"The University of Illinois is also in turmoil. The university sports an Interim Chancellor, an Interim Athletic Director, and an Interim Football Coach; the game will be played at Soldier Field, making this an Illini Interim Home Game."
Starts now. I'd try to ask people to play nice but... yeah... right.
What do you do? I'm supposed to type. I do this. I'm here now and I have responsibility to put words here. But there are no words. I tap stuff out and erase. Everything longer than two words is crass. Now? How can it be now?
The Michigan locker room is going to be a quiet before the game tomorrow. I envision players quietly going about their various preparations: donning pads. Taping wrists. Applying eye-black. Cinching and tying, little tasks that pass the time. In between their thoughts will flutter sidelong at what awaits outside. A few may analyze the enormity of it in their heads directly. Harris. Hart. Breaston. Most will fall into the routine that has taken them from game to game since they first put on a helmet, falling into the patterns that people use to navigate when their brains shut down in fear or alarm or panic. They will proceed down the grooves they've worn in their life, and when they emerge onto the field they will operate more on animal instinct than anything else.
Sport as war may have grown trite; sport as war may be vaguely offensive with the nation vaguely at actual war. But what is left when you emerge into a maelstrom of hate under a gunmetal grey sky and meet an implacable mirror of yourself? Are we to compare it to canasta? Whist? Bridge? Knitting clubs? Michigan will battle Ohio State hand and foot. It will be vicious, maiming, disabling. The winner claims dominion. Sometimes what's trite is true. When the stakes elevate to this sort of level there's nothing else to compare it to.
Sport as war, clean war, where the champions of Good meet the champions of Evil on a mutually agreed battleground. According to the established rules, after three hours one is defeated utterly. The other is triumphant. The grey stops when the clouds do. We have taken the horror of war and stripped it down to its beating, thrilling heart. The term "Football Armageddon" is only partly in jest. Victory here is eternal. In 2006, Michigan beat Ohio State. Ohio State beat Michigan. Every year this is "The Game." This is The Game of Games.
We saw the dragon move down
My father burned into coal
My mother saw it from far
She took her purse to the bed
I saw a sign in the sky
Seven horns, seven horns, seven horns
I heard a voice in my mind
I am Lord, I am Lord, I am Lord
And then you try to figure out why the stakes are so high in the first place. Why this entire week you haven't been able to concentrate on anything by war by proxy. Fake war by proxy. Meaningless war by proxy. You will suffer humiliation when the team from my area defeats the team from your area. It's ridiculous. Intelligent people do not spend a goodly swath of their life pouring emotion and precious time into a contest that affects no one and changes nothing except some inky scribbles in media guides.
You wonder why. It occurs that at some point the Michigan program acquired the traits you hold dear -- loyalty, honesty, tradition, victory. And you wonder: if you were a different person who valued other things would you care so much? It occurs that at some point the Michigan program acquired other traits you share but do not hold particularly dear -- cantankerousness, stubbornness, an inability to suffer fools gladly. And you wonder: do I like Michigan because of the way I am, or am I the way I am because I like Michigan?
The answer seems clear.
Now the man who took that rudderless program and gave it -- gave you -- all the things you like and don't like is dead. In 1969, it all started with a victory over #1 Ohio State.
He will take you
At some point, as David Harris reclines -- head against a wall, fixing his bayonet, passing the time -- the faint ratatat of drums will filter through the concrete, beating out a march. Harris will rise from his seat, take up his helmet, and stride forward. The future holds its breath for three hours.
If you run, he will chase you
There's only one thing left. Play. Fight. Win. Please.
Um... yeah. So here's a bunch of stuff you probably would have cared about a lot more at nine this morning. My piece on CSTV is up. I basically punt on "who has the better tradition."
The BBC tries to understand. SMQB takes a look at Michigan. EDSBS presents their Factor Six preview. Jon Chait takes on some Buckeye at Slate. The Hoover Street Rag has an extensive preview of their own (and a photo essay). ESPN picks Michigan and Ohio State's all time teams. Markh100 has put together a Breaston highlight reel from this season.
Third party previews from Black Shoe Diaries, The Cover Two, and Rakes of Mallow (who just predicts "pain"). Some guy from Hardball talks about the game. Western College Hockey takes timeout to look at the Game. Maisel on the D. Rocky Top Talk animates our path to the showdown... complete with phallic jackhammer. Or is that redundant?
(Senior Day Haiku spreads.)
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.
I have a report that Bo Schembechler collapsed again at the taping of Big Ten Ticket; this time it was serious enough that he did not leave under his own power and did not tape the show. He's been rushed to the hospital.
Bo, seriously: you gotta make it one more day.
Update: Word around the hospital is a severe heart attack.
Update II: Channel 7 reports that Bo has passed away.
It returns! This week's guest is Tom Orr, who you may remember from last year's version of this feature. Until this year, when he broke off and decided to start a super-sweet secret Internet project, Tom was the designated Michigan Monday guy at the OZone.
What's Boone's status for the game? He had a scope a couple weeks ago, right? Will he play and will he be 100%? How big of a deal will it be if he's not?
He's supposedly going to play, which I guess is not much of a surprise. The thought of Boone, Kirk Barton, Tim Schafer or anyone else going one-on-one with LaMarr Woodley is not a particularly comforting one, whether they're 100% or not. I'm expecting to see a lot of tight ends staying in to block and/or Stan White and Dionte Johnson staying in the backfield in passing situations. Keeping Troy Smith in one piece is a rather significant piece of the puzzle for this year's team.
Any concerns with Smith's thumb? Deep ball accuracy and such?
Compared to the "blocking Woodley" situation? Not really. I guess it could be an issue, especially if it's really windy. The last forecast I saw was for winds of 10-20 mph, which shouldn't screw things up too badly.
I have a feeling the pass protection will play a bigger role in deciding whether OSU can throw deep than Troy's thumb.
The conventional wisdom holds that Ohio State will eschew conventional sets and go with an exclusively spread look. Do you think this will be the gameplan?
I think a spread formation allows OSU to go after the weak link (such as it is) of Michigan's defense, that being the DBs. The more you can get lineman and linebackers off the field and guys like Brandon Harrison, Charles Stewart and/or Johnny Sears on it, the better off you are.
However (and I hate to beat this into the ground), it's going to depend on the line's ability to block Michigan's front four. If you have to keep an extra guy or two in there to keep Troy Smith from getting turned inside out, you can't go five or perhaps even four-wide.
Michigan's run defense has been outstanding all year. Opponents have basically given up on the run before the game starts, saving runs for a change of pace. Will Ohio State try to establish the run or will they try to pass until we loosen up? What sort of success do you see Ohio State having on the ground?
I don't think you're going to see a 25-carry game out of anyone on the offense. This just has the feel of a 15-carry for Pittman, 5-carry for Chris Wells kind of day. They'll run to keep Michigan honest, but as for lining up in the I-formation and pounding the ball, I just don't see it happening. If Pittman hits 100 yards on the ground, it would probably take something really weird (tons of turnovers, cheap TDs on defense or special teams) for Michigan to win.
I would not be surprised to see some variations on the option-choice plays with Smith in the shotgun, deciding at the snap whether to hand it to Pittman going one way or to keep it and take off going the other. I think you'll see a lot more of that than you will the old-school pounding the ball between the tackles.
Do you think the Michigan secondary is vulnerable? That Harrison vs. Hartline/Robiske thing doesn't seem like the world's best option, but it's also a third-wr versus a nickel back. Gonzalez and Ginn versus Trent and Hall... advantage who?
Honestly, that's the biggest advantage that OSU has. I don't know if that's a good thing for Michigan or Ohio State.
I kind of think Michigan will put Leon Hall on Gonzalez and let Morgan Trent cover Ginn, likely with safety help on most plays. I don't see either one of those guys breaking 50 yards receiving. [!!!!!!!!!!!!!! -ed]
If OSU wins, they've already got the Player of the Game trophy engraved with Troy Smith's name, but I think a guy like Brian Robiskie or Brian Hartline is going to be the one who is the true MVP. Sort of like how it was a total joke for Tom Brady to win the Super Bowl MVP over Mike Vrabel a few years ago when Vrabel made one of the biggest plays of the game on both sides of the ball.
(Ahem.) [Orr is being shot right now for daring to question Tom Brady. -ed]
Scrambly, scrambly, scrambly. Devastating or not?
Not as consistently devastating as it was two years ago, but I think he's got one good one in him on a third down or some other key play.
One would have to assume that stopping Smith from running wild is going to be one of, if not THE primary goal on most defensive snaps for Michigan.
That may open some things up in the passing game on throws off option looks, like the little jump pass he threw off a speed option look against Illinois.
Do you buy the Michigan blogger theory that Hart will be able to run on the OSU defense? It seems that competent rushing attacks have rolled up fairly good YPC, but since they've all fallen way behind they've had to go dormant. How have the linebackers been when not having passes batted directly to them? Is the Kerr/Homan combo at WLB a potential issue?
One of the topics that the rocket surgeons on ESPN were beating into the ground this week was whether this year's defense was better than last year's. I know the numbers say yes, but I have to think that anyone with two eyes and a basic understanding of football would have to consider that question an insult to their intelligence.
I keep looking back at the "points allowed" column on the schedule and wondering how the hell it reads "12, 7, 7, 6, 17, 7, 7, 3, 0, 10, 10."
Teams have been able to run the ball on this defense in a way that they haven't against the great (2002, 2005 and 2003 until late November) defenses of the past. I'm firmly of the belief that the solid rush defense numbers that they've posted overall are more of a function of the big leads they've been playing with that forced opposing teams to start throwing on every down.
I'm not saying it's going to be 1995 all over again, but if Michigan wins, it's going to be Mike Hart's name on that Player of the Game graphic.
The linebackers have been okay. The bar was set pretty high by last year's crew, and I don't think there's a unit in the country that measures up Carpenter, Hawk and Schlegel. This year's unit is good but (outside of Kerr) quite young. This time next year, you'll be cursing their names.
This year, they won't kill the Bucks, but as a unit they're not going to take over the game, either.
OSU last year: six interceptions. This year: 21. Why the huge disparity? Fortune, or something more significant? There's a massive turnaround in OSU's turnover margin -- they were actually negative a year ago -- despite having a monstrously kickass defense. Now: turnover city. Meaningful? Random?
Ummm... yes? I've been a big believer in Jim Feist's idea that it doesn't necessarily carry over from year-to-year regardless of personnel, but it's really hard to dismiss the fact that this team has seemingly come up with a turnover every time they've needed one this year.
This is sort of like the fact that the 2002 team just had every ball bounce their way. Is it luck? Divine intervention? Perfect positioning by the best coaching staff in the country? Outstanding physical and mental ability on the part of the players?
Sure, why not?
How about this: If OSU forces a bunch of turnovers against a usually ball-responsible Michigan team this Saturday, it's a meaningful stat. Otherwise, it's random statistical noise that means nothing.
Right: who wins and why?
Look, we all know I can't pick Michigan. I just escaped that state after a three-year sentence, and I'm not about to risk banishment back to America's version of the Siberian gulags.
That being said, I've seen people picking scores like 38-10 and 42-6. I'm not sure what anyone's basing the on. Barring a fiesta of turnovers and defensive/special teams scores, I don't see anyone breaking 30.
I don't think OSU will be able to run the ball on Michigan with anything approaching a consistent basis. I do, however, think that OSU will be able to hit a couple big playsâ€”maybe a big kick return, maybe a fly route to Robiske with Ginn or Gonzalez cutting underneath to draw the safety. Troy Smith puts up decent but not explosive numbers (175-200 yards passing, 30 yards rushing and maybe a couple scores), Pittman grinds out a quiet 15-carry, 65-yard game, and Robiskie, Hartline or Rory Nicol ends up as the leading receiver.
Defensively, the Michigan run game worries me more than the pass game. I'm not really sure why. It's probably the notion that if Michigan can run the ball they will. I don't see them throwing it 30 times unless OSU shuts down the run game or they get way behind. Mike Hart has the best game against OSU of his career (although that doesn't set the bar very high, does it?). Maybe 100 or 120 yards for him?
One of the receivers makes a big play (how's that for an overly generic statement?), and we see the waggle or a screen pass about a dozen times. Michigan holds a bunch and it doesn't get called.
In my mind, I'm really worried about stopping Hart. Of course, I was really worried about stopping Iowa and Texas as well. At this point, I've learned to shut my brain off and rely on the fact that OSU defensive coordinator Jim Heacock is very, very good at his job and will probably cook something up.
If this game was in Ann Arbor, Michigan probably wins. Unfortunately for you guys, it's not. I don't think Michigan will put up enough big plays to get the crowd out of it, which will certainly help. Remember- you can't go crying to the refs if it gets too loud any more.
Frankly, I think this may come down to a field goal late. For the first time since 2001, I'm not sure who that benefits.
All week long, I've been saying OSU 17, Michigan 13 so I guess I'll stick with that. Something like 20-17 is well within the realm of possibility. I definitely don't see the sense in laying a touchdown. That line is a product of OSU fans believing that failure to bet on their own team constitutes some sort of medium-level treason.
Many thanks to Tom.
Plays from Iowa-Ohio State, basically all of them in the first half as I just got too many in the first and the second half got out of hand fairly quickly. A couple runs from the second were included, but Iowa got down, allowed a couple long OSU drives and had to virtually abandon the run.
Iowa Drive 1, 0-0
Pitcock and Patterson both drive into the backfield, stoning a second-and-ten stretch. This looks eerily familiar. You may recognize this exact thing from the first half of our Iowa game.
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Third and long, OSU rushes three. Tate finds a receiver for the first down but throws behind him. Douglas can't make the tough catch. This is a microcosm of the Iowa passing game: open receivers, a throw that's off just a little bit, and a dropped pass. Tate would end up 19-41 with three interceptions. Most of those incompletions would be either dropped balls or errant throws.
OSU Drive 2, 0-0
Ginn hitch. Guy from Nebraska playing way off; gotta think we're closer.
Pittman bounces outside; atrocious linebacker play. This looks like us last year. Klinkenborg sits there, totally motionless and gives up contain. I scream GET OUTSIDE, BURGESS! No dice.
QB draw for five or six.
Pittman bounces out for the first down... Boone dangerously close to a hold. How many times have we seen this this season? None. Two options: we have not faced a back with the bounce-out capability Pittman has or this just isn't going to work against Biggs, Woodley, and our capable run-support secondary. If it's the former we're in deep trouble.
Pittman off left tackle again for one yard. Smith throws behind Gonzalez on a cross. Easy, easy slant touchdown.
Iowa Drive 2, 7-0
Play action sack as Laurinaitis comes unblocked on a stunt. Draw picks up ten on second-and-twenty. Two things to note: Pitcock slices into the backfield like whoah, almost getting to the quarterback by the time the handoff gets there, and the linebackers play this badly. By the time they read the play it's far too late.
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Tate freezes, unsure of where to go, then hits Grigsby on an improvised route for a big gainer. Not much you can learn there... DBs get a little lost when you play forever.
Young picks up a nice gain on a stretch. This is exactly our running game. Note: backside DE does not flow down the line. This will happen a couple more times. Also, Pitcock is ridden out of the play fairly easily.
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They pound up the middle for the first. A lot of push from the line.
Young misses a cut outside of his fullback as John Kerr stands up the fullback and closes down the inside. One: I think Hart gets outside of this and I think Oluigbo blows up the linebacker better.
Bubble screen doesn't work. Miscommunication seemingly ends the drive, but Washington's nailed for an awful, awful PI penalty. Ridiculous call.
And now is the time on Sprockets when we Vernon Gholston.
Gholston plows into Tate after going by Richardson like he isn't there, almost causing a fumble. Instead, incomplete. Draw sniffed out by Gholston, lined up on the other side of the line this time. Tate has time and fires a strike in between the picket fence zone at the marker.
Gholston kills a zone right:
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This play isn't exactly swarmed -- if Gholston doesn't shoot the gap here it's at least five -- but a lot of Michigan's failures on zone plays were failures to get one guy blocked. A Buckeye of the more reasonable variety expressed concern about Gholston versus the run, citing a few plays against Iowa as the exception to the rule. Hopefully that's true, because that's a nice exception up there.
Tate throws a swing pass way behind Young, incomplete. Jenkins jams the hell out of Douglas, disrupting his route. Remember the Ginn touchdown versus Aaron Ross? This is the complete opposite of that. A press cover tutorial that ends the drive.
OSU Drive 2, OSU 7-3
Ginn bomb overthrown. Mitch King runs down Pittman after yet another bounceout. Smith chased out of the pocket and is forced to try a late throw to Gonzalez; incomplete.
Iowa Drive 3, OSU 7-3
Open spot in the zone; Tate nails Douglas... think we can do this? This stuff was there most of the night. When Ohio State rushed four they got almost no pressure -- their two sacks both came from the linebackers -- and Tate dissected the zone when he wasn't throwing errantly.
Play action fake finds Grigsby with two steps on Jenkins but is... yup... errant. Jenkins is either in a really bizarre zone or the worst man coverage ever, as he never takes his eyes off the QB.
Tate gets an unblocked blitzer on the next play, and sidesteps him but is forced to throw it away. On third and ten, they throw it to the fullback in the flat. Punty.
OSU Drive 3, OSU 7-3
Wells stuffed going off tackle by Mattison -- Mattison's good. Smith has Henne-vs-Indiana time on second down and hits Hall in a zone hole.
Smith's quarterback draw goes nowhere. A rollout pass is dropped by Gonzalez at the sticks. I pulled it not for the drop but for the play design. We'll see this. Then Iowa gets in Smith's face on third down, creating an errant throw. Smith's natural tendency these days is to be a pocket passer. If Michigan secures him solidly on the first hit he's not going to be any harder to sack than Morelli or whoever, as long as OSU leaves him in the pocket.
Iowa Drive 4, OSU 7-3
First play is the infamous Tate interception that sends Herbstreit into an immediate "don't throw late down the middle" tutorial. Virtually the exact opposite of what Henne's been doing all year where he baits the safety with his eyes and comes off to another receiver. This is a lock-on job the whole way. Dammit, Sophomore Navarre!
OSU Drive 4, OSU 7-3
Starts at the Iowa 30. Speed option for 3. Missed tackle from the safety turns a TFL into a gain of 23. Watch the DE get crushed inside by Rory Nichol, a sophomore(!) tight end(!!!). Watch Klinkenborg get crushed by a pulling guard. It's ugly out there, folks.
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If this happens against us we're dead; I do not think this will. I can recall one run like this all year, on Wisconsin's first drive of the game.
Pittman gets the corner on first and goal, touchdown. Every big run he's picked up has been a bounce outside to a place without contain.
Iowa Drive 5, OSU 14-3
Hopeful deep sideline ball is well out of bounds.
I love this play. Iowa lines up in ace three-wide, runs a zone stretch, and boom: headshot. Everyone gets blown up. Very encouraging. Watch the backside DE ignore the idea of contain.
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The two big zone runs I've shown both feature a DE intent on pass rush. We need to throw enough to get them doubting.
Tate gets pressure off a stunt, avoids it, and scrambles for nice yardage. (Anderson Russell has his names reversed.) Well-timed blitz + 8 in the box = a stop, but look at the frontside of this play. No one's getting off blocks.
Next run another zone play featuring major penetration from Patterson but everyone else is stoned. Sims hops around Patterson and there's a gaping hole.
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I think this is the difference between the run defenses: most of the time when a Michigan defender makes a play like Patterson did here, even if he misses the tackle, the linebackers are good enough make the play at the line.
First and ten slant is wide open; this time Tate looks off and comes to Chandler late. Note: this is a zone blitz similar to the one Michigan runs; this time Gholston drops into coverage.
Next play is a simple off tackle that goes for a 15-yard touchdown.
OSU Drive 5, OSU 14-10
Pittman for five off a zone read. Nobody open on option play action. Smith hangs in the pocket a long time and is eventually sacked. Third and eight draw? Okay.
Iowa Drive 6, OSU 14-10
Sims runs the same offtackle play; OSU blitzes into it and Laurinaitis grabs his ankles. Eight, maybe nine in the box here. Odd thing: no screens from Iowa all night.
Yuck: Tate 6 of 15. Chandler drops a zone out that would have set up third and short. Swing pass batted down by Pitcock.
OSU Drive 6, OSU 14-10
Handoff to Wells also gets outside left on Iowa. This is just a huge structural deficiency in the Iowa offense. The corner and linebacker to that side are getting crushed. Draw stuffed.
Speed option for the first down. We are going to see this if we ever line up like this. Five in the box with a trips set to the top of the screen drawing Klinkenborg out. At the snap the OT ignores the DE and gets a little push on the one remaining linebacker good enough to spring Wells for the first down. Damned if you do, damned (by a screen) if you don't.
Speed option fake ends up with an inaccurate checkdown that Wells flags down with one hand. Pittman goes nowhere inside.
This is bad.
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Smith stuffed on a QB draw. Rollout to Ginn again. Godfrey is clearly petrified. Another Pittman bounceout for five. Drives down to the ten as the LG crushes the DT. 1. This is the exception in Ohio State's night on the ground. It was all bounceouts since the original hole was never there. 2. This doesn't happen to Branch.
Off tackle to the five. Touchdown throw from the five.
Iowa Drive 7, OSU 21-10
Another succesful zone stretch.
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Tate throws well wide and out of bounds. Tate hits Chandler for the first down. Hits Chandler but forces a diving catch when he had lots of YAC. Swing for the first down is dropped. Tate throws a little wide of Brodell, dropped, end of drive, end of half.
Just one more highlight from the one Young zone in the second half. Three yards from a three-wide set; late-approaching safety overloads the box.
What We Learned
- Do not let Pittman outside the tackles. Seriously.
- Troy Smith will run against Michigan. Iowa was the one big game on the Buckeye schedule (or at least the one game that seemed big) that was dangerous, and Smith ran a series of draws (which were all fairly well defended) and options. We'll get a dose of the same. All the options saw pitches... Smith is a decoy.
- Against a pretty decent offensive line Ohio State did not get much pressure from the front four. Tate had time to survey.
- Jenkins is good when he gets his hands on you.
- The zone stretch was fairly effective, especially when the defensive ends decided they didn't need to bother with that run garbage.
- OSU will run the same zone blitz we do.
- The interior of the Buckeye line is probably not going to crease our defensive tackles much.
- Smith remains hideously accurate on the run.
Sort of like "Your Next." Apparently there's a geeky trash-talking tradition in the Michigan and Ohio State library systems: during the week of the game when they send books to each other smack is included. Michigan's contribution: a neatly typewritten letter pointing out various things about Ohio State -- like fire and electricity and indoor plumbing, though the latter seems to be suffering a slow adoption rate -- that they would not have without Michigan.
Ohio State's response?
There you have it folks: these people work for the library system. They're the ones who can read. Presumably. They might have hired a homeless man and dictated.
WIN FOR THE LITTLE GIRL! BYE!
SMQB caught in the crossfire. One article detailing the relative strengths and weaknesses of Ohio State == instant reply from a Buckeye fan LOLing at any suggestion Ohio State has anything resembling a weakness. WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE?
Radio killed the blogger star. the MZone guys are doing a radio show tonight about the game. Will Leitch! Some guy from the OZone and those Geico commercials with cavemen! Details!
Etc.: USA Today on past games; Big Ten announcers are surveyed about stuff; they're still pissed about 1973; Wojo (DetNews) on Carr; The House Rock Built advises you to stay out of the killzone; will NBCSports get banned from NDNation for posting this article about a father-son Michigan-Ohio State rivalry?
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.)