Preview: Ohio State

Submitted by Brian on November 26th, 2010 at 1:44 PM


WHAT Michigan vs Ohio State
WHERE Ohio Stadium, Columbus, OH
WHEN Noon Eastern, November 27th 2010
WEATHER Mostly sunny, mid 30s
0% chance of rain

Image at right via reader Brian Walline.

Run Offense vs. Ohio State

You know, from skimming the Ohio State blogs in my reader I'd picked up a narrative of safety injuries and a somewhat disappointing performance from the defensive line that led me to believe the OSU defense was something less than its usual self. Then I go and check the stats as I do and they're third in rushing and total defense. They are fifth in pass defense. This is nationally, not in conference. So… not so much.

As anyone who's followed the Gordon Gee-Boise/TCU spat knows, a weak schedule has something to do with that. OSU has not played the Big Ten's #1, #4, or #5 offense and is the #2 offense.. They've had almost the kindest league schedule possible to date. However, in their matchup against #3 Wisconsin the Badgers only managed 330-some yards of offense; Iowa was held under 300. Do not be taken in by complaints about Orhian Johnson or fretting about freshman Christian Bryant—this is a smokescreen.

The sack-excluded numbers in the league (minus Indiana, which didn't seem even slightly relevant) reflect this:

Opponent Att Yards TD YPC
Illinois 33 136 1 4.1
Wisconsin 43 184 3 4.3
Purdue 24 52 0 2.2
Minnesota 26 103 1 4.0
Penn State 32 113 0 3.5
Iowa 23 97 1 4.2

College teams average 4.9 yards an attempt when you take out sacks; Ohio State has been somewhere between good and ridiculous through the Big Ten. This is not a huge surprise given the overall numbers.

Michigan's rushing offense is almost as shiny in the national stats at tenth. They have four triple option teams ahead of them—on a YPC basis they're fourth nationally. The last couple weeks opponents have really truly dared Denard Robinson to throw by putting a linebacker over the slot receiver and moving their safeties up into the box (Purdue) or just outside of it (Wisconsin). Rain and a crappy half for Robinson (plus a worse one for the defense) allowed both opponents to get away with their hyper-aggressive defenses. In the second half Robinson started hitting receivers who found themselves in single coverage deep and Michigan ripped off touchdowns on four of five drives, with the fifth headed inside the Wisconsin twenty before a Roundtree drop led to the inevitable batted-ball-to-INT combo.

There are risks involved with going so aggressive, especially when your safeties are indeed injury-plagued and young, and it doesn't seem like Tressel's style to go damn-the-torpedoes. It doesn't look like he'll have to, anyway, with those numbers above. I predicted Wisconsin would back off and Michigan's run game would bounce back. The former definitely didn't happen and the latter may have looked like it did but that relies heavily on a couple of meaningless draws at the end of the first half. This week, Ohio State probably will back off and it will be something like a fair fight on the ground.

Given OSU's results to date expecting something magnificent is foolhardy. The most relevant game above is probably the Illinois game, in which heavy wind and Nathan Scheelhaase's youth—that was his first Big Ten start—gave the Buckeyes an idea of what was coming before the snap. Michigan does have a better rushing offense than the Illini—they're about eight tenths of a yard to the good—and should provide more threat through the air than Scheelhaase, so you can/should expect something more effective than 4.1 YPC. Hitting 4.5-4.8 seems realistic. They'll need more than that to win, though.

Key Matchup: Denard versus Last Safety To Daylight. Okay, I'll take the bait: if safety is a weakness for the Buckeyes, Michigan might be able to spring a long touchdown on the ground, which would be nice.

orhian-johnson Pass Offense vs. Ohio State

If Orhian Johnson is three times worse than Ohio State fans say he is we've got it in the bag.

Denard Robinson's sustained bout of inaccuracy lasted until halftime of the Wisconsin game, after which he was ruthlessly effective. He hit several downfield passes, picked apart the Wisconsin zone, and landed himself almost 10 YPA by the time the day was over. That's not enough to dismiss the previous three or four games, in which Robinson slew scoring drives by the hundreds* with passes behind or above but rarely in front of open receivers.  It is encouraging. Robinson is in the top 20 in passing efficiency in an offense that throws about 40% of the time. While his legs are a big chunk of that, they are, you know, his legs. He gets opportunities others don't because of them.

Michigan's got some complications, however. Martavious Odoms is done for the year and both other starting wideouts appeared on this week's injury report. It sounds like Darryl Stonum will be good to go, but the perpetually questionable Junior Hemingway is questionable again. Je'Ron Stokes and Jeremy Jackson may get more time than Michigan coaches are comfortable with. Roy Roundtree exists, though, and Michigan can shift its production around without affecting their efficiency too much—usually the choice is not between covering the outside guy and covering Roundtree, but dealing with Robinson and covering Roundtree.

On the other side of the ball, Ohio State fans still manage to sound disappointed in the #7 pass efficiency defense in the country. They are pretty weak at getting to the QB—hardly better than Michigan—and they do have safety issues and they don't have a shutdown corner like they usually do. They've also missed two of the league's best QBs in Kirk Cousins and Dan Persa. Like the rush defense, they haven't played a big chunk of the Big Ten's good passing offenses. They played 1 and 2, but haven't gotten to 3-6 yet. Performance against 1 and 2:

Opponent Att Cmp Yards TD Int YPA
Wisconsin 16 13 152 0 1 9.5
Iowa 31 20 195 1 0 6.3

This just in: Wisconsin's Scott Tolzien. Anyway, that's a bad performance in a game Wisconsin hardly threw in and a pretty good one against Iowa. Everything else is brutal strangulation of doe-eyed innocents and the Jacory Harris Interception Spectacular. There aren't many good comparables for Michigan.

Assuming Tressel plays it low-variance, Michigan won't have a ton of opportunities to hit it deep but this will open up the underneath stuff, especially Roundtree's hitch routes, or more likely a variation on them that Ohio State hasn't scouted to death. We've seen QB Lead Oh Noes disappear over the past few weeks; maybe that can be used to exploit Ohio State's youthful safeties. The last time they ran it they had Martell Webb streaking open for what would have been a touchdown if Martell Webb wasn't pretty slow and the ball wasn't chucked directly at an Illinois safety.

*(This may be a slight exaggeration.)

Key Matchup: Robinson's Accuracy versus That Stuff Whatever That Was. No one has been able to consistently defend the run and pass against Denard, so they've chosen the run and have been right more often than not. Michigan needs two halves like the second against Wisconsin—occasional error, mostly deadly—to have a shot.

boom-herron Run Defense vs. Ohio State

Ohio State doesn't quite have the Badger ground game, with emphasis on "quite". Wisconsin is 12th, Ohio State 17th, with OSU trailing the Badgers by a quarter yard per carry. The main guy is Boom Herron, a compact, powerful runner without a ton of shimmy. He makes a lot of yards by sliding through tackles thanks to his low center of gravity and tree trunk legs. He's not likely to break anything long. He's what Kevin Grady was supposed to be.

Backup Brandon Saine has found himself marginalized as the season goes along. He's a lot like Michael Shaw, combining blazing speed with a lack of tackle-breaking power and a nasty tendency to avoid the intended hole. He's come on as a receiver out of the backfield and in the slot and will probably get a half-dozen carries.

And then there's Pryor, infrequently utilized but wildly effective when deployed. If you take out OSU's sacks he's averaging 8.2(!) YPC on 87(!) attempts this year, numbers that boggle the mind when combined. 87 carries takes the YPC outside the realm of fluke, so… how does a guy averaging 8 yards a carry only get 87 attempts? Tressel, yo. I get the argument you'd like to spare your QB hits against teams with little chance of winning, but Ohio State desperation catchup mode is the spread option. This is frustrating to both Michigan and Ohio State fans.

The script last year against Michigan was similar: OSU came out and ran their I-form "Dave" package with little success most of the day; when Michigan scored to draw within a touchdown out came the spread option. Pryor ran right down the field, touchdown, flood of Michigan interceptions, ballgame. Michigan doesn't have Brandon Graham anymore so the regular package should be more successful than it was last year, hampering Michigan's ability to get the three and outs that kept them in that game.

Key Matchup: Michigan Tacklers versus Herron's Thighs. With Mouton and Demens around it's likely that FBs will be taken on near the LOS and Michigan will have opportunities to get the Buckeyes in long-yardage situations in which Pryor's had some difficulty. One of the many, many problems against Wisconsin was Michigan tacklers not tackling, or giving up two or three yards after contact. That seems like it might be more fixable than Greg Robinson's beaver brain or the incredible youth of everyone. 

Pass Defense vs. Ohio Statepearl-harbor

Terrelle Pryor hasn't exactly developed into the world-beating Vince Young (except better!) imitator he was supposed to be out of high school. Against the good defenses on OSU's schedule he does stuff like this:

Opponent Att Cmp Yards TD Int YPA
Miami 27 12 233 1 0 8.6
Illinois 16 9 76 2 1 4.8
Wisconsin 28 14 156 0 1 5.6
Iowa 33 18 195 1 2 5.9

The other somewhat average pass D on the schedule was Penn State; Pryor threw just 13 times, completing eight.

Unfortunately for Michigan, "good" is nowhere in the conversation when it comes to Michigan's pass defense. They're looking up at "putrid" and hanging out with "fairly good reason to go insane." I think they peed on my couch and tried to sop it up with a handful of crushed Cheetos. I do not mean this as a metaphor.

They're currently idling at 92nd in pass efficiency defense. Pryor's performance against Indiana, Purdue, and Minnesota, the—sigh—closer comparisons for Michigan's crew of befuddled freshman and slow guys:

Opponent Att Cmp Yards TD Int YPA
Indiana 30 24 334 3 0 11.1
Purdue 22 16 270 3 2 12.3
Minnesota 22 18 222 2 1 10.1

Good Lord. Pryor meets a level of defense at which he is suddenly mediocre or worse; below that he is a ruthless bomb-thrower. Adding it all up gives you a quarterback who's 14th in passer efficiency this year and still hasn't had a good game against a real defense.

Pryor's main targets are his outside receivers. Both have around 50 catches, with Dane Sanzenbacher averaging considerably more YPC and has nine touchdowns to Posey's five. The tailbacks and TE Jake Stoneburner are secondary targets, and then there are guys scattered down the roster with the occasional catches. The line's pretty mediocre at pass blocking, giving up almost two sacks a game (59th) despite being 85th nationally in pass attempts.

Even Pryor and the OSU passing game is something of a paper tiger, that fact obviously has no relevance against the Michigan secondary. Scott Tolzein's passes never hit the ground last weekend; Wisconsin went away from the passing game because the run game allowed them to. Amongst the many things the Michigan pass defense cannot do are pressure the quarterback (1.5 sacks per game, 94th), cover receivers (yeesh), tackle, and provide anything more than a slight hindrance to quarterbacks more competent than a rain-soaked Sean Robinson.


Special Teams

OSU's been good with the ball in its returners' hands, solidly above average in punt returns and very good at kick returns. They've been worse than bad in coverage, giving up 12.7 yards a punt return and yielding a touchdown against Miami. Two kickoffs have been returned for touchdowns, too.

The usual story at kicker: OSU's Devin Barclay is 16 of 19, Michigan's blah blah blah. This week I can point out their proficiency at onside kicks, though.




Cheap Thrills

Worry if...

  • OSU aligns in the spread, the formation in which Terrelle Pryor is actually quite effective.
  • OSU aligns in the I.
  • Robinson inaccuracy allows yet more creepin' on the run game.

(Site note: Jebus. One of the "worry ifs" from last week was "Scott Tolzien completes every pass he throws.")

Cackle with knowing glee if...

  • Orhian Johnson turns out to be a true freshman two star.
  • Denard goes back to his UConn form.
  • Ohio State's years-long defiance of karmic comeuppance goes supernova.

Fear/Paranoia Level: 10 (Baseline 5; +1 for Terrelle Pryor Eats Baby Seals And I Can See The Club For Miles, +1 for Despite Everything This Is The Top D In The League By All Measures, +1 for Ours Is Not Very Close HA HA HA, +1 for Turnover Margin: 5 vs 101, +1 for They Are A Much Better Football Team)

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

Loss will cause me to... continue repeating "I expected 7-5" until the bowl game.

Win will cause me to... dissolve.

The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:

There's no reason for optimism, as not even the Epic Pryor Meltdown scenario seems to result in a win a week after Wisconsin didn't throw in the second half.

Tressel won't even have to risk it, as he should be able to grind it out on the ground with success and watch his excellent defense bottle Denard up sufficiently to stake the Buckeyes to a two-score lead they'll maintain most of he day. They'll take the Maserati out of the garage and run the inverted veer when/if Michigan brings it within a score, immediately going down the field to push the margin back out. The defense will be toyed with.

Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:

  • Pryor throws fewer than 20 times.
  • Two Michigan drives die on the vine around the OSU 35.
  • The bitter hollowness of defeat has a piquant familiarity, almost like an old friend.
  • Ohio State, 35-20.



November 26th, 2010 at 1:55 PM ^

are the counter (OSU staple play, Michgan hasn't defended it well all year) and the deep ball (Pryor throws a good deep ball, know).


November 26th, 2010 at 2:11 PM ^

Good lord...this:

Unfortunately for Michigan, "good" is nowhere in the conversation when it comes to Michigan's pass defense. They're looking up at "putrid" and hanging out with "fairly good reason to go insane." I think they peed on my couch and tried to sop it up with a handful of crushed Cheetos. I do not mean this as a metaphor.

is very, very funny.


November 26th, 2010 at 2:12 PM ^

I was feeling' good about Saturday til I read this....

"Amongst the many things the Michigan pass defense cannot do are pressure the quarterback (1.5 sacks per game, 94th), cover receivers (yeesh), tackle, and provide anything more than a slight hindrance to quarterbacks more competent than a rain-soaked Sean Robinson.

Key Matchup: HAHAHAHAHA"


Ahhh, screw it... Something still tells me tomorrow will be a crazy one.

38-35 Blue. We have a Def or ST score. Pryor eats Martin's facemask early in 2nd half and is rattled for the rest of the game. The Vest doesn't abandon TressellBall until too late in the game and it finally burns him.

This is based on nothing.

Go Blue! Beat the Suckeyes!!!!!!!!!


November 26th, 2010 at 2:14 PM ^

I have not been able to muster up a good belch, let alone the usual bile I have felt in the past for the Buckeyes. Familiarity is supposed to breed contempt, but it seems to breed still more familiarity.


November 26th, 2010 at 2:21 PM ^

To crush my enemies.  To see them driven before me, and to hear the lamentation of their women.  

But something tells me that probably isn't going to happen.  Alas.


November 26th, 2010 at 10:37 PM ^

The quote in Conan was from Genghis Khan:

"The greatest happiness is to scatter your enemy and drive him before you, to see his cities reduced to ashes, to see those who love him shrouded in tears, and to gather to your bosom his wives and daughters."


November 26th, 2010 at 2:25 PM ^

Just like 1969.

Win will cause me to go to the liquor store and purchase all bottles of cheap sugar infused sparkling wine and then dance until I can't dance anymore.


November 26th, 2010 at 2:29 PM ^

Ah suck it Brian, I'll never predict that Michigan will lose.

I say Michigan rips off the collective dong of Brutus and shoves it back down his throat, resulting in a 48-13 brutalization of that putrid, evil team down-south.  My avatar says it all: overrated. 


November 26th, 2010 at 2:43 PM ^

Dude. GERG is going to start using the real plays for this game. Everyone is going to say to themselves after this game, "was he trying to be incomprehensible over the rest of the season? what happened?!" It's the greatest master plan in the history of anything. Ohio State literally has no film of us doing anything that actually works. So now we can blindside them with the scheme that actually works!

RR is going to call the game of his damn life and the entirety of the michigan fan base is going to have a really stupid smile on their face for something between 1 and 100 days. We're freaking winning.


November 26th, 2010 at 2:58 PM ^

It's during times like these that you throw petty things like "objectivity" and "common sense" out the window. 

49-3 M.  Vinopal with two picks (one goes for 6).  Martin with three sacks.  Wormhole opens at the shoe and all of existence implodes into a black abyss.  Book it... I've having an apocolypse party at my place to celebrate.