With all the talk about The Game during The Week, and how Michigan was going to pull off an upset, I began wondering exactly what OSU has done this year to win 9 games thus far. Many people, including myself, have been so accustomed to OSU's dominance of the Big Ten the last few years that we just accept the idea that they win and play Tressel-Ball to wear teams down.
However, there are a few things to note about this OSU squad that caused me to pay closer attention. Many people (especially Buckeye fans) look at Pryor as the reason for wins and loses, and rest on the idea that his turnovers are the reason for victory, and especially for defeat. However, the Ohio State defense, in my opinion, is the reason for the wins this season, and even for the loses. First, let's see how OSU stacks up defensively against the rest of the Big Ten:
1st/Scoring Defense (13.0)
1st/Total Defense (273.4)
1st/Opp. 3rd Down Conversion % (30.1)
2nd/Pass Efficiency Defense (98.6)
2nd/Rushing Defense (80.6)
2nd/Opponent First Downs (113)
4th/Pass Defense (192.9)
...and now against the entire NCAA:
4th/Rushing Defense (83.73)
6th/Scoring Defense (12.36)
5th/Total Defense (258.27)
8th/Pass Efficiency Defense (97.19)
16th/Pass Defense (174.55)
These are pretty damn intimidating numbers, and they can make any QB, no matter how immature and rattled, seem like a proven winner. Now, many people will say "Well, Pryor threw 2 INTs and lost 2 fumbles against Purdue and that's why they lost." Although Pryor's mistakes cannot be diminished in their impact on momentum and opportunities for Purdue to score, the defensive stats can be more telling:
Total Yards 361
Against Purdue, the defense was stagnant, and had trouble with the Joey Elliot-Keith Smith Connection. They were still effective against the run, but allowed more than double of their average yeards allowed in the air for the season.
So what does this mean? Personally, I see this as a positive for us. Obviously OSU has strengths against the run, but if you can pass on them, then you can beat them. Michigan boasts pretty impressive offensive stats in the Big Ten:
1st/Scoring Offense (31.2)
2nd/Rushing Offense (195.8)
...and Forcier Ranks 4th in the Big Ten in passing efficiency (132.85).
Now, our list of offensive achievements may not be as impressive as OSU's list of defensive achievements, but out stats show that we can put points on the board and run the rock.
What's that? I just said that Purdue won by passing the ball? Yea, I know, and I'm getting to that. Regardless of the outcome last Saturday, I was impressed with Tate's performance. Not compared to Notre Dame, but definitely compared to his previous 6 games (I excluded Delaware State since, well, Baby Seal U, and he didn't play much):
Previous 6 Games (Avg.)
56.7 % completion
The yardage looks very similar, but the completion percentage and the TDs are noteworthy. Keep in mind, Tate only played 3 plays from scrimmage in the 4th quarter.
To me, it says that Tate was more focused against Wiscy. Perhaps he did something different that week in practice, or in the film room. Or maybe he's just maturing more as a football player. He said himself that he was seeing the field a lot better after the Illinois game, and that was two weeks prior to the Wisconsin game. By now, I believe he knows how to prepare properly for an opponent, and his vision on the field has improved. The thing that still worries me with him is that he still makes those freshmen mistakes, like tucking-and-running too early and not keeping the ball close to his body (leading to more fumbles).
Therefore, Tate must continue this improvement between weeks, not between seasons. I believe he can do this, and I've heard some of his comments this week, and he sounds like he gets it. He's fired up, and he wants to win this games for his seniors. He made mention that he would spend as much time studying film as needed to get a win against OSU. Tate will be the catalyst. He was when we were winning. Without him to spark the offense, it flounders, and that leaves our defense to win games, whcih just isn't going to happen.
OSU has made a name for itself int the Big Ten defensively, but they aren't invincible. Joey Elliot isn't a great QB. He's a very good QB (and we made him look like a Heisman finalist), but not great. If Tate can stay calm and find his targets without getting jittery more than 60% of the time, we'll have a shot at winning (defense aside*). Roundtree has solidified himself as a viable option, and Vincent Smith, if he starts, has shown Mike Hart glimpses of elusiveness. If Smith can eek out a few yards here and there to keep the passing game honest, then Tate can do that voodoo that he do, and pick apart and frustrate the Buckeye secondary.
*I know I completely disregarded our defense on this one, but IMO, OSU wins games by their defense, not offense, so I focused on the match-up of our O vs. their D.