|WHAT||Michigan vs Ohio State|
|WHEN||Noon Eastern Like God Intended|
|THE LINE||Michigan –4.5|
|WEATHER||scattered showers clearing up after first Q
cloudy, 50 degrees, ~10 mph wind
Ohio State university has existed in relative obscurity for most of its 200 years as a small teacher's school in Fon Du Lac, Wisconsin. It was only the recent discovery of a 20,000-year-old mass grave unprecedented in the history of the pre-Columbian Americas that brought the school to the attention of history departments across the continent. It's a tremendous find, one that will reshape our perceptions of an entire hemisphere.
Apparently they have a football team as well? Wonders never cease.
[Hit THE JUMP for NOT YOUR ONE YEAR OLD DAUGHTER'S OHIO STATE OFFENSE]
Run Offense vs OSU
could happen [Bryan Fuller]
I have a theory about OSU's defense: they failed to Drevno their defensive coordinator. Over the offseason they brought in Washington State defensive coordinator Alex Grinch as their tenth coach. That was a weird demotion for Grinch to take if it was not in fact a prelude to a promotion. That promotion was supposed to come when Greg Schiano got a head job elsewhere, as he was no doubt "encouraged" to do.
A dumb guy at Tennessee took the bait that was aimed at MAC schools, causing a revolt, and by the time the dust had cleared the dumb guy was fired, Schiano was still hanging around in Columbus, and Grinch was pissed. A Too Many Cooks situation ensued. Having hired Ed Warinner as a vastly overqualified analyst, Michigan found itself in a near-identical situation with Tim Drevno. So they fired him, and everyone except USC fans lived happily ever after. OSU did not axe Schiano.
Ohio State fans will tell you that Urban Meyer hired the best man from his wedding to coach linebackers and that he's a galactic doofus, and… well, that's a pretty good theory too. But the dysfunction goes well beyond just the linebacker level. Anthony McFarland's first absurdly easy 80 touchdown run yards went right off tackle and neither the cornerback or the safety thought they should be keeping contain:
There are high school teams that would fire their defensive coordinator if that happened 11 weeks into the season. It was striking to read this Cleveland.com article on the Maryland debacle, because it continually marveled at Maryland running jet sweep stuff and zone opposite:
Often, Canada will employ his use of outside zone paired with "Fly Sweep" action dialed the opposite way to hold down linebackers and safeties.
It will often cause shifting and movement confusion in the pre-snap as well.
Here Maryland comes out in "11" personnel (one running back, one tight end), but it adds another wrinkle.
The Terps go "unbalanced" and bring their left tackle to the right side alongside the right tackle, and keep their tight end on the backside. This forces Ohio State to slide its 4-3 front in that direction and leave it vulnerable to the short side.
Canada uses the backside receiver off the ball to sell "Fly Sweep" the opposite direction of the eventual run action.
That's what Maryland does every week to every opponent and half the time they get about a foot per rush because if you can put your guys in the right spot they ain't got nothing else. And the big plays the usually break off are after a bunch of shifts and formations to mess with your fits. Neither McFarland TD was at all tricky. It was just zone. It's the same stuff they ran against Michigan, and after I UFR'd that game I rather despaired at how shallow the Maryland offense was:
Their main gambit was a bunch of shifts and whatnot, jet action on just about every play, and then... handoffs up the middle that Michigan ate up. The first one was almost the only dangerous one and that goes for a yard because Winovich tracks it down from behind:
Almost everything else aside from some jet sweeps was crushed.
To the point where there's not that much to say?
I mean, yeah. I only charted 50 plays and many of those plays were the same thing: a jet paired with run action the other way. There were eight jets, eight inside zone plays, and seven stretch plays, almost all of the latter two off the same under-center jet action. That's half their scanty snaps.
So… there's a lot that's wrong. OSU's S&P+ run D ranking has plummeted week by week and now stands at 68th. They are 125th at preventing explosive plays. It's a damn mess. A glorious damn mess.
Michigan's job is to put guys in the wrong gap and then go get it, like they did early in the Nebraska game with some deceptive fullback motion:
That's on film, so not exactly that. But whatever depths there are left in the playbook, whatever little tweaks Michigan has that might convince a linebacker to fling himself at the line of scrimmage in a spot he should, are coming out. Unless Michigan gets spectacularly unlucky some of them will hit big.
Michigan does have to block a couple dudes. Dre'Mont Jones will present Michigan with its biggest challenge at DT since the Notre Dame game. Robert Landers isn't as much of a rush threat but he's a little bulldog at NT who's tough to move and splits a lot of doubles. They're not Mo Hurst and Ryan Glasgow but they're in those molds, respectively. Landers has a solid backup as well. The linebackers are all touted recruits that frequently wander off in search of pudding; they will blitzball their asses off and be right some of the time.
OSU has the players to stuff Michigan more than they have so far this year. Michigan responds with an OL—save for Andrew Stueber in his first start-type-substance—that didn't miss an assignment against Indiana and is ready as it's ever going to be to take on the Great Satan. If Bredeson's an NFL guy and Ruiz is the next great center and Onwenu is the gravitation disturbance he promised last wee, they neutralize the DTs, reset the LOS, and then it's a lot of linebackers being given a final exam, and a 300-yard day on the ground.
KEY MATCHUP: HARBAUGH and WARINNER vs OHIO STATE'S OFT-COMICAL RUN FITS. Michigan keeps bringing more and more stuff out of its playbook and has established Patterson enough that an 11 v 11 third and two is likely, and a little misdirection on it might equal TD. Michigan needs to hit big plays.
Pass Offense vs OSU
get up [Bryan Fuller]
But wait, there's more: OSU's fall from grace has been even steeper in this department. They sit 93rd(!!!) in S&P+ pass D, because they give up a bunch of big plays and aren't remarkable in any other department. The graders at PFF are even more skeptical than the statheads: OSU ranks 13th in the Big Ten in coverage grade, ahead of only Illinois. I'd normally say something like "behind RUTGERS" at this point but the Cable Subscriber secondary is actually pretty decent so BEHIND MARYLAND, MINNESOTA, PURDUE, and INDIANA will have to suffice.
Your author was grumbling about how Maryland wasn't even threatening with Tyrell "Piggy" Pigrome's legs last week when Piggy uncorked two deep balls to open guys that nearly earned the Terrapins the win. As this was happening OSU fans were grumbling about how Kendall Sheffield had been terrible on deep balls all year. Damon Arnette… what
NFL people have been complaining about OSU corners being basically uncoached for a minute now and this year the chickens have run by press coverage like it's not even there. One of their safety spots keeps rotating between guys who don't know what they're doing. Per PFF Shea Patterson is fifth nationally in deep passer rating. Nico Collins and Donovan Peoples-Jones should eat these guys for lunch.
Can Michigan take advantage? Probably. (Maybe.) If OSU is going to press like this max-pro play action is a worthwhile thing to explore (outside the redzone, please). If they play off, Michigan's been adept at cutting those routes off and picking up ten yard hitches.
The main red flag is the OSU pass rush, which is good but not great. Their stats still benefit from four Nick Bosa sacks in three games of action. Chase Young has looked the part of a rising star with 5.5 sacks this year, and Dre'Mont Jones leads the team with 7.5 from his DT spot. That's been almost it, though, from the defensive line. SDE Jonathon Cooper has one sack and is a giant dropoff from Bosa; everything else comes from the linebacker level. But with Juwann Bushell-Beatty gimpy enough to leave the Indiana game and Jon Runyan Jr's Notre Dame tendencies biting Michigan for an INT, there are questions even if PFF has them the #4 pass pro offense in the country over the last nine weeks.
But even so: Shea Patterson's been kept in bubble wrap all year so he would get here healthy. He has. Michigan no longer has to be one of the most run-heavy teams in the country. They can strike a balance, bring out a bunch of RPOs, play action Zach Gentry deep against jumpy linebackers, and run their receivers past cornerbacks with terrible cover grades. This should be a flamethrower job. But you can miss a bunch of 50/50 open deep shots.
KEY MATCHUP: MICHIGAN TACKLES vs CHASE YOUNG. A clean Patterson is carving this D up.
Run Defense vs OSU
not a lot of open spaces for Dobbins this year [Bryan Fuller]
The departure of JT Barrett has created some shocking gaps in Ohio State's offense. You probably remember Ohio State throwing a wide receiver screen on fourth and goal from the two against Purdue. It failed, and a new, uncertain era in OSU offense was confirmed. It's not that OSU is suddenly Texas Tech, it's that they're mortal. Three key stats:
- Passing down line yards have gone from 3.8, 13th nationally, to 2.4, 90th. OSU cannot bail itself out of second and nine with JT Barrett runs 8 times a game anymore.
- OSU doesn't get in third and short much (71st), and…
- …once there they're 37th at converting.
This is only a crisis in the context of a program that was pretty much automatic on short yardage for four years, but that's what OSU was and the new era led to a lot of stops that never ever would have happened a year ago. It also created a landscape in which the Ohio State ground game became mediocre.
It's true. OSU has failed to crack four yards a carry in five of their Big Ten games to date, and the list of luminaries they've been held by is boggling: Penn State, Indiana, Minnesota, and Purdue each held OSU to 3.2(!!!) YPC or worse. Hell, Tulane held them fractionally under 4 YPC. OSU sits 57th in S&P+ rush offense, with a triple-digit explosiveness ranking.
OSU did use the recent bye week to refocus and stop blindly doing the things Barrett made work almost literally every time, so there's been a recent uptick. Putting up 6.9 YPC against Nebraska (#96 in S&P+ run D) and 5.2 against Maryland (#73) is one thing. Against Michigan State(#2) they ground out 3.7 YPC, sacks removed, and Michigan(#9) is much closer to that, statistically, than anyone the post-Barrett Buckeyes have ground up.
The catch for Michigan is that OSU's favorite play is still their tight zone, which features a forward moving mesh point and attacks right up the middle with DT doubles. If Michigan comes out with their usual four man front they're going to need their DTs to play at a level they have not all season to address this without help. A finally healthy Aubrey Solomon is their best shot there, and even if Solomon's past all the stuff that's sabotaged his 2018 his conditioning is probably well short of the level necessary to play more than half of Michigan's snaps. Help might be necessary in the form of LB blitzing that prevents the extended doubles tight zone uses to grind down the opposition.
Speaking of ground down, Mike Weber has missed some time this year, including last week, and the blazing nature of that game forced JK Dobbins to eat 37 carries. Dobbins in general has been reduced to a guy who might pick through a crease to grind out another few yards. With defenses allowed to key on him because of the lack of threat Haskins presents his highlight yards per opportunity have plunged. He's at 3.0. Last year he was at 7.7. Having a credible QB threat changes your offense, as both Michigan and OSU have discovered this year.
Ohio State knows this, obviously, and have set to making Haskins at least respectable. They did this a week too early for their tastes, I'd imagine. After Maryland jumped out to a 14-3 lead OSU had to reveal that Dwayne Haskins was in fact capable of locomoting forward with his legs. A series of redzone and short-yardage keeps were successful. Haskins is awkward and slow but also big, so he was able to grind out some YAC when called upon. His 14 carries went for 63 yards, a level of success Michigan is probably willing to live with if that means containing the much more dangerous RBs. Especially since Haskins had a butt-fumble en route to his 63 yards.
Haskins's emergence last week probably means we won't see much or any of QB Tate Martell, another Tate Forcier clone who's had some cameos on short yardage.
Michigan's brief is probably going to be adding another guy to the line of scrimmage by whatever means necessary. Stevie Scott went from goin' off to just off when Michigan removed DT doubles from the gameplan by adding a fifth man, whether that was Josh Ross blitzing through guys or just Tyree Kinnel coming off the edge so the DL could slant. OSU will no doubt pick up some chunks with debuting plays; the down to down grind will be a matter of whether it's two yards or five.
KEY MATCHUP: MICHIGAN DEFENSIVE TACKLES vs BEING JUST GUYS. If Michigan helps them out it would be great if they could win one on one blocks to set up third and long instead of third and medium. Make plays!
Pass Defense vs OSU
in a nutshell [Fuller]
This is where it's at on this side of the ball. Michigan's passing defense has insane numbers but Ohio State can reasonably claim that Michigan ain't played nobody, at least relative to OSU. Michigan got the Wimbush version of Notre Dame and it's tough to separate out how much flailing from the Nebraska, MSU, and Penn State quarterbacks was due to injuries they carried into the game versus Michigan hammering those guys until all three cried uncle and left.
In contrast, Ohio State has played a couple of pass defenses that rank in the top 20. They just didn't do anything against them. QB Dwayne Haskins needed 39 attempts to rack up 227 yards against MSU, S&P+'s #17 pass D. Once you factor in a couple sacks that's 5.3 YPA. The numbers against Penn State (#11) are only better because Penn State gave up a game-losing 96-yard TD drive on which the only completions were three screens that went for 73 yards.
This goes to the heart of the matchup: yards after the catch. OSU has been Indiana on steroids this year. Haskins throws buckets and buckets of short stuff and OSU's WRs turn them into long stuff:
Despite leading the conference in a multitude of receiving categories, Ohio State’s wide receiver unit averages a Big Ten-low 9.5 average depth of target (121st). They are racking up massive production on short throws that they turn into chunk gains.
Parris Campbell (76.6 overall PFF grade, sixth among Big Ten WRs) leads the OSU receiving corps and is averaging a healthy 2.93 yards per route run (third) with a stellar 134.7 passer rating (third) and 81.7% catch rate (first). Yet, Campbell’s average depth of target is just 4.0 yards past the line of scrimmage, the third-lowest mark in the nation. He is doing nearly all his damage after the catch where he has piled up a whopping 561 yards after catch (seventh). On throws with a depth of target of five yards or less, Campbell has recorded an 85.9 PFF receiving grade, second among all wide receivers.
K.J. Hill (79.3 overall PFF grade, third among Big Ten WRs) is the other premier receiving weapon for Ohio State and is averaging 3.15 yards per route run (second) with a 124.6 passer rating (sixth) and 75.6% catch rate (third). Like Campbell, Hill operates close to the line of scrimmage and sees an average depth of target of 6.7 yards (fifth lowest) yet has amassed 462 yards after catch (third).
Michigan, meanwhile, is fourth in the country at preventing YAC yards despite giving up the occasional catch and run on a pick route. Michigan's CBs don't miss tackles; they hardly give up enough separation to even let the opposition receiver turn upfield when they do give up a catch. This is another level of athlete from most of the opposition, but not all. Michigan started mixing in zones that matched slants after James Proche gave them the business, which allowed them to shut down KJ Hamler (one catch for 20 yards) and JD Spielman (four catches for five yards); Flynn Nagel did do some damage.
Michigan will show man and try to mix in enough trap coverages to bait Haskins into an interception or two; Ohio State will successfully pick guys on some catch and runs that will be scary, but that'll be too infrequent to build the entire plane out of. OSU will have to result in dropbacks that actually go downfield, that actually take some time. This will be something of a new frontier for the Buckeyes.
It's not that Haskins can't throw deep. It's more that OSU hasn't really had to, and there are some issues lurking beneath the surface. That surface is pretty good, though. OSU's sack rate is 11th overall and 9th on passing downs, but the nature of the offense has a lot to do with that. Once the play gets extended some problems emerge. Seth's graded about three games worth of OSU snaps and came back with a bunch of low-90s pass protection grades from their OL. This sounds pretty good but the Law Of Large Percentages Multiplied A Lot comes into play. Multiply 91% with 92%, 91%, 94%, and %96 and you get 69%—nice. But also an offensive line that would not be grading out anything like Michigan's OL if it was formatted the way I do it, and one that would probably drop off if exposed to a more stressful environment.
Potentially compounding matters is that Michigan has a couple of daggers pointed at the 96% gent. Isaiah Prince just about sabotaged their PSU game two years ago with comical attempts at pass protection. After a year laying low with JT Barrett's running at the helm people thought he'd improved. He obviously has, but Minnesota's Carter Coughlin gave it to Prince on a series of rushes that disrupted the OSU offense and led to two sacks:
Meanwhile, Kenny Willekes dominated the first half of the MSU-OSU game before OSU dedicated extra resources to dealing with him; he finished with 3.5 TFLs, a sack, another hurry, and 13 tackles overall. It's not hard to see Josh Uche giving Prince a business. Or Winovich. Or Gary, who had two sacks and the most threatening game of his career in last year's edition of the Game.
When Haskins does get pressure he gets wild. Think Alex Hornibrook—Haskins is not a guy who's at all comfortable when forced off his spot. Per PFF his grade drops from 89.4 (great!) to 49.5 (awful) when he's in anything other than a clean pocket. Just forcing him to reset is feet results in throws that end up turfed in front of his WR or rocketed to Tacopants.
Just like the run game, Michigan's mandate is likely to be a lot more blitzing than they've done so far. Indiana provided a blueprint for others to follow as they seek to neutralize the ferocious Michigan rush: single both DTs and double both ends. Kemp, Marshall, and Mone have one sack between them on the year. Adding a fifth rusher into the mix can be profitable on its own; even if that guy gets picked up Michigan now has a one on one matchup on the edge.
Haskins and OSU are going to get yards. They are going to get chunks from time to time. Michigan has the pressure and crafty D coordinator to put OSU in spots they're not entirely comfortable with. The difference between a sub-7.0 YPA day from Haskins and something actually effective will come down to tackling, and sniffing out screens.
KEY MATCHUP: WINOVICH/UCHE vs PRINCE. Pressure Haskins and you're playing a terrible QB instead of a great one.
OSU's had some issues at kicker, where they're 10-14 on the year and have replaced Sean Nuernberger with sophomore Blake Haubiel. Haubiel's hit precisely the number of field goals that would make him an average #collegekicker. He's only attempted two field goals from over 40, hitting a 47-yarder and missing the other. Haubiel is also the kickoff guy; his touchback rate of 36% is real bad but nobody's been able to do anything against the OSU kick coverage.
Punter Drue Chrisman was inexplicably not even the Big Ten special teams player of the week after single-handedly winning the Michigan State game with a series of punts inside the ten yard line. He has zero touchbacks on the year. On 24 punts inside the 20. Jesus. Opponents are averaging 4 yards a pop on the nine punts they've even gotten to return. DPJ did do work against this return unit last year, though.
OSU return units have done nothing all year. KJ Hill returns punts and has a 4 yard average; alternate option CJ Saunders has a 6 yard average. Johnnie Dixon returns kicks… poorly so far. OSU has athletes that could do a thing or two but their history this season is relatively encouraging.
KEY MATCHUP: AHHHH YOU PUT IT THROUGH THE UPRIGHTS
- Michigan's DTs are getting thrown back on tight zone that gains five yards a pop.
- OSU is able to match Campbell and/or Hill up on Kinnel or Watson underneath with consistency.
- It turns out that God is specifically punishing you for something you did 15 years ago and is not done.
Cackle with knowing glee if…
- Haskins is under consistent pressure.
- Ohio State linebackers fall for the ol' "hey is that pudding on the sideline?" trick.
- Urban Meyer is hunched over looking like his head is going to explode.
Fear/Paranoia Level: 5 (Baseline: 5; +1 for Recent History, +1 for Some History That's Not Even Very Recent Anymore, +1 for Road Game In The Snakepit, –1 for Revenge Tour, –1 for The Year Of Great Comeuppance, –1 for Your Linebackers Are Cats And I Have A Laser, –1 for No More Mr. Automatic Short Yardage, +1 for Generalized Fear)
Desperate need to win level: 11 (Baseline: 5; +5 for The Game, +1 for Armageddon 2)
Loss will cause me to… die.
Win will cause me to… purchase a stupidly expensive bottle of whiskey, make a fire, and sigh contentedly.
The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:
It's on the road and officiated by officials. These are my concerns, dude. That and Michigan's incredible ability to turn dominant halves into 13 points.
But… I mean… just look at that stuff above. OSU has one elite unit, which is Dwayne Haskins. That goes up against an elite unit. OSU is outright bad at pass defense; Michigan's pass offense is 7th in S&P+. Michigan's rush offense is 25th; OSU's rush defense is 68th. Ohio State's coaching staff is falling apart. Michigan has added Ed Warinner. Michigan has a running QB; Ohio State's trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. Ohio State is the rough equivalent of Maryland and Penn State and Nebraska, teams Michigan stuffed into a locker.
This should be a beatdown. A beatdown that makes all the stupid cosplay guys ugly-cry by the third quarter. But I've been in this universe too long to trust it.
Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
- Shea Patterson has 30 passing attempts and averages 10 YPA.
- A Very Dumb second quarter makes us all want to die as Michigan goes into the half with a narrow lead that should be more.
- Michigan, 40-27