Friday, November 25, 2011

Previewing "The Game"

Michigan fans often debate with each other about who their biggest rivals are. Many of our opponents consider us their biggest rival while we don't feel the same we back. (I'm looking at you Illinois). We debate amongst ourselves whether we would rather beat the Golden Domers or Sparty more. One thing is certain amongst us all. Nothing tops "The Game."

The 4 W's
What: #15 Michigan (9-2, 5-2) vs Ohio State (6-5, 3-4)
When: 12:00 p.m. EST
Where: Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, Mich.
Weather: 50s with a 10 percent chance of rain. Wind at about 15 mph

Series History
Michigan leads 57-44-6 (includes vacated wins by Ohio State).
Last 5 meetings:
2010: Ohio State 37*, Michigan 7 @Columbus
2009: Ohio State 21, Michigan 10 @Ann Arbor
2008: Ohio State 42, Michigan 7 @Columbus
2007: Ohio State 14, Michigan 3 @Ann Arbor
2006: Ohio State 42, Michigan 39 @Columbus

When Ohio State has the ball
Ohio State's offense has struggled with true freshman QB Braxton Miller taking the majority of the snaps for the Buckeyes. They rank as the nation's #67 offense in FEI and average only 315 yards per game. They pass only when they deem it to be absolutely necessary. Miller has completed under 50 percent of his passes this season and only gets 7 yards per pop when he puts the ball in the air. Only one Buckeye has managed even 200 yards catching the ball this year, but they did just get star WR DeVier Posey back last week (4 catches, 66 yards). Posey at least affords Ohio State the ability to keep Michigan from loading the box to stop the run, at least until so long as they prove they can actually utilize Posey.
While they struggle to air it out in the rare events that Miller actually does put the ball up, the Buckeyes offense does have some strengths to it. Miller is very good at taking care of the ball (just 3 Ints all year), and they do manage to run to some degree of success. Miller has put up 595 yards this season (4.6 ypc). Don't expect a running style like we see in Ann Arbor on a weekly basis though. Miller likes to improvise. He is very dangerous when trying to create on his own. Often, he won't even follow the design of the play. You can see great examples of this is the front paged story by BlueSeoul over at MGoBlog. Teaming up with him is Boom Herron. Boom has put up 565 yards on 5.2 ypc in just 5 games after returning from his tatgate suspension.
Defensively, Michigan features the country's #10 rated FEI defense. While sometimes it struggles with the pass, the Wolverine defense has been pretty good against the run lately, completely smothering Illinois on the ground and limiting the dangerous Nebraska duo of Taylor Martinez and Rex Burkhead.
The keys for the Michigan defense are to stay locked onto OSU's mediocre WRs (and Posey) for as long as possible to avoid Miller improvising his way into open targets. Maintaining gap integrity is absolutely essential if you want to avoid Miller busting a long run. Boom Herron will likely get his yards, but that's okay. Michigan needs to stay on Braxton Miller from the opening kickoff and make the true freshman try to beat them on his own in his first trip to Ann Arbor for "The Game."

When Michigan has the ball
While the OSU offense has struggled to adjust to life in the post-Tressel/Pryor era, the defense has remained stout. Ranking 12th in America in FEI, they go up against Michigan's #14 rated offense. This is likely to be one of the toughest defensive lines the Wolverines have seen all year. John Simon is a dangerous end and mountain Jonathan Hankins (who would be a Wolverine had the previous staff offered him), is a sophomore who has over 60 tackles and 9 TFLs. He'll be someone Michigan will want to avoid. In the linebacking corp, Ohio State might be without star player Andrew Sweat. If he can't go, or if he's limited in what he can do, the Bucks may be staring at a freshman manning one of the linebacking spots. This hasn't worked out so well for them. If this happens, look for Al Borges to attempt to expose this spot with some misdirection to see if he can get a freshman moving the wrong direction. If Michigan can get Denard and Fitz Toussaint into the 2nd level and past an inexperienced linebacker, OSU's mediocre safeties are susceptible to missing tackles. Keys here are as usual. Take care of the ball, avoid putting Denard under center (stay in the damn gun!), and run the ball as much as possible.

Special Teams
The Buckeyes feature a strong special teams, rated #11 in FEI compared to Michigan's #71 ranked unit. Jordan Hall is the dangerous man returning the ball. He averages 28.6 yards a return on kickoffs. Compare that to Michigan's top kick returner. Tay Odoms averages just 22.3 per return. Field goal kicker Drew Basil has connected on 13 of 16 for the Bucks, including 4-7 from over 40. While Michigan has improved on FGs this year, Brendan Gibbons has a career long of only 42 yards. Special teams figures to be a big advantage for OSU.

Five Keys to winning The Game
1. Maintain gap integrity and edge contain vs. Braxton Miller running the ball
2. Al Borges fights the temptation to want to bomb it deep and run plays from under center. You will not win by running power at Jonathan Hankins.
3. Attacking Andrew Sweat's backup and the Ohio State safeties. David Molk against some linebackers to get Toussaint into the secondary plz!!
4. Avoid getting bombed in special teams. Michigan has been much better here of late, but Ohio State does still have an advantage. If Ohio State can win the field position battle, it can limit the Michigan offense and set its own offense up with short fields.
5. Get an early lead and force Braxton Miller to win in the air.

What's on the line for Michigan
By now, we've all seen the projections saying Michigan is playing for a BCS bowl bid, perhaps to the Sugar Bowl. So there's that, but there's so much more in a game like this. The pride of not letting your arch-rival come into your stadium and win (again). This would be their 4th straight win in the Big House and 8th overall in the series that Michigan leads. So not only is the BCS on the line, but so is our pride. If this streak doesn't end now, when Ohio State is down and Michigan is playing well, when will it ever end?

Five predictions sure to backfire because I'm not a football coach and don't know what I'm talking about
1. Denard throws at least 1 bad interception
2. Toussaint gets 27 carries for 126 yards
3. Jake Ryan makes a momentum changing play
4. Brendan Gibbons makes a 40+ yard FG for the 2nd week in a row
5. Luke Fickell coaches his only game in Ann Arbor

Finally, the score
Michigan, 21-17

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