somehow we're only 124th
Just two links, so go read them. It's required by law.
Great players' legacies should be based on their entire body of work, but even if I've never spent any time in the Upper Midwest, I know enough about the gleeful antagonism between Ohio State and Michigan to know that's not exactly how it works. Saturday is the last chance the kids who started together with such promise four years ago, and have largely lived up it, have to go out alongside Lloyd Carr without the oft-referenced albatross of being the "Michigan Men" who never beat Ohio State, never won a bowl game, never won the Big Ten outright (the 2004 title was a tiebreaker situation over co-champ Iowa) and ultimately never capitalized on tthe full possibilities.
Tomorrow, it is over for them all, it is over for this era, this dynasty, however plagued by the ability to let us down it might have been. The dynasty that won our hearts and little else, it is over for them.
Oh, and... two sources indicate that the Scouts, Inc., report on Hart is excessively pessimistic: Hart will definitely start, as will Henne. It'll be up to their respective joints to hold up, but they're playing.
At around 3:00 on November 18th, 2006, I sat in the student section of Ohio Stadium and barely succeeded in not dissolving into a heap of tears worthy of Tammy Faye Baker as various bands and people paid tribute to Bo Schembechler. At that moment, the game that was about to unfold was quite literally the most important thing that ever had or ever would happen in my life. Michigan had to win.
Or what? Or I don't know what.
Five hours later I stood outside a Columbus 7-11 as the city, red-lit and ominous, exploded in hedonistic joy for their demon-coach and his demon-team. I waited for a man named Skeeter who would never come and silently decided that the true essence of adulthood was the realization that horrible things just happen and keep happening and they are unfair and there is no redemption at the end of things, ever, just more horrible things to have happen to you and the people you care about. And that "realization" is the right word there, not acceptance, because the things that are horrible are just unacceptable but they are real and you have to deal with them anyway.
I was a little melodramatic, maybe.
Or at least, that's what I thought. In September when I watched Chad Henne loft a prayer to Mario Manningham from the exit of section 44 -- I, wishing to flee the disaster scene as fast as possible, had bolted from my seat as soon as Appalachian State drew within chip-shot field goal range, content to watch the final throes from up above -- only for Shawn Crable to violate a basic principle of football 101 ("don't let that asshole block the field goal"), I revised my previous theory to something simpler: God is bored, and we are the ants under the magnifying glass.
Going into this year I had simple desires. I wanted to beat Ohio State, I wanted to win a BCS bowl, and I wanted Lloyd Carr to sail off into the sunset a respected, though probably not exactly revered, old jedi, Obi-Wan-style. And I wanted to see Mike Hart run. Shockingly, all these things remain on the table for Michigan if they can beat Ohio State, which -- as detailed earlier today -- the old brain thinks is pretty damn unlikely. And to fail one last time when everything is on the line... well... just fuck, man.
So I'm tired, and I'm sad, and I don't think any of us is going to get what we want. Maybe that's just detachment and preparing myself for defeat so it's easier when it actually comes but I don't think so. Because it's not easy to consider Mike Hart walking off that field a final time, head down, as Ohio State players clench roses in their teeth. It's not easy to envision Henne and Hart and Long and Manningham resigned to a dusky corner of Michigan history revisited only by force when economics professors go "WOOO 0-4 Mike Hart" in your face when they present their stupid studies about the AP poll at academic conference "WOOO 6-1 Jim Tressel".
But then there's Hart. Yesterday a Syracuse-area radio host called me for some quotes on Hart yesterday, and I obliged, objecting to the idea of "swagger" and describing Hart's career-in-microcosm eight-yarder against Penn State in 2005. A final question brought me short, though, something about the feelings of Michigan fans as Hart takes the field for the final time in Michigan Stadium. I don't recall the exact phrasing.
I stopped, and when I continued after a moment the words were halting, wavering, on the edge of collapse. What they were didn't matter. I can't encapsulate four years of glory and pain in three sentences. But a catch in the throat after an innocuous question can.
I am done thinking. Michigan is listless in the last days of a dying empire, but Mike Hart will run out of the tunnel and I will believe until I can't or I don't have to anymore. Go Blue.
Run Offense vs. Ohio State
Mike Hart's high ankle sprain has lingered since halftime of the Purdue game; Hart's only appearance since consisted of 15 carries against Michigan State. Those carries gained 115 yards, though two carries and one fluke fumble recovery comprised most of that amongst twelve carries of bupkis. Brandon Minor and Carlos Brown did well in extended action against Illinois and, for what little it's worth, Minnesota but have struggled badly the last two weeks against previously substandard run defenses.
Hart's health remains a question. I have no idea where Scouts, Inc., is hearing this, but they say things($) that make me want to find my security blanket and set it on fire:
The statuses of Michigan RB Mike Hart and QB Chad Henne are uncertain. From what we are hearing, Henne is likely to play but Hart's outlook is far less optomistic. [sic!]
Normally anything claiming someone's injury outlook is not "optomistic" could be dismissed, but this is the WWL and all. I have heard nothing either way.
I don't buy it, though. Hart can't be any more injured than he was against Michigan State and he was gimpy but okay to play about half of that game; in Hart's final Ohio State game he'll have to shatter his tibia to come out. He'll start; there is the chance he re-aggravates the injury and is forced to come out.
Meanwhile, the Ohio State run defense enters the game much like the did a year ago: statistically terrifying (4th nationally) but probably softer than the numbers indicate. As Tom Orr mentioned yesterday, Rodney Kinlaw had an excellent, if foreshortened, day against Ohio State. Illinois just got done torching the Buckeyes, though that might not be particularly relevant given Michigan's lack of a zone read. On the other hand, Wisconsin and Michigan State were shut down almost entirely.
Which will it be? It's hard to tell. Michigan's run game has proven predictable and incapable of taking advantage of weak or undersized defensive tackles. Without a consistently effective counter or a play action option other than waggle, which goes for a first down three or four times a game but has shown no big play potential in two years as Michigan's primary counterpunch, opposing defenders have been free to sell out on the zone stretch. Heavy slanting plus dodgy play from the interior line, especially whoever the rotating right guard is, has put Michigan into long yardage situations with frequency.
If past Ohio State games are any indication, this should change. Michigan always brings out a bag of plays that play off the tendencies Michigan has established in the 11 previous games. The result is usually a surprisingly effective offense. Even without Hart this is unlikely to be as bad as the past couple games; part of the reason Michigan is so infuriating during the season is because they believe Ohio State can't see the world's most obvious "gotcha!" coming; the gotcha is unlikely to work but the sheer diversity of the offense at full speed will improve matters.
Ohio State fans claim their defensive tackles have been a liability and Laurinaitis is not the baby-eating viking Musberger makes him out to be; I tend to believe them. If Hart plays Michigan should move the ball in a fashion similar to what they did last year. Yes, Michigan's interior line is softer, but so is the interior of the Ohio State defense; lining Vernon Gholston up against Steve Schilling also means lining a freshman up against Jake Long.
The projection here:
- Michigan shows more creativity in its rushing attack, slicing open excessively aggressive OSU defenses several times.
- Hart plays and does well; his backups spot him periodically.
- Michigan averages around 4 or 4.5 YPC.
Key Matchup: Mike Hart versus His Traitorous Ankle. I should have an actual matchup for the Ohio State game, but nothing will impact Michigan's run game more than the status of Hart's gimpy wheel.
Pass Offense vs. Ohio State
This preview assumes that Chad Henne will play; if he does not please substitute "HEAD FOR THE HILLS! ONLY THE STRONG WILL SURVIVE!" for the text in this space.
That clear, we can proceed. Much like last year, Ohio State enters the game with some terrifying pass defense numbers: sixth in efficiency, second in yardage, and fifth in sacks. Meanwhile, Michigan limps into The Game with completely pedestrian numbers, 65th in yardage and 60th in efficiency terms. Statwise, this is a blowout.
However, mitigating factors abound, most notably the frequent use of freshman Ryan Mallett when Henne has been injured. Mallet's completing a Juice-esque 43% of his passes and has seven touchdowns to five interceptions, enough to seriously harsh any team's passer efficiency. Henne has been much better, completing 61% and averaging a respectable 7.3 yards per attempt. If he is healthy and well-protected he'll be by far the best quarterback Ohio State has opposed this year. Those are big ifs, though.
Is he healthy? Yes, no, sorta, maybe. Henne injured his shoulder against Illinois, returning late to lead Michigan past the Illini, then missed the Minnesota game. When he returned against Michigan State he was wildly variable, starting off okay and settling into a deep funk Brady Leaf couldn't rival before slinging Michigan to a remarkable comeback victory. S'okay? Not so much. Against Wisconsin he threw five passes, two of them wildly errant, then headed to the bench. That's a definite red flag.
Michigan fans should hope the widely-circulating internet rumor that Henne's arm was numbed by a botched cortisone shot -- no doubt administered by the same guy who's coaching the kick coverage unit -- is true, as it would provide an explanation for his performance/absence other than "has family of squirrels comfortably living in separated shoulder socket". For what it's worth, I've heard said item from multiple sources and think it's true. So whatever happened against the Badgers is not representative of his health; our baseline should be Michigan State plus two weeks to heal. Unfortunately, even on Henne's last couple robot drives in that game his outs were looping and his other balls were tossed, not rifled. It's reasonable to assume he will be closer to 80% than 100% and will miss some throws he might make under normal circumstances.
Will he get protected? Freshman defensive tackle Cameron Heyward should just take passing plays off against Jake Long, and the Buckeye defensive tackles are a shining weak point in an otherwise stout defense. No Buckeye defensive lineman other than Heyward has more than one measly sack...
...except that #*$@ing Gholston guy. Who has freaking ten. And will be playing against Steve Schilling. And may occasionally get slid over to Carson Butler on a blitz pickup. Which might happen frequently since OSU's starting linebackers have 11.5 sacks between them; various members of the secondary from Donald Washington to Anderson Russell also sport sacks here and there. Given 1) Michigan's severe difficulty with a bunch of stunting blitzes from UW and 2) Schilling's (and Butler's) consistent trouble with any above-average defensive end... Henne is likely to get hit frequently and sacked three or four times.
Meanwhile, Ohio State's secondary boast a likely first-round pick in Malcolm Jenkins, then three sophomores and a freshman nickelback. In this year of incompetent Big Ten quarterbacking, they have not been tested thoroughly, and with the pass rush Ohio State has they can reasonably lay back, prevent big plays, and wait for third and long.
- Henne und
er siege much of the day; protection metric will be fortunate to clock in at 80%.
- Arrington gets open consistently; Manningham burns the occasionally jam-happy Jenkins once or twice.
- Who knows if Henne takes the opportunity? I lean towards no.
Key Matchup: Schilling versus Gholston. I've been on this all week.
Run Defense vs. Ohio State
I'm looking for a way this won't be ugly and can't find one. Chris Wells is averaging 5.8 yards per carry and mostly skipped one of Ohio State's cupcake games, that against Kent State. A violent, pounding runner, -- think Tony Hunt on steroids* -- Wells would normally be a good matchup for Michigan, which has historically beaten between the tackles runners into submission. But anyone who's observed a game from The Horror onward knows this is not the sort of interior run defense normally associated with Michigan football.
Sugarplum dreams that Michigan's problems were strictly spread/zone-read based dissolved in the second half against Michigan State and all of the Wisconsin game; in retrospect those hopes were more fanciful than they seemed. Michigan's problem, outside of Shawn Crable occasionally crashing down and losing contain, was rarely an inability to close down an outside run or find an option guy. Usually it was just the fact that anyone running up the gut wasn't tackled until he'd picked up three to eight yards.
The reasons for this are multitude: Brandon Graham is unsound against the run so far this year; the backups on the defensive line are not ready to play yet; Will Johnson is just okay. But the main flashing reason is simple: the Michigan linebackers suck. Senior Chris Graham is average at best, incapable of filling a hole when he has to take on a blocker and rarely able to get his stubby arms disengaged to tackle. Add in a mental mistake or three a game and one hideously blown coverage you probably shouldn't have asked him to attempt in the first place and there you go. Meanwhile, freshman Obi Ezeh took over for Johnny Thompson midseason and has looked like a freshman: hesitant. He may have potential but at the moment he is distinctly below average.
Terrance Taylor has been a consistently excellent performer in the middle and Jamar Adams has come up to fill capably several times, but the numbers don't lie. Wells is not likely to be tackled near the line of scrimmage frequently, and Ohio State should put together a number of grinding drives.
- Wells runs 40 times for 200 yards.
Key Matchup: Will Johnson versus Barton, Cordle, etc. Taylor will do his thing, I believe. If Johnson can have a great day -- like, an excellent day, a miraculous day, the best day of his career -- Wells can get off kilter in the backfield and even our linebackers can converge. Johnson's shown the potential to do this; consistency has been lacking.
*(Not literally. Okay, probably not literally.)
Pass Defense vs. Ohio State
OSU will look upon its pass offense as a way to keep excessive heat off Wells, convert third and longs, and pop a big play or two; Todd Boeckman is unlikely to exceed 25 throws unless something seriously weird happens.
We can split those throws into two categories. The first category: oh God, play action. Boeckman's shown both a flair for the deep ball and an inadvisable tendency to display said flair into double coverage. Given Michigan will be virtually forced to sell out on Beanie Wells, Boeckman will have an opportunity or two to hook up with someone named Brian (or, I guess, Ray) for a long touchdown. Morgan Trent's gotten beaten deep a few times this year; Donovan Warren remains but a freshman; Jamar Adams will probably be within five yards of the line of scrimmage. Michigan's defensive line has gotten a ton of pressure on quarterbacks when allowed to pin back the ol' ears and go get 'em, but when forced to maintain run responsibilities they've allowed Tyler Donovan and Brian Hoyer scads of time.
Ohio State will have a number of opportunities to stick a dagger in Michigan on first and ten. The fate of those opportunities will have a major bearing on the game's outcome. (Uh... duh. Sorry.)
On the other side of things we have the obvious passing down, which figures to be a regretfully infrequent visitor tomorrow. The flip side of Michigan's struggles to get to the quarterback when the threat of the run is present has been a relentless feast upon anyone Michigan knows will be throwing the ball.
This should be an advantage for Michigan. Once the Michigan secondary booted Stevie Brown to the bench and Johnny Sears from the team, the haze lifted from their eyes and they started playing quite well. Boeckman is a first year starter, the Michigan secondary has been between good and excellent since the post-apocalyptic Oregon game, and Ohio State doesn't have the horses at TE or WR to force Chris Graham into the really awkward situations he faced last year against Ohio State and last week against Travis Beckum. It's never good to get in obvious throwing downs; here it will be much worse than normal.
- One bomb to Robiskie.
- Few sacks or even actual pressure as Michigan struggles to control Wells.
- Boeckman makes a couple major mistakes.
Key Matchup: Shawn Crable versus Alex Boone. If anyone on Michigan's team has southern speed, it's Crable.
Something has to hold in this titanic kick return battle! Ohio State is 119th in returns! Michigan is 95th in opponent kick return average! This will be like watching Notre Dame play itself! The glory!
In other departments, it's more of the same for Ohio State: excellent kicker (Ryan Pretorious is 17/21), outstanding punting and punt coverage (14th in net average), and a white guy who can jet on punt returns (Brian Hartline has a 90-yard touchdown this year). The punt returning is actually mediocre overall, for the record. Ohio State should be solid.
Michigan, OTOH, has awful kick returns (109th), bad punt returns (73rd), mediocre punting (Zoltan has dropped off the face of the earth the past two weeks; Michigan sits at 56th nationally), and the aforementioned terrible kick coverage. But, hey, Kicking Competency Lopata is perfect on a bunch of shortish field goals. So not everything about Michigan special teams points to a coaching staff in disarray. Just all of it except the kicker.
Key Matchup: Zoltan versus Dude, Like, What Happened? Ohio State figures to win special teams solidly unless Zoltan returns to his excellent early-season form.
- Hart looks gimpy. Obvs.
- Michigan doesn't have a lot of clever stuff hidden for this game.
- The run defense looks like it has the last 1.5 games.
Cackle with knowing glee if...
- Henne's arm looks limber and ready to go.
- The Ohio State defensive tackles look pretty useless.
- Boeckman looks implod-y.
Fear/Paranoia Level: 10 out of 10. (Baseline 5; +1 for
Our Weaknesses Play Into Their Stregths, +1 for Our Stars Are Not 100%, +1 for They're Just Better Coached, +1 for Even Zoltan's Folding, +1 for Unfortunately, I Have A Long Term Memory).
Desperate need to win level: 10 out of 10. (Baseline 5; +5 for Duh)
Loss will cause me to... write "yes, but" Carr era obit.
Win will cause me to... write "yes" Carr era obit.
The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:
Ohio State certainly doesn't appear to be rebuilding, and Michigan certainly doesn't appear to be reaching anything approximating an apex. This is not the script I signed up for at the beginning of the year.
Anyone who read the VEQ knows the things I think this game will turn on: Wells versus a mediocre-at-best run defense and Schilling and Butler versus Gholston and extensive Ohio State blitzing. These look to be huge advantages for Ohio State, and Michigan does not have an equivalent. Maybe if Henne is healthy, or at least healthy-ish, he and the talented Michigan receivers can exploit a youthful OSU secondary that hasn't faced many tests this year. Maybe Hart can drive Michigan to victory on a busted ankle. Maybe. But I don't think so.
Football is weird and we are obviously not as crappy relative to OSU as the stats suggest -- Henne, Hart, etc -- but Michigan's weaknesses line up against OSU's strengths in a terribly unfortunate way.
Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
- I've already provided plenty of predictions specific enough to look dumb later.
- So leave me be.
- Ohio State, 27-20.
Gameday is... just north of the stadium in the dirt parking lot, says the Daily. Please be nice. Also, the pep rally today -- previously scheduled for 3PM -- now starts at 6:30.
And that's a 180 for everyone. Jim Carty, whose "hey, Les Miles!" blog post some months ago spurred the increasingly regrettable "Les Miles Isn't A Candidate For Anything" post, now claims Miles won't be the coach if Carr retires in the immediate aftermath of the OSU game:
Will Miles be the next coach here if Carr steps down?
Not if Carr announces any time soon. Jilting LSU in the midst of a potentially championship season would go against everything Miles' mentor Bo Schembechler stood for, and it would be impossible for Miles and Michigan to both hold out for nearly eight weeks as the Tigers chased the title.
Carr knows that, so you can consider the date of his official announcement a bit of a referendum on whether or not he wants Miles to have a shot at the job.
Dan Wetzel has this meme, along with his standard "why would anyone leave LSU?" stuff, too.
There is only one thing to say to this: What?
The only reason to hire a coach NOW NOW NOW is to keep Michigan's recruiting class together. Recruiting is important, but the difference between hiring someone three or four weeks after the OSU game -- probably about as fast as the process can go -- and eight is like, what, two kids? Three?
If you have a clear #1 coaching candidate (and unless Tedford says yes(!) to Michigan, Miles appears head and shoulders above all other available coaches) a couple of recruits is a piddling price to pay. Besides, if Michigan sits and twiddles its thumbs even after New Year's Day they've functionally named a coach already.
File this under "way ahead of ourselves": Varsity Blue creates a potential Miles-Carr frankenstaff.
Creamed. Basketball got plowed by Georgetown last night, which should put an end to everyone's vague hopes Beilein was a miracle worker. Stadium & Main attended some alumni thing in which Beilein hopped on the bar and started talking:
We had the entire first floor of Clyde's packed with Michigan fans, and Coach Beilein actually got up on one of the bar area tables to talk to us. I don't remember every word, but he mentioned something like "If you could see our practices, they look like middle school practices." Talked about fundamentals, asked that we be patient with the team, said that the team will grow throughout the year, etc.
Unfortunately, the team proved his middle-school prediction right (or at least, so it seems -- due to the wonder of ESPN 360 I didn't see the game). Still, when the Seattle Times surveys 82 D-I coaches and asks...
Which college coach is the best at formulating strategy?
...it's nice to see the list reads like so:
John Beilein, Michigan: 9
Bob Knight, Texas Tech: 8
Tom Izzo, Michigan State: 6
Rick Majerus, Saint Louis: 6
Billy Donovan, Florida: 5
It'll take time -- scholarship seniors are Ron Coleman and Ron Coleman, juniors Jerrett Smith and Jevohn Shepard -- but WVU under Beilein is the bottom.
In case you fear. Is Charlie Weis getting canned at the end of the year? Well, if Peter King was right in January, survey says "not unless Regis wants him gone":
Let's put all of the Charlie Weis-to-the-NFL possibilities to bed, shall we? [Uh.... check! -ed] I've got the real number it would take to buy him out of his contract, which has nine years left to run at Notre Dame. That figure plus the fact that he doesn't want to leave should take him out of the NFL pool for the foreseeable future.
The rock-solid, no-exceptions buyout number for Weis from Notre Dame: $21 million.
He goes nowhere.
It's VEQ time; you may remember Tom Orr from last year's edition. Tom is the Executive Producer of ThePalestra.com, a college sports, music and entertainment network that recently partnered with Fox News, and was the guy who wrote "Michigan Monday" for the OZone before the current guy who writes "Michigan Monday" for the OZone wrote "Michigan Monday" for the OZone. OZone.
So this is quite a comedown from both last year and, for OSU fans, last week. Not exactly the Game of the Century this time, but still for a shot at the Rose Bowl. I assume that most Ohio State fans are perfectly content with this state of affairs in what looked to be a "rebuilding" season?
For the most part, yes. I don't know how representative I am of the fanbase on the whole, but I don't think there was ever a time that I expected (like "this is GOING to happen") this team to run the table. I thought the five tough-ish games in a row, starting with MSU, would trip them up somewhere. There have also been signs of looming trouble for significant chunks of the season if you knew where to look. You've got elements of the fanbase that aren't ever going to be happy with anything less than an unbeaten season, but given where most people thought this team would be back in August, a shot at an outright Big Ten title and berth in the Rose Bowl is pretty good right now.
What are those signs of looming trouble? I'm looking at OSU's season stats and I see exactly one area of true concern: kick returns. Before the Illinois game, OSU hadn't played a close game except a fluke fest against Michigan State in which OSU dominated statistically before giving away two defensive touchdowns. From 1000 feet there doesn't look to be much to worry about.
It's sort of similar to last year when the stats said "this is an awesome defense!" but it really had some cracks. Watching the Penn State game, there were several times that Rodney Kinlaw -- who's not going to be confused with Herschel Walker anytime soon -- was able to rip off big runs. That's on a team where it never really seemed that the Buckeyes were that concerned with the opponent's passing game.
PSU didn't do anything too crazy, they just lined up, got blockers on the linemen and then got hats on the linebackers as well. It was a gameplan that Mike DeBord would have pulled out for a so-so opponent. Just pulling guards and running the old Power O or close relatives of it. Against a somewhat one-dimensional team, a great defense turns that into a 20 carries, 27 yards kind of night. Kinlaw finished with 14 carries for 81 yards and that was with him effectively taken out of the game in the second half because of a big deficit.
So what was the difference between that game and Illinois versus the Michigan State and Wisconsin games, in which Ohio State shut down two very good run offenses?
Illinois is kind of a different animal, since they run that spread option game. There have been a lot of theories bandied about regarding that game-- the fact that they went with three down linemen was one of them, the no-huddle look keeping OSU from rotating its defensive linemen out was another.
Personally, I saw a little bit too much hesitation out of some guys. The play that really sticks out in my mind was about a 3rd-and-3 on that final, soul-crushing drive where Williams kept it on that choice option. Marcus Freeman was out there unblocked but kind of just held his ground. He kept contain, but by the time he got Williams to the ground, he had fallen forward for a first down. It's odd to complain about guys playing assignment-sound football, but it just seemed like they weren't "turning it loose" like they could have. But unless Michigan has recruited a mobile quarterback in the last 15 years that I'm not aware of, that probably won't play too much of a role in this week's game.
More relevant is Penn State ability to get to the linebackers with blockers and effectively neutralize guys like Laurinaitis. That has always been the knock on him -- if he's unblocked, he's great, but he sometimes has trouble shedding blocks. The middle of the OSU defensive line is not great. There are great ends, but the guys in the middle are young and a little undersized.
Penn State was able to exploit that, pulling a guard around to chip the D-linemen on occasion and also to pick up the 'backers. The Penn State offensive line isn't a bunch of world-beaters, but they're solid.
I can see Michigan trying that same strategy. If you see Michigan offensive linemen three yards downfield, picking up linebackers on running plays, that would be a bad sign for OSU fans.
My concern with the Michigan running game is it seems built to fail at this. Your undersized DTs will be allowed to slant to the ball, not driven back, in Michigan's zone game and Laurinaitis might not get blocked all that consistently with Michigan really struggling to find a right guard. Maybe Michigan will go away from the stretch -- they always seem to have a good gameplan for OSU -- but the run game as constituted seems ill-suited to exploit that potential weakness. Of course, Hart did have a very successful day last year. So I don't know.
Moving on: how is the secondary past Jenkins, who I assume will be matched up with Manningham all day? Adrian Arrington has been performing at a very high level so far; how are the second and third corners? The safeties?
Donald Washington has been pretty good all year on the other corner. He's a sophomore and while I think he's a ways from being a "shutdown" corner, he's not someone who's had fans cursing his name. Chimdi Chekwa has been something of a revelation as the nickelback. He's a redshirt freshman who came in with virtually no acclaim (I think he might have been a two-star or something like that) who has been a very consistent player this year. He won Big Ten defensive player of the week against Purdue.
The safeties were one of the bigger concerns with this team coming into the season. Both Anderson Russell and Kurt Coleman are sophomores, and having two underclassmen back there can be a recipe for the types of plays that lead smartass bloggers to name unflattering statistics after guys. [Who, me? -ed] Both have been pleasant surprises this year. Russell was off to a nice start in 2006 before he hurt his knee. His recovery was one of the big question marks this summer, but he's been good. Coleman, too. Frankly, if either one of them boxed at all, they're the kind of guys you would hear about incessantly. They're not infallible,
but before last weekend's unpleasantness, the longest run the defense had allowed all year was a 28-yarder. I'll give you 10 guesses and you won't figure out who it was.
He had a 20-yarder, but nope.
Close in the "likeliness" category, but no. Would you believe Anthony Morelli? It was a busted play, to say the least.
I don't believe you. I'm sticking with Tiller.
Right, I don't want to talk about this but it appears we have to: the pass rush. Fifth in sacks. Vernon Gholston. Etc. His matchup against (presumably) Steve Schilling gives all observant Michigan fans the heebie jeebies. How ugly will this be?
The pass rush has been good-- 10 sacks against a pretty good Wisconsin line. Much of that comes from outstanding defensive ends. Gholston is the one who gets a lot of pub and he's a great pass rusher, but having guys like Cameron Heyward (Ironhead's son), Alex Barrow and Robert Rose out there has helped keep those guys fresh. They've brought pressure quite a bit this year, as Jim Heacock is prone to do, so guys like Laurinaitis and Larry Grant have five sacks and Anderson Russell has three. For whatever questions there are about the middle of the D-line, the ends have been superb.
I'm with you -- I assume that OSU will try to get Gholston against Schilling as often as possible. Given that, and your documentation of Carson Butler's attitude toward blocking, I would think you might see Gholston in the backfield on more than one occasion, even if Michigan does keep him in to help. I know Hart's a good pass blocker, but I haven't seen that much of Brown or Minor in that role. Are they going to be useful, or is Michigan going to be forced to keep a fullback in there on most passing plays?
I assume Hart will leave the game only if shot, stabbed, drowned, poisoned, shot again, and guillotined. And then he'll have to aggravate his ankle sprain. (Hey, a guy's gotta sleep at night.)
Minor's been better than Brown in pass pro -- Brown was a HS QB and spent much of spring at CB -- and has been okay.
What's your general feeling for how Michigan will move the ball? Will the run game be effective? Can OSU crush Henne regularly enough to stop the offense? Will the corners win their battles against the Michigan receivers?
Assuming Hart plays-- and I completely agree that he's out there unless his leg falls off-- I think Michigan will be able to run it somewhat effectively. The fact that he's presumably not 100% probably lowers the "worst case scenario" from Biakabutuka to Perry, but that's still something Michigan fans would obviously take.
Not to go all Lee Corso on you, but I would expect a fair amount of screening, draws and long-handoff throws out of Michigan, since I think that they know they won't be able to keep the pass rush off Henne all day. Stopping the Michigan receivers has as much to do with the Michigan QBs as it does the OSU corners. If they decide to honor Tacopants on senior day, it's not going to make a damn bit of difference.
I have no idea what to expect out of Henne. He went ballistic against MSU for a quarter, but has looked positively dreadful at times as well. You know what you'll get out of Mallett -- lots of bad stuff mixed in with the occasional "holy crap, what did he just do?" piece of magic. Jenkins is very good, and should prevent Manningham from absolutely blowing up, but if Henne is throwing those ridiculous deep balls and dropping them in Manningham's lap (as he can on occasion), there's not much you can do to stop it. Arrington's pretty much the same. Neither guy is going to go "Braylon in 2003," I don't think, but a 100-yard day for Manningham and a 75-yard day for Arrington are certainly reasonable.
Mallett is not a real concern. He plays extensively, M loses. Analysis over. As for Henne, it's impossible to tell what to expect. After he returned from his first injury he was very good, then he was okay-awful-great in the MSU game. It's an enormous wildcard. The game hinges on his performance more than anyone else's, IMO.
Okay. Other side of the ball. Boeckman: Bellisari or Krenzel or Hoying or what?
He's a Krenzel-type, with a better arm. He has shown some mobility the last couple weeks-- something that we kept hearing about but never really saw much in a game until recently. For a guy John Navarre's size, he's pretty nimble.
Here comes the caveat: he seems to have these "uh oh!" moments where he channels Bellisari or the Stanley Jackson that you knew and loved so dearly 10 years ago this week. He made some really dumb plays against Michigan State that turned a blowout into a very close game. He seemed a little jittery in the pocket last week as well, at times dancing around when there wasn't any imminent danger.
He also has a little bit of the Rex Grossman "screw it, I'm going deep" mentality that has gotten him in trouble a few times. He will stand back there, stare down a guy, then throw it 50 yards downfield and watch the safety come over the top to pick it off or make a play on it. His pick on the last possession last week was a perfect example. OSU was down 7, he had tons of time and just needed to put a drive together. He had a checkdown guy open and decided to heave it instead, getting picked off.
He's been in the system for a million years (he gray-shirted in 2003, redshirted in 2004 and is now a fifth-year junior) but he's still a first-year starter. He's going to make mistakes, especially if you pressure him. I expect Michigan to have a very aggressive defensive gameplan.
So that leads into the next question: how has the line been in pass pro? Last year, of course, it all ended in tears against FLorida. This year they've been well above average. Blitz pickups been solid? How has the interior been? Michigan has a couple of pretty solid pass rushing DTs in Brandon Graham and Terrance Taylor.
The offensive line has been very good for the most part. I don't think a four-man rush is going to create too much havoc. You know about Boone and Barton-- both tackles are certainly above-average at worst. The middle of the line has definitely been better than Michigan's this year. Jim Cordle, the center, is an interesting story. He's right-handed and broke his right thumb earlier in the year. His solution: he just started snapping left-handed and didn't miss any time. The coaches said they've never seen a guy who could make that switch with such ease. [You are looking LIVE at Jim Cordle's hand!... We know, Tom. -ed ]
Both TEs, especially Jake Ballard have blocked well, and the backs are all okay too. Maurice Wells (if he plays) is actually a much better blocker in pass situations than he tends to get credit for. Michigan is going to have to blitz to get to Boeckman consistently. They will be able to get there if they bring enough guys-- the only question is how much they trust their corners. Really, I don't see them having much of a choice.
Please consider that Michigan has been not bad with the sacks itself this year. And didn't Boone have troubles
against edge-rushers before?
No question, the middle of the Michigan line is strong. Last year, pass pro was a HUGE concern of mine going into the game -- especially blocking Woodley. Boone looked lost in the national championship game, but then again, everyone did. I don't know that Michigan has a Jarvis Moss, though. Brandon Graham is a very good player, and he could present matchup issues, but I still think that OSU will be able to get to Henne more consistently than Michigan gets to Boeckman. I could be wrong.
Sure. So, then... Beanie Wells versus a Michigan run defense that's been consistently soft up the middle. I can't imagine this being anything other than a decided advantage for OSU. This is where you agree with me:
Yup. Chris Wells has been dinged quite a bit this year-- he had some ankle issues earlier and screwed up his thumb more recently. He wore a soft cast to interviews on Monday, but both he and Tressel swore it was a precautionary thing just to keep the swelling down. He is an absolute load-- I'm not sure who to compare him to. Well... other than another top-ranked back with size and speed who had some occasional injury problems during his OSU career earlier this decade. Even that's not quite right.
If he can play the whole game, I think OSU wins, and I think he's the player of the game. The other backs (Mo Wells and Brandon Saine) also aren't 100% this week. Mo Wells left the stadium in a boot after some Illini player rolled up his ankle last weekend and Saine had a mild concussion. Both are supposedly going to be able to go this weekend. Saine is an absolute burner who has developed into a nice little receiving threat out of the backfield. They may try to hit him on a wheel route at some point on Saturday. That could be a matchup problem for Michigan.
Boy, I can't wait to see Chris Graham covering that.
And, drumroll... a prediction?
This is where I warn your readers that I predicted something like 17-13 OSU last year, and that two years ago I thought OSU wasn't going to win a close game-- they came from behind to win by four in the final minute.
Well, we still need something on the record.
I think Hart plays extensively, I think Henne plays extensively. I'm operating under the assumption that neither one will be 100%, but will still be serviceable. If he was 100%, I don't think I could say for sure that Hart wouldn't crack 250 yards. [!!! -ed] I just don't think he will be full-go. He's still good for 90-120 yards, even on a bad ankle.
Henne... again... who knows? Worst-case scenario? He turns into fourth-quarter against MSU Henne and puts on a show. Realistically, I think he's going to have some trouble throwing the deep ball accurately with his shoulder in whatever condition it's in. That enables OSU to pressure the run game more than it otherwise might be able to.
On the other side of the ball, the OSU coaching staff has occasionally strayed from the run game to their detriment this season. I don't think that happens this weekend. Chris Wells goes for 30 carries, 160 yards and a couple scores. Boeckman makes one "what the hell is he doing?" play that puts my remote control in mortal danger, but finishes with about 175 yards and a score. Assuming a healthy Chris Wells and a less-than-healthy Henne and Hart? OSU 27, Michigan 20.
All right, there you go. One final question: any gut fieelings on which juniors go and which stay?
I think Jenkins is probably gone -- he's likely a top-15 pick. Gholston is probably also gone, given the significance the NFL puts on pass-rushing defensive ends. Laurinaitis... I mean, he's not the unstoppable force of nature that Brent Musberger acts like, but he's probably a late first-rounder. Tressel has been pretty consistent with advising guys who project in the first round to go. Alex Boone? I would lean towards him staying, but that's not based on anything in particular. Marcus Freeman almost certainly stays. Brian Robiskie is hard to guess on. He's 6-foot-3, which isn't huge, and he's not a total burner like Ginn was, but he's a solid guy with decent hands who does a lot of the little stuff like running good routes and has a higher-than-normal football IQ because of his dad. I would guess that he's maybe a late first-round guy like Tony Gonzalez was a year ago. He's probably somewhat borderline to go. It may depend on how the season ends.
Thanks to Tom, and I hope you get anthrax!
Irregular new feature: Picture Pages, in which pictures of things are explained for my benefit and yours. I had an example of good stuff happening but my computer crashed and I lost it, unfortunately. Next time.
I really should have gotten one of those endzone shots that shows the line from head on and clearly shows the positioning of each player, but I didn't think of it so this is what you get. Also next time.
It's first and ten early in the second quarter of the Wisconsin game. Michigan lines Brandon Minor up behind Mallett and runs a zone stretch. Here's the presnap alignment:
The key thing to note on this play is Alex Mitchell, who is the right guard, and defensive tackle #54 Mike Newkirk. At 265 pounds Newkirk is small for a defensive tackle, pressed into service when Jason Chapman was lost for the year. Alex Mitchell is fricking huge, probably around 350 pounds after falling off the conditioning wagon early this year. It's difficult to tell from this angle, but Newkirk is lined up between Mitchell and center Adam Kraus; this is generally called a one technique. (Technique primer.) Also, Wisconsin has seven guys in the box against six blockers.
The ball snaps; Michigan runs a zone stretch to the left side of the line:
Over the past couple years I've come to understand that "zone" blocking can mean damn near anything. Here, our zone blocking is much like zone coverage: everyone fires off to the left, looking for someone to block. When you have someone lined up to the playside of you and you are attempting to block them, you are performing a "reach block," which is a terribly difficult thing to do. (Bryant McKinnie is proud of his; OL jargon explained.)
Adam Kraus has no one to his left and immediately heads out to the second level. Mitchell, as you can see, is trying to reach block Newkirk, who lined up a step inside of him at the snap. He looks lumbering and hasn't "gotten his helmet across" the defender's chest. Newkirk has beaten him.
Reach block? FAIL.
Minor cuts past Newkirk...
This is a schematic disadvantage Weis-ian in its apparent nonsensicality. Which is so not a word. We have a lumbering 350 pound right guard with conditioning and mobility issues. We are asking him to use his conditioning and mobility to get around a smaller, quicker player. It is FAIL, and thus goes our run game against a team completely incapable of slowing any non-Iowa rush attack it's faced this year.
Update: A lot of commenters suggest this is a designed cutback; personally I still don't see it given the LB shift, but I suggest you read the comments for an alternate take.