Almost any way you slice it, Michigan has the nation’s best pass defense.
It’s No. 1 in passing yards allowed at just 123 per game, which is 18 yards better than the next closest team. Quarterbacks are only completing 47 percent of their passes against it, also first in the country.
Turn to S&P+ though, and you see the Wolverine pass defense ranked just No. 6 — behind Temple, LSU, Clemson, Mississippi State and Alabama.
Indiana’s Peyton Ramsey likely affected this, tossing for 195 yards and a touchdown last Saturday. At full health, a conference quarterback found some room through the air.
With the respective health of Adrian Martinez, Brian Lewerke and Trace McSorley in question in their games against Michigan, how will Don Brown’s defense react against Dwayne Haskins at full strength?
The optimist’s take from last weekend was the Wolverines were caught looking ahead to rivalry week. If that’s not the case, the film shows how the Buckeyes may have new areas to exploit.
DRIVE ONE, IND 25-YARD LINE (10:41 FIRST QUARTER)
Offensive coordinator Mike Debord calls for a quick-hitter to running back Stevie Smith, which goes for three. The line down blocks in a hope Rashan Gary (or any end) won’t have time to crash on the handoff. Devin Gil stuffs Smith at the line.
Josh Metellus then breaks up a slant in tight slot coverage. I think it’s time to come around to the fact he’s reliable in this role. The stats have been backing it up for weeks, and I’ll admit I’ve been skeptical.
On third-and-seven, Ramsey somehow spins out of a Kwity Paye sack to run for a first down. Ignore the fact that Paye needs to finish the tackle. He gets a run at Ramsey due to flipped responsibilities between him and Josh Uche.
For weeks, Paye has set up twists by occupying tackles for Uche to loop around and grab the sack. This time, the roles reversed and almost ended the drive in a three-and-out.
Smith pushes ahead for five on the next play. This gets room because of messed-up run fits. With three linebackers in pursuit, one gets contain, the middle stuffs the hole and the third prevents the cutback. Instead, Bush stops in the hole without anyone to push Smith back inside to him.
David Long then sticks Donavan Hale on a crossing route for just two yards.
The third-down coverage gives way too much cushion to Luke Timian, who cuts inside for a three-yard catch to move the chains.
Next, watch Aubrey Solomon split a double-team to corral smith for no gain.
Two straight pressures force errant throws from Ramsey, the second of which is caught three yards short of the line to gain.
The fourth-down defensive play call is Don Brown in his purest mad scientist zone. Devin Bush lines up as a boundary corner (!), and fights through a potential offensive pass interference to break up a slant. The deflection ends up in Michael Dwumfour’s hands for a fun, albeit meaningless pick.
Drive: 10 plays, 36 yards, interception (Michigan leads 3-0)
DRIVE TWO, IND 20-YARD LINE (5:51 FIRST QUARTER)
Smith picks up four yards on first down, as the center and the guard shove Bryan Mone out of the hole. Physical running teams like Wisconsin have been able to run right up the gut against any combination of Mone, Solomon, Carlo Kemp, Lawrence Marshall and Dwumfour.
Debord schemed off-tackle running plays away from Gary, instead taking his chances with Chase Winovich. On second down, he catches the fifth-year senior trying to swim inside, which leaves a gaping hole for Scott to scamper for 35 yards.
Bush is in the right rush lane if Winovich doesn’t lose gap integrity. Since that didn’t happen, both are are on a...chase.
Debord calls the same play on first down, but Winovich flies into the backfield for a TFL. He tries for big yardage on a slot fade to Timian, who’s covered by Tyree Kinnel. Incomplete.
Ramsey takes off on third-and-11, finding open space for 29 yards for the Hoosiers’ first trip to the red zone. Gary leaves his rush lane unmanned, which is all the space Ramsey needs.
Ever since Brandon Wimbush and Notre Dame, quarterbacks have exploited the overaggressive pass rush with their legs. It happened against SMU, Maryland and even in blowouts against Nebraska and Penn State.
Scott scores on the following play, as Mone is moved out of his lane — partly by strength, mostly by reacting to zone scheme.
With Ohio State starting to find its running game again, it is imperative that the tackles return to their Penn State form.
Drive: Six plays, 80 yards, touchdown (Michigan scores, Indiana leads 7-6)
DRIVE THREE, IND 25-YARD LINE (14:15 SECOND QUARTER)
The tackle struggles persist, as Solomon and Kemp are unable to disengage from their blocks in time to slow Scott. The true freshman trips to keep the gain to just nine.
Also, Brown is trying to win with just a six-man front, which may be necessary against the pass-happy Buckeyes.
A quick pass to Ty Fryfogle on a crossing route brings a fresh set of downs. A short run and a false start put them in second-and-12.
Brown adjusts his six-man front to overload one side of the line, which springs Bush on a run blitz to force a TFL.
Uche beats a tackle on a speed rush to flush Ramsey from the pocket. Incomplete on a throwaway.
Drive: Five plays, 11 yards, punt (Michigan scores to lead 9-7)
DRIVE FOUR, IND 25-YARD LINE, (9:56 SECOND QUARTER)
This drive is all on the back of two plays.
The first is a slot fade to Timian, again covered by Kinnel. The Hoosier receiver has a step, but Kinnel recovers to get a hand to block the facemask. Ramsey’s throw is perfect, though, so it’s a 30-yard catch.
The other is a defensive holding call on Lavert Hill. Probably the right call, since the receiver jerks away from the tight coverage (indicating some handsiness).
Brown dials up the pressure on the next three plays. Two minimal runs and a throwaway lead to a field goal.
Drive: Seven plays, 52 yards, field goal (Michigan scores to lead 15-10)
DRIVE FIVE, IND 25-YARD LINE (4:46 SECOND QUARTER)
Despite the front seven finally starting to maintain gap discipline and containing Scott, Ramsey uncorks two beautiful throws to get to the end zone.
First, he finds Nick Westbrook on an outside fade over Brandon Watson.
Granted, Westbrook is a pretty good wideout. He nearly had 1,000 yards receiving in 2016, and did the same thing he did here to the Wolverine defense back then.
With that said, he’s not the same speed as Parris Campbell or K.J. Hill. Watson should’ve been torched against Penn State after slipping, and he loses the foot race with Westbrook here by a full step. Eyes on him in Columbus.
Two plays later, David Long lets what feels like his first touchdown catch ever. It doesn’t take away that he’s still one of the best corners in the nation.
Michigan CB David Long continues to lead the nation's cornerbacks in terms of fewest yards allowed per snap in coverage this year pic.twitter.com/NpaoU5iN1s— PFF College (@PFF_College) November 20, 2018
Drive: Nine plays, 75 yards, touchdown (Indiana leads 17-15 at halftime)
DRIVE SIX, IND 25-YARD LINE (START OF THIRD QUARTER)
Scott slams into the line for just a yard to open the second half. Since his touchdown run, he’s carried the ball seven times for just 25 yards.
Two straight incompletions end the drive. Ramsey throws a wobbler off his back foot on third down, as he can’t step into his throw with Dwumfour in his face. The tackle looped around the right side of the line with Hurst-like mobility.
Drive: Three plays, one yard, punt (Michigan scores to lead 22-17)
DRIVE SEVEN, IND 25-YARD LINE (9:44 THIRD QUARTER)
Indiana runs a pick play for Westbrook to get him loose from Watson’s press coverage. As the outside receiver, he runs a slant. At the same time, Timian angles into Watson to slow his pursuit. With nobody in the middle of the field, as Brown sends a big blitz, Westbrook cruises for 20 yards to move the chains.
This is a concept Ohio State has and will use to beat press coverage.
Paye ends the threat by punching the ball out on a Scott inside dive. Stat update for him since his touchdown: Nine carries, 26 yards and a fumble.
After early struggles, the Wolverine front refocused to stop the bleeding on the ground.
Drive: Five plays, 32 yards, fumble (Michigan leads 22-17)
DRIVE EIGHT, IND 40-YARD LINE (8:05 THIRD QUARTER)
Ramsey almost airmails a bubble screen to Timian, giving Khaleke Hudson enough time to recover to limit the gain to four. A good throw leads to a first down, at least, since the defense isn’t aligned to stop it.
Debord hoodwinks Brown on a quarterback draw, finding a large crease up the gut as the defensive tackles are switching.
Simon Stepaniak hits Paye late to negate a powerful run by Scott. If you want to know my feelings on the late hit fiasco from Saturday, I direct you to this tweet from Seth Fisher.
Speaking of payback, Gary and Bush bullrush Stepaniak and his tackle counterpart en route to essentially a drive-killing sack.
Nothing creative here. Just two future professionals imposing their wills.
Drive: Seven plays, five yards, punt (Michigan scores to lead 25-17)
DRIVE NINE, IND 25-YARD LINE (2:08 THIRD QUARTER)
The drive starts with a dubious holding call on Hill. Both are hand fighting.
Scott gets a healthy burst for four yards on the following first down. Debord did a good job installing audibles to run away from Brown’s blitzes.
Ramsey takes off again for nine yards and another first down. This one is chalked up to freshman Aidan Hutchinson trying to work outside and out of his lane.
After a near intentional grounding, the Hoosiers try to make up yardage with a quick run inside to Scott. Bush pops the guard with his initial punch, and wraps up the back. Gil also discarded a second-level block to get into the pile.
Metellus is all over a crossing route that sails high, and Bush then proceeds to track down a misdirection run on the fake punt.
Drive: Eight plays, 31 yards, turnover on downs (Michigan scores to lead 28-17)
DRIVE 10, IND 25-YARD LINE (9:55 FOURTH QUARTER)
How is this pass interference?
Rule Seven, Article 8, subsection b of the NCAA rulebook states regarding illegal contact, “It is the responsibility of the offensive player to avoid the opponents.”
So what John O’Neill is telling me is that Josh Metellus is at fault for getting into superior position and going for the ball. Also, Luke Timian draping Metellus is actually the defender’s fault. Got it.
Three plays later, Ramsey converts yet another third-and-long with yet another pick play. This time, four wide receivers line up on the left, and the inside ones all run their defenders off. Hudson is giving an eight-yard cushion, so Reese Taylor slants inside for 22 yards.
Hudson is great on blitzes, in run support and on tight ends. Slot receivers are a mismatch. Watch for OSU coordinator Ryan Day to try to create these.
With their backs against the wall mid-way through the fourth, the Wolverines unload on Scott to force a critical field goal.
Drive: 10 plays, 56 yards, field goal (Michigan scores to lead 31-20)
DRIVE 11, IND 25-YARD LINE (2:47 FOURTH QUARTER)
With the Hoosiers in desperation mode now, Gary embarrasses Stepaniak to swat away the comeback.
Rashan Gary with a fantastic move on the OT for the 3rd down sack. pic.twitter.com/5CHs8ouCGV— Due# (@JDue51) November 18, 2018
Also, Stepaniak confirms himself as a jackass on fourth down.
Drive: Seven plays, 13 yards, turnover on downs (Michigan wins 31-20)
WHAT THIS MEANS FOR “THE GAME”
Make no mistake, this Ohio State offense has plenty of ways to attack this defense.
Parris Campbell thrives with pick plays out of the slot.
Skip to 1:13.
Corners and safeties have problems on jump balls? Terry McLaurin will exploit.
Skip to 1:03.
With that said, Dwayne Haskins hasn’t faced a pass defense this prolific. The next closest to Michigan per S&P+ are Penn State at No. 11 and Michigan State at No. 17.
He averaged a 23-for-39 day for 248 yards and two touchdowns. That’s three less completions and about 90 yards less than his season average.
Take into account that nearly half of his yards against Penn State were on screens, and the numbers look even more mortal.
With the Buckeyes starting to figure out a run game, though, he’ll have some support. J.K. Dobbins just rushed for 203 yards against Maryland, and Haskins alongside backup Tate Martell are starting to utilize their legs more.
Ramsey tallied 51 yards on just seven carries, continuing the trend that mobile quarterbacks have been an occasional kryptonite this year.
With that said, this isn’t a vintage Urban Meyer team that can slam the ball up the gut. These are the types of short-yardage plays they run.
Sideline-to-sideline is in Michigan’s wheelhouse. If you can’t push the tackles around, your ground game is toast.
Saturday will be a chess match between a legendary offensive mind in Meyer and the best in the game on defense in Brown.