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Preview: Michigan vs. Ohio State

Apologies for the text-heavy post here.  SBNeditor is having trouble with images...


"I think they hate us, we hate them. That's just how it is, that's what it is." That leads to getting each team's best shot, no matter what. Different sense of intensity in the air this week. "You don't really need a motivational speech to get excited for it." - Mike Martin

Thanksgiving has put something of a wrinkle on this whole rivalry week, or at least that's what I'm telling myself as I lean into an Ohio State game that has decidedly lost at least some of its luster.  Actually, this is the 17th time that Michigan andOhio State have played on Thanksgiving weekend, withthe last one coming in 2001 when Ohio State beat Michigan in Ann Arbor with the help of John Navarre, who threw eleventybillion interceptions.  He also had a record fiftybazillion balls batted at the line (care to challenge me?  Look it up!  You're not going to are you?  I'm right by default.).  But oh wasn't that so much fun?  Actually going into an Ohio State game and thinking "hey...we could win this!" or, even better, "hey...we should win this!"  The rivalry, for all intents and purposes, is on hold until Michigan can get back to winning football games, and if that Wisconsin game last week wasn't evidence enough for just how far we have to go to get back to that level, then you need to get your eyes checked.

Nonetheless, Michigan will play Ohio State this weekend, and you do have to play the games because your paper teams can't just square off in some sort of paper stadium hurling stats at each other until one team submits.  But as long as we're on it, here's a sobering and illuminating fact:  Saturday will be the last home game for 24 Ohio State seniors.  24!  twenty four.  Last Saturday was the last home game for 11 Michigan seniors.  Of those, 6 played consistently, and of those 6 only 3 were starters not forced into playing by an injury to an underclassman.  If you're one of those folks who yell "why?!?" into the darkness and fall to your knees dramatically regarding Michigan football, this would be a good place to start.

Right, so the actual game.  Vegas has Michigan at a 17 point underdog.  Michigan hasn't beaten Ohio State in 6 years.  Jim Tressel wears sweater vests because any attire less wholesome would cause his horns to re-grow, and he works very hard to disguise the fact that he is minor-demon-hell-spawn released on this earth to cause pain and suffering to Michigan fans.  You know the story.

Ohio State Offense

Offense Total National Rank Conference Rank
Total Offense 446.2 YPG 18th 2nd
Scoring Offense 39.6 PPG 9th 2nd
Rushing Offense 216.18 YPG 17th 4th
Passing Offense 230 YPG 55th 7th

Awwww...hamburgers.  Ohio State excels at every phase of offense except passing, at which they are decidedly mediocre.  This is the only mediocre facet of their game, which fits nicely into where Michigan sucks the hardest.  We've thus far taken the 113th pass offense (lllinois) and the 57th pass offense (Penn State) andmade them into Joe Montana led death squads of air raids (for those wondering, this preview will contain much, muchmore hyperbole).  There is no reason to expect that Terrelle Pryor won't do the same.  Howeva, if there is an aspect of the Ohio State offense that could be exploited, it is the pass offense, and that falls mostly on Terrelle Pryor still having the ability to hit whatever the Ohio State equivalent of Taco-Pants is square in the numbers.  That is to say, he can be inaccurate.

 Pryor, however, is still having an outstanding year, amassing 23 TD passes to only 10 INTs.  His 2331 yards are coming at 8.6 yards per completion, and he's completing 65.7% of his passes.  He has developed, somehow, into much more of a pocket quarterback, but still has that gazelle speed where he doesn't look like he's going fast then he's in the endzone...Denard Robinson says that he reminds him of Devin Gardner with that speed/size combination, so that bodes well for the future.  Michigan Defensive End Ryan Van Bergen:

Terrelle Pryor: canon for an arm, fast, big, has a bunch of talented, fundamental WRs, good running backs. "They're a very dangerous and explosive offense, but I wouldn't want it any other way."

Those talented, fundamental WR's are Dane Sanzenbacher and DeVier Posey who lead the Buckeyes in receiving.  Sanzenbacher has been the 39th most productive receiver in the country this year, and Posey is solidly in the top-100.  Jordan Kovacs sums up the receiving corp (specifically Sanzenbacher, who he played against in High School) for Ohio State thusly:

 "I wouldn't say that he does anything great, but he does a lot of things very well."

That's pretty accurate.  They're not game-breaking wideouts that are going to murder you, but they do everything very well.  They block in the run game, catch the ball solidly (most of the time), andcan beat you deep if you let them behind you. In short, they're the exact kind of receivers that Michigan is going to have problems with.  The Michigan defense knows that they're going to have to play a perfect game if they're going to hold Ohio State to a reasonable amount of points, but right now the defense simply is what it is: young, inexperienced, under-skilled, and poorly handled.  Prove me wrong, defense.

All of this might be a moot point.  There is a good chance that Ohio State won't even have to pass the ball if the Wisconsin game showed us anything.  Running the ball for Ohio State is primarily tailback Dan "Boom" Herron who averages 81 yards per game.  Remember also that Terrelle Pryor is averaging 51 yards per game.  The rushing attack takes the form of traditional between the tackles, options, designed QB runs, and scrambles.  Where Ohio State lacks the sheer yardage, they average 5.2 yards per carry, which is good for 3rd in the Big Ten. Largely responsible for both Pryor's effectiveness and the rushing attack are an offensive line that goes like this:

LT Mike Adams Junior 6'8", 300 lbs.
LG Justin Boren Senior 6'3", 320 lbs.
C Mike Brewster Junior 6'5", 293 lbs.
RG Bryant Browning Senior 6'3", 313 lbs.
RT J.B. Shugarts Junior 6'7", 297 lbs.

That, friends and relatives, is an enormous, experienced offensive line that likely spent its holiday eating not only their own turkey, but the turkeys of the villagers and townsfolks who had the misfortune of being in their general vicinity.  Years from now, those townsfolk will remember the great Thanksgiving plundering by the roaming Ohio State offensive line by having their very own Pamplona-styled "running of the rhinoceros" in which 5 full grown rhino's are released into the town square andthe villagers just fend for themselves.  I'm sorry - was that a tangent?  Also, Justin Boren can go to hell.

If Michigan can somehow force Ohio State into 3rd and 8 consistently, Pryor might help us out a bit and miss some throws.  He might also scramble for 20 yards.  I do not see how the Michigan defense contains this offense which is solid nationally, and amongst the best in the Big Ten. 

Ohio State Defense

Defense Total National Rank Conference Rank
Total Defense 241.1 YPG 3 1
Scoring Defense 13.9 PPG 5 1
Rushing Defense 86 YPG 3 1
Passing Defense 155.1 YPG 5 1

I'm sensing a yeah, the Ohio State defense is the best defense we'll face all year.  Iowa was a good defense, Wisconsin was a good defense, and Illinois was a good defense, but as the season progressed, those defense became more and more of a paper-tiger.  This Ohio State defense has run through the entire Big Ten schedule, and remains formidable.  These numbers, it should be mentioned, are aided by not yet having had to face the Big Ten's best offense (Michigan), but they remain unequivocally the best defense in the Big Ten.

The dominance starts up front, where the defensive line goes Junior, Sophomore, Senior, Senior left to right, and averages 280 lbs.  The good news is that Ohio State does not feature a Ryan Kerrigan or a J.J. Watt who will totally wreck our program.  The defensive line is good, but nothing our offensive line shouldn't be able to handle.  They don't sack the quarterback too well; Ohio State is 6th in conference in sacks.  Pressure shouldn't be a problem, but Denard  will not have the kind of "John Navarre" time that he had against Illinois.

More important to the Ohio State defense will be containing Denard, who will be as healthy as he's been since Notre Dame headed into this game.  Against Wisconsin he was showing those runs where he's one step away from taking it to the house that had been missing since Michigan State.  Ohio State's rally-cry is "tie up shoelace" which, ok, that's pretty good.  Like all teams this year, it's proved hard to simulate 16 in practice.  Jim Tressel:

"It's impossible to simulate him because there's no one like him...It's a tremendous challenge because it gives you all of the problems that a wildcat offense gives you witha great running back back there, but along with it, it has all of the passing problems"  

 True. But my guess is that the Buckeyes, like always, will be prepared to deal with what Denard Robinson brings to the table.

"If a quarterback wants to run the ball then our coaches tell us we've got to punish him," said linebacker Brian Rolle, who said he didn't think there were many players in the country who could run away from him. "So if he breaks the pocket, regardless of how good he can run, he's still the quarterback and no quarterback likes to get hit."

Stopping Denard means stopping the Michigan offense, which so far has proven difficult.  Denard is averaging 140 yards rushing, and 250 yards passing per game, making him the conference's leading rusher, and the 7thleading passer, finding himself right behind Terrelle Pryor.  The story remains the same, largely, for this Michigan offense vs. the Ohio State defenses.  Good defenses have shown the ability to slow down the Michigan offense, either by virtue of making plays, or forcing Michigan gaffes.  This would not be an issue if Michigan had a defense.  They do not.

Special Teams

Seriously, do not kick the ball.  Alright fine, kick extra points.  That's it though.  If Rodriguez attempts a field goal, no matter what the field position indicates, then that is a mistake.  Brenden Gibbons leads the kicking competition this week:

"We’re letting Gibbons go out first," Rodriguez said. "They’re still kicking back and forth."

Freshman walk-on Kris Pauloski might also contribute.  He has not seen game action this year, or any year.  Awesome.  Will Hagerup will likely do his now normal "boom a 70-yarder, follow it with a shank for 30" routine.  He's going to be really, really good when it's all said and done.

Final Prediction

The Michigan offense will score some points.  Whether this is enough to overcome the fact that Ohio State will also score some points is debatable (hint: probably not).  I referenced the fact that this preview will contain hyperbole, but this isn't one of those times:  Ohio State will likely score every time they touch the ball.  Michigan is going to need to hold serve if they expect to be in striking distance by the 4th quarter.  They cannot come out flat, and they cannot go long stretches without scoring.  When they want to, the Michigan offense scores in 2 minutes.  They cannot turn the ball over, andcannot go 3-out with consistency.  If they want to get some turnovers themselves, that would be great.  Because this is Ohio State, and because they are evil, despicable people who can't spell or do basic math, I am compelled to predict a Michigan victory.  Here's hoping:  31-27 MICHIGAN WINS.  Screw you, Ohio State.  Screw you right in the ear.

Key Matchups

Denard vs. Throwing INTs:  Turnovers will cause Michigan to not win.  We do not not want to win.

Posey and Sanzenbachershnauzer vs. Michigan Secondary:  Michigan cannot allow big plays.  Big plays will cause Michigan to not win.  We do not not want to win.

Mike Martin vs. His Ankles: This defense is a different animal with Mike Martin in.  Martin missing significant time will cause Michigan to not win.  We do not not want to win.

Gametime Drink of Choice

One time in college we had an egg-nog drinking competition. This was a terrible idea.  It was also more pleasant than watching the 2nd half against Wisconsin.  Should things go south, I recommend just drinking something until you throw up.  This way, you will not be focused on the game, or the 7th loss in a row to the Buckeyes, or really anything else except eating backwards.

Alternate Programming

Michigan State and Penn State on ESPN2.  When Michigan beats Ohio State, Michigan State will be playing for their Rose Bowl lives.

Inanimate Object Threat Level

I am at the in-laws.  This means that I will have to be well behaved, and control my sports-tourrets.  This will not go well, because the more I can't throw something, the more I wantto throw it.  Again:  this will not go well.

Recommended for Survival

Ohio State sucks.  The team, their illiterate fans, the stadium, everything about Ohio State sucks.  Michigan will trot out a team that, for all their lacking, as not given up on a game ONCE this season.  They believe, even when we don't, that they can come back and play with the best teams in the country.  This is their chance.  They believe they can come out and smoke Ohio State.  They have yet to put together 60 minutes of football, and they believe they can do it against Ohio State, who has not lost to Michigan in 6 years. 

My question to you, Mr. Michigan fan reading this, is who the hell are YOU to question that belief?  Do you think you know more than the players who strap it up every Saturday and haven't quit, not once, in any game.  They give you 4 quarters of sheer effort, andthey believe they can run with Ohio State.  I'm not about to question that, and neither should you.  This team has given you everything they have this fall, and they will give you everything they have for one more Saturday.

Football is game of numbers. But it is also a game of heart, will, strength, and gunmetal skies in November under 100 thousand evil onlookers in Columbus, OH.  Michigan will lose if they allow the numbers to define them.  They will win because they have - this team has - the heart, will, and strength which defines the other half of what it takes to win a football game.  Over these past 3 years they've put it in the bank, and now it's time to make a withdrawal.  They will win for Steve Schilling and Obi Ezeh, who have played every miserable down of these past 3 years.  They will win for Coach Rodriguez who didn't win the lottery and get to coach Michigan.  They will win for the fans who fill up the Big House every single Saturday.  It's been a long time.  BEAT THE BUCKS.


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