Tastes Like Preview: Michigan

Buckeye CommentarySenior Analyst INovember 22, 2008

The have television on the Interweb now: The buzz is not the same this season but as you know, this is the type of game that defines a rivalry—when a team with no chance goes out and plays above their head. I placed the videos in a separate post below because they took up a lot of space in this post.

Ohio State Run Offense v. Michigan: This section might as well be titled “Entire Offense v. Michigan” because as the Buckeyes have found more success on the ground the passing game has slowly receded to an “as needed” role. Ohio State has not run the ball fewer than 31 times all season (Penn State) and went for a season-high last Saturday at Illinois (52 rushes).

In theory, Michigan has the athletic defense that has given Ohio State trouble this season. Not that the Wolverines are in the same class as USC and Penn State, but rivalries do funny things to skill levels (see Biakabutuka). In the two above-mentioned games Ohio State averaged 65 yards rushing on two yards/carry.

Michigan does have some defensive bright spots, including a good defensive line that has the ability to cause problems against a one-dimensional Ohio State offense. Going back two weeks, the Wolverines put a brick wall in front of Minnesota and allowed just 188 yards of offense and eight first downs.

I still expect the Buckeyes to run early and often. Despite the Minnesota example above, the Michigan defense has been torched by teams with running quarterbacks. Juice Williams may lead the league in passing, but even he ran for 121 yards and two touchdowns against the Maize and Blue. Penn State’s Darryl Clark ran for 50 yards and two touchdowns.

Ohio State may employ some new wrinkles in the offense—perhaps, the Pistol will make reappearance or Brandon Smith will reprise Marcel Frost’s role with the fullback screen—but giving it to Beanie in the I-formation seemed to work just fine last year against a better defense.

Michigan is likely to commit varied combination of defensive linemen, linebackers, and safeties in teams of eight to the line of scrimmage on all downs except obvious passing situations. Your football astute mind would tell that leaves Ohio State’s receivers in favorable situations down field, but I expect the Buckeyes to try to run into the teeth of that defense unless a very low-risk, high-reward passing option makes itself available.

Ohio State Passing Offense v. Michigan: As mentioned above, this is a secondary portion of the attack at this point. In case you were keeping score at home, Ohio State only threw the ball two more times than Navy did last week for 15 fewer yards.

It seems safe to predict that most of Pryor’s throws will be get screens to wide receivers (which are essentially long toss sweeps) and deep routes that can function as a punt if done on 3rd down. The coaching staff has not felt a need (or possibly competence) to throw timing patterns or routes across the middle and you will not see much of that today.

Normally, Michigan’s defensive ends—Brandon Graham and Tim Jamison—would present a whole host of problems, but Ohio State’s lack of a passing game strangely neutralizes their skills of rushing the quarterback. They will get plenty of penetration as they blow by Boone and Browning, but Pryor could already be gone.

Michigan will blitz often but that hardly ensures good results. Pryor seems more comfortable throwing on the run and Michigan’s secondary is so shaky that asking them to cover more than three seconds is like asking me to tackle Beanie.

Michigan Run Offense v. Ohio State: Let’s start this analysis with this stat: the Wolverines have fumbled the ball more than any team in the nation—36 times. (Only Army and Georgia Tech have lost more fumbles.) That means Michigan puts the ball on the ground three times/game. That is phenomenal when you think about. Even when they do not turn it over, each fumble is ostensibly a drive-killer because their offense is rarely capable of overcoming any additional obstacles.

Speaking of additional obstacles, Michigan is without its starting quarterback, Steven Threet, their best running back, Brandon Minor, and starting right tackle Steve Schilling. Ugh.

Although you may think that Michigan is a run-first attack, but they only have a 56/44 run-pass balance. (By contrast, Ohio State’s balance is 67/33 run-pass.) That means there will be plenty of opportunities for Jenkins, Chekwa, and the rest of the Buckeyes’ secondary to grab an interception or two.

Honestly, the best analysis I can give you is that Michigan’s offense is poor (duh!) but there will be a couple of drives when it looks normal, even good, but it will quickly deteriorate into a fumble festival and result in as many points for Ohio State as it does for them.

Michigan Pass Offense v. Ohio State: With Sheridan under center the Wolverines get a QB who has completed 49 percent of his throws for only 526 yards, which include five interceptions versus two touchdowns. Yikes. He can run a little bit (underscore “little”), but it’s not like he is going to win the game with his legs.

Like the rest of the Michigan squad, Sheridan looked competent against Minnesota, but he was rotten against Northwestern last week (8-29) albeit in bad weather.

If the quarterbacks were not bad enough, the Michigan line has allowed 19 sacks this season, and Sheridan hardly helps those numbers with his decision-making. Look for the OSU defensive ends to come flying around the edges this afternoon.

Special Teams: You already know what the Ohio State ST will do (very little). Michigan’s field goal kicker, K.C. Lopota is pretty solid and punter Zoltan Mesko does a nice job. Martavious Odoms is a good looking freshman and can be dangerous on returns.

Imbue yourself with unearned confidence if:

  • Boone and Browning allow the plays to develop as designed (i.e., block)
  • Beanie Wells does not hurdle the entire Michigan defense

Despair unnecessarily because of amateur athletics if:

  • Nick Sheridan completes consecutive passes
  • Ohio State punts more than three times in the first half

Meteorologist for a Day: The weather is going to be cold but otherwise benign. It will only have an effect on the fans who will find themselves sitting in the cold watching a blowout.

Three possibilities for me to look stupid:
1. Pryor throws more than 20 passes
2. Michigan never fumbles
3. Michigan gains more than 250 yards of total offense

The laws of the universe and blog ownership require me to predict: Ohio State 36, Michigan 9