Totally enjoy these interviews and insight with/from the enemy.
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.
Totally enjoy these interviews and insight with/from the enemy.
and the comments on the 11W site, while painful, unfortunately hit it right on the head:
Chief hits it on the nail with Michigan fans accepting mediocrity. All you have to do is spend a few hours reading Mgoblog and you'll see it. Their fans are beaten down so bad many of them have lowered expectations to accept 2014 as a rebuilding year and 2015 to be the year when Michigan will be good.
I'd say it shows how realistic the fans on this site are...at least in May. It just takes too many mental gymnastics to get to a place where you can see Michigan winning the the Big Ten next year or beating MSU and OSU.
The great thing about sports is that each new season is a clean slate. Anything could happen could happen this year. I approach each season knowing that Michigan recruits some of the best football athletes in the country and have the potential to be one of the best teams in the country every year based on that talent. It's easier to maitain mental toughness by simply forgetting last season and imagining opportunities a new season brings. I've been let down a lot recently, but 2011 was awesome and I think we can be as good or better every year. I may be a naive goldfish, but it's a lot more fun than being a crochety old elephant.
While UM is only 1-2 against OSU under Hoke, the losses are by 5 points and 1 point. In neither of those losses woudl I say OSU dominated in all facets of the game. While the overall performance of the two teams differs quite a bit over the last 2 seasons, UM has played very well against OSU. That doesn't mean I think they are a shoo-in to beat the buckeyes in Columbus this year, I'm not counting them out either though.
that all four or five literate buckeyes were convinced to work for 11W?
Second best football blog out there, and yes, I mean that as a compliment. :)
but even they still have their fair share of Snow Sucks' and Section 1's.
It was either that Pete Campbell reference or the gif where he falls down the stairs.
Read Ace's interview on the other site, editor seemed determined to stuff it with as many passive agressive shots towards Michigan as possible.
And, like, I did bring up John Cooper in the very first question over here. It cuts both ways.
So I click on your interview with 11W (nice job BTW) and then, because I'm a serious glutton for punishment, I click on the link showing the successful 2 point conversion play against Kansas and I think to myself "how in the FUCK did Borges not call that against OSU?" That play was obviously practiced with some regularity, had not been shown all year and would've been absolutely perfect against the Buckeyes. Yet for reasons that I will never understand - Borges calls the same stupid play....TWICE....after OSU calls time out.
Ok...I'm pissed off at that idiot all over again.
I don't even remember the Kansas 2pt conversion. Just watched it, and yeah. Ow.
Exact same thing my son and I said while we were walking out of the game, watching that 2pt play from just outside the endzone.
Great write-up. 11W is reasonably good for analysis of other football teams, and this was a fun series.
Where did this guy come from? He needs to clone himself and start training other Buckeyes to do better than this:
I've been around for years
For the first time since maybe 2007 our top talent and depth of talent is as good as Ohio's on both sides of the ball and special teams. Just like Ohio, IF, and that's a big if, our O-line gels, Michigan's offensive production will surprise people this year. Our defense should be excellent.
in the hope of catching your optimism. :)
Yours on 11W was just as entertaining.
Beating the Bucky's down there would be a huge feather in Hoke's hat.
Fans can dream can't they? I dream of John Cooper's return.
I hope Urban makes that spiritual connection with him and channels his inner-Cooper at the end of November.
I'd really like you to ask about their backup QB situation. Miller has a tendency to not play an entire season and the backup (guillen?) from last year I believe graduated. How much of a drop in performance do they expect if said injuries were to occur again.
The most likely backup candidate is redshirt sophomore Cardale Jones, who, yes, is still playing both football and school. He's huge now (6'5", 250), but not near the same level of explosive runner as Miller, and the jury's still out on his accuracy, too. Should be an interesting situation to monitor.
Hi there- just popping in from 11W. The backup this year will be either Cardale Jones or J.T. Barrett.
Cardale Jones is a 6'5, 250-pound redshirt sophomore. He got the few snaps that didn't go to Miller or Guiton last year, and they were pretty much exclusively zone read. If Jones is in the game, playcalling will be run-heavy.
J.T. Barrett is a 6'1, 220-pound true sophomore. He's much more of a passer and a decent scrambler . He arguably looked better in spring practice, but Jones has more experience. I'd guess it will be Jones as the backup. If things get really strange, there's also true freshman Stephen Collier, who is one of the lowest-rated but most-liked members of the 2014 class.
There will be a huge drop off if Braxton Miller gets hurt; Guiton played far better than a typical backup last year. Because of that, we expect Miller to pass more to avoid taking hits.
I will say, there is a sense at OSU that they have superior talent on both sides of the ball but (a) that isn't really the case at all positions, and (b) even where the talent gap does exist, it certainly isn't that pronounced. Their offensive line should be fine, but 4 new starters isn't going to be pretty, and nobody on that team is as good as Hyde running the ball. Miller looks to be a fine QB but he has limitations that aren't going away, and if the offensive line doesn't keep him clean they don't have a Guitten on the bench to step in.
Unfortunately we're not playing OSU in September. While I'm not expecting their oline to be as good as what they had last year, they have 11 games to improve and gain experience.
Losing 4 starters will certainly be tough but Pat Elfein played very well in the Michigan game (after Hall was thrown out) and in the Big Ten Championship. Ed Warinner, the O Line coach, said that Taylor Decker was playing the best on the offensive line by the end of last year and he should be an All B1G player at left tackle. Add in Lindsey from Bama, assuming he wins either the center or the right guard spot, and the "losing 4 starters" isn't quite as bad as it sounds. It will be interesting to see how the unit performs compared to UM's offensive line this past year. Both units have/had an all-star at LT (Lewan/Decker), a solid returning starter (moreso Schofield than Elfein but for comparison's sake I am throwing Elfein in there), and three very young, highly recruited guys. If Warinner's unit even closely resembles his previous two units, it could be quite an endictment for Funk.
It makes me think that if we had only got the 2pt conversion. (Still fire Big AL) We would all be singing a different toon on this site!
Defense (esp. run defense) typically wins the BIG10 title, as it did last year.
Ohio has the best front 4 this fall. I think Michigan's defense will be much improved and probably better than that of MSU, Iowa and Wiscy.
As for Michigan's offense, the OL is the key. If they suck again, then we're pretty much toast in the big games.
Prediction: 9-3 (9-4 overall)
I believe we will lose in Columbus this year...I won't count us out. One thing Hoke has done well is prepare the team for that rivalry game.
I enjoy these posts immensely. Michael seems to be more insightful and willing to admit faults/give UM some love than the average buckeye that I've come in contact with.
I just want an offensive line that is coherent this year. That alone buys us 2 more wins, and cuts out a few of the close calls like last year. Give Devin time to work and he's nasty. This years' record is all on the D&O-lines. How they perform will be the difference between 10/11 wins and contending or 7/8 wins and treading water yet again. Please please please gel quickly boys!
Trying to kill us with kindness so we let our guard down. Psychological warfare I tell you!
Good read Ace. I just want this season to start already. At least fall practice? COME ON FALL PRACTICE!!!!
I think the rivalry is indeed diminished when one side is struggling to keep it's head above water in the league year after year, which I'd define as finishing 5-3 or better in B1G. I know what he means, that the fans don't care and the intensity of the competition isn't lessened, but a great rivalry in this context is a relevant rivalry unless you're Army-Navy or something.
Notre Dame-Michigan has had, for many years, what you'd call "plausible relevance" given the lofty preseason expectations year in and year out, but what if you swapped OSU and Notre Dame on Michgan's schedule all those years? You'd have an OSU game that was must-watching for the average college football fan across the country instead of merely a regional game that might, at best, be a warm-up for the games that matter these days: Bama-LSU, Bama-Auburn, lately Stanford-Oregon, maybe FSU-Miami again for another cycle.
It doesn't have to be 2006 every year to be a great rivalry, or even be a 50/50 split, but there needs to be more at stake every year for more than just one side. Being a "spoiler" of your rival's season is not having something meaningful at stake.
It'll be another close game this year against OSU, probably another field goal(ish) spread. I think UM is more physically competitive against OSU than MSU at the moment.
Very informative and interesting post. I really love to read it.
Believe it or not, most true Buckeye fans are reasonable and remember very vividly the not-so-distant past when things in the rivalry and otherwise were not as rosy as they have been (for the most part) for the last 10+ years. Loudmouthed rednecks just get more attention because, well, because they are loudmouthed rednecks.
Michael hit it on the head, but I would add comments on two issues:
* The talent gap between the two teams is slight and in the depth area more than anything else. I was at The Game in AA this year and those two teams did not look all that different to me. In most years, a handful of plays or playmakers make the difference, in both The Game and the season.
* The secondary last year was flat-out awful. My Mom could have completed passes against that secondary and my Mom sucks at football. After the MSU game, once fury was contained, a lot of us breathed a sigh of relief that Winston would not have the opportunity to throw for a billion yards and 90 touchdowns in a NCG that would have set us back years on the respectability stage. Grant returns and he is good, not great. The rest...remains to be seen, but I would not anticipate that the secondary is suddenly going to become great this year, which diminishes somewhat the influence a great D-line can have.
Most Buckeye fans I know respect Hoke and think he will bring UM back to where it belongs. This was not the case with his predecessor. I hope he does - makes everything more fun.