Keep better contain than this, plz
In Columbus, Michigan faces their toughest test since the season opener against Alabama. An undefeated Ohio State squad awaits—can Michigan spoil their hopes for the
Big Ten title BCS championship AP national title? After watching the Buckeyes struggle to put up points on Wisconsin, ultimately winning 21-14 in overtime, I think they've got a good shot. Let's go to the breakdown:
Spread, Pro-Style, or Hybrid? Spread, of course. Urban Meyer's run-heavy offense operates pretty much exclusively from the shotgun.
Basketball on Grass or MANBALL? OSU's rush offense is mostly zone-predicated though they'll throw in some gap blocking wrinkles, including one I'll cover in the play breakdown.
Hurry it up or grind it out? The Buckeyes rarely huddle, though they don't quite run Oregon pace either; you'll see the offense get to the line and then look over to the sideline for a playcall, much like Michigan did under Rich Rodriguez.
Quarterback Dilithium Level (Scale: 1 [Navarre] to 10 [Denard]): I probably don't need to tell you about Braxton Miller, who leads the Buckeyes with 1214 rushing yards on 207 carries and is second to Carlos Hyde (15) with 13 rushing TDs. While he doesn't have the straight-ahead speed of Denard or Taylor Martinez, he's got more power than either of those two and shows impressive vision. He gets a 9, with a bullet.
Dangerman: Yeah, it's Miller. The offense is based around the threat of his legs, especially on the edge, which opens up room both for the running backs on the interior and the downfield passing game.
Zook Factor: Urban Meyer didn't make any egregiously bad decisions in this game, so I'll note that Bret Bielema punted from the Ohio State 30-yard line(!!!) in the first half instead of kicking a 47-yard field goal or throwing on 4th-and-12. The punt, of course, went for a touchback, netting a whopping ten yards.
HenneChart: I'm making the tweak that Brian is strongly considering for next season and counting scrambles as a positive when calculating Downfield Success Rate; with Braxton Miller, it's certainly appropriate. Even with that adjustment, Miller did not have a great performance against Wisconsin:
A quick sanity check against Miller's final numbers: 10/18, 97 yards. With a couple throws by Miller that easily could've been intercepted, that sounds about right. Most of his throws came either off play-action or on designed rollouts, and most of the routes were of the short or intermediate variety. There were a couple attempted deep shots—again, off play-action—but nothing that connected.
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the breakdown.]
Before I go any further, I must recommend you read as much of 11W's Ross Fulton as you can—he does a far better job than I can of breaking down the specifics of OSU's offensive and defensive schemes. His offensive breakdown from the Wisconsin game is especially relevant, since Michigan will likely defense the Buckeyes in a very similar manner.
As said above, everything is based around the threat of Miller to run. The bread-and-butter plays for this Ohio State team are the inverted veer and the zone read, but they throw in several wrinkles to keep the defense off balance. With Wisconsin focused largely on keeping Miller off the edge, Ohio State's most successful rushing play against the Badgers was actually what Ross calls the "inverted belly"—an inside zone to the running back:
Ohio State's overtime score came from this look as Carlos Hyde ran into the end zone untouched, and a similar run—with power blocking, instead of zone—got Hyde in from 15 yards out for OSU's only other offensive score (their first touchdown came on a 68-yard punt return by Corey "Philly" Brown).
Hyde is a solid downhill runner with good power, and he's averaging a tick over five yards per carry this season, largely on runs like the above. Miller, of course, is the edge threat. Ohio State has a tweak to the inverted veer that I'll cover below; another way they get Miller in space is with a QB counter, which is covered extensively by Ross in his breakdown from the Nebraska game.
How was Wisconsin able to limit Miller to 65 yards on 20 carries (sacks removed)? They played almost exclusively Cover 4, which allowed their safeties to come up and play very aggressively against the run on the edge. This helps eliminate the natural numerical advantage that comes from running with the quarterback. Check out the safety to the top of the screen on this QB counter:
Now ask yourself: can I see Jordan Kovacs doing this?
Yes. The answer is yes.
As for the passing game, most of Ohio State's stuff is simple underneath throws designed to keep the defense from completely selling out against the run. Corey Brown is the go-to receiver with 52 catches—nearly double any other player on the roster—for 572 yards; the big-play threat, however, is Devin Smith, who averages 19.8 yards per catch and leads the team with six TD receptions.
The Buckeyes tried to keep the Badgers honest with a couple early quick WR screens to the perimeter, then threw in an interesting wrinkle that should've netted them a big gain but for some bad luck. Here they fake the outside screen and tight end Jake Stoneburner—at this point, basically an enormous slot receiver—feigns a block and heads out on a wheel route; he runs wide open but loses the ball in the sun:
Another reason why Ohio State runs a fair amount of quick throws is that their line isn't stellar in pass protection; they're 88th nationally in sacks allowed despite having a very mobile QB, and Miller came under heavy fire several times against Wisconsin. The Badgers run a very similar third-down blitz package as Michigan—the okie look, with seven guys on the line providing a wide variety of zone blitz possibilities. Ohio State had trouble picking this up, so look for Mattison to dial it up with regularity on passing downs.
The Buckeyes will also try to run on what one would expect to be passing downs. Twice against Wisconson they ran a QB draw from an empty set on 3rd-and-7, both times against an okie front; on both occasions, an unblocked man stuffed Miller well short of the sticks. That was a little fortunate, however; that front is liable to leave a large gap in the line, and if a draw is called to the right spot at the right time it could produce a big gain.
Okay, let's look at Ohio State's variation on the inverted veer, a fake veer sweep. Here they line up in the gun with two backs flanking Miller; the depth of the backs suggests a veer is coming:
After the snap, Miller fakes the give to Hyde, while the other back—Rod Smith—heads to the edge; he'll act as a lead blocker. OSU also pulls left guard Andrew Norwell (#78), giving them plenty of blocking power to hit the edge on a sweep. On a normal inverted veer, Miller would head downhill from this point, and you can see Wisconsin's linebackers—and, more importantly, the defensive backs up top—staying at home on the interior:
The right tackle heads to the second level to pick off a linebacker as Norwell latches onto the playside end, while Smith heads for the cornerback (#24, playing down due to OSU's pre-snap alignment):
This leaves Miller with a huge seam to get the first down and more:
How can Michigan counter? Well, Wisconsin adjusted later in the game by played their safeties more aggressively; a later attempt to run this same play was stuffed in the backfield as the strong safety bolted for the edge as soon as he read run. Michigan is going to need a stellar game from Jordan Kovacs to replicate Wisconsin's defensive effort. Luckily, he's Jordan Kovacs.
Base Set? 4-3, with strongside end Nathan Williams often playing from a two-point stance.
Man or zone coverage? Ohio State plays a lot of Cover 4—man on the outside with zones underneath.
Pressure: GERG or Greg? The Buckeyes are able to generate a lot of pressure with their front four, and in the early going against Wisconsin they were content to sit back and rush four. In the later going, however, they started dialing up the heat; we'll see if they're willing to do that against a more mobile quarterback than Curt Phillips.
Dangerman: DE John Simon played out of his mind against the Badgers, destroying their tackles to the tune of four sacks. He leads the team with 14.5 TFLs (tied with WLB Ryan Shazier) and nine sacks. Simon is a huge end who holds up well against the run and has surprising quickness in the pass rush, though he generates most of his pressure from pure brute strength. A matchup with Taylor Lewan will be fun to watch; if he's lined up over Michael Schofield, it's advantage Buckeyes, and that's not a knock on Schofield.
It's really tough to glean too much strategy-wise since Wisconsin's strength—the interior running game—is Michigan's biggest weakness (plus there's the whole mobile quarterback thing), so I'll stick mostly to personnel here.
The front four is very, very good. Behemoth DT Johnathan Hankins demands two blockers on the interior; while he's mostly a space-eater, he'll make a few plays that show off frightening quickness, which is why he'll be a top ten NFL draft pick. Garrett Goebel is solid, not spectacular, at the other tackle spot—while he doesn't make a lot of plays, he holds the point of attack well. Nathan Williams is also in that mold—not a huge playmaker, but not a weak point. That allows Simon to do what he does, and Michigan would be wise to avoid him as much as possible.
While WLB Ryan Shazier is still prone to missing assignments and allowing big plays, he's come a long way as a sophomore; he was all over the place against Wisconsin, racking up nine solo tackles, three TFLs, and a forced fumble against Montee Ball on the goal line that (temporarily) preserved a late one-score lead. He'll make several athletic plays that hold down should-be big gains; he'll also probably bust one or two, as well, and that could prove costly with Denard and Devin in the backfield.
Etienne Sabino has recovered from a leg fracture to re-take the starting SLB spot, and he's a steady senior presence there. Where OSU is weak on that front seven is at middle linebacker—Zach Boren had to make a mid-season switch from fullback with Storm Klein struggling and dealing with a herniated disk. Boren got the start and nearly all the snaps last week. Klein is currently listed as a co-starter this week, so we'll see how that goes. If Michigan had an interior run game, I'd say they could attack this, but... yeah.
The back four is pretty strong in coverage, though Wisconsin picked on cornerback Travis Howard early and often in man coverage against Jared Abbredaris—Michigan doesn't have an Abbredaris, but the quickness of Jeremy Gallon could give Howard some problems. Their big bugaboo, however, is tackling; the secondary gave up some huge plays, especially early in the season, due to downright-awful tackling—if Michigan can get Denard and/or Gardner free on the second level, big plays are liable to occur.
I expect Michigan to build on the grab-bag of misdirection with Denard and Devin in the backfield that they showed last week, and against this defense that's the right way to go; Shazier busted on a couple misdirection plays, and keeping Simon from being able to bull-rush at Gardner is key. If OSU sits back in Cover 4, Michigan should also be able to get Gardner some solid yardage scrambling, a threat they Denard didn't often utilize.
The lack of Fitz Toussaint means Michigan may not even attempt to establish a traditional running game; if they do, let's hope Boren is the man in the middle. Here he is pulling an Ezeh, hesitating and eating a block:
And here, on Montee Ball's touchdown, he hesitates, attacks the wrong side of the hole, and gets sealed off:
I've got Thanksgiving off, so no recruiting post tomorrow, but there will be a gifs post on Friday and I'll be heading to Columbus for the game. Until then, Go Blue, and Beat Ohio.