Preview: Ohio State 2016 Comment Count

Brian November 25th, 2016 at 12:41 PM


WHAT Michigan at
Ohio State
WHERE Ohio Stadium,
Columbus, OH
WHEN Noon Eastern
November 26th, 2016
TICKETS From $256
WEATHER mostly cloudy, around 40, dry
Many numbers herein courtesy Pro Football Focus.


Ohio State, a small liberal arts school in rural Indiana, is mostly notable for the Midwest's largest Native American pottery museum. Jack Rogers, its most famous alum, wrote about half of the second season of "Three's Company." It has no football history of note.

Run Offense vs OSU

Raekwon McMillan

I'd have a good Raekwon McMillian joke if I knew anything about Wu Tang

Ohio State has a good, but not great run defense. It is not great mostly because they've had a tendency to get gashed—they're 94th in S&P+'s explosiveness metric. They have been excellent in all other facets, with every single player in their front seven with a meaningful number of snaps grading out well into the green on PFF.

OSU has been a bit wobbly against pro-style offenses. Wisconsin rushed for 6.3 yards a carry, aided by a monster Corey Clement run and some jet sweep issues. OSU made a change to shut down UW jets in the second half, but that comes with some matchup costs; Michigan might be able to get Chesson or Darboh on a nickel or safety if they judiciously deploy these motions.

Michigan State had even more success last week, averaging 6.7 yards a carry. Again, LJ Scott burnished those numbers with one huge run on which he weaved through some narrow gaps before bursting into the open field. Michigan's effectiveness here is going to be dependent on getting some big gains.

With an iffy offensive line and a few explosive runners, much of this will come down to Harbaugh doing Harbaugh things. Ross Fulton's analysis of last week's MSU game focused on OSU struggles to match up with various tweaks MSU presented:

Baker frequently got caught inside and lost leverage, allowing Scott to get the edge. For instance, below the defensive line slanted to the field. Baker has to loop around to maintain lane integrity. Instead, he gets washed inside.


Credit to Michigan State for the play design. The Spartan staff knew that Ohio State has limited the jet sweep in cover 1 by sky rotating their coverage. But the Buckeye secondary got fooled by the unbalanced formation and over rotated. By further rotating in response to the jet sweep action, Ohio State was without force support.

OSU fixed this, like they fixed the jet sweeps before them. They are still inexperienced at facing pro-style outfits and you know Harbaugh and his staff has spent copious amounts of time trying to devise ways to attack whatever holes they see. That's where Michigan will have to make its hay, because the offensive line has topped out at serviceable.

KEY MATCHUP: JIM HARBAUGH and FRIENDS versus OHIO STATE'S ABILITY TO GET THEIR RUN FITS. This is not a matchup Michigan wins by out-talenting the opposition. Outsmarting is a possibility if the previous two manball games are any indication. Harbaugh will throw the kitchen sink at this defense.

[Hit THE JUMP for ]

Pass Offense vs OSU


Damon Webb is a weak spot [Barron]

Wilton Speight's availability, and his ability if available, and his ability to not perform like he did against Iowa even if available, is in doubt. I have scoured every message board. I have parsed the words therein from established insiders, wannabe insiders, former insiders, and jerks pretending to be insiders. I think he will play. (This is not a Report.) Speight has practiced for much of the week; the injury is not on his throwing shoulder; everybody saw the Indiana game.

How well he'll play is anyone's guess. Confidence was real high until he went in the tank in Iowa City, and the injury provides an additional complicating factor. Anything could happen and it would not be a surprise.

Maybe not anything at all. OSU has a very good pass defense, fifth nationally per S&P+. They have an excellent secondary that is prone to large breakdowns (89th in explosiveness D) on misdirection. They have many interceptions, with safety Malik Hooker leading the way. Marshon Lattimore and Gareon Conley are amongst PFF's top-ranked corners in the country.

OSU does have a couple of weaker spots. Nickelback Damon Arnette and safety Damon Webb—yeah, the guy from Cass Tech with the mouthy dad—are both significantly negative in coverage to PFF. (Webb has made up for some of it with run D. The linebackers are all slightly positive and may be exploitable by Jake Butt.

While they don't have a ton of sacks—100th nationally in adjusted sack rate—this appears to be a case where the vagaries of a high variance event mask the real picture. After Tyquan Lewis's 7.5 sacks you've got Nick Bosa with 4, Sam Hubbard with 3, and not much else after that; per PFF Lewis, Hubbard, and Bosa are all double-digit-plus rushers with Jalyn Holmes not far behind.

All four of those guys have at least 18 hurries. All four of those players are defensive ends. All four play on OSU's rush package; it would behoove Michigan greatly to not expose themselves to that package. The DTs aren't impact rushers.

Michigan could do all right here. While OSU is much better than their numbers suggest, Michigan is 27th in sack rate allowed and had a really good passing offense there for a minute. They need Chesson and Darboh to start making available, difficult plays; they need a quarterback to hit some of the deep shots they keep airballing on.

Michigan could also pass for four yards.

KEY MATCHUP: WILTON SPEIGHT versus WELL, A LOT OF THINGS. Michigan can win this game, maybe comfortably, if he matches Rudock's performance from last year. I don't think that'll happen. He 1) needs to play and 2) needs to be decent.

Run Defense vs OSU



The last ten years of this rivalry in one incident: Dave Brandon defends Brady Hoke by saying Michigan is now playing the "big boy football" they did not under RichRod; Michigan immediately gives up 300 rushing yards to OSU. The singular story of the OSU streak is their gradual adoption of a mean-ass power spread, first under Tressel and then its fully weaponized version under Meyer, as Michigan's defense sat in either the Stone Age (under Carr and then Hoke) or a Hieronymus Bosch painting (under RichRod).

Enter Don Brown. Brown's made a lot of chicken salad over the last decade at various stops, and when presented with the pile of talent Michigan possesses he has not disappointed. As DJ Durkin found out a year go, though, OSU presents different challenges. A couple of guesses at Michigan's approach on standard downs:

  • Michigan will deploy two high safeties instead of the one they've gone with for much of the season; they'll deploy a ton of slants with the safety opposite the slant coming down into the box.
  • The three-man-line package that seems to alternate TFLs and chunk plays will get more of a runout than it has all year, as Michigan seeks to confuse OSU's schemes and reads. Brown more or less swore a blood oath to throw the kitchen sink at OSU in a mid-season press-conference rant against quarters coverage.
  • Cornerbacks will be heavily involved in outside run action.

As for OSU, they've replaced Ezekiel Elliott with Mike Weber, who is good but not in Elliott's class. This is mostly obvious in OSU's explosive play numbers, which are way down despite the emergence of Curtis Samuel.  OSU is 75th in the S&P+ explosiveness metric. Weber is part of that; another part is the heavy workload JT Barrett has shouldered. Barrett is a sneaky, elusive runner, but he's not much of a threat to bust one between the safeties.

The three-headed monster here is spectacular at everything else. OSU's got the second-best rush offense in the country per S&P+; they almost never get stuffed, almost always convert short yardage, and are third-best in the country at getting the first five yards. This is in part the design of the offense and in part the available talent.

Michigan does have opportunities here. Their defense matches the OSU offense shiny fancystat for shiny fancystat, and Ohio State has a few weak spots. One is tight end, where Marcus Baugh grades out negatively in every category he can at PFF; freshman guard Michael Jordan is –12.1 on the season. The rest of the OSU OL has gotten into the green, but other than center Pat Elflein nobody is in double digits; season totals for guys like Isaiah Prince and Jamarco Jones look like a couple games worth of positives for a Ryan Glasgow or Chris Wormley. They should expect to win the battle in the trenches.

Both teams will be probing for weaknesses, and you should expect Samuel to end up with more carries than he has had in any game to date; some of these will end up with Michigan's ILBs chasing a guy they do not want to chase and Michigan will get hit for some yards. That's inevitable. Keeping JT Barrett from being efficient is not, if Michigan can induce bad reads and clean up with Peppers.

KEY MATCHUP: JT BARRETT versus THE WORLD. No one player can check any other player given the OSU offense. Michigan's key is getting the hell off the field on third down, and OSU's favorite thing to do is run Barrett in those situations. From empty sets this is going to come down to the DL; when OSU is running zone read stuff, Peppers and various blitzing linebackers will be on the spot.

Pass Defense vs OSU


curtis samuel curtis samuel curtis samuel [Barron]

Bad weather JT Barrett does not seem to be in the cards without a massive shift in the forecasts. As of publication, Saturday's weather was supposed to be dry with a wind topping out at 10 MPH. Put away said hopes.

It's hard to tease out exactly how much of OSU's middling passing offense is due to Barrett's unusually adverse reaction to bad weather, but unless that effect is absolutely huge this is an eh passing offense. OSU is 52nd in S&P+ and worse in peripheral stats. They don't have consistent success; they're not that explosive; they give up slightly more sacks than a dead-average D-I team. Big Ten games against teams not named Rutgers and Maryland:

  • Indiana: 9/21 for 93 yards, 4.3 YPA
  • Wisconsin: 17/29 for 226 yards, 6.9 YPA
  • Penn State: 28/43 for 245 yards, 4.2 YPA
  • Northwestern: 21/32 for 223 yards, 6.6 YPA
  • Nebraska: 32/44 for 352 yards, 8 YPA.
  • MSU: 10/22 for 86 yards, 2.7 YPA.

That's one good performance, two bleah ones, two bad ones, and a horrific one, all against teams that range from slightly worse than Michigan to a lot worse.

Spread H-backs are basically the whole show here. Samuel has a whopping 76 targets; close analogue Dontre Wilson has another 33. Noah Brown had a couple of ridiculous catches against Oklahoma; he's averaging two catches a game over the course of the Big Ten season. The rest of the WRs are an erratic, drop-prone bunch with yards per target marks topping out at a dismal 6.2—that from tight end Marcus Baugh. (Baugh is Carson Butler reincarnated: crazy athletic, also plain crazy.) The lone exception to this rule is freshman KJ Hill, who's emerged over the last three weeks. He's only got 15 catches on the season but 11 of those are in November; he's by far OSU's best option at outside WR next to Brown, albeit on low sample size. Every other pass catcher on the roster is in the red per PFF.

Michigan's approach on passing downs is simple: match Lewis on Samuel and Stribling on Brown. Toss Watson at KJ Hill and live with the results; keep Peppers in the box to spy and clean up any pressure Barrett escapes from. This should be a big Michigan advantage. OSU's passing offense is extremely rickety when the run game is not a threat; every one of their metrics plunges on passing downs. Michigan is lethal, meanwhile, and matches up well.

OSU passing on standard downs is far more uncertain because I assume Michigan is not going to match Jordan Lewis up on a guy who can motion into the backfield and present an excellent threat as a running back. Unless Michigan want to get weird with their defense, Samuel will be defended by Michigan's safeties. The good news for Michigan is that both Delano Hill and Dymonte Thomas have been well above average in this department so far this year. Samuel may get them, but if Michigan can just take his efficiency down a notch or two that'll go a long way towards making this an ugly outing for the Buckeyes.

KEY MATCHUP: HILL and THOMAS versus CURTIS SAMUEL. OSU has struggled to get production from other receivers; Lewis is a terrific matchup for M. Thomas and Hill will be targeted, and frequently, on first and second down.

Special Teams

Kicker Tyler Durbin is 16/17 on field goals this season. Almost all of those are short. He's attempted just two field goals from 40+, hitting two of three. He's missed two extra points; he struggles to get the ball to the endzone on kickoffs—just 39% of his KOs are touchbacks. He appears to have questionable distance; expect OSU to go for it whenever there's a longish field goal on offer.

Punter Cameron Johnston has had a monster year, with a 46 yard average and just 40 return yards suffered on 43 kicks. PFF is so impressed they gave him a –13.8. He has put a few in the endzone and had one blocked.

OSU hasn't gotten a ton from their returners. KOR guy Parris Campbell has one 91-yard return and hasn't done much else; Dontre Wilson has muffed four punts, losing one, and may cede his duties to Samuel in the Game of the Century of the Year. Slight problem: Samuel also has a muff on just 7 return opportunities.

Coverage units have been very good aside from a kickoff touchdown ceded against Oklahoma. Peppers will get some kickoff cracks but his impact on punts is likely to be limited. The main way this swings to a big advantage either way is if Michigan blocks Johnston.




Cheap Thrills

Worry if...

  • Curtis Samuel runs a wheel route against an ILB.
  • Speight isn't Glorious Post-Bye Speight, or if he isn't Speight at all.
  • Just worry, man. Sheeeeit, if I have to tell you you're probably dead.

Cackle with knowing glee if...

  • Harbaugh's weird ass plays end up seeing to OSU players bash into each other humorously.
  • Glasgow and Hurst are whipping up on the OSU interior OL.
  • My diabolical wind-enhancing device is operational by Saturday.

Fear/Paranoia Level: 9 (Baseline 5; +1 for Slight Upgrade In Opposition, +1 for Last Road Game Went So Well, +1 for Nearly A TD Underdog, +1 for Quarterback, Do We Have One, –1 for We Are A Rather Good Team Especially On Defense, –1 for And Yea We Believe In Don Brown, +1 for Rather Malaise-Ridden Last Couple Weeks, +1 for Guh.)

Desperate need to win level: 10 (Baseline 5; +5 for The Game).

Loss will cause me to... drink.

Win will cause me to... also drink, but more cheerily.

The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:

The last two weeks have seriously blunted my enthusiasm. First, the mid-game Speight implosion against Iowa. Second, O'Korn's Indiana performance. Michigan can ugly up this game and get it to the fourth quarter against an OSU offense prone to long droughts; I have my doubts they can win it with a broke-ass quarterback.

It is possible Speight is not broke-ass, but I have a hard time believing he will be Joe Flacco Speight, and that was the thing that gave Michigan the edge during that brief and wonderful period midseason when the advance stats approached 70% M in this game.

As for the OSU offense, every year they've shattered Michigan's run defense. This is the year that comes to a halt, because Michigan will have learned lessons, OSU has dropped off significantly against pulse-bearing defenses, and Brown has run his own show against power spreads and knows what he's doing. If MSU and Northwestern and Wisconsin can hold OSU to around 20 points, Michigan can do that. They can do better than that.

It might just be enough.

Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:

  • Speight starts, takes 80% of the snaps. Unless he gets knocked out. Either way expect more Peppers and expect some wacky stuff.
  • OSU is held to under 4 yards a carry.
  • Ohio State, 18-13.


Honk if Ufer M…

November 25th, 2016 at 8:45 PM ^

I actually met O'Korn's gf earlier in the season, or at least a girl he was seeing, not sure if official gf. She was not a moron, but she was a beautiful girl and a sweetheart.

Also, I asked one of the players yesterday who it's gonna be and he immediately said Wilt, but then he paused and said, ... I think. haha.


November 25th, 2016 at 1:02 PM ^

Barrett goes from meh to bad, and our QBs are already bad.

Our best shot is to make this an ugly, low-scoring, high-variance game.

Oh, and we'll block a punt, but because it's an Aussie punter and B1G refs, the latter will short-circuit when Johnston runs outside the tackle box and we'll get hit with a penalty.


November 25th, 2016 at 1:26 PM ^

But can we at least put up a goddamn fight?  And I don't mean a hobbled, tragically mis-coached QB playing out of his mind to make up for a lack of leadership.  And losing anyway because of course.

I'm so sick of this not even being a rivalry, but a one-sided affair with the occasional heroic effort to keep OSU from falling asleep.  I'm so ready for a win but FFS let's start by punching them in the mouth enough times that they stop laughing.


November 25th, 2016 at 3:54 PM ^

this game is STILL a rivalry- don't think OSU coaches aren't pulling all nighters planning this one. Hoke nearly beat Urbs.

Flip any coin 30 times- bet you will come up with streaks of "heads" or "tails" - doesn't mean its still not unpredictable


November 25th, 2016 at 1:17 PM ^

Here is how we win, mark it down; we get one long score from a recover on a screen. Mix in a field goal and score a defensive td. Peppers takes on to the house and the defense does just enough.

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