Michigan vs. Ohio State
Noon, ABC | Ann Arbor MI
Enemy Blog: Land-Grant Holy Land
So it comes down to this. Michigan's season has hit a free-fall, and the last possible thing to salvage some sort of positivity before a long wait and a disappointing bowl game is one last win.
Of course, a win tomorrow would be more than just "one last win". It would be a historic upset in the annals of The Game. A toppling of a potential BCS title contender. An ending of a win streak stretching nearly two full seasons. It would be the first thing anyone talked about in the future when someone brought up Team 134.
Of course, there is a reason a win on Saturday would be so momentous...
When Michigan has the ball
The numbers from the last month are galling. The Wolverines have ended as many games with negative rushing totals (sacks included) as positive. It took a miraculous last second field goal to keep Michigan alive for its only win (a three overtime game against Northwestern), and the Michigan offense pissed away chances late against Michigan State, Nebraska, and Iowa.
The offense is completely broken. The line cannot consistently block run or pass plays which means that everything that is called runs a high risk of being blown up for negative yards. Even the small successes are often wiped out by mistakes on later plays.
The passing game has taken huge steps back as Devin Gardner has become more bruised and battered over the course of the season. He is often tentative in the pocket and is now very likely to just curl up and eat a sack or try to bolt the pocket at the first sign of pressure.
Meanwhile, Ohio State comes into the game with what looks to be the conference's clear second best defense (behind Michigan State). The Buckeyes are holding opponents under three yards per rush and to just 6.4 yards per attempt passing.
I am going to keep this short and sweet: unless there is a significant shift in Michigan's offense, or massive improvement up front on a play to play basis, Michigan is going to have a hard time even reaching the end zone in this game. The Wolverines have just one touchdown drive this month that started on the opponent's side of the field. Ohio State's defense is very good and will most likely keep that number right there.
Things are going to get ugly, folks.
When Ohio State has the ball
Unfortunately for Michigan, the odds of a win are even worse when you consider the chances this game turns into a low scoring slugfest are small given the power of Ohio State's offense.
Everything starts with Ohio State's strong run game that takes advantage of two of the most dangerous rushing weapons in the country. Carlos Hyde is going to be the stiffest inside run test that Michigan has faced all season. The Buckeyes' senior power back just went over 1000 yards and has been running for well over seven per carry. OSU will trot him out on inside zone looks and batter the inside of Michigan's defense.
As a change of pace, the Buckeyes will trot out different looks from the inverted veer (be sure to check out that link to SC's great breakdown of OSU's IV package), which will allow quarterback Braxton Miller to get involved in the run offense. He is second on the team with 738 yards at 6.3 yards/carry. Senior RB Jordan Hall will also get some carries, and he has over 500 yards with a similar yards/carry average (6.8).
Michigan has been very good at stopping opposing rushing offenses this year, but no offense has come into Ann Arbor this capable and dangerous. The Buckeye skill players run behind a line made up of four senior starters, and in year two of Urban Meyer's offense, everyone understands their job. Still, only two teams have averaged more than four yards/carry against this Michigan defense, and the Wolverines have allowed just five run plays of 20+ yards all season long. With both inside linebackers expected to be back from injuries that took them out of last game, this defense will be as close to full strength as it has this season, and hopefully the recent emergence of Willie Henry and Frank Clark — as well as a heaping helping of Jake Ryan, Destroyer of Worlds — is enough to contain this Buckeye attack. If Michigan wants a chance to win, it will have to limit OSU to around four yards/carry.
Another thing Michigan will need to do is deal with Ohio State's versatile passing game, which will attack defenses both horizontally and vertically. Ohio State has the luxury of trotting out two capable quarterbacks. Braxton Miller is the starter and has been lights out every game. He has 1626 yards, a 19/4 TD/INT ratio, and is completing 68 percent of his passes. He has missed all or parts of a few games early in the season due to injury, but in his stead Ohio State relied on Kenny Guiton, quite possibly the best backup quarterback in the nation. Guiton's numbers are eerily similar. he has completed 69 percent of his passes, thrown for 800 yards, and has 14 touchdowns to just two interceptions. There is very little drop off when Ohio State goes to its bench, and the Buckeyes will most likely have something involving both quarterbacks ready for this game.
Those quarterbacks have a nice stable of receivers to throw to. Corey "Philly" Brown is the shifty space player that Ohio State will get the ball to underneath. He has 596 yards and nine touchdowns. Devon Smith is more of a deep threat, who has 591 yards and seven touchdowns. Tight end Jeff Heuerman and WR Evan Spencer are tied for second on the team with 22 receptions apiece and combine for another 500+ yards and five touchdowns.
Whether Michigan's offense is given the opportunity to make this game interesting is going to come down to what the defense can do. Michigan has proven to be a solid run defense all year, and that is going to have to continue on Saturday. If the Wolverines give up a few long runs and let Ohio State strike quickly on the ground, that'll be all she wrote. Luckily, Michigan's defense should be well equipped to make OSU work for its yards on the ground.
The bigger question is how well Michigan's defense can force turnovers — especially through the air. OSU has thrown just six interceptions on the year and lately Michigan's defense has been doing a good job of forcing picks to get the offense the ball back in position to score. The Michigan defense is going to have to force a couple big mistakes in this one to have any sort of chance at all.
When someone is kicking the ball
Ohio State hasn't been forced into field goals often this season, but when it has, Drew Basil has hit eight of nine attempts. The same can be said of the punting unit. Cameron Johnston has just 34 punts on the year, but is booting them an average of 43.5 yards per punt.
Ohio State hasn't had to rely on its kicking game as much this year because the offense and defense have been so good, but Michigan has, and the results haven't always been pretty.
Keys to the game: Force mistakes - If Michigan doesn't manage to force the Buckeye offense or special teams into at least a couple mistakes that set up short fields, the offense might not even make it into the red zone.
Limit big plays - This will be especially important on the ground, where Michigan has only given up five runs of 20 or more yards all year. However, Ohio State will find ways to catch Michigan's secondary off guard. How well it recovers will be important in keeping the game close.
Put together at least one long touchdown drive - Seriously. I shouldn't have to say this. But Michigan hasn't done it much at all this month.
Avoid negative plays - The offenses biggest issue has been the amount of negative plays it allows, which force longer third down conversion attempts and keep the offense on its heels instead of dictating the flow of the game. If Michigan wants any chance, it has to deal with this glaring issue.
Alternate programming: There will be a lot of hate to be watched Saturday. Following The Game, tune into the Iron Bowl, which should be as good a game as Alabama has seen all year. Remember, Gus Malzahn was the last guy to give Auburn hope against Bama. At night find a good rotation between the bounty of good rivalry games: Clemson-South Carolina, Texas A&M-Missouri, Notre Dame-Stanford, and USC-UCLA all start between seven and eight.
Inanimate Object Threat Level - 10: Its The Game. Keep everything not nailed down outside of my reach.
Final Thoughts: There was a time when a game like this between Michigan and Ohio State would be an intriguing nail-biter that possibly turned into a huge upset. These two teams have been ruining each others championship seasons for years, why should this year be any exception?
I'm all out of hope. Whatever is wrong with this offense has completely overtaken it, culminating in a second half against Iowa that consisted of five straight three-and-outs that netted a total of six yards, followed by a 39 yard desperation drive ending in a fumble.
Michigan's defense would be good enough to make this a game if it had any help whatsoever. Since it doesn't, I don't even know how long it can hold the door before Ohio State knocks it off the hinges and trashes the place.
Get ready, this one is going to be ugly.
Ohio State 38 - Michigan 10