this week in unintentionally grim-sounding recruiting headlines
|WHAT||Michigan vs Iowa|
|WHERE||Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, MI|
|WHEN||3:30 Eastern, October 16th 2010|
|THE LINE||Iowa -3|
|TELEVISION||ABC/ESPN reverse mirror (map)|
Sunny, around 60
0% chance of rain
Run Offense vs. Iowa
Michigan's rushing offense failed to find the big play against Michigan State despite being a step from it a half-dozen times; down two or three scores for most of the second half they abandoned the run. The numbers came down from the stratosphere, but they weren't shut down, or close to it. Michigan's performance to date against BCS opponents:
Indiana's terrible and UConn a major disappointment. Michigan did about what Wisconsin did against MSU and obliterated a Notre Dame rush defense that's not great but seems at least decent. They've played the #6, 14, and 25 rushing offenses in the country plus three other BCS teams and are still keeping their head above water in the rankings. They're tied for 56th in YPC, 0.02 behind Penn State. Even if you take out Denard's 87-yarder, Michigan averaged 5.0 YPC against Notre Dame.
So, yes, Michigan is pretty good at running the ball this year. They are about as good at running it as Iowa is at stopping it. The Hawkeyes are currently #2 in rushing D, #4 in total D, and #1 in scoring D. Their results against BCS opponents:
Though the Hawkeyes have been unyielding the only team they've played that can run even a little bit is ISU, the nation's 63rd-best rush offense thanks to a demolition job on Texas Tech. Arizona is 92nd and passed the ball almost 70% of the time in their first two Pac-10 games. And the debacle that is Penn State's offense is 85th; Illinois just held them to 65 yards.
The jury is still out. While their numbers are strong enough to suggest they're better than, say, Michigan's rush defense they could be on par with MSU or Notre Dame. (Arguing against this: even accounting for strength of opposition the Iowa rush defense is 3rd nationally in the Mathlete's PAN metrics.) Last year Iowa was 34th in rush defense and gave up 205 yards to Michigan at 4.7 yards a pop.
This year they return the entire line but lose two of the three linebackers. MLB Jeff Tarpinian was not on the depth chart earlier this week due to a Minor-like assortment of injuries but could give it a go; if he can't his replacement is either a fifth year senior who hasn't played much in his career or a freshman. Meanwhile Michigan has changed quarterbacks (massive upgrade), replaced Minor with a platoon of Shaw and Smith (significant downgrade), and added Taylor Lewan, David Molk, and Patrick Omameh to the offensive line (significant upgrade). You'd think Michigan could at least match last year's performance with an eye towards another YPC.
Schemes will be a major complicating factor. I'll be interested to see what, if anything, Iowa does to adjust to the Denard Robinson show. Last year they sat two safeties back and let Denard run his QB lead draw over and over again on his late touchdown drive. Iowa was protecting a two score lead and had not spent time preparing for the Denard offense, so adjustments and aggression were thin on the ground.
This year Iowa knows what they're getting in Denard, and they've had a bye week to work on defending him. Will they sit back like Michigan State did and hope to stiffen in the redzone, or will they start running scrape exchanges and blitzing? I'm guessing Iowa—which loves playing a simple base D well—will start with the former and move to the latter if it's not working.
Key Matchup: Michigan coaches finding ways to option the ball into Denard's hands. DR's the best running back Michigan has but Iowa will be solid enough to handle or keep down most plays that are conventional QB runs; they can bend but not break well enough to put Michigan behind in the race to 30 points. Big plays are probably going to come from Denard on plays where the guy containing is containing the RB. As a bonus, optioning off one of Iowa's defenders means not having to block someone on that defensive line.
Think Oregon and Illinois: midline and veer.
Pass Offense vs. Iowa
Tyler jimmer-jammin' Sash
Denard's grim day against Michigan State combines with the terrible interception against Iowa last year to dampen expectations. Despite those unfortunate events, however, Robinson is still 12th in passer efficiency. Iowa's defense is better (10th) but here they've had the luxury of taking on the 106th, 110th, and 115th most efficient passing attacks nationally. In their one game against a quarterback capable of doing something other than soiling himself, Nick Foles was 28 of 39 for 303 yards. That's a healthy 7.8 YPC.
Relevancy? Slight. Foles is a pocket bomber. Denard is a magic elf reliant on breathtakingly wide open receivers and a healthy dose of screenage for his numbers. There is some slight relevancy, though. The Mathlete has the Iowa pass defense at 0, average nationally.
FWIW, last year Forcier and the receivers imploded in this game; this was probably his shoulder injury's apex.
Here the interesting bit is how much pressure Iowa gets on Denard. Their vaunted defensive line has not racked up a ton of sacks—they're middle of the pack—and Michigan opponents have been cautious with their rush except in obvious passing situations. Iowa figures to rush four most of the day as they play zone and contain; straight dropback passes will be rare and depend heavily on freshman Taylor Lewan and journeyman Perry Dorrestein facing down a challenge an order of magnitude greater than any they've faced before. A dollar says that Robinson finds himself under seige from the Iowa DL when Michigan is off schedule and cannot mount a credible threat to run.
When Michigan is on schedule things will be in Michigan's favor because of the run threat. Still, Iowa will be far less vulnerable to Michigan's mega play action game than opponents to date. They have a two-deep system, they have veteran safeties made of grit and mandibles, they have film of the stuff Michigan's done for huge touchdowns. If they can avoid bringing down a safety to combat the run, Denard's numbers will be efficient but not amazing.
Key Matchup: Denard's deep accuracy versus Whatever That Was. If Michigan's going to win they're going to have to take advantage of an open receiver downfield or three. His close-range accuracy is probably going to be fine; the past couple weeks he's missed a lot of guys deep.
Run Defense vs. Iowa
Hopes that the run defense was significantly better than the pass defense went out the window during a dispiriting day against Michigan State. After holding up well in the first quarter a series of zone stretches broke it either very big or sort of big throughout the rest of the game, leaving Michigan with truly ugly numbers:
Michigan's hung on against their other three BCS opponents but I'd be remiss if I failed to mention two different UMass backs nearing 100 yards; Michigan's defense is terrible in all phases.
So it's time for changes. Michigan coaches have promised to take the enigmatic Kenny Demens out of mothballs in the hope that he can be less of a spectator than Obi Ezeh. Only the enigmatic Kenny Demens can tell you whether or not he will be, and he only speaks an ancient Sanskrit dialect.
As far as Iowa goes, Angry Iowa Running Back Hating God is two tendons away from being as wroth as Angry Michigan Secondary Hating God, which is wroth indeed. Jewel Hampton tore his ACL for the second consecutive year and Brandon Wegher went on a vision quest, leaving Adam Robinson the only scholarship non-freshman available. You probably remember Robinson from last year's game; he was the guy who played more in the second half and had 70 yards on ten carries. Yay!
Iowa's two games against Arizona and Penn State had outcomes between mediocre and terrible. Iowa tailbacks had 36 yards on 17 carries against Arizona; Robinson managed 95 on 28 carries against Penn State. They did obliterate Iowa State but Michigan's rush defense is 55th, not 102nd. Penn State is sort of a good comparison here. They're 51st after giving up buckets of yards to Illinois and Alabama; the Illinois game found the Nittany Lions injury-wracked.
Michigan will probably be worse than PSU was, but if it's not by much—say 120 yards on 4 YPC instead of 3.4—that will be a win for the beleaguered defense and should result in a number of real live stops. Robinson is significantly smaller than the MSU guys and won't be able to drag piles as far or stay up when Cam Gordon delivers the shoulder block from hell. He's still pretty good, though, and will do damage.
Key Matchup: Kenny Demens versus Whatever The Hell It Is That's Been Keeping Him On The Bench. I'm rooting for disgust at Michigan's talent identification so hard this weekend.
Pass Defense vs. Iowa
All right, fine, more of this "detail" you're always clamoring for: Stanzi is back. He is the Stanzi of last year minus the free seven points handed out to each team before the start of the contest (the pick six against Arizona wasn't his fault). He is full of America, and he is third in passer efficiency. Given a tough situation down many, many points on the road he led Iowa most of the way back against a good pass defense and finished 18 of 33 for 278 yards. Michigan does not have a good pass defense.
The closest comparable to Stanzi on the schedule is the guy Michigan just played: Kirk Cousins. Cousins isn't a superhero but he's a veteran guy with good accuracy and a good deep ball. Michigan may be less susceptible to play action since the Iowa ground game doesn't figure to be as potent and the freshmen corners won't be given one-on-one coverage deep with James Rogers back, but when Stanzi drops back to pass bad things will happen. He was robotic against Penn State early, when Iowa ran out to the two touchdown lead they nursed through the second half.
Michigan's best hope here is getting to Stanzi. Iowa's last-ditch bid to re-tie the Arizona game ended with four straight sacks (one was erased by penalty) and Iowa's average in that department despite passing only 40% of the time. A scenario where Martin, Roh, and Van Bergen make regular trips to the Stanzi Rib Motel is possible.
If that is not the scenario that transpires, Stanzi's going over 300 yards and we'll all start gnawing whatever is handy. Table. Blanket. Whiskey bottle. Misplaced baby.
Key Matchup: Cam Gordon versus big long touchdowns. He must bounce back or we dead.
Michigan is still not good. One positive: Will Hagerup is moving away from his freshman jitters and Michigan has achieved mediocrity in net punting despite getting one blocked. Kick and punt returns are still poor; kickoffs are still poor; field goal kicking is a wasteland.
Iowa has a significant advantage in returns, but their special teams were the primary reason they lost to Arizona. They had a punt blocked and allowed a kickoff return TD. Their punter is great but thanks to that block they're well below average in net punting; their kicker is a freshman who is 2/3 on the year.
When there are punts Iowa has a slight advantage because their return situation has been better and their punter more consistent; kickoffs are probably another small Iowa advantage since Michigan can't get them deep; field goals bleeeergghgh.
Key Matchup: STOP KICKING THE DAMN BALL
- Shaw is not healthy and getting the majority of the carries.
- Taylor Lewan's quick start is brought to a crashing halt by Clayborn and Co.
- Um… defense stuff.
Cackle with knowing glee if...
- Kenny Demens is some kind of crazy gamer who hates practice.
- Iowa does not adapt to the spread.
- Crazy new package is crazy new and good and they've got something for the second half.
Fear/Paranoia Level: 7 (Baseline 5; +1 for Hey This Is Basically Michigan State Again, –1 for But That Game Coulda Shoulda Woulda Been Competitive Without Denard's Very Bad Day, +1 for Denard's Very Bad Day, –1 for Vague Unsupportable Feeling That Iowa's Defense Is Quaintly Outdated Re: Spread, +1 for Stanzibombs Away, +1 for Arizona Won By Doing Crazy Special Teams Things And Our Only Equivalent Is Missing A Field Goal Spectacularly)
Desperate need to win level: 8 (Baseline 5; +1 for Must Kill 2009 == 2010 Meme Please, +1 for Would Put Rodriguez Well En Route To Sticking Around To Kill People With Denard The Next Two Years, –1 for Would Be A Totally Understandable Loss, +1 for But Man Don't We Need A Crazy Upset, +1 for Bowl Eligible, Baby)
Loss will cause me to... spend two weeks putting everyone who says "2009 == 2010" on my naughty list.
Win will cause me to... buy tickets to every bowl game with a Big Ten tie-in.
The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:
IME, the game hinges on how effectively Michigan can run the ball against an intimidating-looking defense that's a paper tiger on… uh… paper. Iowa State and Arizona both threw the ball most of the time; Penn State is incompetent. They haven't faced a running spread team this year; last year a significantly weakened Michigan team put up 200 rushing yards. It is possible that Michigan comes out with a bunch of new stuff and gashes Iowa by optioning off that DL and getting to a questionable situation at middle linebacker. Iowa could just be an okay rush defense and Michigan could be the hot ninja stuff we've all been watching.
I don't think that's the case. Though the Hawkeyes will give up yards and points they won't give up enough to combat what should be another frustrating day defensively, where the defense looks competent for stretches here and there in between crippling big plays. Stanzi and company against this secondary is going to be trouble.
Michigan's best bet on D is for the run defense to be considerably better against Robinson than it was against Michigan State and for Iowa's coaches to run or die trying. Then maybe the Iowa offensive line will be porous and the receivers have an off day.
I wouldn't be surprised to see Michigan win, but I'm not expecting it. Special teams are the final dagger. Michigan will probably have to be +1 in TO margin to win.
Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
- Hopkins: six carries.
- Kenny Demens is way more aggressive than Ezeh, resulting in a couple plays where Adam Robinson is stuffed and at least one 20-yard gain directly attributable to him. Ezeh still gets most of the playing time.
- Robinson's accuracy bounces back significantly.
- Iowa, 34-28.
Note: for more on the BGSU perspective check out Oriental Andrew's Other People's Pressers series.
|WHAT||Michigan vs Bowling Green|
|WHERE||Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, MI|
|WHEN||Noon Eastern, September 25th 2010|
|THE LINE||Michigan –25.5|
|TELEVISION||The saddest ESPN2 game ever|
|WEATHER||Partly cloudy, around 60 degrees
0% chance of rain
Run Offense vs. Bowling Green
This should be the now-usual demolition job. Michigan's currently the #6 rushing offense in the country, averaging almost six yards a carry. Denard and all that.
On the other side of the ball, Bowling Green has struggled badly against their opening slate of Troy, Tulsa, and Marshall, ceding 5.3 YPC against teams not featuring Denard and all that. The slate:
They're 98th in rushing defense. By the Mathlete's reckoning they're 95th and giving up an extra touchdown per game than a hypothetically average team would; Michigan is eighth nationally at +11. If Bowling Green even slows Michigan that will be a win for them and an ominous omen for Michigan. They probably won't live up to the bounty promised by results to date—getting that +18 on the ground would be a truly stupendous day,.
One point in BG's favor: they kind of sort of shut down Marshall's primary tailback, who averaged 2.9 YPC on 14 attempts. Unfortunately, some other guy had a 68-yard run… and six other carries that averaged 8.8 yards apiece. They are not so good at the run defense.
TWB: How do you expect the Falcons to game-plan against Denard Robinson and the Michigan offense?
FB: Answer 1: Not to give anything away, but it will include religious conversions, incense, and the sacrifice of a small animal.
Answer 2: You can game plan for Denard Robinson?
Answer 3: Let him score on every play and take our chances with the defense.
Answer 4: OK. Seriously.
My guess is that we will game plan for Michigan by trying to limit the damage Robinson does on the ground and try to force him to hurt us in the air. I think he will get his yards, but we have to tackle him when we get the chance.
Not to get all arrogant or nothin', but Michigan's main concern in the run game should be finding another tailback to join the Shaw/Smith pairing. Fitzgerald Toussaint is "probable" this week and did dress against UMass; he and Cox should see some carries starting in the second quarter. Hopefully Michigan will get enough breathing room to limit Denard's carries.
Key Matchup: TAYLOR LEWAN HATES DONKEYS (if his ankle is okay)
Pass Offense vs. Bowling Green
BG is less of a disaster zone here thanks to the generosity of Marshall's quarterback, who served up four interceptions last week en route to a 71.2 passer rating. Their dossier to date:
Not bad, but not consistent. The Mathlete has them a field goal below average; Michigan is +5 in their games against I-A opponents and saw Robinson put up a +15 in just 14 throws against UMass. BG will be a tougher matchup unless they get killed on play action after Michigan starts gashing them on the ground; they're 21st nationally in pass efficiency defense. They're only 87th in sacks, though, and a big chunk of their success against opponent passing attacks has been those seven interceptions.
The key for Michigan will be keeping themselves out of obvious passing downs and attacking linebackers and secondary members who are anticipating run plays. If Michigan has the sort of success on the ground the above section implies they will, Robinson should have another efficient day throwing to single covered receivers and the occasional guy who's ridiculously wide open.
Key Matchup: Denard realizing when he needs to put some air under the ball if Roy Roundtree is open deep.
Run Defense vs. Bowling Green
Bowling Green is not much of a running team but will it matter against Michigan? Let's hope so, since they might be more of one with their starting quarterback out. After two weeks in which BG threw almost two-thirds of the time, BG flipped that in the Marshall game. That's partially the injury, partially a desire to run out the clock late.
Either way, the results weren't great. Starting tailback Willie Geter netted exactly 100 yards on 31 carries, an average of 3.2; his backup did a half-yard better on six carries. Michigan's run defense might not be much better than Marshall's, but it probably won't be a worse. Or that much worse, anyway. The Herd is currently 86th nationally.
Michigan and BG are both about average nationally to the Mathlete, but those numbers don't include the bludgeration Michigan suffered against UMass. Reasonable expectations are yielding Geter's best day of the year… but not by much!
Key Matchup: Obi Ezeh against his many critics, those many critics against critics of the critics, and the original critics' criticism of the criticism of the critics' critics.
Pass Defense vs. Bowling Green
This is likely to be the bulk of Bowling Green's offense even with the expected absence of starting quarterback Matt Schliz, who seriously needs a T in his last name. Schliz put up 43 and 40 attempts in his two healthy games, averaging 5.1 and 6.6 YPA, which fits in with descriptions of the Clawfense as an offense mad for short passes.
In his absence it looks like Bowling Green will go with more of the same, except not that good:
The Wolverine Blog: How will the injury to quarterback Matt Schilz affect Bowling Green’s pass-heavy offense?
FalconBlog: The injury to Schilz will definitely have an impact on our offense. He is the only QB on the team who has started a game, and has by far the most game experience. Furthermore, he won the job pretty handily. Our other QBs are talented but untested in game situations, and this is the Big House. Now, they are both from the same general mold—drop back passers who are not real threats to run, so we probably can pretty much keep the same game plan in, only with a skinnier playbook. I would expect the biggest impact to be accuracy and facing pressure.
Aaron Pankratz, who seriously needs an S in his last name, came in when Schliz was hurt, completing five of eight passes for 111(!) yards, a touchdown, and an interception. He may or may not start, with a walk-on the other primary option.
Whoever is the starter will make it a point to pepper Kamar Jorden with passes. The JUCO transfer already has 34 catches this year despite having a 42-yard Hail Mary and a 79-yard screen pass called back against Tulsa. The catch pictured above was brought in. BGSU's next leading receiver has twelve catches. The Falcons tend to have eyes for one guy—last year Freddie Barnes was the nation's leading receiver with a mindboggling 155 catches for 1770 yards.
Key Matchup: Kovacs and Gordon tackling. An offense like this puts a lot of pressure on the wing defenders to buzz flats, make solid tackles, and set up plenty of third downs that will eventually see the punt team show up. At least, that's the idea.
Key Matchup: STOP KICKING THE DAMN BALL
Kittens still not warranted for a spread basically as big as the one against UMass even after, you know, the UMass game.
But, yeah, Michigan: her life is in your hands.
Aw, don't say that.
Her life is in your hands.
- Bowling Green's wack ground game is consistently picking up yards, like 6-8 yards.
- Cam Gordon is tested and doesn't do so good.
- AIGH KICKING GAME.
Cackle with knowing glee if...
- Taylor Lewan reprises the donkey ridin'.
- A tailback emerges from the depths and impresses, probably Toussaint
- Denard adds another tool to his Batman utility belt.
Fear/Paranoia Level: 1 (Baseline 5; –1 for Denard!, –1 for Bowling Green's Run Defense!, –1 for The Combination Of The Two!, –1 for MAC Team, –1 for MAC Team Minus Their Starting Quarterback, –1 for Passing Oriented MAC Team Minus Their Starting Quarterback, +1 for Oh God What Was That Last Week, +1 for There's A Toledo Never Forget, Too)
Desperate need to win level: 10 (Baseline 5; +1 for All That Stuff From Last Week Pretty Much Except With Slightly Less Force, +1 for But Not Really Any Less Force Since I Bet UMass Would Spank BG Minus Their Starting Quarterback, +1 for This Week Was Highly Annoying And Michigan Actually Won, +1 for Hey Who Wants A CHOCOLATE BOWL GAME, +1 for Constant Rich Rodriguez Job Savin' Campaign.)
Loss will cause me to... wrap myself into a eight-foot taco, label it "GIANT FOOD," and hope Taylor Lewan walks by hungry.
Win will cause me to... read hopeful signs into the defense's performance even if unwarranted.
The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:
Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
- Linebacker bounceback day, with Mouton having a good-ish game and Ezeh approaching zero.
- This time we finally get some carries for non-Shaw/Smith tailbacks, with Toussaint getting half a dozen.
- We get to see some backup quarterbacks this time around.
- Michigan, 46-21.
|WHAT||Michigan v. Indiana|
|WHERE||Ann Arbor, MI|
January 14th, 2010
|THE LINE||Michigan -13.5|
*Line provided by online sports betting site Sportsbetting.com.
When Last We Met
The Wolverines limped out of Assembly Hall on the wrong end of a 71-65 game. Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims had relatively quiet games, and actually each scored fewer points than Zack Novak or Laval Lucas-Perry.
If Michigan wants to turn the tables, they'll have to get star-worthy performance from their best two players, with the supporting cast stepping up. Michigan isn't going to win a lot of games this year without Sims and Harris stepping up (well, they're not going to win a lot of games this year no matter what, but I digress.
This time around, Indiana has had a chance to get used to not having Maurice Creek, but the Wolverines are at home. This certainly looks like a game that the Wolverines should win (and Vegas thinks so, too. Look at that gaudy line!).
If you need an explanation of the stats, check out Ken Pomeroy.
|Michigan v. Indiana: National Ranks|
|Category||Michigan Rank||Indiana Rank||Advantage|
|Mich eFG% v. IU Def eFG%||178||74||II|
|Mich Def eFG% v. IU eFG%||237||172||I|
|Mich TO% v. IU Def TO%
|Mich Def TO% v. IU TO%||49||244||MM|
|Mich OReb% v. IU DReb%
|Mich DReb% v. IU OReb%||253||155||I|
|Mich FTR v. IU Opp FTR
|Mich Opp FTR v. IU FTR
|Mich AdjO v. IU AdjD||82||105||M|
|Mich AdjD v. IU AdjO||93||177||M|
Difference of more than 10 places in the national rankings get a 1-letter advantage, more than 100 gets a 2-letter advantage, more than 200 gets a 3-letter advantage, etc.
Michigan's numbers have improved since the first game against the Hoosiers, while Indiana has dropped games to Ohio State and Illinois decisively. Michigan appears to be the much better overall team, and should emerge with a win tonight.
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.)
Stuff I pulled from the OSU-Texas game that may be of interest.
Ginn? Might Want To Tackle Him
OSU's first big play is a simple crossing route to
Breaston Ginn that's badly misplayed by the Texas secondary. Watch #38 overrun the play, opening up the corner and many, many YAC. This hasn't happened once against the Michigan secondary yet; I don't think it's a major concern, especially given what we know about the Texas secondary now (even with Tarrell Brown they kind of suck). More sucky play against Ginn coming up.
A Pittman run up the gut where Frank Okam looked like Pat Massey when doubled by the interior line of Ohio State. Okam's no joke -- a first rounder after the year to most mock-drafters -- and we've seen something similar happen to Terrance Taylor from time to time. If Ohio State decides to put in a big package from time to time they might rip off a run or two like this.
Grinding Drive... No Points
Texas got the ball back and proceeded to gash the Buckeye run defense. These three consecutive plays all went for first downs:
- Off tackle opens up and Laurinaitis gets way too aggressive, essentially blocking himself by running into a pulling OT, who just goes down to chop him.
- Ohio State lines up shifted right, away from the strength of the formation. Texas runs a speed option to the strong side. Is it me or does Laurinaitis look lumbering on this particular play? He flows down the line slowly and gets chopped, forcing the corner to come up on the QB and thus leaving the pitchman wide open.
- Option to the other side of the field sees the corners way off the line, totally unable to support the linebacker (Grant?) who takes the quarterback.
Ohio State would eventually figure out the option and get good support from Antonio Smith. They would later stunt themselves into trouble, though. They lined up Gholston as a standup DT -- shades of Crable -- then stunted into a counter play. Laurinaitis reads it late; Grant gets pancaked by the pulling guard and it's into the secondary again.
This drive would end with a fumble on the two yard ine.
OSU Goes Up 7-0
Michigan's seen a lot of rollouts this year. Once it became clear that standing in the pocket was a good way to get your spleen bruised, opponents have headed outside with frequency. This has worked. Unfortunately, one of Troy Smith's biggest strengths is his accuracy on the run. Two critical plays on Ohio State's touchdown drive were darts as Smith rolled out. This one is particularly alarming:
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Smith finished the drive with a touchdown strike on a similar play.
Texas Returns To The Ground
Two problems on this long Texas run:
- playside DE crashes inside, giving up contain.
- Laurinaitis doesn't recognize the trouble this causes and just waits to be blocked yards downfield. Compare this to Michigan linebackers, who have been diagnosing and attacking at the LOS all year.
Texas would run the same play again soon after, but this time the DE keeps contain and Laurinaitis heads outside quickly. Result: minimal gain.
I worry about this: third and short, we call a cute run play, and Quinn Pitcock takes two guys into the backfield with him, creating a major loss.
Four yards on a zone stretch for Texas.
You Did What With How Many Seconds Left?
Tied 7-7 with about two minutes left in the half, OSU gets the ball back and marches downfield. They're heavily aided by a stupid bust on second and long; Troy Smith throws a dart of a seam route that's nigh un-defendable. OSU moves the ball into field goal range with the clock ticking down.
Then... this. First of all: Aaron Ross is not as good as he thinks he is. Second of all, when there are something like twenty seconds left in the half and your opponent is already in field goal range, why do this?
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That's right: one-on-one press coverage with nothing even approximating safety help. On Ted Ginn. Ross misses his jam, gets two steps behind instantly, then starts looking back like Troy Smith can possibly underthrow Ginn enough for him to get a fingernail on the ball. This is easier than beating Terrell Lambert. The replay shows it in excruciating detail. We should not do this.
Halftime: 14-7, OSU
At this point Texas has fumbled at the two and turned a likely OSU field goal into a touchdown with an idiotic playcall before the half. OSU has missed a chippie field goal. Play has been even.
And It Begins
This is what I'm talking about when I say that turnovers are more a function of the offense than the defense. Let the Laurinaitis legend begin: he can catch balls thrown directly at him! Musberger and Herbstreit are creaming themselves over a guy who's largely at fault for Texas' ability to pick up 10 yards every other carry. This leads to an OSU field goal and the beginning of the end; it's also the first time the entire game McCoy has thrown between the hashmarks.
Alex Boone did okay but was flagged for an obvious hold and then allowed this Woodley-esque sack. Note Smith standing in the pocket despite having what looks like plenty of room. He's had it beaten into his head to keep looking downfield, sometimes to his detriment. Overall, it's obviously the better option for the OSU offense -- mentally play the Penn State touchdown in your head now -- but it occasionally will result in him getting blindsided when he could have taken off.
OSU's drive does end in a field goal; after this sack they run on third and long to set it up. 17-7 now.
Texas Back to the Ground
Larry Grant on the field is not going to be a good thing for Ohio State, methinks. I wouldn't expect him to play, largely because of stuff like this. It's a counter that he gets utterly lost on. (When I grabbed the highlight I thought it was a more relevant linebacker -- Freeman. Oh well.)
Texas easily converts a third and short on a familiar-looking stretch play.
Vernon Gholston doesn't get a sack here but he does display his impressive ability to teleport around tackles. Riley will have his hands full. Note that this is the second Colt McCoy pass longer than ten yards; the first was intercepted by Laurinaitis.
Laurinaitis in space. Sets up too far inside, IMO and cedes the corner. Not sure why the RB threw in the unnecessary second juke that probably cost him three or four yards.
This is Colt McCoy's only downfield completion of the night.
Another successful run. Both linebackers are very passive.
OSU closes the door.
This one is titled "AaronRossSucksBasically.WMV" and is fairly self explanatory. It's second and nine with 12 minutes left, you're down two scores, and you're playing Ted Ginn in the parking lot. There is a happy medium between lining up an inch from his nose and in Tajikistan. Have you seen anything like this against the Michigan secondary? Infrequently.
I think this play summarizes what's good about Antonio Pittman: he diagnoses holes and decisively bursts through them. He's not much for breaking tackles or juking guys but he's smart about blocking and fast.
And that's all, folks.
I can think of no better way to summarize Texas' confidence in Colt McCoy than to show you their final relevant play from scrimmage. Down 24-7 with around eight minutes left, Texas faced third and sixteen. They ran an option, then punted. The man who's like second or whatever in passer efficiency was not the man Ohio State played.
What We Learned
- Troy Smith is really accurate on the run.
- Boone a little tetchy his first game.
- Issues containing runs to the outside.
- Aaron Ross sucks, basically.
- This game should not be used as evidence of Ohio State's rad pass defense. Mack Brown was clearly terrified of Colt McCoy and perhaps with good reason given that hideous interception.
- Don't line up two inches from Ted Ginn's nose with no safety help.