is much more dangerous with the ball in Breaston's hands on a return than they are with the offense against the OSU defense.
Finally: what's your prediction?
Ya know... I really don't have a feel for this game. Normally, I at least have a feeling about how it's going to turn out, even if it turns out to be completely wrong. This year, I think there are so many variables that it's almost impossible to know how it'll play out.
Is Hart healthy? Is the OSU offense for real? How much will it help to have Barringer and Englemon back at safety, instead of the Big Play twins? How will Michigan respond to their back-to-back bye weeks? What happens if Garret Rivas trots onto the field down two points in the final seconds, with a swirling wind, needing a 44-yarder to win the game?
I think most people would probably agree that on paper, the Buckeyes have a better team right now. I would take the OSU offense against the Michigan defense (but not by much), the OSU defense against the Michigan offense (but not by nearly as much as you might think), and the OSU special teams.
But we all know how often (2004, 2001, 1996, 1995, 1993... and maybe one or two others in between) the better team on paper loses this game.
Look at 1997 and 2002. Those teams combined to win 1.5 national championships (zing!). One needed to intercept a pass at the goal line on the final play of the game to pull out a win. The other needed a quarterback to go color-blind, then crap down his leg for 60 minutes to win.
This one is in Ann Arbor, and as nice as 2001 was, this will be my fifth time watching the Buckeyes play there in person, and I've already had three crappy, miserable drives home.
I guess I'm contractually obligated to pick the Buckeyes, but I get the feeling that either OSU wins by 10 or more, or Michigan finds a way to pull this out in the end.
OSU 27, Michigan 13 (If I'm wrong, I'll be sobbing too loudly to hear about it anyway)
New feature! Who's dead! Who's almost dead! Who has a mysterious illness that mysteriously forces them to mysteriously not play! Updated regularly! If you have any tenuous speculation/corrections/updates email or leave a comment! Too many exclamation points(!)!
This week's changes: Removed Riley, Biggs, Englemon, Barringer. Added Long. Injury information is very thin out there and no one's status has been confirmed, but I believe that everyone on the list is available except Arrington, Mundy, and McClintock. That does not mean they're 100%. I would not be surprised to see Manningham hampered by the knee issue he picked up on the punt return. Given what is known about the rest of the injuries I think everyone else should be ready to go, but don't rush out to your bookie based on this post.
|RB||Hart||Rolled ankle||Iowa||DTD||probable||Carr last week: "Mike Hart will play, definitely." He didn't. Precaution or ominous note? No one knows.|
|WR||Arrington||Ankle sprain||NIU||season||out||Carr: "If I had to guess, I would say he will not play this year."|
|WR||Manningham||undisclosed||IU||DTD||probable||Doesn't seem too bad but apparently he's got something wrong; guess is a strain or a pull of some sort.|
|OL||Long||Ankle aggravation||IU||DTD||probable||Left after a couple series against the Hoosiers, probably just as a precaution.|
|OL||Kraus||Minor knee||NW||DTD||probable||Did not play against IU.|
|DE||Woodley||Deep arm bruise||Iowa||DTD||probable||Did see some time against IU.|
|LB||McClintock||Chronic back issues||preseason||DTD||doubtful||Not dressing.|
|LB||Graham||Two broken thumbs||PSU||~3-4 weeks||playing||Returned against NW; played more than Thompson.|
|S||Mundy||Shoulder||preseason||season||out||Probably will return by spring.|
Exited the list: Riley, Barringer, Englemon, Biggs.
Almost Off: Hart, Kraus, Graham, Woodley, Long, Manningham.
We'll take a step back from the mindless (but fun!) Buckeye bashing to actually talk about, you know, the game, and we've got an enormous assist from Tom Orr. Orr is the man behind the Michigan Monday column at the OZone and a occasional sparring partner here. He's so credible that every column he publishes gets linked on Michigan message boards across the Internet. The replies are usually along the lines of "I know he is a Buckeye and thus destined for the fiery furnance, but that's a damn good column"--an accomplishment not to be taken lightly.
We've exchanged questions and answers over the past couple days. Tom's responses are so extensive and useful that I've broken them up into two posts so you can absorb them at a more leisurely pace. What follows is (obviously) part I. Part II is tomorrow.
You've watched every Michigan game this year. What were your personal expectations going into the season? Do you think Michigan has underachieved?
Going into the year, I thought this was a pretty typical Michigan teamâ€”probably two losses somewhere along the line, but solid on both sides of the ball. I also thought that there was a chance (not a great chance, but a chance), given their schedule, that they could run the table.
OSU at home, Penn State at home, Notre Dame at home, Minnesota at home... that's the recipe for a great year. The only glaring landmine was playing Iowa in Kinnick Stadium.
Remember, before the year the trip to Madison didn't look particularly daunting to most people, myself included.
Going on the basis of my expectation of a two-loss season, I don't really think it's fair to say this team has underachieved. There are people every year who think teams are going to run the table, then get all ticked off when it doesn't happen.
This team had some question marks, especially on defense, and I don't think perfection is a fair standard to hold them to. That was a miscalculation by the prognosticators, not a bad season by the team.
The notion of underachieving is particularly unfair when you consider the injuries this team has suffered this year. It's pretty remarkable when you think about it; for at least a stretch of a few games, and in some cases for the majority of the season, this team lost its star tailback (Mike Hart), arguably its best offensive lineman (Jake Long), another offensive lineman (Mike Kolodziej), its biggest offensive play-maker (Steve Breaston, who I'm convinced was about 75% all year), one of its promising wide receivers (Adrian Arrington), its best defensive lineman (LaMarr Woodley), and three safeties (Ryan Mundy, Willis Barringer, Brandent Englemon). That doesn't even get into losing Lawrence Reid in the spring, getting about a half of a season out of Gabe Watson, and all the other dings, bangs and bumps to guys like Jeremy Van Alstyne, Chris Graham, etc.
Looking back, I think this team has been more crippled by injuries than any Michigan team since 1984. That team never really circled the wagons and finished 6-6. This team is going into the final weekend of the season with the entirely realistic possibility of playing in a BCS bowl game.
I think the idea that they've underachieved is probably more than a little misguided.
Obviously the offense has been a major disappointment. In my tape reviews I've singled out Henne and the interior offensive line as the major sources of the problems. Do you think that's accurate?
I think the problems for this offense all start with that line, and again, some of that has to be chalked up to losing Long for most of the year (he still hasn't played an entire game), and losing other guys for parts of the season. When you've got a guy like Rueben Riley playing right tackle, you're going to have problems running the ball and protecting the passer, and that's what Michigan had to deal with for a bunch of weeks in the middle of the season. Riley's probably not a bad fit in the middle of that line somewhere, but he just looked completely out-classed against some of the better defensive ends in the league.
I think to some degree, Matt Lentz has followed David Baas' footsteps as a guy who was highly touted, but sometimes failed to live up to the hype. Kraus (at center) has been banged up and is still in his first year as a starter. Henige at the other guard position has been okay, but far from outstanding. Stenavich has been pretty good, but he's only one guy.
Michigan's line is an above-average Big Ten unit, but they're not anywhere in the neighborhood of some of the dominant, road-grader lines they've had in the past. That makes it tougher to run the ball, which in turn makes it tougher to throw the ball.
It seems like whenever Hart gets a handoff, he either gets hit at the line or about a yard or two downfield. To his credit, he gets low and drives through guys and always falls forward, so you look at the stat sheet and he's averaging 4.7 per rush. But he's really earning those yards.
In the passing game, Henne's not getting hammered by pass rushers, but it seems like he's getting knocked down a little more this year than in the last couple seasons (I don't know if the stats will bear that outâ€”it's just something that has occurred to me at times this fall).
Certainly, Henne has had his struggles. He looked dreadful against Notre Dame and dreadful again in Wisconsin. He's clearly got some mechanical issues that they've supposedly been working through (arm angle, release point and stride length have all been mentioned this year), but I remain convinced that Hart's absence has had at least something to do with Henne's issues.
His worst games have come on days when Hart is not playing; you can chalk that up to some mental dependence on Hart or the fact that his absence allows defenses to focus more on the passing game, but I think there's a definite link there.
I know you're not a big believer in that "security blanket" theory, but we keep hearing how Hart is such a commanding presence in the huddle, and how guys look into his eyes and get inspired... blah, blah, blah. If there's any truth at all to that, one would think that when he's not there, there would be some negative effect from the loss of that presence/ those eyes... whatever.
[Indeed I don't necessarily buy a correlation between Henne's accuracy and Hart's presence but I do think that his absence has hurt the blitz pickups and allowed opponents to focus more on coverage. I just don't think when Henne throws he's subconsciously aware of Hart's absence. -ed]
Ohio State's defense has been almost entirely impregnable save for that strange 31 point outburst by Minnesota that featured 396 yards for Brian Friggin' Cupito. How the hell did that happen? Is there anything there that Michigan will be looking to exploit?
The Minnesota game was sort of a weird confluence of circumstances that added up to an ugly performance.
For one, the defense was obviously keyed primarily toward stopping the run, leaving the corners out on islands on a lot of plays. Also, Minnesota's receivers (especially Ernie Wheelwright) are tall, and can create matchup problems on jump-balls, even against a 6-foot-1 corner like Ashton Youboty. Add in the fact that Bryan Cupito played the game of his life and you have a recipe for an offensive explosion.
I haven't watched that tape since the week of that game, but I remember one of the times Youboty got beat, he tried to jump a quick out, and the guy gave him double-move and got deep for a big play. On at least one of the deep balls, Cupito just shot-putted one up into pretty good coverage, and the Minnesota receiver came back and made a great play (tha
t was the one that got them down to the 1 and set up a touchdown). It wasn't like he was constantly missing tackles or getting toasted deep on every other play.
Of course, what set that up was Minnesota's ability to run the ball. Maroney had a long run and put up 100 yards before the half. That forced the Buckeyes to dedicate more guys to stopping that run game and left them vulnerable deep.
Certainly, Michigan will be looking to do the same this week. If they can get Hart established early, that could set up some big plays in the passing game.
Michigan State did the same thing, running the ball decently early then using the eerily-accurate Drew Stanton to get it downfield. If Henne plays the way Stanton did in that first half, there's no way to defend it.
You can throw on this defense, but you need to be able to run the ball a little, and your quarterback needs to be pretty accurate. Stanton carved this team up because he was hitting guys on the numbers all day and getting time to throw.
Last week another pretty good quarterback, Brett Basanez, had about three good minutes, then spent much of the rest of the day running for his life, throwing into tight coverage and piling up wildly unimpressive numbers.
The defense is not consistently terrible like Michigan State's, but if you can do certain things well, you can attack them.
It seems like Ohio State's extremely thin at corner past Youboty. Tyler Everett's a converted safety and then you guys have who exactly?
A true freshman named Malcolm Jenkins has been playing a lot this year. He didn't play last week, and was shuffled down the depth chart this week, but if he can go, he's a decent cover guy.
You'll see Brandon Mitchell, who's one of the backup safeties, on the field as the nickelback Saturday. There's another true freshman, Jamario O'Neal, who has played on passing downs this year.
Generally, I would guess that the defense is going to try to keep its strength (the linebackers) on the field as much as possible, even if it means playing a 4-3-4 consistently against a three-wide receiver set.
You might not see much of that cornerback depth unless someone gets hurt.
Michigan's running game has been good with Hart and mediocre without him, but this week they're clashing with an entirely different animal than your Northwesterns and Indianas. Assuming Hart is fully healthy, how do you think he'll do relative to last year (around 3 YPC for 60 yards and one 40 yard screen)?
I'm not necessarily the person to ask, because I didn't think Chris Perry was going to be able to run on the Buckeye defense two years ago. However, assuming Hart is 100% or close to it, I think he would be hard-pressed not to match or top last year's numbers.
There is a significant question in my mind about just how rusty he's going to be, and how healthy he is. I know he's probably running in practice all week, but the holes he's seeing on Wednesday are going to look a lot different from the size of the holes he'll see Saturday (at least I sure hope they do). He's still relatively young and has really never gotten himself into a groove at any point this season.
Still, he's a good back. As I mentioned before, he's going to fall forward for a few yards even if you hit him right in the hole. If this defense form-tackles all afternoon (they have shown that they know how, but occasionally forget), they could contain him, maybe even holding him to 75-100 yards.
If Hart gets more than 130 yards, Michigan almost certainly wins.