||Pandemonium Stadium, Hell
||12:00 EST, November 22nd, 2008
||Ohio State by 20.5
||Mid 150s, 40% chance of brimstone rain, 100% chance of flying beer bottles
*(NCAA football lines courtesy BetUS sportsbook; RR using the Force via reader Brian Walline.)
Run Offense vs. OSU
Michigan is going on solid rushing performances in three of the past four outings despite having nothing resembling a functional passing game; the latest came against a pretty decent rushing defense.
However, OSU is a step up. Not as much as they usually are, but the Buckeyes are 26th against the run this year. This is not a good sign:
That's Northwestern, the #59 rushing offense, against Ohio State. Michigan is #60. It's been noted many places that Northwestern and Michigan have near-identical offenses. They were down their top two backs and their top quarterback. Michigan is down its top quarterback and top running back, though Michigan has far more depth at RB than Northwestern does.
I expect Michigan will have better output than Northwestern did just because I saw that Simmons guy and he made nothing other than what his OL gave him. Carlos Brown or Shaw or Minor or McGuffie (if he plays) are better than that. Still, 3.5 YPC is about what I expect and coupled with the pass offense that won't be enough to move the ball down the field.
Key Matchup: Michigan backs versus OSU safeties. Springing a long one will go a long way to Potential Victory Scenario.
Pass Offense vs. OSU
It's one last hurrah for Nick Sheridan, who followed up an 18 for 30 performance against Minnesota in which he looked shockingly competent with:
If Nick Sheridan was Suicidal Kitten last week, this week he's…
…a dead kitten. And yes, I searched for "dead kitten" on Google Images, and no, you absolutely should not do this ever.
This hardly seems worth analyzing. Ohio State is the #13 pass efficiency D in the conference, and Michigan is #110 on offense. You will probably see a lot of rollouts, throwaways, and futile scrambles, the occasional completion, and very little else. If OSU aligns in such a way that allows Odoms a number of bubble screens I'll be pleased.
Key Matchup: Three or Four Hopeful Deep Balls versus Coverage, Wind, General Incompetence, and The General Bloody-Mindedness Of The Universe.
Run Defense vs. OSU
After getting shredded by Penn State and Illinois in back-to-back games against teams that actually bother to run (Toledo was in between the two), Michigan settled down and turned in four consecutive performances between decent and good against Michigan State, Purdue, Minnesota, and Northwestern. (The Purdue stats are significantly distorted by a 60-yard fake punt.)
Chris Wells and Terrelle Pryor are another matter, though. Ohio State is only the #29 rushing offense in the land but remember that Wells was hurt for a significant chunk of the season. He's averaging 5.4 YPC; collectively the rest of the team is at 3.9. The stats underrate Ohio State's running game because of that absence.
You know what happened last year, of course: Wells had one 60-yard touchdown and 38 other carries that seemingly all gained exactly four yards. I expect basically the same this year, as it's the same front seven going up against the same player and the same offensive line. Wells will probably have 38 other carries that all seemingly gain three yards and the one long one. But then you throw in Pryor and it's another 80 yards rushing and various scampers and all that.
Key Matchup: Obi Ezeh versus second-level blockers. The best way to deal with Wells is to slow his momentum before he can get going, and I think Michigan will do a pretty good job of this on the line; Ezeh has to clean up.
Pass Defense vs. OSU
Is not likely to be tested much, as Tressel will regard passing the ball with all the joy Woody Hayes did. It makes sense when you're going up against a team like Michigan and you have a freshman quarterback, however talented he is. OSU's likely mode of passing will be twofold:
- They will set us up the bomb to back off the safeties and get the one big play they need to win safely.
- They'll get Pryor on the roll, giving him run-pass options and easy reads.
Michigan's been a bit better of late on rollout defense; they're now recognizing the playcall and getting upfield to cut off the roll and covering better, so that might be okay. Some of the throws Bacher was making on the roll were senior ninja stuff and Pryor probably won't be trying those—I'd be surprised if Tressel didn't bore "do not do anything slightly risky" into Pryor's head before the game.
However, the "bomb" part… just go into the game expecting at least one enormous safety screwup leading to a long touchdown and mark it off when it happens, then hope it doesn't happen again. The safeties will be freaking out on the run, and at some point Pryor will do some option thing and drop back to pass and I expect someone to be wide open.
Key Matchup: Pryor targeting Wide Open Deep Guy.
OSU's special teams are as per usual: reliable kicker, good punt returns, very good punting, horrible kickoff returns. That latter should net us a cool six yards across their two returns.
You know Michigan at this point; this is a push as long as no one fumbles.
Key Matchup: DON'T FUMBLE.
garfield minus garfield
- Oh, I don't know, a walk-on quarterback takes the field against OSU?
- The defensive line does not dominate.
- We turn the ball over at all.
Cackle with knowing glee if...
- Terrelle Pryor is a secret double agent! Hey, it could happen!
- It's a weird mojo day. You know, one of those.
- There are zero seconds left and somehow Michigan has more points.
Fear/Paranoia Level: 10 out of 10. (Baseline 5; +1 for Walk On Quarterback At Ohio State, +1 for Oh And We're 3-8, +1 for Oh And We're 20-Point Dogs, +1 for Oh, And Our Top Running Back And Starting RT Are Probably Out, +1 for asdfljkjweriasdlknfsdal;kjkksadf.)
Desperate need to win level: 8 out of 10. (Baseline 5; +1 for It's The Game, –1 for But Really Is 4-8 Any Different Than 3-9?, +1 for YES, +1 for OBVIOUSLY, +1 for I MEAN WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?)
Loss will cause me to... complete the "ND 2007 or M 2008: which team was stinkier?" opus.
Win will cause me to... I don't even know. I sat here for like two minutes trying to come up with something I would do after a hypothetical victory tomorrow, and I have nothing. It's a weird blank spot in my head.
The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:
This is not so much "who do I think will win" as "can I construct a scenario in which Ohio State loses?"
Let's try: Ohio State fans have been complaining about the offensive line all year, saying it's taken a major step back and is full of fat lazy jerkos (hmmm…). The only thing that's been keeping their run game afloat is Chris Wells stiffarms. With Michigan's defensive line looking pretty real and Ezeh and Mouton looking equally real, you could see a lot of second and longs, at which point Tressel will decide on Tressel-ball because he's got a freshman quarterback, avoiding the deep middle zone seams that have been the biggest problem on Michigan's defense all year and settling for runs and out routes and punts.
Michigan gets lucky a few times when OSU stalls out due to their own failings, maybe gets a turnover or two, and hangs around until the fourth quarter with help from two successful trick plays. Tressel dares Nick Sheridan to beat him, going into a shell up four in the fourth, and with five minutes left in the game, Sheridan strides on to the Ohio Stadium turf, history at his back.
It's at this point the scenario falls apart.
I do think Michigan will cover because Tressel's natural inclination in a game like this is to get a two-score lead and pack it in, especially with a freshman quarterback. If Wells and/or Pryor break monster runs it could get ugly, but I think you'll see this closer than most expect. There will be no point at which there is any hint Michigan could actually win.
Finally, opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
- This looks almost identical to last year's game.
- At some point the week after I lose it and fisk someone.
- Ohio State, 17-3.