“On the offense last year, they had great spacing. That’s what I remember. Great spacing, great shooters, like Nik Stauskas, who’s not there right now. But they always have someone to fill the roles. They have a cutting offense, kind of hard to guard.”
Something's been missing from Michigan gamedays since the free programs ceased being economically viable: scientific gameday predictions that are not at all preordained by the strictures of a column in which one writer takes a positive tack and the other a negative one… something like Punt-Counterpunt.
by Nick RoUMel
Let me just say this about that. Brian’s article “Fickle” of 11/26 was the greatest article of all time.
I read “Fickle.” I nodded with manifest resolve, and knew right then that I had given up on this game. It was that simple. Unlike Brian, I felt no guilt and sold my tickets. Do you know how clean Stub Hub is? Enter the bar code and PayPal give you the money. No muss, no fuss, and crazed OSU fans with Buckeye necklaces will be sitting in section 39, row 80, seats 5-7, singing Hang On Sloopy.
Should I do that, and deprive the Wolverines of that buzz? No. Dammit.
I acknowledge I was too cynical. I needed to talk to a Wolverine. So I caught up with Brandon Williams (DB, ’99-’02, with a pro career through 2008). Brandon is now involved in philanthropic work and is connecting former players and fans through social media, www.gobluetan.com. As always, he was engaging, thoughtful, and positive.
Let’s go back to that buzz. In 2001—Jim “The Little Penguin” Tressel’s first year— Brandon was on Lloyd Carr’s Wolverines. He told me there is nothing like it, entering the Big House, sounding like everyone in the stadium is talking at once—a buzz, a roar. Even at warm-ups, normally 60-70,000 meandering in, for Ohio State there were 100,000 strong cheering like crazy.
Michigan fell short in that 2001 game, 310 days after The Little Penguin’s vow at the OSU/Michigan basketball game that the fans would be “proud” of their Buckeyes in Ann Arbor. But according to Brandon, Coach Carr turned that timeline against Tressel. He created a secretly recorded film showing the Wolverines preparing for battle: day 250, in the weight room; day 144, in a team meeting; hard at work at practice; day 79.
During this preparation, Michigan would not see red. There was a rule, that no one could wear green or red during the football season. Brandon told me, if the Jimmy John’s delivery guy came to the weight room during the season, the players would chase him out—deliveries had to be made to the trainer’s room.
Best of all, in one pre-game practice, as the sun was setting, the team looked at the sky. It was red in the west, blue in the east. Larry Foote exclaimed "there’s more blue than red!" You may think that’s a little corny but Brandon told me, “The whole practice just blew up. Carr loved it.”
He added, “Coach Carr never said anything bad about Tressel. But the buildup for that game was the best ever. We didn’t fully understand how huge it was. Chris Perry told us, the Michigan–Ohio State game is being televised live in Times Square, from start to finish.”
He spoke about the rivalry. “When the game started, the emotions were high, it was a little dirty. But then things settled down. It was hard hitting.
“There’s nothing like it. I’ve played in NFL playoff games, Monday Night Football. But there’s nothing like a Michigan-Ohio State game.
“You have to understand. You’re not just playing for you. You’re playing for all the guys who have played before you. They watch, they come back, and they care. I watch the game every week and ten guys are texting back and forth, calling back and forth. You’re playing for all of us.
“That rivalry, it’s always there. You can play on the same pro team with an Ohio State guy, and you have a working relationship, but come April, you’re betting on the game, and you still hate their school.”
I asked Brandon, given the challenges Michigan has faced this year, what would he tell the fans?
“Relax! A few years ago we had three wins, you know? So relax. I don’t want Coach Hoke to leave. We hear [the internet criticism], and move on. But we don’t forget it.”
Hearken, Wolverine fans. It’s been a tough year. But as Mr. Williams tells me, you throw the records out the window this week. It’s young men playing for pride. And yes, they make me feel guilty for selling my tickets.
I get it, Brandon. I feel Brian’s frustration, but I am a Michigan fan. I see red this week, but I am behind these boys 100%. If you don’t get pissed at being a 17 point dog at home to these stupid evil Buckeyes, then there isn’t a blue bone in your body. It is indeed great to be a Michigan Wolverine.
MICHIGAN 28, OSU 26
by Heiko Yang
I turned on the Arkansas-LSU game last night just in time to see LSU’s center go down with an injury. His replacement was a guy whose name sounded awfully familiar: Ethan Pocic, a true freshman five-star offensive lineman from Illinois who had Michigan high on his list before Michigan said they were done recruiting linemen. Except at that point Michigan wasn’t really done recruiting linemen, so I think a lot of people were peeved that they let him get away. But that’s beside the point.
I watched the next series of plays with an eye on Pocic, wanting to see how a highly touted true freshman interior lineman would perform at a program like LSU, whose offensive line play and coaching isn’t a complete tire fire like we think it is at Michigan.
Pocic got blown up almost immediately. His inexperience cost LSU their running game (RB Jeremy Hill, who had been averaging nearly 10 yards a carry got stuffed repeatedly), pass protection (I think Pocic got smoked for the sack that knocked starting QB Zach Mettenberger out of the game), and another offensive lineman (Hill got tackled near the line of scrimmage and rolled onto the leg of the right tackle). There were a bunch of false starts, too. One guy was all it took to unravel the entire offense. It was a miracle that LSU was able to pull out the win.
As a Michigan fan, all I could think the entire time was, “It’s not his fault!” Offensive linemen are like a fine scotch: if you bring them out before they’re ready, it’s going to burn real bad. Michigan fans have known this since September. Michigan’s coaches have known this since they got to Ann Arbor. That’s why Brady Hoke has been hoarding offensive linemen the last couple recruiting cycles because he saw the roster in 2011 and his reaction was probably something to the effect of “Winter is coming.” And we need scotch.
Well, winter is here, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it but wait it out. It’s worth considering making changes to schemes and the coaching staff, but nothing will make the offensive linemen grow up faster.
Michigan and Ohio State will play The Game today with the Wolverines a multiple-score home underdog (the odds are so lopsided I think there was a prop bet somewhere pitting Michigan's total rush yards against Ohio State's margin of victory). A lot of the stadium will be red, and I won’t even be mad. While the Wolverines have needed some pretty spectacular heroicism just to avoid being 4-7, the Buckeyes have steadily ridden their run game to a 23-, soon to be 24-game winning streak. Honestly, it will take some sort of miracle for Michigan to stay competitive in this game, let alone win.
And I guess that’s really the one nice thing about good, veteran offensive lines: they make miracles unnecessary.
OHIO STATE 40, MICHIGAN 17
Selfie: Go save Christmas again.
Kids! Gandalf the Maize's follow-up on which factors seem to be the most predictive of offensive line play compared the r-squareds of 19 things, from o-line experience as a whole, to their recruiting stars, to the left tackle individually, depth, QB talent, how much the team goes long, etc., and found the ONLY factor with relatively high significance is…
Interior. Offensive. Line. Experience!
Let's get a DotW to the wizard, and tell Funk to put some years on his charges, RIGHT NOW.
Ron Utah followed up by showing the relative age of Michigan's whole roster versus teams of significance.
Part II by dnak438 on Michigan's offensive regression this week went back and added 2011-12 to the study of YPP versus opponents, tracking it by dividing Michigan's yards per play each game versus the average that team gave up. The results are charts that really show the history of Al Borges's various offensive strategies:
Here's the progression:
[after the jump]
|WHAT||Michigan vs Ohio State|
Ann Arbor, MI
November 30th, 2013
|THE LINE||Ohio State -17|
|WEATHER||partly cloudy, mid-30s
0% chance of rain
10 mph winds
Run Offense vs Ohio State
Ryan Shazier got better.
The Northwestern blip was just that: a blip, as Michigan's offense retreated back into its shell against Iowa. Thanks to buckets of Iowa turnovers this staked Michigan to a lead until late, but this was back to the pain factory. It was probably worse than usual, actually, as Gardner only suffered one sack. Take that out and Michigan rushed for 74 yards on 28 carries, a thrilling 2.6 yards an attempt.
This is still forward, I guess, and therefore represents progress. The kind of progress last experienced in the Dark Ages, but progress nonetheless.
This is too depressing to contemplate for very long. Michigan again went with a bunch of inside zone, whereupon Iowa linebackers fired into the gaps over and over again like Notre Dame did. Michigan has no idea how to deal with that other than "execute better"; they have no way to back those guys off; they have a bunch of play action on which the fact that the linebackers run literally to the line of scrimmage before going "oh" and backing into short zones is okay for the defense.
The unit they're going up against is not quite a vintage OSU outfit; it is still plenty good enough to see Michigan to another grunting performance under 100 net yards. Once you remove sacks, Ohio State's run offense is in a tier below Michigan State's face-crushing unit with Wisconsin and Michigan; they're giving up just under 4 yards a carry.
The existence of a healthy, clueful Ryan Shazier is particularly bad for Michigan. Two years ago he was a limping freshman who showed up in the hole against Denard Robinson and ended up left in the dust. This year he's nearing OSU records for TFLs against the worst team in the country at giving them up. His strengths—slashing into the backfield as soon as he reads run foremost amongst them—line up perfectly with Michigan's weaknesses.
The line is a slightly better matchup than it was last year with Jonathan Hankins in the NFL. They have not replaced him with a similar space-eater. Michael Bennett, their best DT, is 285. Unfortunately, he's a Jibreel Black++ type player with 10 TFLs and 5.5 sacks to his name. But that's another depressing section. Against the run he will be more moveable. Not that it's going to matter.
Key Matchup: Denard Robinson versus NCAA Eligibility Rules
[Hit THE JUMP for just don't hit the jump]
Carlos Hyde, human battering ram
First, on behalf of everyone here at MGoBlog, I wish you a Happy Thanksgiving; this week is the perfect time to keep in mind all we have in life to be thankful for—and yes, I hope that goes outside of the spectrum of sports, for sanity's sake.
We've covered the X's and O's with Eleven Warriors' Ross Fulton; now it's time to cover the hate, and for that we welcome 11W's Johnny Ginter, a man whose passion for snark nearly equals his love of the Buckeyes. Johnny has been kind enough to answer a few questions about the state of the rivalry, his outlook for this weekend, and even a totally serious query about the OSU basketball team. If you'd like to hear my take on The Game, Johnny and his co-host Michael Citro had me on as the guest for this week's Eleven Dubcast, and you're encouraged to take a listen.
Before we proceed, remember that this is Hate Week, because Johnny certainly does; channel your outrage responsibly. Now, let the hate flow through you...
Because of our weekly Q&As for 11W, I know that you've had to sit through at least most of Michigan's season. First of all, I'm so sorry. This isn't a question. I just want to publicly apologize.
I really appreciate that, because I started this season as a 28 year old male in reasonably good health, and now I'm a diabetic 83 year old man in a coma from eating tainted paste.
With that out of the way, I'd like to hear an outsider's perspective on what's going on in Ann Arbor. What do you think the biggest issue has been to lead Michigan to this point?
The impending return of Sauron to Mordor? Truthfully I think part of the problem is that Michigan as an athletic department has a hard time negotiating college football in 2013. I think a lot of the decisions and choices that the Ohio State athletic department makes are kind of dumb and obvious from time to time, but it's undeniable that the Buckeyes have benefited from an aggressive self-marketing strategy. I don't see the same kind of things coming out of Michigan in terms of promotion that I see from Ohio State. [Ed-Ace: Johnny obviously isn't signed up to any U-M email lists.]
But really if I were to try and pin it down to just one thing, I think you guys are sometimes too patient, which is a nice way to say that you're cool with failure. Remember, Ohio State has a fanbase chomping at the bit to remove a defensive coordinator that has managed a side missing one of its best players, had a totally revamped defensive line at the beginning of the season, started the season with only four returning starters, and is still the 12 ranked defense in the country. That Michigan would even briefly allow the thought of keeping Al Borges to flutter through their minds is hilarious.
If you were running Michigan's program—and no, not intentionally running it into the ground—what would your next move be after this season ends?
Fire Al Borges immediately and bring in an offensive line specialist. Jim Bollman, offensive coordinator and offensive line coach is one of the most genuinely depressing sentences in the English language. His typical practice attire was white socks pulled up to his shins and a big goofy straw hat which reminded me of something someone would wear if they were trying to make a parody of an offensive line coach. It wasn't a great look, and his offensive lines typically underperformed or were just plain bad.
Enter Ed Warinner, and two years later Ohio State boasts possibly the best offensive line in the country (with much less heralded recruits). Michigan is still loaded with talent on the offensive side of the ball, but that o-line is a gigantic domino that knocks everything over once it falls down. In a bad way, though.
As a Buckeye fan, what kind of balance would you like to see between Ohio State winning and Michigan being competitive? I imagine the joy of winning The Game has lost some of its luster over the past—oh lord—decade or so.
I was born in 1985, so my formative years were spent sitting angrily in front of the TV, arms crossed and teeth grinding as Michigan beat Cooper over and over and over. And the reason why I highly doubt any of you guys got sick of that is because John H. Cooper assembled some absolutely incredible teams that by all accounts should've won more than two goddamn games during his tenure.
So yes, I want Michigan to be good. I was at the 2006 game. It was an incredible celebration of football, of Woody and Bo, of everything that's fun about this rivalry. I was also at the 2004 game, which was just really, really funny. And ultimately, I want both of those things. I want the titanic matchups and underdog games where the underdog has a legitimate shot at winning, and I want Michigan to be good. The Game means less if one side (you) isn't holding up its end of the bargain on a consistent basis.
Which makes me angry. Which, ironically, makes the game mean more to me. So I have some feelings I need to sort through.
So... how's the basketball team looking this year? This is a completely serious question.
They're... okay? I mean, they're pretty much who we thought they were, minus LaQuinton Ross looking like butt. Defensively it's an excellent team with incredibly athletic guys like Aaron Craft, Lenzelle Smith, Shannon Scott, and so on. I actually think the defensive rule changes favor Ohio State because Thad Matta is really adept at getting his teams to play at a high defensive level without fouling. Aaron Craft is still probably the best on the ball defender in the game right now, even with the new foul calling regime.
With that said, without Deshaun Thomas the Buckeyes are predictably struggling on offense. Thomas averaged close to 20 points per game last season, but the next leading scorer on the team was Aaron Craft (right, Upchurch), who was putting up half that. Right now nobody is putting up even 12 points a night for Ohio State, but they do have four guys in double digits per game.
And that's probably how it'll look for most of the season, but I'm cool with it. Thad Matta is really a brilliant player's coach who has never won fewer than 20 games through 13 seasons, and his teams usually struggle with some growing pains early before figuring things out in January or February. I expect that to be the same for '13-'14, and really my only hope is that Matta's back and leg stay manageable and he sticks around for a long, long time.
Okay, okay, I should probably ask for your prediction for this weekend's game. Are there any matchups out there that you see favoring Michigan, and how do you see the game playing out?
There aren't a lot of favorable matchups for Michigan, but if they can scheme to isolate Funchess on a linebacker like Perry or Grant or even a d-lineman dropping back in coverage, that could yield some positive results offensively. That might open up some things for Gardner to get some yards on the ground because there's no way in hell the Ohio State defensive line is giving up anything to Toussaint or Green.
But even if Michigan does manage to capitalize on some mistakes and score some points, you're going to need to score more than 35 to beat Ohio State, because they're going to put up at least that much. And please, don't tell me about Frank Clark and Jake Ryan. Mark Weisman averaged 5.2 yards per carry against you, and Carlos "El Guapo" Hyde is much, much better than Weisman. If Urban Meyer is so inclined he could just pound away with the dude a la 2007 and be done with it.
He won't though. Instead you're probably going to see a lot of the Pistol with Dontre Wilson and Hyde in the same backfield, with some goofy stuff involving the tight ends that you haven't seen all year thrown in. I firmly believe that Meyer has been holding back quite a bit offensively just for this game, and I'm really, really excited to see what he pulls out of his hat.
This will probably be a three quarter game, but as the three and outs start to pile up and as Ohio State begins to get longer and longer touchdown plays, the game will be put increasingly out of reach for the Wolverines.
Is there any part of you that's worried about a 1995-type scenario this weekend?
I'm writing this on Wednesday morning, so no. By Friday night I'll be at Defcon 1, so by then probably yes.
I still firmly believe that Ohio State is going to win, because they're better coached and have the better team. That should be enough for me to rest easy. But it's The Game, baby. Rest and rationality are for the weak.
Thank you to Johnny for not only taking the time to answer these questions, but providing me an enjoyable (seriously) forum each week to dicuss Michigan and interact with the good people at Eleven Warriors—well, at least the ones who don't insist on exclusively using the term 'scUM'.
Hey guys. I did not do the UFR this week, because I really did not want to do it. So I didn't. This is what I mean by mailing it in. I'm sorry, but not sorry enough to actually go do it. Obviously.
I will try to muster the courage to do so at some point in the future, because it is nice to have completeness. Right now you could hold a gun to my cat's head and threaten me and I would look on blankly until you cracked and started weeping and I told you It's Not Your Fault™. You're not actually going to kill a kitten about this, are you? Okay, okay, it's a cat, not a kitten. Put the gun down! It's Not Your Fault™! Unless you do something you're going to regr—
Hmm. Well, if you had to go at least it was before Saturday. We will put your MGoPoint total on your tombstone.
What's going on. I am going to go home and have a normal Thanksgiving like a normal person like I used to do before they moved the Ohio State game back a week for dubious reasons. I am not going to put up a UFR on the day itself, because I didn't do it. There will be a preview on Friday, though if I had to bet I'm assuming it will be light on useful analysis and heavy on gallows humor shirt-rending about how Ohio State has a good football team and Michigan does not have a good football team.
Then we are going to grit our teeth and get through Saturday, whereupon we will feel much better at the prospect of a weekend with nothing more horrifying in it than the prospect of Michigan State and Ohio State playing for the Big Ten Championship… godddammit. At least you don't have to watch that if you don't want.
You're free! FREEEEEEE. After Saturday. I'll see you Friday.
In conclusion. Butt.
I hope you're all familiar with Ross Fulton of Eleven Warriors, who does an excellent job of breaking down the X's and O's for Ohio State and their opponents week in and week out. Ross was kind enough to answer a few scheme-centric questions about The Game, and he did so in more detail than I could've possibly asked for—his take on Michigan's offense alone is well worth your time.
Michigan's defense was surprisingly successful against OSU last year, give or take some pounding runs by Carlos Hyde and the bomb to Devin Smith. How do you see the Buckeyes attacking Michigan on Saturday, and do you expect to see any new wrinkles in the offense that we didn't see last year?
First, thanks for the opportunity to collaborate with MGoBlog, a site I have long read and enjoyed.
As to your question, Ohio State was able to gain yards against Michigan last season (the Buckeyes had nearly 400) but Michigan did a really nice job holding the Buckeyes to field goals in the red zone.
The new “wrinkles” you will see Saturday are the primary difference between the Ohio State offense of 2012 and 2013. Last season Braxton Miller was inconsistent as a passer and a decision maker on read/packaged games. As a result, the offense would devolve at times to the Miller and Carlos Hyde run show, even when defenses were cheating slot defenders or safeties against the run.
Fast forward to this year. Miller and Hyde are still Urban Meyer and Tom Herman’s primary weapons. But Ohio State is far more effective at constraining the defense with the screen and pass game. This reflects Miller’s development, as well as the improvement in the wide receiver corps, led by Corey Brown.
Meyer and Herman’s preferred method of operating is coming out in the First Quarter and hitting the edge with screens and packaged hitches to Devin Smith (above), and then taking downfield shots off play action. For instance, one play I expect to see Saturday (and one that will probably get under Michigan fans’ craw) is a deep crossing route off inverted veer. It is very difficult for the play side safety to stay home when they see a pulling guard and the possibility of Miller or Hyde running the football. Also look for Ohio State to use Dontre Wilson as a decoy in the flat to open vertical routes.
Then, once they establish a lead Meyer and Herman like to return to the base run game. Assuming the weather cooperates, I would expect some variation of that formula Saturday.
Are there any personnel matchups when OSU is on offense that particularly delight/concern you?
To me, there is one schematic and one personnel matchup that will be interesting to watch. The first is between Meyer and Greg Mattison in the wide side flat. Against spread teams, Mattison generally walks his Sam linebacker out to the field and plays him in the gray area inside the slot receiver.
Meyer and Herman love attacking the wide side field when a team does this. They will do so not only with wide receiver screens, but also the outside run game. For instance, one method they use is to run jet sweep away from the play side blocking. Miller will read that backside linebacker and if he bites down, Miller gives on the jet sweep. The Buckeyes’ slot receiver simply has to seal the linebacker inside and the Buckeyes can get easy yards, either with Hyde or Wilson.
As a result, playing that role is a lot to ask of any defender, but I was very impressed with how Jake Ryan handled it last fall. But this is a chess match I will be watching.
In terms of personnel, I think that Ohio State has an advantage inside against Michigan’s undersized interior. The strongest part of the Buckeyes as a team is their offensive line. Look for Ohio State to run inside zone and power at the 3-technique bubble.
[Hit THE JUMP to read how Ross thinks OSU will attack Michigan defensively, his thoughts on what plagues the Michigan offense, and his prediction for The Game.]