Spent

Spent

Submitted by Brian on November 20th, 2006 at 3:22 PM

11/20/2006 - Michigan 39-42 Ohio State - 11-1, 7-1

I have a friend who will not watch Michigan games with me despite my repeated urging, and not for the usual, proper reasons like "you swear like a sailor on meth" or "I'm pretty sure one of these days you are going to flip out and snap someone's neck." No, this friend can't watch the game with me because he doesn't watch games with anyone. A combination of nerves and rage and a powerful desire for others to not see his temporary descent into madness is what he says. Or words to that effect. I have tried to explain to him that if he were to have his pick of any of the six billion people on the planet he could not find a person better suited to understand and commiserate with than me and therefore we should watch games together. This has worked precisely zero times.

Not that I can blame him. Many are the times I have sat amongst people gathered to "watch" a game -- invariably there is a girl talking about nail polish on her cell phone, a guy more interested in getting WOOOOO WASTED than the violent emotional rollercoaster currently rolling through the stomachs of his brighter compatriots -- and desperately wanted to be anywhere else. Two years ago I watched Michigan lose to Ohio State accompanied by the strains of someone's deeply annoying girlfriend moaning "We can't lose to Ohio State" because some friend of hers would mock her. Meanwhile, little pieces of my soul are flaking off and burning up like meteors reaching Earth's atmosphere. Naturally, I told her to shut the fuck up (sorry mom, but those words were deployed) sometime in the third quarter and then got to feel like an asshole on top of the whole flaky meteor soul thing. She did shut up. So I've got that going for me.

Instead of navigating through a minefield of well-meaning invitations, I went. I claimed an endzone seat for three weeks rent, entered the stadium... and stopped dead. Student section. Beating heart thereof. I wanted to be alone and, uh, yeah: alone. There wasn't another Michigan fan in view. Fortuitously, I was at the very back of the first section of seating and had a railing at my back. This was helpful when everyone was jumping up and down screaming things after touchdowns, which was a lot. Myself, I was quiet both because I wanted to not die and because I was completely terrified the whole game. After the first touchdown, my hands started vibrating uncontrollably. I mean... this is bad, right? When you are at a football game and it causes you to lose the ability to make your body do what you want it to, you are probably doing something very wrong with your brain chemicals.

By the end -- after every brief glimmer of hope had been stomped out by something horrific and unbelievable -- I didn't really feel anything. I collapsed to my seat after the Crable personal foul and then watched the remainder of the game in a haze. Three hours earlier the outcome of the game was the most important thing in the history of ever; maybe it still was but I had run out of chemicals. I berated some guy who definitely has a pickup truck and watches wrestling without a sense of ironic detachment for taunting two middle-aged Michigan fans walking back to their car, but felt oddly like if he had needled me instead I wouldn't have cared.

This blog has warped itself into something of a -- yuck -- personal diary of a sports fan almost against my will. I've tried to chronicle the emotions of a Michigan fan in this space, but I'm clean out. Anyone who needs to tell me some bad news, ("Brian, we've never met but this is definitely your baby") this is your opportunity. Lo, I am spent.

Bullets

  • Right, so, spent. I'll post a few things the next couple days, but they won't have anything to do with the Ohio State game. Thursday and Friday I'm off for Thanksgiving. I'll sort through the smoking wreckage with UFR around the middle of next week. If you picked the blog up during football season, I do post year-round. I'll pay attention to the hockey team -- suddenly playing with its head removed from any and all orifices! -- and basketball. Recruiting coverage, which was the area that suffered most from my duties at AOL, will pick up.
  • Bo memorial at one tomorrow. I'm going if anyone wants to say hi.
  • Rematch? Uh... what? Going to the game and losing imposed a sort of involuntary media blackout so I must have missed the leap of logic from "Michigan got housed" to "Michigan deserves a rematch." Yeah, yeah, three point final margin but let's not fool ourselves: Michigan was +3 in turnover margin – and two of those were gifts – and still only got within ten points of OSU before scoring a 90% cosmetic touchdown aided with a miraculous, potentially horrendous bailout pass interference penalty. (Please note Secret Axiom Of Football #27: "If it ends with an unrecovered onside kick, it wasn't that close.") I see that Michigan is still somehow #2 in the BCS. Now... I know a lot of poll madness is attributable to people not watching games, but you watched this one, right? This is madness.

    With Rutgers going up in flames, other options are getting thin on the ground: USC, Arkansas, Florida, and (ugh) Notre Dame are the only remaining possibilities. USC obviously gets in at 11-1. It would be an outrage if they didn't. But Herbstreit, etc, keep advancing the theory that Michigan is better qualified than a one-loss SEC champion. This is not true. Though neither Florida nor Arkansas is without resume flaws – and I don't believe for a second that the SEC is appreciably better than any other conference this year (hi Ole Miss! Vandy seems mighty competitive this year, no?) -- at 12-1 either would have scalps on a par with Notre Dame (whoever they beat in the SECCG) and Wisconsin (uh... pick one), plus at least two or three wins in the dangerous-but-not-really category, of which Michigan has one (Penn State). While Michigan's loss is probably better, the resumes of Michigan and a hypothetical one-loss SEC Champion are near equals, except for the not-incidental fact that Michigan's already proven it doesn't really belong on the same field as OSU.

  • Bowl opponent is probably going to be... um... uninspiring. Unless USC drops one of its last two games, it's going to the MNC game. The SEC champion is locked into the Sugar Bowl. The Big 12 champion is locked into the Fiesta. Michigan is looking at a motley crew of at-large candidates: a two-loss LSU, Arkansas, or Florida, the Big East champion, Notre Dame (ha!), or Oklahoma.
  • It was a schizophrenic day. OSU's really carpet bombing its fans with this sportsmanship initiative and it's sort of working. The net effect was to make the decent OSU fans – always a sizable majority – really, really nice. The assholes are still assholes, though, and there are a lot of them. I do think 2002 was the nadir, and the administration had decided enough was enough. Then the Texas game was the final straw; no longer could Buckeye fans dismiss the complaining as a Michigan persecution complex. Not that the occasional whiny Buck fan with an unattractive wife wouldn't make unconvincing noises about equal problems in Ann Arbor in the same breath as describing High Street paved with beer cans.

    It also helped that this time I was wearing a black coat that was not immediately identifiable as Michigan-affiliated from the rear. Wandering into Columbus ticketless and intent on getting a single made me really cautious. Not cautious enough to, like, ask if the ticket I was buying was smack-dab in the middle of the student section, which it was. When I came out of the tunnel I turned to walk up the steps and stopped dead. "Oh shit," I said, "I'm a dead man." Not so. But since only the occasional burst of exhortation escaped -- "go, go, go" on Manningham's first slant, "shit" when he was caught did not meet with the approval of one poxy OSU fan directly in front of me -- I didn't get much guff. Generally if you're not a dick peo ple aren't dicks to you.

  • I WAS RIGHT! We could run on them.
  • Maybe I should have come up with some other theories. Like "Troy Smith is actually a goat." Then, like, we would have won. Because goats can't throw.
  • I don't know, man. Don't ask me. I think this: our inability to pull a blue-chip corner since Marlin Jackson – Leon Hall being a good recruit who panned out but not totally OMG Shirtless – killed us. Hall's obviously good. Everyone else got worked. Add Justin King and Jai Eugene to this team and is the outcome different? Anyone who really doesn't think recruiting matters can look at the front seven: five top 100 recruits in the starters and two overachieving three-stars versus the secondary: two borderline top-100 and a bunch of middling recruits. (And there is of course a difference between a two or three star like Braylon and a two or three star like Barringer. The term "sleeper" is now applied to anyone three stars or below when properly it should be restricted to guys who get overlooked because they're not on the field or at the wrong position or whatever.)
  • That said... uh... what are you supposed to do about that? Smith looked like a future wide receiver for about a year and a half, then turned into what the NFL wants Vick to be. I dunno. I don't want to think about it for a week.

Eleven Swans

Eleven Swans

Submitted by Brian on November 18th, 2006 at 1:15 AM


Seven Swans


We didn't sleep too late
There was a fire in the yard

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?


All of the trees were in light
They had no faces to show

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.


I saw a sign in the sky
Seven swans, seven swans, seven swans

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.


I heard a voice in my mind
I will try, I will try, I will try

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.

Preview: The Game

Preview: The Game

Submitted by Brian on November 17th, 2006 at 4:52 PM

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.

Special Teams

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.

Intangibles

I saved this all year.

Godspeed, gentlemen.

Cheap Thrills

Worry if...

  • 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.

Interesting Plays From OSU-Iowa

Interesting Plays From OSU-Iowa

Submitted by Brian on November 16th, 2006 at 7:40 PM

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.
 

Launch in external player

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.

Launch in external player

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.

Launch in external player

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:

Launch in external player

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.

FG.

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.

Launch in external player

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.

Launch in external player

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.

Launch in external player

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.

Launch in external player

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.

Launch in external player

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.

Unverified Voracity AAAAAAH

Unverified Voracity AAAAAAH

Submitted by Brian on November 16th, 2006 at 4:46 PM

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.

Awwwwwwwwww.

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?

Theories And Axioms

Theories And Axioms

Submitted by Brian on November 16th, 2006 at 3:01 PM

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.)

Interesting Plays From OSU-Texas

Interesting Plays From OSU-Texas

Submitted by Brian on November 15th, 2006 at 8:03 PM

Stuff I pulled from the OSU-Texas game that may be of interest.

Ginn? Might Want To Tackle Him

OSU's first big play is a simple crossing route to Breaston Ginn that's badly misplayed by the Texas secondary. Watch #38 overrun the play, opening up the corner and many, many YAC. This hasn't happened once against the Michigan secondary yet; I don't think it's a major concern, especially given what we know about the Texas secondary now (even with Tarrell Brown they kind of suck). More sucky play against Ginn coming up.

A Pittman run up the gut where Frank Okam looked like Pat Massey when doubled by the interior line of Ohio State. Okam's no joke -- a first rounder after the year to most mock-drafters -- and we've seen something similar happen to Terrance Taylor from time to time. If Ohio State decides to put in a big package from time to time they might rip off a run or two like this.

Grinding Drive... No Points

Texas got the ball back and proceeded to gash the Buckeye run defense. These three consecutive plays all went for first downs:

  • Off tackle opens up and Laurinaitis gets way too aggressive, essentially blocking himself by running into a pulling OT, who just goes down to chop him.
  • Ohio State lines up shifted right, away from the strength of the formation. Texas runs a speed option to the strong side. Is it me or does Laurinaitis look lumbering on this particular play? He flows down the line slowly and gets chopped, forcing the corner to come up on the QB and thus leaving the pitchman wide open.
  • Option to the other side of the field sees the corners way off the line, totally unable to support the linebacker (Grant?) who takes the quarterback.

Ohio State would eventually figure out the option and get good support from Antonio Smith. They would later stunt themselves into trouble, though. They lined up Gholston as a standup DT -- shades of Crable -- then stunted into a counter play. Laurinaitis reads it late; Grant gets pancaked by the pulling guard and it's into the secondary again.

This drive would end with a fumble on the two yard ine.

OSU Goes Up 7-0

Michigan's seen a lot of rollouts this year. Once it became clear that standing in the pocket was a good way to get your spleen bruised, opponents have headed outside with frequency. This has worked. Unfortunately, one of Troy Smith's biggest strengths is his accuracy on the run. Two critical plays on Ohio State's touchdown drive were darts as Smith rolled out. This one is particularly alarming:


Launch in external player

Smith finished the drive with a touchdown strike on a similar play.

Texas Returns To The Ground

Two problems on this long Texas run:

  • playside DE crashes inside, giving up contain.
  • Laurinaitis doesn't recognize the trouble this causes and just waits to be blocked yards downfield. Compare this to Michigan linebackers, who have been diagnosing and attacking at the LOS all year.

Texas would run the same play again soon after, but this time the DE keeps contain and Laurinaitis heads outside quickly. Result: minimal gain.

I worry about this: third and short, we call a cute run play, and Quinn Pitcock takes two guys into the backfield with him, creating a major loss.

Four yards on a zone stretch for Texas.

You Did What With How Many Seconds Left?

Tied 7-7 with about two minutes left in the half, OSU gets the ball back and marches downfield. They're heavily aided by a stupid bust on second and long; Troy Smith throws a dart of a seam route that's nigh un-defendable. OSU moves the ball into field goal range with the clock ticking down.

Then... this. First of all: Aaron Ross is not as good as he thinks he is. Second of all, when there are something like twenty seconds left in the half and your opponent is already in field goal range, why do this?

Launch in external player

That's right: one-on-one press coverage with nothing even approximating safety help. On Ted Ginn. Ross misses his jam, gets two steps behind instantly, then starts looking back like Troy Smith can possibly underthrow Ginn enough for him to get a fingernail on the ball. This is easier than beating Terrell Lambert. The replay shows it in excruciating detail. We should not do this.

Halftime: 14-7, OSU

At this point Texas has fumbled at the two and turned a likely OSU field goal into a touchdown with an idiotic playcall before the half. OSU has missed a chippie field goal. Play has been even.

And It Begins

This is what I'm talking about when I say that turnovers are more a function of the offense than the defense. Let the Laurinaitis legend begin: he can catch balls thrown directly at him! Musberger and Herbstreit are creaming themselves over a guy who's largely at fault for Texas' ability to pick up 10 yards every other carry. This leads to an OSU field goal and the beginning of the end; it's also the first time the entire game McCoy has thrown between the hashmarks.

Alex Boone did okay but was flagged for an obvious hold and then allowed this Woodley-esque sack. Note Smith standing in the pocket despite having what looks like plenty of room. He's had it beaten into his head to keep looking downfield, sometimes to his detriment. Overall, it's obviously the better option for the OSU offense -- mentally play the Penn State touchdown in your head now -- but it occasionally will result in him getting blindsided when he could have taken off.

OSU's drive does end in a field goal; after this sack they run on third and long to set it up. 17-7 now.

Texas Back to the Ground

Larry Grant on the field is not going to be a good thing for Ohio State, methinks. I wouldn't expect him to play, largely because of stuff like this. It's a counter that he gets utterly lost on. (When I grabbed the highlight I thought it was a more relevant linebacker -- Freeman. Oh well.)

Texas easily converts a third and short on a familiar-looking stretch play.

Vernon Gholston doesn't get a sack here but he does display his impressive ability to teleport around tackles. Riley will have his hands full. Note that this is the second Colt McCoy pass longer than ten yards; the first was intercepted by Laurinaitis.

Laurinaitis in space. Sets up too far inside, IMO and cedes the corner. Not sure why the RB threw in the unnecessary second juke that probably cost him three or four yards.

This is Colt McCoy's only downfield completion of the night.

Another successful run. Both linebackers are very passive.

OSU closes the door.

This one is titled "AaronRossSucksBasically.WMV" and is fairly self explanatory. It's second and nine with 12 minutes left, you're down two scores, and you're playing Ted Ginn in the parking lot. There is a happy medium between lining up an inch from his nose and in Tajikistan. Have you seen anything like this against the Michigan secondary? Infrequently.

I think this play summarizes what's good about Antonio Pittman: he diagnoses holes and decisively bursts through them. He's not much for breaking tackles or juking guys but he's smart about blocking and fast.

And that's all, folks.

I can think of no better way to summarize Texas' confidence in Colt McCoy than to show you their final relevant play from scrimmage. Down 24-7 with around eight minutes left, Texas faced third and sixteen. They ran an option, then punted. The man who's like second or whatever in passer efficiency was not the man Ohio State played.

What We Learned

  • Troy Smith is really accurate on the run.
  • Boone a little tetchy his first game.
  • Issues containing runs to the outside.
  • Aaron Ross sucks, basically.
  • This game should not be used as evidence of Ohio State's rad pass defense. Mack Brown was clearly terrified of Colt McCoy and perhaps with good reason given that hideous interception.
  • Don't line up two inches from Ted Ginn's nose with no safety help.