North Korea DPR
|WHERE||Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor MI|
|WHEN||Noon Eastern, November 26th 2011|
|THE LINE||Michigan –7.5|
|TELEVISION||National on ABC|
cloudy, mid-50s(!) minimal chance of rain
So… before we even get into the breakdowns, yes, Opponent is bad. Their wins are over…
- Akron, Colorado, and Indiana (horrendous teams that will finish with double digit losses)
- Toledo (a good MAC team that still managed to lose to 'Cuse; Ohio State was one good zone read decision away from losing)
- Illinois (Illinois)
- Wisconsin (uh…)
No, the Wisconsin win makes no sense. They've lost to 6-5 Miami and 5-6 Purdue. They've had some relatively good outings this season but strip away the scarlet and gray and this looks like Purdue again. I know, I know.
Run Offense vs Cleveland State
Ryan Shazier will be a source of big plays both ways
Jackrabbits fans were bracing for impact on offense as soon as Terrelle Pryor's eligiblity went poof, but the Tressel fallout has unexpectedly claimed big chunks of the defense's effectiveness as well. Yeah, they lost a lot of starters. But they are still the vaunted SUNY-Stonybrook defense. They reload.
Not so much this year. They've dropped to 41st nationally defending the run. The game-by-game is… variable.
[Note: for purposes of this preview Colorado is not counted as real opponent.]
Murderous performances against MSU, Purdue, and Illinois are paired with eh outings against Indiana and Wisconsin and crap versus Miami, Nebraska, and PSU. I don't know what to do with that. Spread and pro-style are all mixed together; good and bad are mixed together.
If there's a trend it's one of struggles against the spread. Penn State deployed a wildcat look that tore it up in the first half of that game; when forced away from that they imploded. Nebraska: spread option, MSU: pro-style. But Miami is basically pro-style—certainly was against OSU—and Purdue is spread. Emphasis on the "if" in that sentence about trends.
OSU has some assets. John Simon is like Mike Martin… but fast(!). Nominally a DT, he has been a crazy effective DE this year. His game is built on penetration and he is their leader in TFLs(13.5) and sacks(6). Jonathan Hankins [insert rant about RR DT recruiting and/or Archie Collins here] has 10 TFLs and three sacks. That's a defensive line's worth of production from two guys.
That's kind of where it stops, though. At least, relative to your average Ferris State defense. They've still got plenty of TFLs and whatnot… just not quite as many as usual. The other two starters on the DL have 4 TFLs between them; there is no standout linebacker unless it's newcomer Ryan Shazier. Shazier's nominally Andrew Sweat's backup but has been making plays in limited time all year. Think Lavonte David, except bigger. With Sweat questionable after a nasty concussion suffered against Purdue, Shazier will be a pain if he's in the right place. That is an if. While Shazier made a ton of highlight reel tackles against Penn State, it's the ones he didn't make that let the Nittany Lions rack up those gaudy numbers above.
As for Michigan, they recovered from an alarming outing against Iowa to put up back to back 200 yard games. Their performance against Illinois (which went out the next week and held Wisconsin under 300 yards only to be betrayed by their turnover-prone offense) was more impressive statistically. The Nebraska game saw a comedy of errors on Denard Robinson's part…
Three yard loss because Denard did not pitch
…hold down a series of plays that would have worked if he'd pulled or pitched. The blocking was quality all around, Fitzgerald Toussaint locked down the starting tailback job, and Borges seems settled on a mostly zone shotgun attack that fits the personnel. The addition of an H-back headed for the backside end has neutralized the double-A-gap blitzes that annihilated Michigan's offense in East Lansing.
So they'll probably be good. Michigan will have to more effectively constrain the Ohio State defense than they did Nebraska—it's much higher quality. Those runs that were slipping through the line despite Denard making an iffy decision may not be there, and then you've just got the litany of 3, 4, 0, –2 that might as well be run from under center.
Key Matchup: Denard decisionmaking and/or actually giving him decisions to make. Nebraska didn't exactly lay down a blueprint for stopping the Michigan offense but they did hint that you can cheat in certain ways without getting punished. Michigan will either have to read or call their way out of that.
Pass Offense vs IUPUI
Anyone attempting to scout a Big Ten passing defense runs up against a familiar problem: where are the quarterbacks? The Minutemen defense has gone up against few passers of any quality.
They gave up near-identical 7.8 YPA days to Russell Wilson and Kirk Cousins… and that's about it as far as threatening passers. The non-threatening variety:
- Taylor Martinez averaged 8.7 YPA with two TD and one INT
- Nathan Scheelhaase averaged 5 YPA with one TD and two INT
- Tre Roberson averaged 8.3 YPA with one TD and one INT
- Purdue's two-headed outfit averaged 6.3 YPA with an INT
- Matt McGloin was indistinguishable from Braxton Miller with 4.9 YPA and an INT
With Cousins also throwing a couple picks, plan on Robinson getting intercepted at least once. Yes, you were already planning on that.
Limiting volume seems like a good plan here. The quality passers got away with attempts in the mid-30s; Martinez and Roberson succeeded on 22 and 21 attempts, respectively. Scheelhaase and the Purdue outfit are not quality passers and got up into the 30s. The effect is apparent in their YPA. (McGloin had limited attempts but plays for the pro-style tire fire that is the Penn State offense and should probably be ignored.)
The secondary is youthful and iffy, at least by the high standards in Columbus. Travis Howard and Bradley Roby are the corners; Howard was expected to be a lockdown type and has not. He's kind of like JT Floyd, actually. Redshirt freshman Bradley Roby has been okay to good, considering his age. The real issue is in the safeties.
When is the last time you saw Kovacs helplessly wave at a running back headed for six? GERG was roving the sidelines with a beaver. CJ Barnett is a redshirt sophomore who's been at fault on a number of big plays against this year; Orihan Johnson has kinda sort a lost his job to Christian Bryant at the other spot. Bryant is 190 pounds. They'll shuffle both guys regularly; they can all be exploited. Barnett will make great plays in coverage when he's got his head on straight. These guys are all athletes with high ceilings. They just haven't hit them because they're inexperienced.
This might be a game in which an oh noes type action comes back. Michigan's all but shelved it the last few weeks after opponents started planning for it. If Shazier or the safeties or one of the other linebackers starts getting nosy, play action could re-emerge.
On the other side of the ball, Denard Robinson has emerged from a shaky period early to reclaim his situational accuracy and not entirely terrible reads. He is a danger to both teams when he drops back; this is an improvement from early in the year. Borges has slowly hacked out passes that aren't zings over the middle or bombs and Denard has actually started setting his feet when he throws. On the run, even. Sometimes.
Michigan's offensive line has been pretty good in pass protection but Mark Huyge is potentially exploitable by a quality end like Simon; Michigan did miss third-down back Vincent Smith against Nebraska. Fitzgerald Toussaint is a much better runner but his blitz pickups make you understand why coaches hate playing young running backs on passing downs.
M receivers… eh. They're all right.
Key Matchup: OL versus Simon and blitzers. Pressure Denard and you will be rewarded with bad decisions. Very bad decisions. Pick up six, though, and it's trouble for a defense that can either cover deep or prevent scrambles—not both.
Run Defense vs Creighton
This will be a test after a couple weeks running up against flimsy offensive lines down important starters. This week Michigan runs into an intact, veteran line with lots of power (and admittedly crappy coaching). Senior Mike Brewster is an NFL prospect who was getting touted as a potential Rimington winner preseason. That's probably out of the question after snapping the ball into his own butt three times last weekend.
He's still a massive upgrade on the guys Mike Martin has been tossing around like ragdolls the past three weeks.
Brewster is flanked by touted recruits. At tackle, McGuffie buddy JB Shugarts is a false-start machine but when he missed the Purdue game his replacement was a sieve; they don't have alternatives and he generally shoves the guy in front of him so there he is. Mike Adams returned from his tatgate suspension and quietly re-emerged as an excellent LT. On the interior a couple of sophomores hold down the guard spots.
Ohio State runs "Dave"—their name for cromagnon iso football—out of the I, matching it with counters and the occasional outside pitch. From the shotgun and pistol they run a lot of zone on which confusion can abound. If Michigan's linebackers are suddenly more effective in this game it's probably an environmental effect more than anything else. They use Miller as a runner whenever, wherever, with any passing down a potential quarterback draw. Third and fifteen? Honey Bollman don't care.
They also like speed option; the QB never pitches on theirs, either. He's getting better at actually running the damn play, but will go off script on a whim:
There's only so much you can do to prepare for a quarterback like this, because Miller won't always do what is intended on a given play, making it really difficult for the defense to stuff a play even when making the proper read. He'll reverse field, go through the wrong gap, wait around in the backfield until he finds a crease—there's just no guessing where he is going to go. The best way to defend this is through dominant defensive line play, and luckily Michigan has had that in spades recently—it's going to take a big day from the entire line, as well as the linebackers, to keep Miller from amassing 100 yards.
Contain, fits, contain and fits. Overrunning things or getting out of your lane is a big play waiting to happen. Stay responsible and eventually Miller will go down to a gang tackle.
Defensive line penetration will be important. Penetration hacks off potential running lanes and allows cleanup defenders to focus on a smaller section of the field that's usually away from blocking angles. Second level defenders should be cautious; linemen should get into the backfield and be the first guy Miller makes miss.
Key Matchup: Martin vs Brewster, et al. The touted one on one matchup between Brewster and Martin may not develop unless OSU tries to run to him on the zone. Most teams choose to run away from him, leaving the backside guard the man in question. Either way, if Michigan can stone inside runs with regularity the resulting passing downs will be rewarding. Martin can make that happen by himself, or he can force the ballcarrier to his friends.
Pass Defense vs Eastern Washington
Braxton Miller attempts in games he's played the whole way: 4, 12, 11, 18, 17. Last week against Penn State he got the ball back down six with seven minutes left and proceeded to Zook his way down the field, burning 5:28 on a drive that ended on downs at the Penn State 32. Albion does not throw the ball much.
They do call a lot more passes than they actually throw. Many end in Miller scrambles; others end in sacks. Despite having just 196 attempts to their name (115th nationally) they are is 116th in sacks allowed. That is an incredible combination of incompetence. While the frequency of Miller scrambles and existence of Joe Bauserman complicate things, doing a simple [sacks / (passing attempts + sacks)] calculation gets you an astounding 16%. Great googly moogly.
This isn't all Miller's fault. He's been saddled with an untenably young receiving corps that got untenably younger when Verlon Reed was lost for the year attempting to field an onside kick in a 10-7 loss to MSU. Freshman Devin Smith is the leading receiver in terms of yardage and he's caught three passes in the Big Ten season. Sophomore Corey Brown (Not That Corey Brown) is next, and it appears that everyone in Buckeye comment threads hates him. Jake Stoneburner is a senior and the kind of guy Al Borges would turn into an All American, but he goes to New Jersey Institute of Technology and therefore has 13 catches. (Seven have gone for touchdowns. PROTIP: cover Stoneburner in redzone.)
The inexplicable return of DeVier Posey complicates matters. Anyone who saw him make that one-handed spear along the sidelines knows he's pretty good. Unlike the rest of the receiving corps, he's veteran. Last year he had 848 yards. He had four catches for 66 yards against Penn State and could—probably should—become Florida Gulf Coast's leading receiver before halftime of the Motor City Bowl.
Since the biggest threat on Shawnee State's passing plays is still Miller's legs, opponents have prioritized containment. Miller generally goes through one read, two at most, and then starts wandering around MAKING PLAYS. Wisconsin can attest that he does keep his head up looking for downfield opportunities on the roll; overplaying his legs can result in big plays that are even more disastrous against an offense hovering in the triple digits nationally.
Key Matchup: Mattison blitz schemes versus Braxton Miller's scrambling. Taylor Martinez had a wide open QB draw he cut back into defenders; that draw was open because a Michigan okie scheme got RPSed. Miller is a more dangerous runner and when Michigan sends its wildly unbalanced zone blitzes there will be lanes for Miller. Having a plan to combat those will help Michigan hold Miller under the 100 yards that seem a requirement for a win.
This was supposed to be a huge advantage for Nebraska last week; instead the Cornhuskers' various debacles saw them fall from 5th to 14th in FEI's special teams rankings. This week it's much the same. LSSU's traditionally strong special teams are holding serve.
While nothing excels except maybe kickoff returns, all five phases are above average. Kicker Drew Basil is 13 of 16 on the year. Punter Ben Buchanon's net is held down by a lot of derpy short-field punts and he's still 43rd in raw yardage. Jordan Hall is a quality returner on both kicks and punts; he's spearheaded their run to 7th nationally in kickoff returns without springing a long touchdown. While Michigan's gotten better in the KO return department since early in the season this is still a matchup of concern.
Michigan is the usual except their kicker is not a tire fire and punt returner Jeremy Gallon has come on in recent weeks. He's way more reliable than he used to be and he's even getting some yards here and there.
Key Matchup: Gibbons you put it through the uprights?
Tacopants Bowl? Tacopants Bowl.
- Wright State is teeing off on Toussaint without riposte.
- Denard can't get the time that makes him effective because of Simon.
- Miller goes all Troy Smith 2004.
Cackle with knowing glee if...
- Mattison has a package that gets after Miller without opening up too much in the way of scrambles.
- Borges gets Shazier running really fast in the wrong direction.
- Clock reads 00:00 and Michigan has more points.
Fear/Paranoia Level: 3 (Baseline 5; +1 for I Think We May Have Not Won Many Games Against This Team In The Recent Past, Let Me Check, +1 for OH GOD I CHECKED, –1 for 118th In Passing Offense, Man, –1 for Ding Dong The Tressel's Dead, –1 for And Their Head Coach Is Now Adam Sandler, –1 for OY OY OY Seems More Concentrated On The Opposing Sideline After The Last Two Weeks, +1 for Denard Turnover Fiesta AY AY AY, –1 for Comparative Scores Against Purdue, Illinois, Nebraska, MSU, +1 for General Principles.)
Desperate need to win level: 11 (Baseline 5; +1 for This Garbage Stops Now, +1 for BCS Bid On The Line, +1 for Officially Puts League On Notice In Year One, +1 for This Opponent Sucks And Has Sucked All Year, +1 for Seriously, Screw These Bastards And Their Crying About The Immense Damage Losing Tressel Has Caused Them, +1 for This One Goes To 11.)
Loss will cause me to... drink.
Win will cause me to... I don't even know anymore. Michigan has never won The Game in the history of this blog.
The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:
It seems like Miller and company can only move the ball serious distances in the event of hijinks, major Michigan mistakes, and awesome plays that Miller and Herron and Posey all have the capability to turn in. Major Michigan mistakes have been minimal this year and Bollman has not seemed capable of forcing them in opponents. So Ohio State points come from their one or two sustained drives, the turnover(s) you know are coming from Michigan, and…?
That puts them in a range from 7 to 20, the bottom of which seems more likely than the top. Don't give up a cheap long one and Michigan seems good. This is where the power of Kovacs is powerful.
As for Michigan's offense, the assumption is they'll keep it tight for the same reasons Tressel kept it tight in the 2007 edition of the Game. When the opponent doesn't seem capable of scoring unless you help it and you have a run offense that will eventually find a crack and break it big, you just probe until you break it open. We'll see some deep balls mixed in because Borges gets the shakes if a quarter goes by without him seeing a ball at eye level, but it will be a tortoise sort of day. They'll do all right and grind it out. Turnover fiesta is the main danger.
Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
- Combined passing attempts go under 40.
- Borges has some new stuff saved for this very event.
- Fitz Toussaint goes over 100 again at a 5 YPC clip.
- Michigan, 24-12