|WHAT||Michigan vs #10 Ohio State|
|WHERE||Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, MI|
November 21st, 2009
|THE LINE||Ohio State –12*|
|TELEVISION||Nationwide on ABC|
|WEATHER||About 50, mostly sunny|
Run Offense vs. Ohio State
Michigan's faced four good or better rushing defenses this year and the overall trend is not great:
Iowa's the worst in that bunch at #43. Michigan's incredibly hot start has fallen off with injuries of varying severity to Molk, Brown, Shaw, Dorrestein, and Minor; the worst two of those will play a major factor Saturday as Molk and Minor will watch from the bench.
Ohio State, meanwhile, has crushed all comers. They are #4 in rushing defense, though it should be noted that there aren't a whole lot of great rushing offenses in the league. Wisconsin had the closest thing to a good day, averaging 4.1 yards per carry on 38 attempts, but from the stats the bread-and-butter wasn't working particularly well: John Clay eked out 59 yards on 20 carries. Wisconsin got up to 4.1 with peripheral contributions from Tolzien scrambles and a number of successful carries from David Gilreath. Also Wisconsin's rushing offense is nothing like Michigan's. The closest analogue on Ohio State's schedule is Illinois, which managed to grind out 3.6 YPC excluding sacks.
Ohio State is probably going to make the same bet Wisconsin did by trusting their defensive line to beat the Michigan offensive line, which will allow them to put six guys in the box, take away the bubble, and still keep two deep safeties. If Michigan's going to move the ball at all they'll have to get the creases they couldn't against Wisconsin or break out some new-fangled stuff that gets Ohio State moving away from the ball. And it might be tiny, zippy Vincent Smith leading the way. Carlos Brown might be more likely to break a long one, but I think I'd rather have the guy who can turn –4 yards into 4 against a defense that's not likely to let a big one break. So… true freshman n00b against #4 rushing defense in the country.
Key Matchup: Fancy Schemes vs Fundamental Stuff. Michigan's line is going to get overrun; it'll take a major tactical victory—one that may not even be possible given the personnel—to get a bunch of yards.
Pass Offense vs. Ohio State
Michigan's taken some steps forward the past two weeks as Tate Forcier has performed well against decent-to-good defenses:
His efficiency rating the past two weeks would be top 15 nationally extrapolated over the entire season, which is something you absolutely can't do but hey it's fun to pretend you can. Stat magic or no, those numbers and those performances represent a significant improvement over an eh Illinois game and poor outings versus Iowa and Penn State. Maybe those were injury-induced? More likely they were freshman-induced; Forcier noted in a press conference that the proverbial slow down occurred somewhere in the Illinois game and since then he's shown it.
Michigan still has issues elsewhere: they have no real deep threat, though they did pop a couple guys open against Wisconsin and had some success bombing it late against Illinois, and can't pass protect worth a damn. Against Wisconsin Michigan resorted to a ton of max-protect schemes where the line would slide one way and tailbacks would pick up DEs/blitzers to one side; this worked but limited Forcier's options significantly. A repeat performance is in order against a ravenous Ohio State defense; when Michigan attempts to hit it deep there will be seven guys blocking.
For Ohio State's part, they've also obliterated opposing pass offenses except against Purdue, where Joey Elliot was 31 of 50 for 280 yards. Can Michigan imitate Purdue's quick-strike dinky attack? Actually… yeah, maybe. Forcier's an accurate short passer who can throw on the run and Roy Roundtree has emerged into a serious option in the middle of the field since Martavious Odoms came down with a knee injury. Greg Mathews is reliable, Hemingway is a good leaper, and when Koger isn't dropping easy passes he's making spectacular ones. With Ohio State struggling a tiny bit in short zones and man-to-man with their nickelback, Michigan might be able to move the ball from time to time by having Forcier zip it around the field. Someone or something will blow up consistently enough for this to be a sputtering sort of game plan, but Michigan's probably got to start here, attempting to pass to set up the run.
Key Matchup: Forcier versus Not Getting Nervous. Big game for the kid here; he's made significant strides the past two weeks and if he can put together a good game against this defense as a true freshman there will be something to get excited about going into 2010.
Run Defense vs Ohio State
Let's repurpose a table from last week that purported to show Michigan was decent against traditional running attacks:
[Note: QB/WR runs excised for tighter focus on 'rock' style running.]
John Clay went for 156 yards at 5.8 a pop; so much for that. The reason Michigan was pretty decent against the above three teams except when tackles were been missed or overrun was that they are not good at rushing; Wisconsin is. Ohio State's rushing offense is close to Wisconsin's statistically without the benefit of playing Michigan (yet), and it's coming on of late:
Michigan, meanwhile… well, you know. The defensive line is playing valiantly but one side of it is desperately undersized and the linebacker support is almost nonexistent. It's a really bad rushing defense, and chances are Ohio State may have noticed this. Expect them to pound and pound and pound until they crack through.
The edges will be under threat. Last week Wisconsin lined up in big sets that had Brandon Graham tucked inside tight ends and then attacked the outside time and again, exploiting Roh's youth, Brown's lack of size, and Smith's total uncertainty. With Terrelle Pryor and little in the way of pounding backs, Ohio State's best attacks will be to the outside; given the success of Juice Williams on simple veer plays that Michigan hasn't shown any ability to defend in two years Pryor figures to get his share of opportunities to run past linebackers nowhere near the, you know, ball.
Something similar to the Wisconsin game is in store: a number of good plays turned in by the defensive line followed up by crushing linebacker/safety errors that throw it all away.
Key Matchup: Linebackers showing up in the right hole/maintaining the correct option responsibility. Hey, it could happen.
Pass Defense vs Ohio State
Last week's prediction of doom over the middle may have gotten the main target wrong by picking Garrett Graham instead of Everyone, but it was on-point as far as the doom bit goes. Michigan can't cover anyone over the middle of the field, and when they go to man the safeties can't cover anyone anywhere.
But Michigan is going up against Jim Tressel, a guy who packed up shop after getting a two-score lead and threw the ball twice in the second half of the 2007 game. And his quarterback is erratic Terrelle Pryor, and almost the only way Ohio State can lose the game is by ending up –2 or worse in turnover margin, and really if I was him I'd just avoid anything remotely dangerous until you feel threatened, which probably doesn't ever actually occur. Terrelle Pryor's line from the Illinois game might be illuminating: 8 of 13 for 82 yards. Also, Ohio State never, ever throws to the tight end. So… yeah, Michigan might do okay here if the corners stick to the receivers and Pryor isn't permitted much time. They might also give up two 60-yard touchdowns, but first they'll have to make Ohio State throw.
When they do throw there's a fair chance that Brandon Graham makes Pryor eat turf. Though Ohio State is above average in sacks allowed that's because they've only thrown 261 times. Chances are that Pryor just runs up a gaping hole in the middle of the field, but, hey, you know. Whatever helps.
For his part, Pryor has been frustrating and inconsistent all year. He's 57th in passer efficiency—behind true freshman Forcier—and alternates NFL ropes with arm-punts. If—when—Michigan leaves guys wide open because they're freaking out about play action he can hit guys up, but every time he drops back to throw there's a chance of disaster. Actually… that goes for both teams.
Key Matchup: Making This Exist versus Not Making It Exist.
Ohio State's punt returns are average. The kick returns, though infrequent, have been pretty decent thanks in large part to a kick return touchdown in Ohio State's bizarre win over Wisconsin (note: after UFRing the UW game—offense is coming like Sunday or something—I think Wisconsin is obviously the best team in the league this year but for Tolzien's tendency towards interceptions). Punting is meh, and the starting kicker is out so we don't really know anything about the kicking game.
Michigan, again, should have a solid edge here, but as we've seen that's just not enough to overcome shortcomings elsewhere.
Key Matchup: CATCH THE DAMN BALL.
Abuse your kids' future psyches for Michigan == fame.
- The offensive line is as overrun as it appears they'll be.
- Michigan starts a freshman walk-on against Ohio State…
- …and he's not the most overmatched defender on the field.
Cackle with knowing glee if...
- Pryor is arrested for BEING IN A BAR before he is 21.
- Fairies drop from the sky and turn the Ohio State defensive line into eggplants.
- I'm banking on the fairies.
Fear/Paranoia Level: 10 out of 10. (Baseline 5, +1 for We Won't Run, +1 for We Won't Pass, +1 for They Won't Pass… +1 for Because They Won't Have To, +1 for ).
Desperate need to win level: 10 out of 10. (Baseline 5, +5 for Duh.)
Loss will cause me to... well, it will be over.
Win will cause me to... rush the field, probably. For real.
The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:
Thematically, this reminds me of the 2007 game a lot. In that one, Ohio State was not particularly confident in their quarterback but was in their defense, especially with Chad Henne's shoulder not containing his arm and the offensive line's failure to exist. So they just ran and ran and ran and eventually Wells broke a big one and that was it.
Michigan's better on offense than that team was if only because their quarterback is functional but they're way, way worse on defense. There should be more scoring but the final result will be the same: a game that Michigan is vaguely in for a half before a couple things break down, at which point they trail by two scores until time runs out.
Finally, opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
- Smith is the primary ballcarrier and ekes out 80 yards.
- Graham is sackless because Pryor throws like 15 times.
- I have lots of fun listening to the people around me.
- Ohio State, 30-14