Niko Porikos grew up in an NTDP billet home. Cool story.
vicious electronic questioning
The old king is dead; long live the king Mike Pettigano is the Penn State blogfather; it was he who years ago united much of their internet presence into the now-defunct LinebackerU. Most of those guys, including Mike, have retired from blogging for real-ish jobs. For the last couple of years we've been publishing an HTTV-like book for PSU fans together. So I hit him up for a VEQ/sadface party.
The old king is dead; long live the king
Mike Pettigano is the Penn State blogfather; it was he who years ago united much of their internet presence into the now-defunct LinebackerU. Most of those guys, including Mike, have retired from blogging for real-ish jobs. For the last couple of years we've been publishing an HTTV-like book for PSU fans together. So I hit him up for a VEQ/sadface party.
I am bolded, Mike is not.
Before we spend too much time on this, do you have a fully operational football team that can play football? Because if the answer's "Yes," we can stop now and all get a full night's sleep.
No. Let's proceed...
Let's talk about that offensive line. What happened? Did you, like, spend two years firing Rich Rodriguez, then try to install an offense that isn't anything like what the sparse upperclassmen were recruited to run, and is too complicated for the young guys to figure out?
[inhales deeply] When Bill O'Brien arrived in 2012, Penn State had 15 offensive linemen, too many for BO'B's taste, so he recruited only 5 over the next two classes. One of those five guys moved to defense after arriving at PSU. That's four OL's signed in two classes. When the sanctions hit and the free-transfer went into affect, 4 linemen transfered or left the team, another in the 2012 class transferred, and one from the 2013 class left the team. This spring, Anthony Alosi was kicked off the team. That's 7 scholarship linemen gone out of 13 over the last three years.
The biggest blow to this position actually came when Miles Dieffenbach, a 23-game starter at guard, tore his ACL. If you're remembering correctly, it was the guard that blocked his own man vs Northwestern two weeks ago. Dieffenbach could have potentially changed the entire composition of this year's offensive line. This week he won't' be back, but possibly for Ohio State, not that it'll matter. Penn State is now hoping to get through this season with a few more wins, while frantically figuring out which of this year's freshmen could start next year. Herb Hand is an unbelievably talented offensive line coach. But dude, I feel bad for him this year.
Today was ugly...that is MY fault. We WILL get better because we have GREAT young men w/ POSITIVE attitudes that aren't afraid to WORK.
— Herb Hand (@CoachHand) September 27, 2014
[After the jump: this all sounds very familiar]
it's supposed to be creepy and self serious and gross
An annual tradition also coming to an end this week: I talk with Puppet Wrangler In Chief Brian Stouffer about the Notre Dame game as ridiculously as possible. Part One is at House Rock Built and features a TOO SOON joke plus icky Canadian emo breakup rock. This is part two.
I am bolded; Stouffer is not. This is just for readability, and not meant to imply any jinx-inducing superiority.
Let's talk Irish running game. Brian Kelly going to bother with it at all? He seems to hate it.
I think even Brian Kelly can find a little love in his cold black heart for our run game this year. The OL is looking pretty dominant, and now we've got three guys that we can swap out at RB, so there's going to be a lot of fresh legs and hard running. If we can force more defensive resources to respect the run game, that's all the more space opened up for the happy-go-bomby portion of the program.
How's your front seven? Up to the task?
Michigan has some whizbang on its DL this year with Frank Clark and a horde of defensive tackles. Everyone has high hopes that ogre/man Willie Henry will get technique religion this year and starting hurling dudes around; Ondre Pipkins looked good in limited time in his first game back from an ACL tear.
The linebackers were iffy as M replaced last years starters at ILB with a SAM linebacker and Joe Bolden, one of the backups, and then we're pretty sure Desmond Morgan is out... which is bad because he was Michigan's best LB Saturday and last year. In a game where they figure to spread 'em out it will be important for Michigan to win that battle at the line. This is kind of the opposite of Michigan OL versus ND front seven.
Wow... that sounds like confidence. Confident Brian Cook frightens and confuses me. Your secondary is supposed to be awesome and experienced too, yes? Are you guys the 85 Bears? You have to tell me if you are. Otherwise it's entrapment.
The secondary! They return everyone except a middling safety and have about six corners plus a solid FS; the other SS spot is a bit of an issue that may cost Michigan. I like Jeremy Clark long term, but he made a couple of silly errors to set up both App State touchdowns.
And all that stuff about how defense X is going to be aggressive is actually true: Michigan is mostly a man press team now, throwing in enough zone to prevent you from running all the pick routes but generally in your face and against easy yards. It's kind of unprecedented. Of course, this is all hypothetical until they play a real team. I am optimistic, not even cautiously so. Michigan fans have been pointing at this year as a breakout one for the defense since Mattison arrived, basically, and now it's time to put up or shut up.
But not the 85 Bears, because we do not have a dance.
the NFL is so spectacularly copyright litigious that the actual Super Bowl shuffle is not on the tubes
How do you expect Notre Dame's WRs to deal with a lot of in-yo-face coverage? That Robinson guy is rather tall. I wonder who is father is.
None other than William "The Refrigerator" Perry.
THAT DON'T MAKE NO SENSE PAWWWWWL
And now you know... the rest of the story.
Okay, now that we've referenced both Paul Harvey and Paul Finebaum (#truedetectiveseason2), I'll um answer your question. What was it? Oh, receivers. Yes. Karl Malone or whoever's kid is big, but I haven't really seen him play like a big man and fight for the ball. The other receivers are undersized, and while they were fun to watch hauling in bombs in the open field, I'm not sure if they're going to excel at fighting in tight spaces.
I think Michigan might use more safeties than Rice's "NOOOOOPE." That was so bizarre. You're RICE! You can't stick with those guys. RICE: "WE LIKE MATH BUT HATE LOGIC" Me: "That's not logical." RICE: "HAHAHAHA!"
Everyone hates rice.
Do you still have Butt? I read somewhere you hurt your Butt. Sorry about your Butt. Do you have a replacement Butt?
We broke our Butt but our Butt is just abutt ready to butt in on this game. Everyone's been told Butt will not butt in but Butt himself thinks Butt is ready to get his butt in there and put someone else on their butt. But, we don't know about Butt until he either suits up or does not suit up. Butt.
And no we don't have a replacement Butt our other tight ends are offensive linemen who aren't good at blocking.
In a year full of terrible Butt news, this is the worst Butt news yet.
I am not entirely sure what the Other Brian means by this but I assume he's referring to this woman recently convicted for a LETHAL BUTT INJECTION. She was convicted of "depraved heart murder"… and wire fraud. Personally I would have let the wire fraud go.
We may have digressed somewhat here.
But... Oh, right. Yes.
Ask me something non-posterior-related. Quickly.
Who draws the Funchess matchup? HE'S LARGE AND IN CHARGE!
Gawd he's still around? He's so big. Are we allowed to swat at him with a tennis racket?
Adidas Tennis Orc Ladies: tried briefly in the 1980s and quickly discontinued
I think so. He doesn't react to non-metals.
Arggh. Welp, We don't have anyone who can actually match up with him, so I think the idea is to "contain" him -- that is to say, let him catch infinity red zone touchdowns but hope he doesn't suddenly discover he can run a 3.9 40.
Although there are weird magicks in this series. 300 pound tight ends routinely bust 99 yard runs.
That seems pessimistic. I thought you guys were deep in the secondary even without Russell?
Deep, but not "hey look at all the 6'5" defensive backs we have lying around" deep.
Well... I think that about covers it unless there are extreme special teams outliers.
Michigan does have a punter who may blast it 70 yards or shank it 25. So... yeah.
And they use old-style punting, so if he does blast it 70 there might be some fireworks.
Yeah, no. Special teams should be mercifully boring this year. Hopefully. I s'pose it's onward to prediction time.
pictured: mercifully boring special teams
Considering we nailed the prediction PERFECTLY last year, we've set a pretty high bar for ourselves.
Yeah. I dunno, I kind of think the front sevens and OLs are a wash, and then I like Michigan's passing game more with Russell and Collinsworth out. There is the road factor. For whatever reason, Michigan's been worse than you might expect on the road. And then there is the WTF factor. The game feels closer to a pick 'em to me than Vegas thinks.
Plus all bets are off for THE END OF FOOTBALL
Yes. If a ball doesn't deflect off four guys to someone's great profit or loss what's the point of anything?
I suggest we make the prediction the same way we did last year. One word at a time until one of us, both of us, or EVERYONE is dead.
All right. I think we should do two. Last year you got stuck with a lot of articles.
Two it is. I have won the coin toss and elect to defer.
In the gruesome finale of the epic battle between cultures steeped in
butts and cloying arrogance, two men wearing only each others' flayed scalps battled viciously until all that was and all that will ever be deflected off an unsuspecting postal worker.
As our universe imploded, the postal worker thought, "Not again."
This terrifyingly apropos picture about the end of the world coming when death loses 45-10 to Alabama is in fact the first GIS hit for "Postal Apocalypse." Death ain't played nobody, Pawwwl!
It has been nice knowing you. I hope your football team evaporates in a steam that smells like Werther's Originals Saturday and then you re-hire Charlie Weis.
And I just hope everyone has a good time out there and makes some good memories.
THAT IS JUST SO NOTRE DAME
A sincere thanks to Brian for bugging me to do this every year. I will miss it.
The Buckeyes hope former 5-star Vonn Bell (#11), a sophomore, is an upgrade at safety.
While we're busy poring over every morsel of news coming out of Michigan's fall camp, the rest of the country is hard at work as well, and that includes our rivals in Columbus. To get a gauge on where Ohio State stands just a couple weeks away from their opener against Navy, I chatted with Eleven Warriors senior writer Michael Citro, who was kind enough to answer my questions about the Buckeye D-line hype, the team's biggest question marks, injury concerns, and more. (If you'd like to see 11W's season preview of Michigan, to which I made a few contributions, click here.)
First off, I have to ask—what the hell happened to the defense against Michigan?
Wait, what defense? Was defense played in that game?
Ohio State’s D had been leaky and suspect most of the season, and that only got worse after safety Christian Bryant’s injury at the end of the Wisconsin game. The front four (plus Ryan Shazier) was able to mask it for a while. The problems were systemic—bad communication aggravating an already passive zone concept. Against Michigan it was exacerbated by some poor tackling that we saw early in the season making an unwelcome return. If you let Devin Funchess jump over you, you're not form tackling. (You're welcome for me setting you up to run a gif or photo of it here.)
Along those lines (I assume), what changes do you expect to see on the defense now that Chris Ash is on the staff?
Ash, along with Meyer and Fickell, have instituted a more aggressive system with a philosophy of challenging every throw. You’ll see the cornerbacks pressing more as a result. Also, for no reason known to man, the cornerbacks and safeties met separately under the Everett Withers co-defensive coordinatorship. That has been changed and Kerry Coombs’ corners are meeting with Ash’s safeties and the entire defense is supposedly on the same page now. I’m optimistic, but we’ll see. I'm excited to see more Vonn Bell this year.
Do you think the defensive line will live up to the hype? There's obviously oodles of talent and pass-rushing ability, but they seemed to struggle a little against the run, something the advanced metrics indicate as well.
The defensive line should be very good, especially when Noah Spence returns from his suspension—and the players should stay fresher with the Larry Johnson Sr. plan of rotating more bodies into the game. The group is deep enough to handle a lot more rotating now and the players seem to be buying into the philosophy. Guys like Tyquan Lewis and Rashad Frazier (a Purdue transfer) are demanding playing time with their performances. Ohio State didn't handle broken play runs well in the latter stages of the season. I haven’t checked the metrics, but aside from Michigan State, it didn't seem like opposing tailbacks were that much of an issue. Nimble quarterbacks were much more of a problem and the linebackers were also pretty culpable there.
[Hit THE JUMP to learn about OSU's current injury situation, surprisingly shaky O-line outlook, which players they expect to break out this year, and more.]
Whether or not Jim Harbaugh made this pick to get Carlos Hyde as far away from Michigan as possible, it's much appreciated.
The NFL Draft is over. The NBA Draft makes us all sad and alone. While the NBA and NHL playoffs have both been amazing, the time when regular season baseball is the only sporting entertainment available is nearly upon us. (Thank you, World Cup year, at least.)
This seems as good a time as ever to check in with our mortal enemies in Columbus. Over the weekend, I did a Q&A over at Eleven Warriors about the current state of Michigan football, the mindset of the fanbase—if you watch Mad Men, you'll guess the Pete Campbell reference without having to look—and the early outlook for this season. It's admittedly not the most pleasant read for Wolverine faithful.
Anyway, 11W's Michael Citro was kind enough to answer a few questions himself, and you may even be somewhat heartened by what he has to say about this year's Ohio State team—a contender, to be sure, but one that has a few holes to fill and issues such as "can we teach the secondary how to tackle with their arms?"
Thanks to Michael for his time and very forthright answers, and to John Cooper forever and always.
You asked about the mindset of Michigan fans now versus 10-12 years ago, and I'd like to turn that around with a bit of a twist. How do Ohio State fans currently perceive the rivalry, and do they truly believe it'll remain this lopsided over the long haul, or is the memory of John Cooper—and, say, last year's game—enough haunting context to keep y'all aware of the fickle nature of college football?
I think we fall into two camps here. There are those of us who suffered in the rivalry under Cooper who are content to count the wins one at a time on a micro scale—and keep score from Jim Tressel’s first year and forward on a macro scale. We enlightened citizens thank our various deities annually because we know that ka is a wheel and the cycle can change without warning (ask Lloyd Carr).
But, there is also a more arrogant and entitled (not to mention, generally younger) segment of Buckeye Nation that believes Ohio State is the one who knocks. They think Michigan is in the midst of becoming Nebraska-esque—a good team with a rich tradition and history that has lost some of its national relevance and is doomed to mire in decent-to-good seasons without ever truly being great again. This kind of hubris is foreign to a guy like me, who sweats out games against Indiana and Purdue until they’re well out of reach. Seriously, did Tresselball not teach us how not to take things for granted?
Do you believe it takes away from the rivalry when the two programs are in such different places for a prolonged period of time? I know it's easy to say as a Michigan fan—it sure feels more fun for everyone involved when both teams are not only competitive against each other, but playing for something more than just The Game itself.
I believe the rivalry is more intense when both schools are at the top and there is something of note on the line. I mean, come on, the 2006 version of The Game was insane, was it not? That said, I don’t think the rivalry is diminished all that much when there is disparity over the long haul, although many fans do.
I mean, we don’t have a two-front rivalry the way Michigan does with us and MSU. We have U-M and that’s basically it—although Penn State fans are constantly trying to drum up a rivalry where none exists and Wisconsin-under-Bert was soaring to heights of hatred never previously seen. Gary Andersen seems too nice to hate like that. So Michigan is the arch-rival and then there’s everyone else.
Okay, on to the actual team. Who are the main candidates to replace Carlos Hyde, and can any of them match what he was able to provide last year? How do you feel about the offense in general?
Many OSU fans are under the misguided notion that plugging in any of the talented Buckeye backs will magically produce the same results that Hyde manufactured. I am not among those fans. Hyde was a special blend of power and speed that we probably haven’t seen since Eddie George—and he was running behind one of the best two or three offensive lines in school history. You don’t just plug-and-play when you lose four steamrollers and a ball-carrying rhinoceros.
Sophomore Ezekiel Elliott is the favorite to replace Hyde. He’s also a special talent but he doesn't have Hyde’s power and it’s unclear so far if he’ll have Hyde’s vision. Elliott is faster than Hyde, probably quicker to hit the hole, and more likely to break long runs as a result. But will the holes be there behind four new starting offensive linemen and Taylor Decker moving from right to left tackle? Unknown.
Bri’onte Dunn, Warren Ball and Rod Smith will likely all see plenty of time in 2014 unless Elliott just comes in and kills. I expect more of a committee approach but we’ll know more once fall camp gets underway.
As for the offense overall, I think Tom Herman will move toward more of a 60/40 run-pass distribution (it’s been about 65/35 the last two years). Rushing yards may be harder to come by under the revamped O-line and more passing may result. Plus, I would expect Braxton Miller to hang in the pocket more as a senior and try to make more plays with his arm. I feel pretty decent about the offense considering Ed Warinner has worked wonders with the offensive line the last two years and Herman has been generally great at everything except remembering he had Hyde in the backfield during the second half of the two biggest games of last year.
As for the defense, the line is absolutely terrifying, but I'd like to get your thoughts on the back seven. How does new co-DC Chris Ash plan to address the issues in the secondary, and who's going to replace the production of Ryan Shazier?
Sure, Ace. Go ahead and ask about Ohio State’s back seven [guzzles bleach, tucks into the fetal position and cries].
Honestly, it’s going to be fun to see the transformation Ash has in mind, should it actually happen. Ash plans to be more aggressive with coverage (but what new defensive coach doesn't?) and he has an actual defensive philosophy—something that seemed to be missing under Everett Withers. Ohio State will be younger but more athletic at safety and the secondary should communicate better. Ash will have the corners and safeties meet together, which is something that inexplicably wasn't happening the last two years. Oh, and the Buckeyes will likely play less nickel and dime and more base in 2014.
Josh Perry is the favorite to slide into Shazier’s role. Perry came into his own a bit last year but there is still concern. Shazier was a laser-guided Cloverfield monster. Darron Lee looks like he’ll join Perry and Curtis Grant as a starting linebacker, but Raekwon McMillan had a good spring and may force his way into the lineup. Lee is a former safety and has better cover skills, which is why Ohio State may play more base defense.
If you had to pick a breakout player or two on each side of the ball that Michigan fans may not be very familiar with, who would they be?
On the offensive side, Curtis Samuel should do the kinds of things Dontre Wilson did last year, now that Wilson is sliding into Philly Brown’s old spot. Samuel makes fast guys look slow. If it’s not Samuel that opens eyes, it may (finally) be Michael Thomas, a promising wide receiver that has been Ohio State’s best spring performer for three years.
Defensively, McMillan is one guy who will be noticeable if he gets on the field. But perhaps an even bigger threat to break out defensively is yet another young D-line prospect—Tyquan Lewis. He flashed all spring and literally everyone has been raving about him. He was destroying guys during the Spring Game. That’s not always an accurate barometer, but with Larry Johnson Sr. calling the shots on the defensive line these days, the rotation is going to expand to keep guys fresher. And yes, I just told you Joey Bosa will be fresh in the fourth quarter.
I know Wolverines and Buckeyes are strange bedfellows, but if I suggested we band together in a conspiracy to frame James Franklin for major NCAA violations, you're totally in, right?
I’m actually not that worried about James Franklin—yet. Sure, he seems to be killing it on the recruiting trail right now, but if anyone knows that there’s no such thing as a May National Recruiting Championship, it’s probably U-M fans. His record against the top teams in the SEC wasn’t great and until he shows me differently in the B1G, I’m not completely sold. Mind you, I didn’t say I wasn’t nervous. In fact, with recruiting like his, those major violations you refer to may take care of themselves (just kidding, Penn State fans….probably).
Related to the last question: how do you feel about the job Urban Meyer has done on the recruiting trail? How's the 2015 class shaping up?
Overall, Meyer has been about as advertised in recruiting. Of course, he made his biggest splash early by flipping a bunch of guys when he first arrived in Columbus. It’s strange to think some of those guys haven’t panned out (Se’Von Pittman transferred, Kyle Dodson is buried on the depth chart, etc.), but that’s recruiting. The start of the 2015 recruiting season has been very slow from an OSU perspective and it’s hard to say why that is. We certainly didn’t appreciate losing a prized QB like Brandon Wimbush to Penn State, which already has Hackenberg. Some people are nervous, but I get a sense that most Ohio State fans are willing to wait and trust Urban.
Not actually a question, but a pair of fill-in-the-blanks. If _________ happens, Ohio State wins the Big Ten. If ________ happens, Ohio State has a disappointing, title-free season. Go.
In the first sentence it has to be two things—if the defense comes together and the O-line gels, Ohio State wins the B1G. If those things don’t happen, Ohio State has a disappointing, title-free season.
Since you asked me, I'm required by law to ask you: what's your far-too-early prediction for The Game?
Whatever Brady Hoke is—and I still don’t think we quite know—he is not Rich Rodriguez. You can once again throw out the records when The Game is on the line.
My way-too-early prediction is that Michigan annoyingly hangs around until the final minutes again. But I think the home crowd and Braxton Miller make the difference in a one-score game. Remember, I am a product of the Cooper era and never ever feel secure about anything when it comes to Ohio State. I have been accused in the past by Michigan fans of being disingenuous when I downplay the Buckeye advantage, but last year I called a closer-than-expected game and look what happened—I spent the entire fourth quarter in cardiac arrest.
I’ve already ordered my defibrillator from Amazon for this November.
Carlos Hyde, human battering ram
First, on behalf of everyone here at MGoBlog, I wish you a Happy Thanksgiving; this week is the perfect time to keep in mind all we have in life to be thankful for—and yes, I hope that goes outside of the spectrum of sports, for sanity's sake.
We've covered the X's and O's with Eleven Warriors' Ross Fulton; now it's time to cover the hate, and for that we welcome 11W's Johnny Ginter, a man whose passion for snark nearly equals his love of the Buckeyes. Johnny has been kind enough to answer a few questions about the state of the rivalry, his outlook for this weekend, and even a totally serious query about the OSU basketball team. If you'd like to hear my take on The Game, Johnny and his co-host Michael Citro had me on as the guest for this week's Eleven Dubcast, and you're encouraged to take a listen.
Before we proceed, remember that this is Hate Week, because Johnny certainly does; channel your outrage responsibly. Now, let the hate flow through you...
Because of our weekly Q&As for 11W, I know that you've had to sit through at least most of Michigan's season. First of all, I'm so sorry. This isn't a question. I just want to publicly apologize.
I really appreciate that, because I started this season as a 28 year old male in reasonably good health, and now I'm a diabetic 83 year old man in a coma from eating tainted paste.
With that out of the way, I'd like to hear an outsider's perspective on what's going on in Ann Arbor. What do you think the biggest issue has been to lead Michigan to this point?
The impending return of Sauron to Mordor? Truthfully I think part of the problem is that Michigan as an athletic department has a hard time negotiating college football in 2013. I think a lot of the decisions and choices that the Ohio State athletic department makes are kind of dumb and obvious from time to time, but it's undeniable that the Buckeyes have benefited from an aggressive self-marketing strategy. I don't see the same kind of things coming out of Michigan in terms of promotion that I see from Ohio State. [Ed-Ace: Johnny obviously isn't signed up to any U-M email lists.]
But really if I were to try and pin it down to just one thing, I think you guys are sometimes too patient, which is a nice way to say that you're cool with failure. Remember, Ohio State has a fanbase chomping at the bit to remove a defensive coordinator that has managed a side missing one of its best players, had a totally revamped defensive line at the beginning of the season, started the season with only four returning starters, and is still the 12 ranked defense in the country. That Michigan would even briefly allow the thought of keeping Al Borges to flutter through their minds is hilarious.
If you were running Michigan's program—and no, not intentionally running it into the ground—what would your next move be after this season ends?
Fire Al Borges immediately and bring in an offensive line specialist. Jim Bollman, offensive coordinator and offensive line coach is one of the most genuinely depressing sentences in the English language. His typical practice attire was white socks pulled up to his shins and a big goofy straw hat which reminded me of something someone would wear if they were trying to make a parody of an offensive line coach. It wasn't a great look, and his offensive lines typically underperformed or were just plain bad.
Enter Ed Warinner, and two years later Ohio State boasts possibly the best offensive line in the country (with much less heralded recruits). Michigan is still loaded with talent on the offensive side of the ball, but that o-line is a gigantic domino that knocks everything over once it falls down. In a bad way, though.
As a Buckeye fan, what kind of balance would you like to see between Ohio State winning and Michigan being competitive? I imagine the joy of winning The Game has lost some of its luster over the past—oh lord—decade or so.
I was born in 1985, so my formative years were spent sitting angrily in front of the TV, arms crossed and teeth grinding as Michigan beat Cooper over and over and over. And the reason why I highly doubt any of you guys got sick of that is because John H. Cooper assembled some absolutely incredible teams that by all accounts should've won more than two goddamn games during his tenure.
So yes, I want Michigan to be good. I was at the 2006 game. It was an incredible celebration of football, of Woody and Bo, of everything that's fun about this rivalry. I was also at the 2004 game, which was just really, really funny. And ultimately, I want both of those things. I want the titanic matchups and underdog games where the underdog has a legitimate shot at winning, and I want Michigan to be good. The Game means less if one side (you) isn't holding up its end of the bargain on a consistent basis.
Which makes me angry. Which, ironically, makes the game mean more to me. So I have some feelings I need to sort through.
So... how's the basketball team looking this year? This is a completely serious question.
They're... okay? I mean, they're pretty much who we thought they were, minus LaQuinton Ross looking like butt. Defensively it's an excellent team with incredibly athletic guys like Aaron Craft, Lenzelle Smith, Shannon Scott, and so on. I actually think the defensive rule changes favor Ohio State because Thad Matta is really adept at getting his teams to play at a high defensive level without fouling. Aaron Craft is still probably the best on the ball defender in the game right now, even with the new foul calling regime.
With that said, without Deshaun Thomas the Buckeyes are predictably struggling on offense. Thomas averaged close to 20 points per game last season, but the next leading scorer on the team was Aaron Craft (right, Upchurch), who was putting up half that. Right now nobody is putting up even 12 points a night for Ohio State, but they do have four guys in double digits per game.
And that's probably how it'll look for most of the season, but I'm cool with it. Thad Matta is really a brilliant player's coach who has never won fewer than 20 games through 13 seasons, and his teams usually struggle with some growing pains early before figuring things out in January or February. I expect that to be the same for '13-'14, and really my only hope is that Matta's back and leg stay manageable and he sticks around for a long, long time.
Okay, okay, I should probably ask for your prediction for this weekend's game. Are there any matchups out there that you see favoring Michigan, and how do you see the game playing out?
There aren't a lot of favorable matchups for Michigan, but if they can scheme to isolate Funchess on a linebacker like Perry or Grant or even a d-lineman dropping back in coverage, that could yield some positive results offensively. That might open up some things for Gardner to get some yards on the ground because there's no way in hell the Ohio State defensive line is giving up anything to Toussaint or Green.
But even if Michigan does manage to capitalize on some mistakes and score some points, you're going to need to score more than 35 to beat Ohio State, because they're going to put up at least that much. And please, don't tell me about Frank Clark and Jake Ryan. Mark Weisman averaged 5.2 yards per carry against you, and Carlos "El Guapo" Hyde is much, much better than Weisman. If Urban Meyer is so inclined he could just pound away with the dude a la 2007 and be done with it.
He won't though. Instead you're probably going to see a lot of the Pistol with Dontre Wilson and Hyde in the same backfield, with some goofy stuff involving the tight ends that you haven't seen all year thrown in. I firmly believe that Meyer has been holding back quite a bit offensively just for this game, and I'm really, really excited to see what he pulls out of his hat.
This will probably be a three quarter game, but as the three and outs start to pile up and as Ohio State begins to get longer and longer touchdown plays, the game will be put increasingly out of reach for the Wolverines.
Is there any part of you that's worried about a 1995-type scenario this weekend?
I'm writing this on Wednesday morning, so no. By Friday night I'll be at Defcon 1, so by then probably yes.
I still firmly believe that Ohio State is going to win, because they're better coached and have the better team. That should be enough for me to rest easy. But it's The Game, baby. Rest and rationality are for the weak.
Thank you to Johnny for not only taking the time to answer these questions, but providing me an enjoyable (seriously) forum each week to dicuss Michigan and interact with the good people at Eleven Warriors—well, at least the ones who don't insist on exclusively using the term 'scUM'.
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.]