I'VE HAD JUST ABOUT ENOUGH OF YOU SONNY
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.]
“Another week. How are we doing?”
What was the biggest takeaway after reviewing the film?
“Well, individual breakdowns. We had a lot of individual breakdowns that caused a lot of three-and-outs, you know? Too much 10-man football. It’s the same story. When we don’t play well, we don’t get in sync, and a lot of individual breakdowns that caused that to happen. At this point in the season, there’s just way too much of it. We’ve got to go back to work and see if we can get something fixed because we’ve got the biggest game of the season coming up.”
Brady implied that it’s a different guy every time?
So I couldn't in good conscience do a basketball or hockey or softball roundtable question the week of the Ohio State game, lest Bo leap from his grave and stab out my eyes.* On the other hand I've been around here long enough to know what it means when the otters and Big Lebowski references come out (I don't know what posting the game column at 5 a.m. means but it's probably bad).
In that "game column"-type thing Brian suggested a future that's basically 20 years of the late-Carr program. Perhaps a more detailed assessment is in order:
Play out the next four years of Michigan football (If you think Coach X is replaced by Coach Y you can incorporate that into your fantasy.)? What are some of the potential pitfalls along the way? Any reassessment on our rivals going forward?
*People were asking what happened to the Blog That Yost Built.
Mathlete: If I would have charted my optimistically realistic expectations entering the Hoke era, here is what it would look like versus achievement on a completely arbitrary scale.
One year of lucky over-achievement, then a year of par and this year. The trajectory is all wrong but the total results are about right. With the strong recruiting and a quality group coming of players moving into the upper class I still think last year could be close to expectations. After nearly three seasons here would be my grades for Hoke and the coordinators:
Brady Hoke: Incomplete
Greg Mattison: A
Al Borges: D (GERG gave up 37 points to UMass, Borges at least torched Indiana)
Hoke gets an incomplete pending how the offense turns out next year. The defense is his specialty and their solid progression is a positive sign. Whether Borges survives to next year or not and if he stays and how much things get better (it has to get better, right?) will be the major determiner of his grade. Most of the offensive failures to date aren't on Hoke in my mind, but everything going forward will be.
|The future on defense is Tacos. [Upchurch]|
That's a long preamble to the original question, what do the next four years look like?
Next year the defense will be good, probably very good. The offense who knows. At this point I think anything is possible. Borges could get fired but probably won't. He could stay and things could be marginally better, he could stay and things could click and they could be good but probably still frustrating.
Beyond 2014 the defense should be consistently good. Historically, defenses loaded with talent like Michigan is bringing have a pretty low variance. They may not always be elite, but it's pretty hard for them to be bad. I really don't know what to say about the offense. Anything is possible, they could turn into Stanford next year or they could limp through a couple more years of Borges, with enough talent and a good enough defense to keep things intact but not good enough to compete with the best teams on the schedule.
As to the rivals, the only question for Ohio State is, can Urban maintain success at one place for an extended period? He has never stayed in one place for more than six seasons. As long as he is there Ohio State should be pretty similar to what we've seen from him to date. Are they going to go undefeated every year, certainly not, their win streak hasn't exactly come against murderers row. But the schedule isn't going to get a lot tougher in the Big Ten and I would expect their regular season win total to reach double digits more often than not.
Across the state, it's a bit more complex. Does Narduzzi leave after this year? How high of a level can the defense maintain with Dantonio but no Narduzzi. If he stays or Dantonio can keep things moving without him, the Spartans aren't going anywhere. The offense will probably never be good enough to put them at a consistently elite level, but they should be a real player in the East division. If the defense can't stay elite, Michigan State's chances of staying competitive at the top year after a year probably leave too.
Brennen Beyer won't forget that moment. Long after Al Borges is just a name from a past that may or may not haunt us as fans, the Canton native who stayed close to home will delight in telling his family and friends about the time he—a defensive end—scored a touchdown; he'll have the football to prove it, and the final score of the game will be largely irrelevant.
These moments have been frustratingly few and far between this season, especially this month; even in the shadow of defeat, however, they provide fleeting flashes of joy, even when we're doing our best to detach emotionally.
When Devin Gardner rolled out, couldn't reach the corner, then threw aside Tanner Miller like a defective Weeble-Wobble before hitting A.J. Williams for his first career reception—in the end zone, no less—my reaction wasn't to slump back onto the couch, muttering something about Al Borges's doomed waggles; it was "F*** YEAH, DEVIN." Maybe not so profound or eloquent, but damn if it didn't feel good.
Then Michigan lost, miserably, and I drove home in a funk. But they had their moments, and so did I.
[After THE JUMP, basketball moments.]
[No MGoQuestions because of Thanksgiving and ennui. Audio for the following transcription is courtesy of Chantel Jennings.]
“As far as last game, I was disappointed that we gave up that lead. That’s not what our defense tries to do. No matter what happens, we have to hold onto it. But moving forward, we’ve got to get this one.”
What kind of challenges does Braxton Miller give you?
“Braxton Miller is a great football player. I am very very impressed with his development. He’s becoming a complete quarterback. He’s not only a tremendous athlete but he’s got a very good arm and he’s making a lot of great decisions. I mean, he’s going to be a great challenge. That’s why they are who they are. He’s really done a great job.”
It is a media tradition to hammer at flailing coaches with frowny-face serious questions about how hard everything is on the players and coaches and such because they have to put up with this howling pack of fans. And I try not to get exercised about anything that comes out of that, just like I try to roll my eyes and move on at every article about a triumph in the face of The Critics. Coaches arrive at press conferences at one goal: to get out without saying something notable. When they do say something notable, it is a mistake.
But I'm pissed off anyway. Hoke fielded a question about what is going to be a sea of red in Michigan Stadium:
"You know, people are fickle," Hoke said. "That's just the way it is. That's the world we live in."
This is of course horseshit. It's horseshit on the level of "we need to run a pro-style offense so we can stop Big Ten offense," i.e., the greatest and grandest horseshit in all the world. Hercules is required to shovel this. The big reveal from the last 20 years of media development is that fans are the only people left who aren't fickle. They can't stop watching, and what's more they can't stop watching live with all those lovely commercials interspersed. Fans submit themselves until they have commercials memorized. Until they are legendary.
In all other areas of television consumption I go out of my way to avoid commercials, going so far as to not watch recent seasons of shows I like until they arrive on Netflix. It will be four years before I see the Patton Oswalt filibuster in context. This is why every time a rights deal expires, networks treat the newly single package of games like it's the last cabbage patch doll on Black Friday.
Meanwhile, the people in charge have decided to test the edges of that fandom with an explosion in ticket prices. Paul Campos:
Here’s the price of a regular admission (not student) University of Michigan football ticket over time.
(All figures are in 2012 dollars, rounded to the nearest dollar. I couldn’t find 1970 and 1980 so I substituted the nearest available year).
This year a seat on the 15 yard line is 129 dollars with the PSL, almost three times as much as it was in 2000 and almost four times as much as it was in 1990, in constant 2012 dollars.
Ryan Field was half Michigan fans, for some reason [Bryan Fuller]
In Michigan's specific case, they have beaten Ohio State once in the last nine years and are two-touchdown home underdogs. They are getting gouged on ticket prices in an unprecedented fashion. The athletic department has made it absolutely clear that it has no loyalty to them with "dynamic pricing" that only goes one way. Up.
There is a breaking point for even the most zealous fan. I'm the guy with the blog that's his career and I'm at mine. The only reason I am going on Saturday is because I would feel shame at not going. Absent the weird moral imperatives of fandom, I would be doing anything else. Like bowling, which I hate.
Everybody in blue in that stadium—and it will still be a majority, probably—is paying for the privilege of having their heart punched. Unlike you, they are not getting three million dollars to watch Michigan shuffle around like a syphilitic pig who thinks everything's a truffle. Collectively they are in fact giving you those three million dollars. Collectively they built the stadium you play in and the opulent locker rooms you dress in.
So take your "fickle" and shove it. Angry, sure. Impatient, sure. Because we are locked into this thing we do every week that we pretty much hate. We do so out of a sense of loyalty that the program goddamn well doesn't reciprocate with its 500 dollar waiting lists and worst access level in the country—the team that is going to stuff you in a locker on Saturday has open practices in front of the entire student section—and scheduling goddamned Appalachian State because the athletic director thinks it's cute. Any reasonable person would look at the recent history of Michigan football and go do anything else. We're here because we're locked in.
You? You've got a buyout.
It is not the fans' fault that this program is awful to be a fan of. It's not Rich Rodriguez's fault. Anyone who sells their ticket for whatever they can get—currently 60 bucks and dropping from 80 yesterday—is only making a logical decision to not get punched in the soul dong on Saturday.
I'll hate them all the same, but half out of envy this time. They are no longer mindless wallets. They don't give a crap if Brady Hoke calls them fickle, and don't write articles on the internet about it. They are logical people.
The reason Michigan Stadium is going to be half-red on Saturday isn't because of "the world we live in" except insofar as it contains a Michigan football team that people at Abu Ghraib wouldn't show prisoners.