I have really struggled writing this preview. This season has been strange for me (and possibly other Ohio State fans. I don’t want to speak for anyone other than myself, but it’s been weird). The lack of any post season goals to play for has made this whole season feel like a giant preseason scrimmage except there is no “season” to get ready for. A twelve game Spring Game and no games scheduled for the fall.
We’ve been doing this “thing” (blog) for seven seasons. We have only witnessed Ohio State lose once. There has only really been one other “competitive” game (2006). The Buckeyes have more or less dominated the series during that time. But this year, even if Ohio State is favored and is playing for its first perfect season in ten years, it feels weird.
I imagine this has also been a surreal, if not equally weird, season for Michigan fans. They had high hopes for a Denard Robinson Heisman run, a successful Big Ten season and a great send-off for their seniors. Instead, they got beat soundly by Alabama, lost to a Notre Dame team that had previously enjoyed a lot of success against and then watched their favorite son, Denard, go down with an injury against Nebraska that effectively cut his senior season as the Wolverine quarterback short.
At the same time, both teams are looking forward to a long stretch of success. Hoke, as much as he is hated around these parts, has been putting together solid recruiting classes and putting a decent product on the field. And we know around these parts that the sky’s the limit for Urban Meyer, Braxton Miller and the teams Urban is going to put together.
It still feels weird.
So maybe this is Ohio State’s “Bowl Game”. Maybe this is the legacy Urban’s first team will establish for an extended period of time. And maybe, and most likely, this is just going to be another entry in the most storied college football rivalry, “The Game.”
When Ohio State has the ball.
When I put together the By The Numbers post, I was surprised to see that Michigan is fielding the #1 pass defense in the country. It’s an impressive stat, I’ll give them that. But, if we dig a little deeper, we see that the best passing attack Michigan has faced is Purdue, which is, of course, still Purdue. Purdue’s passing attack is averaging 228 yards per game, for a national ranking of 68th.
But let’s not take that accomplishment away from them. Greg Mattison has put together a defense that was laughable just three years earlier. Throw in the fact that Mattison and Meyer coached together at Florida and you can assume that Mr. Mattison is going to know what his old boss has up his sleeves.
This will be the first game for some of these up and coming “stars” like Jake Ryan in the Horseshoe. It has the potential to overwhelm them and should play to Ohio State’s favor, especially if they come out swinging and score on Michigan first.
Wisconsin gave the blueprint to stop Ohio State. Ross Fulton did a great (and frustrating) breakdown of the Ohio State offensive gameplan and how Wisconsin schemed to stop it, including bringing a safety in for run support and playing a loose cover-4 zone, daring Ohio State to throw the ball. Wisconsin was able to maintain containment and limit Braxton’s ability to get to the corner. If Michigan attempts a similar game plan, Braxton is going to need to improve his reads on option running plays and trust his teammates to carry the load.
Carrying the majority of that load will be Carlos Hyde, who is just 176 yards away from a thousand yards on the ground (which is impressive, considering he missed the better part of two games). Michigan’s front seven has struggled against teams with multiple running threats and Ohio State has all they can handle and more in Hyde, Rod Smith and of course Braxton Miller.
The passing game left a lot of opportunities on the field last week against Wisconsin and those kinds mental lapses need to be eliminated in order for Ohio State to be balanced and move the ball down the field.
The critical match-up here will be Michigan’s front seven keying on Braxton and controlling his ability to get free of their contain.
When Michigan has the ball.
With the injury to Denard, Al Borges’ schedule to institute his more “Pro Style” offense in the Michigan system was accelerated with the ascendance of Devin Gardner. Devin gives Michigan more of a drop-back pocket passer than they’ve had in the recent past. That’s not to say that Gardner is not athletic enough to tuck the ball and run, but he definitely appears more at ease in the pocket, throwing the ball downfield than anything else.
Michigan’s running backs have been less than stellar this year, and with the loss of Fitzgerald Toussaint, they are as thin as they have ever been. Thomas Rawls, Michigan’s untested running back will get touches, but with the uncertainity of Denard’s ability to line up under center will probably necessitate Robinson to play behind Gardner as the featured running back. Unfortunately for Ohio State, that creates all kinds of match-up and misdirection problems.
Michigan’s wide receivers are undersized but fast. Jeremy Gallon and Roy Roundtree are not the big, tall, lanky receivers that Michigan normally lines up against but they are shifty and able to get open and do well after the catch. The passing game has opened up considerably since the start of the Northwestern game when Gardner started after Robinson’s injury. Since then, these two have played well and will require Roby and Howard to play better than they did last week against Wisconsin. Gallon and Roundtree are no Jared Abrederis, which gave Howard all he could handle, but they will be key cogs of the Michigan offense.
The key match-up here is going to be the two-headed attack of Devin and Denard versus the front seven of Ohio State. Can they get pressure on Devin to fluster the new quarterback into making mistakes and containing Denard, rendering him useless between the tackles? Also, is there anyone on the Michigan offensive line that wants to go up against a hungry John Simon (the ORIGINAL Johnny-football) playing his final game as a Buckeye? I know I wouldn’t.
These games have been defensive struggles in the past but the near future looks like they could be more like shoot-outs. Can Ohio State put up points if that’s what this game becomes? I think they can:
What say you?