This list is completely arbitrary and not a genuine analysis of the relative merits of state fossils.
Starts now. I'd try to ask people to play nice but... yeah... right.
Run Offense vs. Ohio State
I've made my case on this all week; this is no time to back off. While running last year was always doomed to futility, this year's Buckeye run defense -- while superficially impressive -- is not nearly to the standard of the 2005 unit. Meanwhile, Michigan's spent most of the year grinding out victories on Mike Hart's back. The zone plays I reviewed in the Texas and Iowa games were not universally successful but taken together they paint a picture of vulnerability. James Laurinaitis may have leather magnets in his hands but he is still hesitant and often slow to the hole. The Buckeye defensive ends are at times wildly irresponsible, but only when the expectation of a pass is there. Ohio State really only trusts two linebackers, Laurinaitis and Freeman. They can be had.
What they are not is a team that can be trifled with like Michigan has trifled with, well, everyone. Michigan cannot afford to plow into the line on every first and ten. Patterson and Pitcock are capable of getting play-killing penetration and OSU has been adept at getting its linebackers through the line with well-timed blitzes when they sniff out a stretch play. Getting those defensive ends to move upfield is going to require the threat of a pass. We need every fractional bit of expectation in this game and cannot afford to get predictable. So this prediction is tempered: don't expect a Ball State running game and don't expect a heap of success if we're intent on doing the same thing play after play. If the OSU defense is expecting run they can and will hold it down, especially if their DTs are slanting playside at the snap. If they're off balance we can get them blocked, get past the strength of their defense, and into the dodgy second level.
Hart should go for 100 or 110 or 120, but if he takes 32 carries to do it we will be in trouble.
Key Matchup: Third and short. This is not a matchup per se, but too many times this year Michigan has been stoned on short-yardage. The zone is weak when defenses are intent on overloading the box and shooting gaps, and we can't afford to have drives end on third and one since a couple will end on third and sixteen after a sack or a stuff or whatever.
Pass Offense vs. Ohio State
For all the well-deserved pub the Ohio State passing game gets, Michigan has turned in a quietly effective season. Though they're just 82nd in pass offense, divide by number of attempts and rejigger some math and they shoot all the way up to 25th in efficiency. That was done with only half a year of Mario Manningham and with Wisconsin's tough defense (#1 in pass efficiency D) substituted for Illinois' (#37, which isn't bad -- the Illini defense is the best-kept secret in the Big Ten). They face an Ohio state secondary with 21 interceptions and front seven with 33 sacks, but few tests against actually competent quarterbacks.
This matchup is a huge wildcard. Neither team has established much in this department unless you believe in mystic turnover juju etc etc etc. Chad Henne's functioned as an infrequently-deployed aerial freak show: COME SEE THE INCREDIBLE "FORWARD PASS"! MARVEL AT THE FAR EASTERN WONDER! His efficiency numbers are no doubt bolstered by the mindblowing confusion that propagates through a defense when Mike Hart doesn't get the ball. Meanwhile, search for quarterbacks who can throw on the Ohio State schedule and you get half a game of a battered Drew Stanton, the ghost of Drew Tate, and Brian Cupito. Survey says "I dunno."
What we do know, in bullet form:
- Mario Manningham (default disclaimer: "if healthy") is a hell of a deep threat. Adrian Arrington and Tyler Ecker are reliable possession options. Steve Breaston is good at YAC and screens.
- The offensive line has been good -- Michigan is 19th in sacks allowed -- but not great -- that number is generous since Michigan hardly throws. Jake Long is an eraser on the left side, but Rueben Riley is occasionally dodgy in pass coverage. The interior line has been okay but has missed a few blitz pickups.
- Henne will occasionally throw an ill-advised ball but he is not the same quarterback he was a year ago. His accuracy, ability to read coverages, and pocket awareness have increased. Scot Loeffler has him toying with safeties. Due to his paucity of attempts no one has noticed this.
- Ohio State has a ton of sacks but struggled to get to the quarterback in the Iowa and Texas games. Against Texas that was partially a function of Colt McCoy, who was almost exclusively limited to short throws, but Drew Tate had a ton of time to make his throws.
- Brandon Jenkins is a physical corner who occasionally gets too aggressive. I can't tell if the hype is deserved or not.
- Michigan drops everything.
So... what? Too many variables. Is the Michigan offensive line the caliber of (a healthy) Iowa's in pass blocking? Will we catch the damn ball? How good -- really -- is the Ohio State secondary and how much have they benefited from being way ahead in most games?
I think, given games versus Northwestern and Iowa, that if Henne is given time he will find holes in the zone. I think he'll throw a lot of accurate balls, and I think Michigan's receivers will drop a few. The victory here -- and probably in the game -- comes down to a couple things I don't know. Will Henne throw that bad pass into coverage? And will he take advantage of his downfield shots?
Key Matchup: Rueben Riley versus Vernon Gholston. Gholston's their only real edge threat. They move him around but I assume they'll avoid Jake Long most of the day, leaving Riley an ultimate test. The question isn't "does Riley get beaten" but "how much and how damaging." In the past against foes like Abiamiri the answer has been "twice-ish and not very." I'll take that.
Run Defense vs. Ohio State
Every time Ohio State lines up under center and runs the ball I will say a little prayer of thanks. I expect I will get to say three or four of these. I mean, really, you'd have to be astoundingly colossally stupid to line up all tough and try to run on what's statistically the most dominant run defense since 1959 when you're like fifth in passing efficiency. But Ohio State will have to keep Woodley, Crable, et al, honest. So there will be things that are not passes. We will call them runs.
A fair number of them will either involve or feature Troy Smith if Ohio State's game plans against Texas and Iowa are any indication. Ohio State would repeatedly line up in an odd empty set with two tight ends to one side against Texas and run a quarterback draw (note: not Incredibly Surprising; Smith would also throw); the Longhorns would defend this well. Against Iowa the speed option -- coupled with option fakes -- would pick up big chunks of yards when Iowa couldn't deal with the pitchman. While he's no longer much for scrambling, instead preferring to buy time for his receivers, Smith will have to be accounted for on 8-12 designed runs.
I hesitate breaking out "Dayne" when mentioning Antonio Pittman since he's much faster than the fat thumping backs that Michigan swallows whole, but there's a kernel of Dayne-hood in his style. Pittman's smart about blocking, patiently waiting for holes to open up and then bursting through them, but he isn't much for juking guys in the secondary or bowling over people for yards after contact. If Michigan can get to him -- and indications are they will -- he is not a magician. However, if we accept the conventional wisdom that Ohio State will spread the field and throw a lot Pittman is liable to find a hole on counters, draws, and that fake WR screen thing Ohio State runs. With Michigan in a 3-3-5 there's going to be the occasional crease in the line that Pittman can exploit for a good gain, should Ohio State choose to try it. They'll want to in an effort to get Terrance Taylor on the field on non-obvious passing downs instead of Shawn Crable, a dangerous blit zer with the speed to run Smith down. An intermittently effective running game from the spread will be key to keeping Smith upright.
The odd thing is that while Pittman seems well suited to this sort of zone-read attack, Ohio State hardly used it against Iowa or Texas. They actually had a nasty case of Michigan-itis where lining up under center was far more likely to be a Pittman or Wells run than dropping back into the shotgun. Shotgun runs were almost universally quarterback draws or option plays. Indication Pittman's not actually comfortable with that style of running, or just sandbagging? We'll find out Saturday.
Key Matchup: David Harris going sideline to sideline versus Pittman. If Ohio State chooses to line up in a conventional form and run it's doubtful they get anywhere unless Pittman suckers a linebacker inside and bounces out like he did constantly against Iowa. Michigan proved vulnerable to this sort of thing last year but has strung out virtually every wide running play it's faced this year.
Pass Defense vs. Ohio State
This has been where Ohio State is deadly. Smith's can move the pocket and throw accurately on the run. Ginn can get behind any cornerback you care to name. Gonzalez is probably better than Ginn. The third and fourth guys and fifth guys are all 6'3" and can run. Our nickel corner is 5'8" and our dime back... let's not talk about our dime back. (For one, Michigan hasn't gone to dime all year. For two, hypothetical dime back is safety Ryan Mundy, not the guys who got toasted versus Ball State.)
The recurring nightmare in my game scenarios looks much like one of those Ball State disasters: pressure comes around the corner (along with an uncalled hold on Crable, natch), flushing Smith out. Gonzalez or Ginn or whoever breaks his route deep, catching the corner and safety flatfooted: long touchdown on a broken play. This is the "AAAH! COBRAS!" of my game theorizing. Once Smith escapes and starts running around like a 1920s cartoon character with windmill legs, anything can happen and not much of it is good. I have nightmares of Smith pulling off a Penn State play that wins him the game and the Heisman and there's nothing except a faint hope that Crable can get to him that gives much peace.
So... yeah, other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, the play seems okay. I've watched a lot of Ohio State's passing game and when pressured and contained Smith is mortal. When Smith isn't in a designed run he's unlikely to take off. He prefers to survey the field until the last possible moment. If he has to he'll flush from the pocket but the goal is to give his receivers time to get open. It's a little odd. He's vastly more mobile than someone like Anthony Morelli but sometimes he forgets that.
Ohio State will force him to remember by rolling the pocket. On the run Smith is deadly and rollouts are always tough to pressure. Michigan does have the advantage of having seen every permutation of the quarterback boot in football, -- one of the side benefits of having hideous death wolverines on the defensive line -- however. By Michigan State and Iowa they had devised schemes to get David Harris and Shawn Crable on the perimeter; while they didn't rack up sacks they did deliver punishing blows to Stanton and Tate. Still, defending the rollout is going to be very difficult.
Key Matchup: Pressure is everything. I don't think that's a surprise. This defense is based around the idea that you can't block the front four or six or seven or whatever. Smith has shown that he will sit back and pick zones to bits when given time. With his newfound reluctance to run, and Michigan's successful spy scheming keyed by bullet linebackers, allowing him to survey the field is obviously the poorer option.
Kickoffs. Advantage Ohio State. Garrett Rivas took over for Ross Ryan midseason and has been underwhelming. Very few Michigan kickoffs go for touchbacks and the coverage teams have had issues in the Central Michigan, Penn State, and Indiana games. Meanwhile, half of OSU's kickoffs are touchbacks. The good news for Michigan is that the Buckeye kickoff return team hasn't blocked anyone to date, though they can reasonably claim to be lacking practice.
Punting. No doubt this will get me skewered in Zoltan's mighty jaws... but I wouldn't mind seeing Ross Ryan if Zoltan is going to keep punting 38 yard line drives with "Ted Ginn 65 yard touchdown" tattooed all over them. Ryan is the least inspiring punter in history but his punts are nigh unreturnable. They also have the strange power to cause Ted Ginn fumbles. Me likey.
Unfortunately, AJ Trapasso kicks the ball a long way and allows few returns -- only a quarter of his punts -- though those returns do average a fairly healthy nine yards. Breaston is not likely to have much in the way of punt return opportunities.
Field Goals. Fairly even. Rivas is a consistent, if uninspiring, kicker who is reliable inside 45 yards but lacks a big leg. Counterpart Aaron Pettry is 8/11 in his first season as the starter. Buckeye fans are panicky about this, which only serves to remind you that there's some sort of devil's bargain going on with the OSU program.
Key Matchup: Our punter versus Hideous Line Drives. This is a slight advantage OSU because we hate the idea of Steve Breaston returning punts and OSU is much more likely to break a long punt return, or any return at all.
I saved this all year.
- Our corners show an indication that they will be letting receivers behind them.
- The dropsies strike again.
- Mike DeBord calls zone left on the first play of the game...
Cackle with knowing glee if...
- ...unless it gains eight yards.
- Pat Haden jumps in the broadcast booth to dejectedly exclaim "oh, wide open."
- We treat the Ohio State offensive line like everyone else.
Fear/Paranoia Level: 10 out of 10. (Baseline 5; +5 for Uh... DUH.).
Desperate need to win level: Infinite.
Loss will cause me to... I don't know, you know? 11-1 is no shame, nor is going on the road and losing to the #1 team in the country. But 1-5. So close after last year. It'll all seem so unfair.
Win will cause me to... I think I'll probably sit in the stadium for an hour.
The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict: Midwest Bias says it best:
What's the most you can say about a rivalry like this, that doesn't have a high probability of making you sound stupid a few days later? "Both teams are really really good, and something strange and/or totally unexpected will probably happen over the course of the game"? Pull a Cutman and say, "One team is going to win this game, and the other will almost certainly not"? The Game largely transcends logic and expectations.
So... right. I think we can run and I have a suspicion we can pass, but not with the sort of consistency we'll need to drive the ball down the field. On the other side of the ball, I see games like we've seen to date: a quarterback running away from angry men, a stuffed runs interspersed with the occasional deeply i rritating five or eight yard gain. The difference between Ohio State and everyone else will be the frequency with which Smith turns a running quarterback into a fifteen-yard completion instead of a sack.
This is what I think the game comes down to: who completes more bombs? Both teams have lived on the long ball this year. Both have receivers who can get open and quarterbacks who excel at the deep ball. Michigan has a tiny advantage here with Trent and Hall, both guys who can run stride-for-stride with anyone, and a defensive line that's more likely to prevent Smith from launching his deep balls. But the margin is razor thin.
Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
- Secret weapon TYLER ECKER.
- I don't get the crap kicked out of me.
- 20-17, Michigan.
Things that are, in my opinion, that will inform the preview:
Both run defenses are kinda sorta overrated. Overrated by the stats, at least. Rushing defense is one of the strongest statistical correlations between numbers a team can put up and national championships, but -- like time of possession -- that can be understood as something of an effect stat, not a cause. What do teams that win national championships do? Win a lot, usually by big margins, because they're good. What do teams that win by a lot face a lot of? Pass attempts. What do they face not so much of? Rush attempts.
Anyone who thinks that Michigan and Ohio State are going to combine for 120 rushing yards is probably not so correct, and anyone expecting 1.4 YPC or 3.2 YPC out of Ohio State and Michigan's rushing games, respectively, is also probably not so correct. There will be movement on the ground by both teams, though I expect a good bit of OSU's to come from Troy Smith.
Michigan's offensive philosophy artificially holds down scoring against most teams. When you run 2/3rds of the time and lack a big play threat in your run game, you are going to have a lot of non-scoring drives. What scoring drives you do have are going to be long clock-mashers. Another way of saying that "Michigan leads the nation in time of possession" is "Michigan games don't have many drives in them." This artificially props the defense and deflates the offense.
... but not OSU. Balls, as they say, will be to the wall.
Michigan's gameplans to date do not have relevance. Michigan is not going to run on 80% of its first downs, nor is it going to close up shop with a two-touchdown lead. I've tried to note the divergent philosophies Michigan employs against teams they respect and teams they think they can roll over. The comparative scores of, say, the Minnesota games (28-14 Michigan versus 44-0 Ohio State) are more a function of philosophy than ability.
Turnovers -- especially fumbles -- are more luck than anything else. One thing causes turnovers consistently: quarterback pressure. Both teams have gotten a lot of it and thus a lot of turnovers. I don't think there's anything relevant in OSU's million interceptions versus Michigan's balance of fumbles and turnovers. If pressed, I'll admit that Henne is a tad more likely to make an inadvisable throw into coverage and that Chris Wells' tendency to fumble like whoah is unlikely to be relevant, but the turnover battle does not appreciably favor either team -- they're both amongst the nation's leaders -- and attempts to argue based on it are likely to result in ridicule and embarassment.
If you subscribe to the idea of "ownership," you are dumb. And I bet you wander by the roulette table, see four of five red, and go bet on black because it's a sure thing. Tressel's won four of five because his teams have been better over the last few years. Was it ownership when Michigan's worst team in the past 20 years was defeated with a last-second touchdown? Or when a sophomore John Navarre threw four interceptions? Ugh. The staggeringly fanciful idea that Carr, who neither goes on the field nor calls any of the plays, somehow becomes a much worse coach because he sees Tressel on the other side of the field is the sure sign of a diseased mind.
Even if OSU wins this year it will be more because of that whole senior-Heisman-winning-QB thing than some sort of mystical Sith crap Tressel uses to tighten Carr's sphincter.
(You'll note that not once in this blog's preview of the Penn State game did the concept of "ownership" come up.)
(Via Suds & Soliloquies.)
You know... this is also something close to what it's like: From the Onion.
One last note on a rematch: I am not in favor of it unless there are no other viable options. Viable options include undefeated Rutgers, a one loss USC, or a one loss SEC Champion. Viable options do not include Notre Dame. It would be impossible to stomach either a rematch versus a team we hammered at home or, worse, watching them play for the national championship over us. Here ends all discussion of it until The Game is over.
Johnny! Woo! Look...
And so they find themselves with everything to play for and nothing to lose, on borrowed time, with house money, in God's hands â€“ rugged riders on a trite voyage so familiar to us all: hopes gone long ago, souls worn to dust through a half-decade of ridicule and scattered in Autumn's afternoon gusts by the collective, jaded, sigh of a loyalist nation, only so it could all to be captured after everyone swore it couldn't be.
...just read the damn thing. Seriously.
The yards/pass is interesting, though. Michigan's passing attack has largely been characterized by stubborn running to force a favorable defensive alignment and then throwing over the top. A power running & big play passing attack. Yet in the air we average a full yard/attempt less than Ohio State.
Against the common "feature backs" listed, Ohio State gave up 369 yards on 81 carries (4.6 yards/carry). Michigan gave up 198 yards on 70 carries (2.8 yards/carry).
Thanks for playing. First reason OSU will beat Michigan on MOTSAG:
First, The Wolverines' defense has not been spread out all season long. It has not faced a single spread offense. Everyone knows about UM's success against a pounding rushing attack, but there's no way the Michigan defense can stay in the 4-3 and not get eaten alive by the spread. If UM stubbornly sticks with the 4-3, then it'll have linebackers trying to line up man-to-man against the deepest receiving corps in college football. When Sweatervest spreads out Carr's defense, Carr will have to make a choice: Go with the nickel to slow down the OSU pass game, which removes his advantage against the run; or stick with the 4-3 and hope that your backfield can cover OSU man-to-man.
(Emphasis in original.) Uh... what? No, seriously, that's deranged. Michigan has played the spread offenses of Vanderbilt, Central Michigan, Michigan State, Northwestern, Ball State, and Indiana. In those games they've consistently deployed a nickel package and have crooshed silly bug running backs. If you're scoring at home, over half of Michigan's opponents to date have run a spread. Ladies and gentlemen, Ohio State bloggers!
Blast from the past: A Daily article from the 1950 Snow Bowl. Sweet.
Many many links: Wojo (ESPN Wojo) on Ufer. The M Zone and Maize 'n' Brew on the growing crisis in Columbus. The Hoover Street Rag all went to Indiana and stuff. SMQB gets deep. Some MSNBC guy way smarter than HatGuy says Carr's legacy isn't on the line... but I hope we win anyway. Maisel on Henne. The Apologists' Den on game keys. USA Today on Woodley. Northwestern Scout guy says "I dunno". Joey rounds up Buckeye Youtube and asks "what is wrong with you people?" J. Brady McCullough -- Daily sports editor back in the day when I was a student -- tells us why he hates Ohio State. The AJC on Michigan preparation for the game; some good quotes on the difference between Ann Arbor and Pandemonium. Godzilla-Mothra undercard for the game is in doubt. At least Michigan and Ohio State have a common enemy: Nickelback. The Hoover Street Rag does some recappin'.
Let's make it a clean sweep of Michigan blogs and post this email sent out to Michigan students:
We are sure that you are excited about this Saturday's football game versus Ohio State, and the possibility of capturing the Big Ten conference title and playing for the national championship.
For those of you traveling to Columbus, we invite you to kick off your Saturday by joining the Alumni Association, Michigan Student Assembly, Division of Student Affairs and other Michigan fans at a fun-filled True Blue Away-Game tailgate. You and your fellow fans can enjoy food, music, large-screen TVs and a variety of arcade games and activities before the game. The cost of student tickets is free with a valid U-M student ID. The tailgate is being held at the Fawcett Center, which is approximately 1/2 mile northwest of Ohio Stadium. The tailgate entrance will be located inside the Fawcett Center. There will be signs posted inside directing you to the Alumni Room and patio. Game-day parking is $10 per car.
We know that it can be uncomfortable being in an opposing team's environment, especially when the stakes are so high. We would like to offer a few suggestions in order to help you stay safe and have a positive experience this weekend:
--Try carpooling to the game; if possible, drive a car with non- Michigan license plates.
--Keep your Michigan gear to a minimum, or wait until you are inside the stadium to display it.
--Stay with a group.
--Know and obey the laws regarding alcohol use.
--If you are of legal age to drink, use alcohol in moderation. Stay in the blue.
--Stay low-key; don't draw unnecessary attention to yourself.
--If verbally harassed by opposing fans, don't take the bait.
--Avoid High Street in Columbus.
If at any time you feel unsafe, you should call 9-1-1 for assistance. U-M campus police also will be available in Columbus to support our fans. You may call them with non-emergency concerns at (734) 216-****.
We look forward to a tremendous game on Saturday. Let's help the Wolverines win with spirit and class.
Sue Eklund, Associate Vice President and Dean of Students
Steve Grafton, President, Alumni Association
Nicole Stallings, MSA President
Stay safe, kids.