|WHAT||Michigan vs Ohio State|
Ann Arbor, MI
November 30th, 2013
|THE LINE||Ohio State -17|
|WEATHER||partly cloudy, mid-30s
0% chance of rain
10 mph winds
Run Offense vs Ohio State
Ryan Shazier got better.
The Northwestern blip was just that: a blip, as Michigan's offense retreated back into its shell against Iowa. Thanks to buckets of Iowa turnovers this staked Michigan to a lead until late, but this was back to the pain factory. It was probably worse than usual, actually, as Gardner only suffered one sack. Take that out and Michigan rushed for 74 yards on 28 carries, a thrilling 2.6 yards an attempt.
This is still forward, I guess, and therefore represents progress. The kind of progress last experienced in the Dark Ages, but progress nonetheless.
This is too depressing to contemplate for very long. Michigan again went with a bunch of inside zone, whereupon Iowa linebackers fired into the gaps over and over again like Notre Dame did. Michigan has no idea how to deal with that other than "execute better"; they have no way to back those guys off; they have a bunch of play action on which the fact that the linebackers run literally to the line of scrimmage before going "oh" and backing into short zones is okay for the defense.
The unit they're going up against is not quite a vintage OSU outfit; it is still plenty good enough to see Michigan to another grunting performance under 100 net yards. Once you remove sacks, Ohio State's run offense is in a tier below Michigan State's face-crushing unit with Wisconsin and Michigan; they're giving up just under 4 yards a carry.
The existence of a healthy, clueful Ryan Shazier is particularly bad for Michigan. Two years ago he was a limping freshman who showed up in the hole against Denard Robinson and ended up left in the dust. This year he's nearing OSU records for TFLs against the worst team in the country at giving them up. His strengths—slashing into the backfield as soon as he reads run foremost amongst them—line up perfectly with Michigan's weaknesses.
The line is a slightly better matchup than it was last year with Jonathan Hankins in the NFL. They have not replaced him with a similar space-eater. Michael Bennett, their best DT, is 285. Unfortunately, he's a Jibreel Black++ type player with 10 TFLs and 5.5 sacks to his name. But that's another depressing section. Against the run he will be more moveable. Not that it's going to matter.
Key Matchup: Denard Robinson versus NCAA Eligibility Rules
[Hit THE JUMP for just don't hit the jump]
Pass Offense vs Ohio State
Hide yo kids, hide yo quarterback. The aforementioned Bennett is a problem against the weak interior of Michigan's line. Weak. I need a new word here that means WEAAAAAAAK; it doesn't appear one is coming.
Ohio State's acquired 36 sacks this year from a variety of organic and blitzing sources. Bennett has his; sophomore Noah Spence has 7.5; freshman Joey Bosa has 5. Various other linemen suck up almost all of the rest, leaving just Shazier's 5.5 and Curtis Grant's 2.5. OSU will send the occasional linebacker but is mostly content to drop back in coverage and see if one of their three effective rushers can get to the passer.
That is a terrible omen for Michigan. OSU will probably fling Shazier at Gardner and drop six plenty, which gives them 3 or 4 plausible avenues to Gardner on any given play. Iowa's single sack comes after Michigan giving up 19 in three weeks and is not likely to last.
When not getting buried under a wall of meat, Gardner will try to hit Gallon and Funchess, and basically only Gallon and Funchess. This will probably not go that well as OSU drops into the routes Michigan can run, which are few, and Gardner makes the kind of decisions you make when you are expecting a 300-pound ferret to burst into your chest at any moment.
Key matchup: Devin Gardner's Sternum versus Shattering Into A Thousand Pieces
Run Defense vs Ohio State
best case scenario
Foremost amongst the thousand depressing things about this game is Ohio State's superlative ability to manball its opponents. 242 pound Carlos Hyde has been tackled for loss this year.
Hyde is averaging 7.7 yards a carry despite not playing in OSU's first three walkovers and getting just five carries in OSU's equivalent of the Delaware State game, a grisly 76-0 beating of Florida A&M. He's done this without many distorting long runs. He had a 55 yarder against Illinois, but it's not like his stats are a Carlos Brown combination of 80 yarders and nothing.
But you knew that already. The #1 thing on Chris Borland's All-America highlight is a goal line stick of Hyde that anyone who saw live had a internal monologue that went "touchdown… OHHHHH NO WAY," because people do not stick Carlos Hyde. It just does not happen. They hit him and at best Hyde slides off to the side with his legs churning and picks up 2 YAC. Combine that with Braxton Miller and an offense that will happily screen you to death if you try to load the box and you get a lot of situations in which the best case non-Borland scenario when you try to tackle Hyde one on one happens five yards downfield.
Right: Miller. He's bounced in and out of the lineup with injury but has still rolled up 738 yards at 6.4 a pop without even bothering to remove sacks. You have seen him play against Michigan twice; you know the game-changing ability his legs bring. He's improved as a passer, as well. Between Miller and Keny Guiton, OSU QBs are over 1,000 yards on the season at 7.3 yards an attempt, without even bothering to remove sacks.
Finally, Ohio State has a three-headed scatback that is over 1,000 yards itself. Jordan Hall is the primary guy; freshmen Ezekiel Elliot and Dontre Wilson chip in. All are RB/slot hybrids to some degree, with Wilson the most slot-like and Elliot the most tailback-like; these guys flit out of the backfield to grab screens, take outside runs, sometimes just take inside runs, and are preferred in OSU's option game to Hyde for obvious reasons. Collectively they're averaging 7.4 yards an attempt.
As a team Ohio State has nearly 3500 rushing yards at nearly 7 yards a carry and 36 touchdowns. But it won't work in the Big Ten.
Michigan's run defense is pretty good and they have an edge weapon or two (read: Jake Ryan) that can allow Michigan to be more aggressive in the box without giving up a ton of easy edge stuff. It's not going to be enough. This is an A+ offense against a B+ defense, and to some extent they're going to get exposed.
Key Matchup: Brian's Head versus Mounting Internal Pressure. This is my worst nightmare as a fan. Michigan is going to watch this death machine rushing offense beat them by using spread concepts with huge animated question marks over their heads, and they'll ignore that as they go forward so they can go back to the glory days where the incredibly loaded 1999 offense rushed for 3.2 yards a carry.
Pass Defense vs Ohio State
The structure of the offense and Miller's continual improvement have made this another area to consider with a jaundiced eye. Miller and Guiton combine to average 68% completion rate and 7.8 yards an attempt; Miller has 19 touchdowns against four interceptions; Guiton has 14 touchdowns against two interceptions.
OSU only passes about 38% of the time because of the previous section, and a large chunk of those throws are wide receiver screens, so maybe 30% of the time an Ohio State quarterback will survey the field, looking for someone downfield. This results in the kinds of problems you'd expect: zero pass rush as a run-focused DL is caught off guard and is trying to contain Miller at all costs (13 sacks allowed on the year); guys running open as linebackers and safeties suck up; cornerbacks left on an island by Miller demanding safety attention.
Miller is still not Dan Marino, but it hardly matters in an offense that rarely finds itself in true passing situations—when you average seven yards a carry, third and seven is a standard down and how often are you even in third and seven?—and uses Miller's assets to open up great cavernous holes for him to explore with buckets of time.
OSU's WRs are not great. Devin Smith is probably their best; he makes spectacular catches and is their best downfield threat. Philly Brown is the guy with the most catches; often those are of a screen nature. They do throw to the tight ends, with Jeff Heuerman and Nick Vannett combining for 28 receptions; three-headed scatback has 36 receptions itself. Entertainingly mouthy Evan Spencer is a short-yardage third WR.
Michigan's held up pretty well here this year—actually that's an understatement when they have almost as many interceptions as they've ceded passing touchdowns. This is a good secondary, especially when they're not futzing with the safeties for no reason. Michigan will bring Gordon into the box, leave Ryan on the field over the slot, and try to live with Countess and Taylor in tight-ish coverage that may leave them exposed deep. But it might not.
This will be a sidelight to the run game, one on which Miller has plenty of time when Michigan isn't going for all-out blitzes on third downs. It'll be up to the secondary to cover long enough for Miller to engage terrifying scramble mode, and then Michigan will have to contain that.
Key Matchup: Mattison dialing up pressures that might confuse Miller on third and longs, which will occasionally happen?
Drew Basil has attempted all of nine field goals on the year against 66 extra points. I'm cold. I'm so cold. Aussie punter Cameron Johnston is averaging 44 yards a kick, and has only allowed six returns on his 34 attempts, though one of those was returned for a touchdown. Philly Brown is their punt returner; he is meh. Kickoff returns are almost irrelevant but Ohio State is pretty good at both phases.
Key Matchup: AHHHHHH YOU put it through the uprights to make the final score look a tiny bit better
- The xenomorph Max Bullough implanted in Gardner's chest finally bursts through on a third and thirteen, grabs the ball, and throws it directly into Noah Spence's helmet. Gardner is then tackled by all eleven Ohio State players. Eventually, Spence wanders into the endzone… FOR AN OFFENSIVE SCORE BECAUSE EVERYONE'S CHASING THE XENOMORPH… that makes the final 76-7.
- You perceive one football program that has successfully modernized itself without internal strife, starting with their seemingly hidebound dinosaur coach, and one program that holds up 3.2 yards a carry with four NFL offensive linemen, Tom Brady, David Terrell, Anthony Thomas, and Marquise Walker as the pinnacle of football.
- You are going to the game.
Cackle with knowing glee if...
- Braxton Miller gets hurt… actually, no, that won't work.
- Braxton Miller and Kenny Guiton get hurt, leaving Cardale Jones in to not play school? No, that probably won't work either.
- It's the only thing you can do to prevent yourself from crying.
Fear/Paranoia Level: 10 (Baseline 5; +1 for They Are Good, +1 for We Are Not, +1 for Showing Manball Proponents What Manball Really Is, +1 for Michigan OL versus OSU DL Matchup Is Puppy Versus Woodchipper, +1 for WE GON DIE)
Desperate need to win level: 10 (Baseline 5; +5 for Obvious)
Loss will cause me to... thank God it's over.
Win will cause me to... DIV BY ZERO ERROR.
The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:
Michigan wins! At losing.
Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
- 35,000 Ohio State fans.
- A giant John Flansburgh rips off one of the press boxes and starts playing "She Was A Hotel Detective" at maximum volume level. The game is cancelled midway through the third quarter. A John Flansburgh statue is installed, commemorating his valiant effort.
- Urban goes for two.
- Ohio State, 39-0