Each week we scout Michigan's opponent. We'll start with the basics, and then explore some relevant match-ups. For those that want to know more, we'll sprinkle in a mixture of history, reflection, and philosophy for a comprehensive look.
Michigan (9-2) (5-2) vs. Ohio State (6-5) (3-4)
(L) Alabama (in Dallas Tx) 41-14
(W) Air Force 31-25
(W) UMASS 63-13
(L) at Notre Dame 13-6
(W) at Purdue 44-13
(W) Illinois 45-0
(W) Michigan State 12-10
(L) at Nebraska 23-9
(W) Purdue 29-22 OT
(W) Northwestern 38-31 OT
(W) Iowa 42-17
Ohio Sate Schedule:
Ohio State Players to Watch:
What a win means for Michigan: First win in Columbus since 2000; a co-Legends division championship; two years of bragging rights will seem like four.
What a win means for Ohio State: Their first undefeated season since 2002 and their sixth overall; a belief that the loss in 2011 is only an aberration.
What Ohio State Brags About: Has a winning record over Michigan, IF you started counting at 1951 (31-27-2); Jim Tressel; their academic record.
While the team isn’t fully healthy, there are no new injuries or a change in status going into this week.
The Last Time They Met
Michigan ended a series long seven game losing streak by beating the Buckeyes 40-34 in Ann Arbor. Denard Robinson (Sr. #16) threw three touchdowns passes and rushed for two more in arguably his best all-around game in 2011. Ohio State freshman quarterback Braxton Miller (So. #5) also had a career day, rushing for 100 yards and a touchdown along with 235 passing yards with two touchdowns.
Michigan appeared to go up by two scores late, but replay officials overturned the touchdown despite two contrasting endzone cameras with one showing Fitzgerald Toussaint’s knee down before crossing the line and the other showing the ball breaking the plane. The Wolverines dug themselves a hole by having another touchdown called back on the next play with two enforceable penalties, but Brendan Gibbons (Sr. #34) hit a career best 43 yard field goal. The defense held as the Buckeyes made one final charge.
Their Season So Far
It’s the quietest 11-0 Big Ten team in history. NCAA sanctions prevent Ohio State from going to a bowl and therefore, their undefeated record has no impact on the conference or national championship race. It also doesn’t help that this team has less credibility than Notre Dame as to how they’ve performed.
The Buckeyes normally schedule a pretty tough opponent in non-conference play, but there wasn’t one this season. Cal and UCF come the closest. OSU was one of three Big Ten teams along with Minnesota and Northwestern to finish the non-conference slate 4-0, but got into a 2nd half shootout with Cal, who finished the season 3-9 and fired head coach Jeff Tedford, Wednesday. A winless UAB team was within a touchdown in the 4th quarter.
Ohio State’s two most impressive victories came in back-to-back games with Michigan State and Nebraska to start conference play. The 63 points scored on Nebraska led most analysts to conclude that the Buckeyes were the best team in the Big Ten ahead of a two-loss Michigan team.
Ohio State’s biggest scare came at home vs. Purdue in week #4 of the Big Ten schedule. Miller was knocked out of the game late in the 3rd quarter with Buckeyes trailing by six. The fourth quarter offense led by back-up Kenny Guiton (Jr. #13) featured a missed field goal, a safety, and an interception with 2:40 remaining in the game. Trailing by eight and with Purdue having the ball, a Buckeye win seemed as improbable as a Michigan win over Northwestern when Kain Colter was awarded a first down with three minutes to play. The Buckeye defense forced a 3 & out giving OSU one last chance to score a touchdown with 47 seconds remaining. On the first play, Purdue defensive end Ryan Russell whiffed on sacking Guiton before Guiton found Devin Smith all alone for a 39 yard catch to the Boilermaker 22 yard line. After a pass interference call, Gution found Chris Fields (Jr. #80), who scored his first and only career touchdown with three seconds remaining. If that wasn’t enough, the Buckeyes had to convert a two-point conversion to force overtime, where they eventually won 29-22.
The Buckeyes won their second overtime game of the season at Wisconsin 21-14. Both teams played very hard defensively. The Ohio State offense struggled and managed one offensive touchdown in regulation while the Wisconsin defense held the Buckeyes to nearly half of the yards it averages per game. However, once overtime started, the Buckeyes scored in just three plays.
Watching this game alone, there’s room for optimism for the Michigan defense. Wisconsin focused on Miller and held him to 145 yards of total offense. The team was limited to 236 yards of total offense. Defensively, Ohio State looked like one of the best teams in the Big Ten. Against Indiana two weeks ago, Wisconsin rushed for a school record 564 yards and scored 62 on the road. Last week Wisconsin was held to 206 yards and mustered 14 points at Camp Randall. Ohio State’s John Simon (Sr. #54) looked unstoppable, tying a school record with four sacks in the game.
The Ohio State Offense vs. Michigan’s Defense
The conference’s best scoring offense goes up against the best scoring defense. OSU scores 38.4 ppg while Michigan holds opponents to 15.3 ppg over their last seven games.
Like Denard, Miller is the focal point for Ohio State. As a freshman last season, he only threw when he had to. He completed one pass at Illinois, but the Buckeyes let him air it out against Michigan and we became witness to his great potential some of which we’re now seeing a year later.
“You know, he’s throwing the ball better,” says Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison. He’s very elusive. He’ll take off running full speed and stop on a dime... I thought he was good last time. I think he’s a very, very good quarterback.”
In conference games, Miller is #3 in the Big Ten with 110.4 rushing yards per game and has 13 rushing touchdowns for the season. Miller has five runs over 50 yards and 13 runs over 20 yards.
With an injury to Jordan Hall, Carlos Hyde is the go-to running back when Miller isn’t keeping it for himself. In conference play Hyde has scored 13 touchdowns compared to Miller’s six, so Hyde who missed a couple of games in September, has been given more opportunities to score when the Buckeyes get closer to the goal line. Hyde is a 232 pound power back who Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer says is one of the most improved players on the team.
Meyer laments often on not having enough threats and success at receiver to make defenses pay for focusing on Miller, but statistically they’re a lot better than last year. No Buckeye receiver had more than 14 catches and Devin Smith (So. #15) led the team with only 294 yards. This season Smith has doubled his catches to 28 for 555 yards and Corey Brown (Jr. #10) leads the team with 52 catches for 574 yards. Brown is the first choice for Miller at receiver, but Smith is the one that makes the highlights. Last year it was for the game winning touchdown at the end of the Wisconsin game. This year, it was the 63 yard touchdown rope that proved to be the game winner in East Lansing. Smith leads the team with six touchdowns. Jake Stoneburner (Sr. #11) was expected to have much bigger senior season, after moving from tight end to ‘H’ receiver, but has only four catches in his last four games.
The last time the Michigan defense faced the conference’s best offense, the Wolverines held their own at Nebraska. This offense isn’t as diversified as the Huskers, but Miller is far more dangerous as a runner than Taylor Martinez and Hyde has ten more touchdowns than Ameer Abudllah in conference games. The Wolverines must keep both inside and away from the edges unless they can force them to go out of bounds.
Miller might hold on the ball too long to decide when to throw it or when to eat it. The line has given up 19 sacks in conference play which is near the bottom of the standings. Those are drive killers and the Michigan defense must come up with a couple of more in this game. However, only an outstanding effort from the Michigan defense will prevent Miller to become the single season record holder for total offense held by Bobby Hoying back in 1995. If Miller plays all four years and stays healthy, he’ll be on track for more than 40 rushing touchdowns and 60 passing touchdowns, which may be a first in NCAA history.
Both coaching staffs believe the familiarity between Meyer and Mattison is overblown. The pair worked together at Notre Dame and Mattison was Meyer’s defensive coordinator for three years at Florida, winning a national championship together. “It’s the players that play,” they’ll tell you, but many times success and failure are determined by the ‘right call at the right time’. For example, running a screen play or a dump off pass into a blitz call can be a big play for the offense while running three vertical patterns could result in a sack. Coaches have tendencies that are recognized by other coaches. Being predictable can be a problem, trying to outsmart your rival by banking on an opponent’s tendencies can be a bigger problem. In addition to guessing wrong, you may not be playing to your own strengths.
Desmond Morgan (So. #48) is expected to be back from an undisclosed injury, and freshman James Ross III (#15) has done a good job in his place, who can now be an extra tool in the box. The focus for the defense is to contain Miller on the edge, Hyde in the middle and not have the secondary be lulled to sleep by the run game. OSU has taken their shots down field when you least expect it.
The Ohio State Defense vs. the Michigan Offense
Is there a team more dangerous than Michigan once Devin Gardner started and his receivers started coming down with every deep ball thrown their way? The Wolverines have scored 16 touchdowns in their last three games. If not the most dangerous, the hardest to prepare for. With Robinson returning and that both he and Devin Gardner (Jr. #12) can play multiple positions the playbook has expanded. Ohio State’s defensive coaches are having sleepless nights preparing for what they’ve seen on film and what they haven’t seen but can envision with Robinson and Gardner playing together.
While Michigan’s offense is clicking so is Ohio State’s defense. It’s not among the best in the Big Ten, but they are No. 1 in rush defense in conference play (116.4 ypg).
Up front the Buckeyes are led by a future 1st round draft pick in Detroit native Johnathan Hankins (Jr. #52) and Simon, who Meyer called “the heart and soul of our program” this week.
“Hankins is as good as any defensive lineman playing, in the interiors in the country,” says Michigan head coach Brady Hoke.
Simon leads the Big Ten in sacks (9) and shares the lead in tackles-for-loss with 14. He leads in both categories when just conference stats are added.
“ I love watching him (Simon)play and have a lot of respect for him…I'm a defensive line coach, so I like watching guys that play that way and with that tempo and that toughness.”
Simon has saved his best games for the biggest games. Against Wisconsin and Nebraska, Simon has six sacks and nine tackles-for-loss.
Linebackers may be at their best right now. Etienne Sabino (Sr. #6) has returned from a broken leg and Zach Boren (Sr. #44) seems to be the missing piece they needed after converting from being a fullback. The true player on this group is Ryan Shazier (So. #10). He shares the Big Ten lead with Simon for tackles-for-loss, has over 100 tackles. The locals think he has a good chance to win the conference’s best defender award. If not, both Shazier and Michigan’s Jake Ryan (So. #47) will compete for it over the next two seasons. Both are cut from the same mold. These two make plays, have great football instincts, and force fumbles. It was Shazier who forced Montee Ball’s 2nd career fumble at the goal line in the closing minutes of regulation. Shazier says the game is slowing down for him and he’ll make a play or two in the backfield, Saturday.
At cornerback, Bradley Roby (So. #1) leads the nation with 19 passes defended including two interceptions. Those numbers are up in part because he’s being targeted, but it doesn’t hide the fact he’s breaking up passes and causing turnovers. Roby reportedly ran a 4.3 40 yard dash in camp, so he has good closing speed. The team has broken their single season record for pass break-ups with 71, which is being done by all three levels on the defense. A certain weak spot when the season began, the Buckeye coaches are playing more man coverage and are going all out to stop the run.
For Michigan, Gardner’s ball seems to be in the air for a long time and he’s made some passes closer to defenders than ideally wanted, but the Wolverine receivers have been coming down with every ball thrown their way when it’s more than 30 yards. Despite being undersized, they’re continuing to make plays. A big factor in the outcome in this game is whether that will continue or whether the Buckeyes can close and knock down a few that Minnesota, Northwestern, and Iowa haven’t been able to do.
Turnovers will also be a key, but there’s a contrasting story here. Overall, Ohio State is +1 in turnover margin while Michigan is -6. In conference play, however, it’s Michigan that is +1 and the Buckeyes are at -4.
“Will we be defined by this one game?” Meyer asks and then answers. “You usually are. Regardless of what happens, this is the game. Our kids know that. Our coaches know that, but that doesn't change anything we do.
Three hundred and sixty five days until the next game an outlook that is significantly different for the winner’s and loser’s future. A preseason #1 ranking for OSU for 2013 or a team losing its grip on Michigan hangs in the balance in Columbus.
ENJOY THE GAME! THANKS FOR READING!!