Going into Saturday's match up Ohio State holds a decided advantage, at least on paper. The Buckeyes lead the conference in every relevant conference defense statistic and are near the top in every offensive statistic as well. But what are those numbers, what do they mean, and how do they apply to this weekend's tilt?
Offensively the Buckeyes rank as follows:
Rushing Offense: 3rd in Conference, 24th nationally
Passing Offence: 9th in Conference, 74th nationally
Total Offense: 6th in Conference, 46th nationally
Scoring Offense: 3rd in Conference, 30th nationally
While the Buckeyes' passing numbers aren't spectacular, their rushing numbers are impressive. Averaging nearly 200 yards a game is nothing to sneeze at. If you subtract the numbers OSU put up against Youngstown State, Akron, Washington, and Kent, the numbers actually a bit. A lost statistic in the Illinois loss was the fact Ohio State put up 180 yards on the ground against a fairly stout Illini defense and scored all three of their touchdowns on the ground. Against Wisconsin they went for 211; Penn State 200; Michigan state 229; Purdue 181; Minnesota 250; and Northwestern 205. OSU is actually averaging more in conference rushing success that out of it, with a 208 a game average. Yikes. It's easy to say the conference in general has had a tough time stopping the run and that's the reason for the inflated numbers, but be careful with that logic. Michigan is hoooooooorible defending the run, ranking 8th in the conference and coming off a game where they gave up 232 yards to PJ Hill's backups. The same backups that were held to 60 yards by Ohio State. Also keep in mind Michigan rushed for 46 yards against a defense that gave up 211 the week before. You are right to be afraid.
The majority of their production is Chris Wells who is over 1200 yards on the season and has 12 TDs. While you will see Mo Wells and Brandon Saine in the game from time to time, this is Beanie's team and offense. He does the majority of the rushing. Before Michigan fans start scampering off a bridge thinking about the fact Beockman racked up 68 yards against Illinois, he only has 74 yards rushing on the year. Breathe, people. Breathe. Stop Wells, you've got a chance.
That'll be the tough part. The OSU line has been opening gaping holes for Wells to sprint through all season. Michigan's inability to defend the middle of the line will be the million dollar question. If the linebackers can do something they haven't done all season, plug the gaps in the line and fight through a full back block or two, Michigan's in business. If you believe that will happen consistently I've got some great ocean front property for you in the Sahara. Wells is a jet fast runner up the gut. If Michigan can force Ohio State to the outsides you may see the run game limited a bit, but don't expect it to be shut down.
In the air Boeckman's been relatively impressive until his Mallett-esque melt down against Illinois. For the record, the Illini defensive backfield is badbadbadbadbad. Chucking three interceptions to them, well, that's damn near inexplicable. My friends at the various Buckeye blogs may debate this, but Boeckman does not possess a particularly strong arm. His third wing and a prayer interception against Illinois didn't have half the arm it needed, and most of his passes are of the 5-15 yard variety. Another look at his numbers reveals he's only attempting about 23 passes a game, so his 24/11 td/int ratio is underwhelming. He'll give you at least a pick a game, sometimes two, if you can get pressure on him.
Good luck with that. Ohio State has only allowed 14 sacks all season. Michigan? 21. Ugh. The line is stout. And by stout I mean made out of granite, and just as mobile. If you get speed on the tackles, you can get to the quarterback. The issue is getting around their 300-pound-plus behemoths. For as big and slow as they are, they are very good at pushing people around. If they get their hands locked in, it's over. This has left Boeckman plenty of time to deliver the ball, so while his rating is the highest in the conference, he's no superstar.
However, he does have weapons on the wings. Brian Robiskie and Brian Hartline are Boeckman's main targets. Robiskie's the guy with the nose for the endzone, with 48 catches, 810 receiving yards and 10 TDs. Hartline gets used as often, but doesn't have the same luck getting into the endzone. But with 45 catches and 5 TDs, writing him off as a possession receiver is a bad idea. At tight end, Rory Nicol has 16 catches and is just as dangerous, if not more so, than Carson Butler in the open field. Where Butler's regressed this year, my understanding is Nicol has actually gotten a bit better at the little things, like blocking. This troika isn't at the Manningham, Arrington, Matthews level, but they are dangerous considering Ohio State doesn't throw nearly as much as Michigan does and they've put up those types of numbers.
It's a lot of information to take in, but the facts are there. It's a run based offense behind one of the better backs in the conference. The offensive line is very strong at opening running lanes and very good at keeping their quarterback upright. While the passing game isn't nearly as developed as Michigan's it's accomplished nearly as much on two-thirds the attempts.
More on their defense coming soon.