Michigan Football: 5 Things Brady Hoke Has Learned About Ohio State in 2013
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"The Game" won't be played until Nov. 30.
But you can bet that Michigan coach Brady Hoke has seen enough to know that the season-ending battle with Ohio State will be nothing short of difficult.
Although they're 3-0 and ranked No. 15 in the Associated Press poll/No. 16 in the Bleacher Report Top 25, the Wolverines don't appear as dynamic and strike-capable as the No. 4 AP/No. 3 B/R Buckeyes, who are also 3-0.
This past weekend, Michigan limped to a 28-24 win over the visiting Akron Zips. The offense was sluggish, the running game was nonexistent and the defense was simply disappointing. With little sense of urgency, Greg Mattison's group allowed the Zips to sustain drives and push the heavily-favored Wolverines to the brink of embarrassment.
On the other hand, the Buckeyes went west over the weekend and disposed of Cal, 52-34. Despite a 1-1 record entering the game, the Bears were far from an inferior opponent. They held tight until the fourth quarter during their season-opening 44-30 loss to No. 18 Northwestern, which was then ranked No. 22.
Hoke likely learned that coach Urban Meyer's team did what it was supposed to do in Week 3, whereas his simply didn't. The Buckeyes are showing their hand, and Hoke should be at full attention.
Buckeyes Can Win Without Star QB
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With Braxton Miller, the Buckeyes are a favorite. Without him, well, they probably remain capable of doing damage with backup Kenny Guiton, who went 21-of-32 with 276 passing yards and four touchdowns against the Bears.
The game wasn't perfect, but Guiton looked more starter than No. 2. One thing is clear, the Buckeyes offense stands to be dangerously efficient with either guy running the show, Miller or Guiton.
Thus far, Guiton has completed 41-of-61 passes, good for 469 yards and seven touchdowns; he's thrown just one pick. He accounted for three touchdowns during a 42-7 romp of San Diego State.
Miller could return this weekend, but the Buckeyes should be OK if Guiton has to lead.
Michigan's season would be in serious jeopardy if Devin Gardner fell to injury. Shane Morris, a true freshman, is the No. 2 and should pan out to be a worthy collegiate starter. But due to his team's inability to shut the door on the Zips, he missed out on valuable playing time. The Week 3 mop-up game was his to have. His team just didn't give it to him.
Buckeyes' Pass Distribution Is Better
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Michigan's offense can't be predicated on the success of one or two. Multiple players have to contribute to the effort.
But multiple players—receivers, in this case—aren't being targeted by Gardner, making the Wolverines' pass game one-dimensional with Jeremy Gallon, who leads the team with 18 catches and four touchdowns.
Devin Funchess is second on the team with seven grabs and a touchdown.
The Buckeyes, however, have several pass-catchers playing roles each week. Devin Smith and Corey Brown each have 13 catches and three touchdowns. Chris Fields has six catches and three touchdowns. Ohio State has a superior and effective attack through the air.
Michigan has to work on it. Hoke's learned that much.
OSU'S Ground Game Is Light-Years Ahead
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Saying that Ohio State is "light-years" ahead of Michigan on the ground may be a stretch—a very small stretch. Through three weeks, Michigan hasn't given carries to running backs not named Fitzgerald Toussaint, and that's a huge problem.
Toussaint, a senior, has dinked and dunked for a 20-yard run and 30-yard reception; he's getting off to an OK start, but not the start that Hoke needs in order to establish confidence in the run game. A line of 55 carries for 199 yards isn't overly impressive.
Freshman Derrick Green has 13 carries this season; he led the team with 57 rushing yards in Week 1's 59-9 blowout of Central Michigan. He had one carry against the Zips.
When it comes to the ground, Michigan doesn't know what it's going to get or who it's coming from. It could be a burst for 10 or more yards, or continuous running into the back of the line. Undoubtedly annoyed and frustrated, Hoke has to do something about rushing the ball.
The Buckeyes don't have that problem. They know what they're getting each time senior Jordan Hall gets the call, which is about six yards a carry and a touchdown every 10 touches (64 attempts, 402 yards). As the nation's No. 6-ranked rusher, Hall is a threat each time he takes a handoff.
Having mobile quarterbacks helps the situation; Guiton and Miller can move—so can Gardner. However, the whole point of a pro-style offense is to use receivers and running backs to advance the ball, not a quarterback's legs. Michigan just finished a running quarterback era; it's time to throw the ball and get the running backs on track.
For Michigan, having Gardner as the No. 2 runner doesn't signify much of a desire to restore the pro offense. The pro-style scheme was to be Team 134's foundation.
Games Go as Planned for OSU
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Scoring in the fourth quarter can be a telling tale for any team. Owning the final 15 minutes is important to sealing the win. However, the Buckeyes haven't needed to score in the fourth—the games have been over by that time.
And this may come as a shock: Ohio State has been outscored 7-3 in the fourth. But when a team has a 134-61 overall margin, that stat means little. The Buckeyes have outscored opponents 68-14 in the first quarter alone.
The Wolverines have outscored opponents 128-63 but have been outscored 27-17 in the fourth. Akron scored 14 of those last-gasp points Saturday. Dominant teams open and close with authority.
Hoke's program demonstrated great opening skills in Week 1 and, with a firm hand, closed the door on Notre Dame. However, Week 3's debacle against the Zips can't be stressed enough. If that's the real Team 134, then a previous forecast of a 10-2 season is off the mark. If Michigan continues that type of play that led to being shown up at home, winning eight games could be a challenge.
Senior left tackle Taylor Lewan, an All-American, made a promise to the Wolverines faithful during a recent interview with the Detroit Free Press' Mark Snyder:
That is truly embarrassing for Michigan that we came out like that. It’s not fair to the fans, it’s not fair to the people who are associated with this program, it’s not fair to the freshmen who are not playing. This is the seniors’ fault, this is the captains’ fault.
We will not come out like this again.
Ohio State hasn't had such a gut-check moment. Hoke's team has. That could be an advantage or a disadvantage, depending on how the third-year Michigan coach handles it. Associating bad fourth quarters with letting down 115,000 fans at The Big House should be part of the game plan this fall.
Buckeyes Lack Discipline on the Field, Too
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Hoke can take comfort in knowing that his team is a little more disciplined on the field than Meyer's Buckeyes.
Already with 18 penalties for 150 yards this season, the Wolverines are trumped by Ohio State's 24 penalties for 225 yards. The miscues haven't appeared to be detrimental to the Buckeyes, whereas late penalties nearly cost the Wolverines a win versus Akron.
With about five seconds to go in the fourth quarter, Zips quarterback Kyle Pohl floated a pass above receiver Zach D'Orazio, who was tripped on his way to the ball. Had the penalty been called during that 4th-and-3 stand from the 3-yard line, Akron could have waltzed out of Ann Arbor as a giant slayer.
Smart, penalty-free play should be emphasized all the more during locker room conferences and practices. If penalties continue, the Buckeyes will surely find themselves in a similar predicament down the road.
Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81