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Posts Tagged ‘Braxton Miller’

Blow for blow: Ohio State 42 – Michigan 41

Monday, December 2nd, 2013


Braxton Miller completed a 22-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jeff Heuerman to put Ohio State ahead 35-21 with a minute remaining in the third quarter. Michigan was as good as dead. The Wolverines, 15-point underdogs, hung around valiantly through the first half, but we’ve seen this story before. The game was starting to slip away and everyone in the stadium and watching at home could feel it. Except the players in the maize and blue.

“I think the lasting impression you should take from Brady Hoke’s team is these guys are going to fight no matter what,” said Taylor Lewan after the game. “We’re bred to fight. We’ll fight, claw, scratch, get knocked down, but we’ll keep moving forward no matter what.”

Final Stats
Michigan Ohio State
Score 41 42
Record 7-5 (3-5) 12-0 (8-0)
Total Yards 603 526
Net Rushing Yards 152 393
Net Passing Yards 451 133
First Downs 31 23
Turnovers 1 2
Penalties-Yards 4-35 3-25
Punts-Yards 3-132 3-134
Time of Possession 33:21 26:39
Third Down Conversions 8-of-14 3-of-8
Fourth Down Conversions 1-of-2 0-of-0
Sacks By-Yards 2-12 3-24
Field Goals 0-for-0 0-for-0
PATs 5-for-5 6-for-6
Red Zone Scores-Chances 6-of-7 2-of-2
Full Box Score

And fight they did. Ten minutes later, the game was tied and Michigan kicked the ball back to the Buckeyes. Suddenly, the team that was given no chance had taken its punches – figuratively and literally – and gotten right back up.

Ohio State marched right down the field to re-take the lead with 2:41 remaining. But a Michigan offense that had been on life support the previous four weeks still had some fight left.

Gardner to Funchess, 14 yards. Gardner to Dileo, 13 yards. Gardner to Dileo, 11 yards. Gardner to Reynolds, 13 yards. Gardner to Hayes, seven yards. Gardner to Toussaint, 29 yards. Gardner to Funchess, two yards, touchdown.

Michigan was an extra point away from taking the untouchable Buckeyes to overtime. But on this day, in this situation, Hoke had other plans.

“Ohio State’s head coach called timeout,” Lewan said. “We went over and he (Hoke) asked us seniors, ‘Do you want to go for it?’ and I don’t think there was one guy that said no. Every single person said yes.”

Kicking the extra point would have been the conservative route and on any other day the smart choice. Instead, Hoke sent the offense back out for one final play to decide the game.

Gardner dropped back as three receivers stacked to the right started their routes. Funchess, the front man, raced toward the post. The middle man, Gallon, ran to a corner route. The back man, Dileo, ran a curl, sitting down a yard inside the goal line. Gardner, with a man in his face, fired it towards him. A completion sends shockwaves throughout the college football landscape, derailing Ohio State’s national title hopes and 23-game winning streak, and salvaging Michigan’s season.

Instead, Dileo never had a chance to catch it as a Buckeye corner stepped in front and picked it off, ensuring Ohio State a 24th straight win overall and a 10th win in the last 12 meeting with Michigan.

“We play the game to win,” Hoke said afterward. “I thought about it and we did it…we wanted to go win the football game.”

Michigan didn’t win the game and finishes the regular season with a disappointing 7-5 record. But on a day in which 17 seniors were honored – none of which came to Michigan to play for the current coaching staff – the Wolverines rose to the occasion and put a scare into its most bitter rival. Michigan matched the vaunted Buckeyes blow for blow, got knocked down, fought its way back, and fell one play short.

When Michigan is back to the Michigan of old, winning Big Ten championships and vying for national titles, whether it be next year or sometime in the near future, we can look back at this game as the catalyst. And we have guys like Lewan and Gallon and Dileo – the seniors of Team 134 – for saying yes, and Hoke, the coach who entrusted the game’s most important decision to his leaders, to thank.

M&GB staff predictions: Ohio State

Friday, November 29th, 2013


Michigan has lost three of four. Ohio State has won 23 straight. Most around the country don’t give Michigan a chance. The huge Vegas spread is evidence of that. One would think that a Michigan blog would be the most optimistic, so do any of us give the Wolverines a shot? Let’s take a look at our predictions.

Justin: Now that The Game is finally here, Al Borges can finally open up his playbook that he has kept under wraps the past few weeks. No more letting defenders run through the line forcing Devin Gardner to think quickly. No more confounding runs ending up in loss of yards. No more three-and-outs. Michigan will move the ball with ease, torching an overmatched Buckeye defense and putting up 40 points in a big win.

Ok, so that would be fantasy land, right? In all reality, it will be more of the same as what we saw the last few weeks. Michigan will score some points, but the offense won’t simply move in spurts. The defense will do a good job of slowing down the Buckeyes, but it simply won’t be enough. Ohio State is the much better team and, while Michigan will put up a fight, the disparity will show.

Staff Predictions
Michigan Ohio State
Justin 24 38
Chris 17 31
Josh 13 31
Sam 3 31
Derick 14 47
Katie 21 35
Drew 13 34
M&GB Average 15 35

Ohio State 38 – Michigan 24

Chris: Ohio State 31 – Michigan 17

Josh: Let me set the table before we dig into this week’s prediction. I hate Ohio State, I always have and I always will, that’s a given. I never root for Ohio State, even if it’s in Michigan’s best interest, on those occasions I just hope they don’t lose so it benefits us but I never root for them, ever.

I lived in Ohio for almost two years and it made me hate them even more. I’ve been to Columbus for Michigan games on several occasions and those fans make me hate them more still. I hate that they have lying cheating coaches who skirt the rules and yet are still heralded by the school as if they did nothing wrong.

However, this year my hatred has seemed to fade a bit. Maybe it’s because I’m a grown man in my mid-30′s and I shouldn’t be harboring hatred towards a school and kids I don’t even know. But more likely it’s because a snowball has a better chance in hell (not the one in Michigan) than Michigan does this weekend. In the end I think I am just trying to temper my expectations and hatred so I don’t get too upset if we play horribly and lose by a ridiculous amount.

And now on to what I’d like to see from Michigan this week. Whether we see it is another story.

On Offense:

Michigan is pretty bad at protecting Devin Gardner and giving up sacks. Ohio is pretty good at sacking the QB. I’d just like to see Michigan keep Devin Gardner from getting hurt. We still have a bowl game to play and getting this offense more practices with their starting QB over the next month will only add to their growth heading into the offseason. If Gardner is injured and can’t practice much or at all I think that might slow down any progress this offense might make. I could be wrong but at the very least you don’t want a kid like Devin Gardner to get hurt.

Keep Fitz Toussaint on the bench. I know this sounds harsh especially since he’s a senior but with the line the way it is we cannot afford to have him dancing around and being tentative behind the line when he should just hit a hole and power through it. Derrick Green has shown some flashes of what he can be in the future and right now he needs as many touches as possible. He hits the hole and isn’t someone who can be arm tackled. Even when he doesn’t get much, as long as he gets back to the LOS, he falls forward and gets more yardage. The same cannot be said for Fitz.

Yes, he is a senior and yes not all of his issues are his fault but Michigan football is about putting the best eleven guys on the field and letting them play. He has yet to show me he is one of those eleven.

Find someone not named Jeremy Gallon or Devin Funchess when the going gets rough. Early on Jeremy Gallon was Gardner’s security blanket and for good reason but it became too predictable. As soon as he was in trouble he looked for #21. Once Funchess emerged he became a second outlet, then the top option for a while. But last week Gardner again went back to Gallon when he was pressured and flustered. Urban Meyer and Luke Fickell know this and will key on it. If Michigan is to stand a chance they need to get Jehu Chesson and others involved in the offense.

Take advantage of any positive situations. Michigan has been awful on third down and has failed to punch it in the end zone on numerous occasions when they’ve had short fields. Field goals won’t beat OSU, plain and simple. Michigan needs to take advantage of short fields, turnovers, even just solid field position and make it count.

Throw out the record and past failures of the season and play like this is our bowl game. No, it’s not really but it might as well be since we’ll end up with some mid major team in the bowl most likely. Ohio has locked up their Big Ten title game slot but a Michigan win would give them zero chance at the BCS title (if FSU and/or Bama lose) and that alone would be awesome.

This is not to say they won’t give their hearts and play with full effort, because I feel they already have been, but they need to bring out some nastiness and play like Michigan. I’ll spare you the Brady Hoke intro press conference reference but you know what I mean. If there ever was a game this year for them to play like Michigan, this is it.

On defense

Contain Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde. Far easier said than done but if anyone can do it it’s Greg Mattison. By contain I don’t mean shut down, I mean slow down and limit their big plays. Big plays, as we all know, have hurt Michigan this year. The Buckeyes have an explosive offense and stopping all big plays is a tall task, but if Michigan can limit them they increase their chances of hanging with them.

Disrupt their rhythm. When high octane offenses, or any offenses for that matter, get in a rhythm they can be very tough to stop. Getting a few early stops and/or turnovers could slow down the OSU attack and give Michigan a chance to put some points on the board.

Play with reckless abandon. Michigan is already assured a bowl game and a winning season even if they lose their last two games. So why not throw out all the stops and play every down like it’s their last. The defense playing well may be Michigan’s only chance to win this game. Being aggressive and going for the pick instead of the deflection is risky but now is the time to be risky and go for gold. The defense is solid but they need to bring their A-game on every single play and go all out if they want to give the offense a chance.

On Special Teams

If there ever was a game where field position mattered it would be this one. This OSU team is going to score, they’re just too good not to, but at least make them work hard for it by driving the length of the field.

This may tie in more to the offense’s general ineptness than the special teams’ ability but giving OSU good field position all afternoon will spell doom and frustration for Wolverine nation.

From the Fans

I added this section because I think it’s important. I’ve been as hard on this team as anyone this year, and it’s because I expect a lot of Michigan. All through my grade school and high school years Michigan was a dominant team against OSU. They upset good OSU teams and then went on to win the national championship my senior year of high school. Those years led me to expect top defenses, punishing running games and Rose Bowl or bust. I’ve been critical of Al Borges, we all have, and even Devin Gardner and others but at the end of the day I still love Michigan football.

These kids ARE playing their hearts out, they ARE giving 100% effort and for anyone to question that is just disgusting. Expecting more from Michigan is one thing, but calling out players on Twitter or other media and questioning their heart and acting like jerks (or a more colorful word) isn’t cool. And it isn’t the Michigan way.

Win or lose I want Michigan fans to take the high road and not act like fools. Be disappointed if we lose, I will be, but don’t say hateful things to the players. These are 18-22 year old kids, they don’t need constant criticism from people outside the program, they need our support. And win or lose, that is what we should give them.

Prediction

As much as it pains me to say this I don’t think Michigan stands a chance. Yes, miracles do happen and I’ve seen bad Michigan teams beat good OSU teams before but I’m just not feeling that way this year. Unless the offensive line becomes great all of a sudden I’m not so sure we sniff the end zone much. Inability to convert on third downs, or even long downs could spell very short fields and numerous scoring opportunities for the Buckeyes. Above all else, OSU needs a statement win to impress the voters and Urbs will be looking to keep pouring it on a hated rival.

Ohio State 31 – Michigan 13

Sam: Do yourself a favor and try to stay away from the TV on Saturday if at all possible. The Game will not be much of a game this season in the blistering cold in Ann Arbor as Ohio State hammers one final nail into Al Borges’s coffin with a big win.

Ohio State 31 – Michigan 3

Derick: After completely forgetting about the second half of the game against Iowa,  Michigan has lost all confidence in it’s ability to move the ball. Though they put up 21 points in the first half, the team had less than 150 yards as a whole.

Unfortunately, an underrated and underrecognized defense is suffering from the offense’s  inability to get first downs, and it spends far too much time on the field.

Ohio State is the best team on Michigan’s schedule, and Michigan hasn’t handled the other 11 games well.

Discounting the first two Rich Rod years, this game would be the most surprising in my years as a Michigan fan if we pulled off an upset.

Ohio State 47 – Michigan 14

Katie: Maybe because this isn’t in The Shoe the Buckeyes won’t be lucky this weekend. Michigan could pull off the upset, but without a bit of good fortune and the full support of the crowd I don’t see it being a favorable outcome for the Wolverines. No, The Buckeyes have too potent an offense, and too resilient a defense. Miller is a great QB and a mobile threat as well. Their backup, Kenny Guiton, isn’t too bad either. That in combination with a powerful running game could mean some rather large issues for Michigan. If they have a weakness Michigan can exploit though, it will be in the passing game. The Maize and Blue will have to play their best defensive game of the year not only to keep OSU in check points wise, but to make sure that their fumbling offense won’t have too much of an uphill battle to overcome.

In this game I’m always for retaining that glimmering hope even when the outlook seems bleak. And if we get beat and beat badly, I hope that it will at least mean a change in coaching staff.

Ohio State 35 – Michigan 21

Drew: This week’s “Inside the Numbers” column detailed Michigan’s odds to upset third-ranked Ohio State in “The Game” tomorrow. To summarize those odds in one word: bleak. OSU has won a school-record 23 straight games. Michigan has lost four of its last six. Accordingly, OSU is a 15-point road favorite against U-M. Since 2000, the Wolverines are only 2-10 against the spread versus the Buckeyes. And, in the past three seasons, Big Ten teams that have been more than a two-touchdown underdog have won only five percent of their games.

In rivalry games, though, there is a general attitude that all rational thought and reason should be thrown out the window and that one should expect the unexpected. Michigan fans have experienced this many times before, witnessing the Wolverines record monumental upsets against their bitter rival from Columbus in 1969, 1993, 1995, and 1996 among others. So if Michigan was to surprise the world by handing Ohio State its first loss and salvage its season, it would not be a first.

But do not hold your breath, Michigan fans. It hurts to say it, but it will not happen tomorrow. The Wolverines will fight, claw, and do everything in their power to win tomorrow, but it will not be enough. The Wolverines will keep it close in the first half as Greg Mattison unleashes defensive schemes that confound Braxton Miller. However, an offense as explosive and dynamic as Ohio State’s will not remain dormant all game. The Buckeyes will blow it open in the third quarter, and Michigan’s offense—the one that has scored only 42 in its past four regulations—will not be able to keep pace. A long month of hardship finally will cease for the Wolverines. Unfortunately, it will be on a sour note.

Ohio State 34 – Michigan 13

______________________________________________________________________________

Links:

For more coverage of this week’s game, see: Michigan-Ohio State game preview; Monday’s First Look: Ohio State, and this week’s Five-Spot Challenge. Katie took a look back at Michigan’s big upset of Ohio State 20 years ago; Drew (@DrewCHallett) says screw the numbers, beat Ohio; and a Thanksgiving salute to the seniors that will be playing their final game in Michigan Stadium tomorrow.

Yours truly participated in Yahoo Sports The Post Game’s The Loyalty Report. I provided the Michigan side of why Michigan will win tomorrow, while Johnny Ginter of Eleven Warriors did the Ohio State view.

Also check out game previews from MGoBlogMaize n BrewTouch the BannerMaize n Blue Nation, and The M Block.

From the other side, game preview from Eleven Warriors, as well as a roundtable.

Finally, tomorrow is the last day to donate to the indiegogo campaign for Vincent Smith, Martaveous Odoms, and Brandin Hawthorne’s Pahokee garden project. Help out a group of Michigan Men who are working to make their hometown a better place.

Michigan-Ohio State game preview

Friday, November 29th, 2013


Twelve times in the history of college football’s greatest rivalry have the Ohio State Buckeyes entered the annual season-ending showdown unbeaten. In nine of those they came away with defeat. Tomorrow will be lucky number 13 for the scarlet and gray, and with a school record 23-game winning streak Urban Meyer’s squad has its sights set on a national championship.

On paper it’s easy to see why the Bucks have had such success. They rank third nationally in points scored, eighth in points against, sixth in rushing yards, seventh in total offense, seventh in third down conversions, fourth in red zone percentage, sixth in rush defense, 12th in total defense, and second in sacks. Statistically, they’re about as complete a team as there is in the country. But there’s a reason they find themselves ranked third in the BCS standings entering the final week of the regular season: their strength of schedule.

Quick Facts
Michigan Stadium – 12pm EST – ABC
Ohio State Head Coach: Urban Meyer (2nd season)
Coaching Record: 127-23 (23-0 at OSU)
Offensive Coordinator: Tom Herman (2nd season)
Defensive Coordinator: Luke Fickell (9th season)
Last Season: 12-0 (8-0, 1st Leaders)
Last Meeting: OSU 26 – Michigan 21 (2012)
All-Time Series: Michigan leads 58-45-6
Record in Ann Arbor: Michigan leads 31-20-4
Record at Michigan Stadium: Michigan leads 23-18-3
Current Michigan Streak: Lost 1
Last Michigan Win: 2011

Michigan isn’t likely to help in that regard given that the Wolverines come in just 7-4, 3-4 in Big Ten play, having dropped three of their last for and four of their last six. Yet according to the Sagarin Ratings, Michigan (46th) is the third best team Ohio State has faced this season, behind only Wisconsin (4th) and Iowa (35th). Three Buckeye opponents are just downright terrible. California (117th) ranks near the bottom of the FBS; Purdue (157th) is behind several FCS schools; and Florida A&M (224th) is near the bottom of the FCS.

While Ohio State boasts an average winning margin of just over 30 points, the Bucks aren’t quite so invincible as it appears. Against teams ranked in the top 70 that winning margin is cut in third, to just over 20 points. Against teams ranked in the top 50, it drops to just 8.5, and both of those opponents were either tied or within one score in the fourth quarter.

Michigan falls within the top 50 and despite four losses has had a chance to win all but the Michigan State game down the stretch. The 15-point Vegas line may be too high.

Much has been made this week about the comparisons to 1969 when a 6-2 Michigan team upset a heavily favored unbeaten Ohio State squad. Comparatively, that Michigan team was better than this one, but the fact that the Wolverines pulled it off and did so again in 1993, ’95, and ’96 shows that anything can happen. Brady Hoke knows that which is why he played up the ’69 game this week, to instill confidence in a team that has lacked it the last few weeks.

Can Michigan pull off what would be an even greater upset than it was in ’69? Will Ohio State dominate as most are predicting? Or will the result lie somewhere in between – a great game that goes down to the final minutes? Honestly, all three are possible, but let’s take a look at how the teams compare.

Michigan defense vs Ohio State offense: When Ohio State has the ball

The offense is what makes the Buckeyes go, averaging nearly 50 points per game. It all starts with quarterback Braxton Miller and running back Carlos Hyde. Miller’s improvement since Michigan’s win in 2011 has allowed the entire offense to keep expanding. He’s completing 67.7 percent of his passes, taking care of the football (only four interceptions), and averaging 6.4 yards per carry.

Hyde missed the first three games of the season due to suspension but last week became the first 1,000-yard rusher of Urban Meyer’s career. He has 1,064 yards in eight games, averaging a whopping 7.7 yards per carry. He has eclipsed 100 yards in each of the last six games.

Philly Brown and Devin Smith are talented receiving targets for Miller. Brown leads the Buckeyes with 49 receptions for 596 yards and nine touchdowns, while Smith has 40 for 591 and seven. Tight end Jeff Heuerman is the third leading receiver with 22 catches for 314 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

Freshman Dontre Wilson is the jack of all trades that Meyer loves. He has 28 carries for 226 yards and a touchdown as well as 21 receptions for 215 yards and two scores. He also averages 25.8 yards per kick return. Meyer likes to get the ball in his hands in space to use his athleticism.

The offensive line is a veteran group that has done a great job of paving the way for the running game and has also protected Miller, allowing just 13 sacks. It is led by senior left tackle and captain Jack Mewhort who has started 36 straight games.

The Buckeye offense is versatile enough to run spread or power and also utilizes a lot of tempo. Michigan’s defense has struggled against tempo this season – most notably against Indiana – and hasn’t seen an offense this talented. You can bet Greg Mattison will be prepared to at least slow the Buckeyes down. But if the Michigan offense isn’t able to string together drives and give the defense some rest it could be in for a long day.

Michigan offense vs Ohio State defense: When Michigan has the ball

Ohio State’s defense ranks highly statistically in all areas except pass defense, but has been prone to giving up yards and points. Buffalo scored 20, Cal scored 34 – the most they scored all season against FBS opponents -, Northwestern scored 30, and Illinois scored 35.

The defense is led by linebacker Ryan Shazier who leads the team with 108 tackles, 47 more than the next best. He has 19.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks.

The line doesn’t have a single senior but is a very talented group that has a chance to help break the school’s single season sack record. The Bucks have 36 sacks so far and the school record is 47. End Noah Spence is the leader with 7.5 sacks, while the other end, Joey Bosa, has 5.5. The tackles, Adolphus Washington and Michael Bennett, have 7.5 combined.

The secondary has been the one unit that has been picked on this season. Cornerback Bradley Roby is the one that gets all the attention. He could have gone pro last season but came back and has had an up and down season. The safeties, Christian Bryant and CJ Barnett, are also veterans, but Bryant was lost for the season with a broken ankle against Wisconsin. That has certainly caused some of the problems in the secondary.

Michigan can move the ball on the Buckeyes if and only if Al Borges utilizes a quick passing game with short and intermediate routes from the start. Long drops will put Devin Gardner in the same position he has found himself in the past few weeks: in the face of pressure, resulting in either sacks or poor decisions.

The other third: Special Teams

Kicker Drew Basil has three years of experience as the starting kicker. He has made 8-of-9 field goals this season with a long of 45. Punter Cameron Johnson averages 43.5 yards per punt with 21 of 34 ending up inside the 20.

Prediction

There’s no doubt about it, Michigan needs to play a perfect game in order to win. Even then, it will need some Ohio State mistakes and a bit of luck as well. Gardner has to be smart with the ball, not throw it away as he has been prone to, and not lose unnecessary yards when faced with pressure. The offensive line has to call the right protections and give Gardner time. Derrick Green has to hit the holes hard and run with a purpose. Jeremy Gallon, Devin Funchess, and Drew Dileo have to catch everything thrown their way. The defense has to prevent the big play but also take the pounding from Hyde without breaking.

The chance of all of these things happening is extremely low. I do expect Michigan to play inspired football, hoping to recapture the magic of 1969, but that will only carry them so far. It will come down to execution and playcalling. Will Borges feature a short passing game early on to keep the linebackers back? If not, Gardner will be running for his life like he has the past few weeks. Can Mattison have his defense ready at the time of snap when OSU goes into its tempo offense, but at the same time defend both the edge and the thumping it will receive from Hyde?

How the first quarter goes will determine the outcome of this one. If Michigan can have some offensive success and get a stop or two early on the Wolverines will gain confidence that they can compete. If they turn the ball over, get a couple of three-and-outs, and fall behind early, the floodgates will open. I think Michigan hangs around just enough into the second half to give some hope but is simply overmatched when all is said and done.

Ohio State 38 – Michigan 24

Inside the Numbers: Screw the numbers, Beat Ohio (State)

Wednesday, November 27th, 2013


(Bentley.umich.edu)

Michigan versus Ohio State. Maize and Blue versus Scarlet and Gray. The greatest rivalry in all of sports. No fancy nickname or trophy is needed to enhance the rivalry’s prestige. It is known simply as “The Game,” a term that implies that no athletic competition is better, more important, or more anticipated than the one played on the gridiron between the Wolverines and the Buckeyes each year in late November.

And, yet, this year, Michigan fans are dreading the 110th edition of “The Game.” Even worse, U-M fans are apathetic about it. Yes, they still have an interest in the game’s result. But the passion and fanatical excitement that usually accompanies that interest? Gone. Or diminished, at best.

Michigan fans finally have bailed on this season. They held onto hope for as long as they could that the Wolverines could right the ship, even after the Wolverines needed incredible plays just to eke out victories against Akron, Connecticut, and Northwestern—teams with a combined 9-23 record. But after U-M blew a 14-point halftime lead against Iowa to lose its third game in four weeks, fans let go of that hope.

To see the quantitative effect, go to Stubhub.com. Ticket prices for “The Game” have plummeted this month. In the summer, the cheapest ticket one could find for this Saturday was for $232, and the average ticket cost $380.38. Those prices made Michigan-Ohio State one of the ten hottest tickets of the college football season. However, this week, prices have dropped to as low as $60 because Michigan fans are selling their tickets en masse. They would rather allow Ohio State fans infiltrate Michigan Stadium than witness firsthand the beatdown that the Buckeyes likely will impose on the Wolverines.

While Michigan fans should support the team through thick and thin, their apathy is not misguided. No matter how one tries to analyze the numbers, whether this year’s statistics, the recent history of the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry, or how teams perform as an underdog generally, all signs point to a game that most Wolverine fans will want to forget.

The duo of Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde will be tough to stop, but the same could be said about Rex Kern and Jim Otis in 1969 (Jonathan Daniel, Getty Images)

Ohio State enters this Saturday as the third-ranked team in the nation. The Buckeyes have won a school-record 23 straight games and have yet to experience defeat at the helm of Urban Meyer. In contrast, the Wolverines have been trending downwards. After an 11-2 record in Brady Hoke’s inaugural season in Ann Arbor, U-M is just 15-9 the past two years and has lost four of its last six contests.

On the field, Michigan’s defense has performed well most of the season, but Ohio State’s offense will be the most explosive and dynamic it will face. OSU has scored the third-most points and gained the seventh-most yards in the nation. Further, the Buckeyes have topped 30 points in all 11 games and scored at least 40 in all but two. To make matters worse for U-M, OSU runs an up-tempo offense. The last time Michigan’s defense faced an offense that lines up at such a rapid pace, it allowed the most points it has this season—47 to Indiana.

On the other side of the line of scrimmage, many consider Ohio State’s defense to be a weak link, but that description is only proper if relative to the strength of OSU’s offense. The Buckeyes are ranked #8 in scoring defense and #12 in total defense. Ohio State’s defense will seem like a sideline-to-sideline roadblock to a Michigan offense that has averaged only 10.5 points and 200.75 total yards in regulation of its last four games. To compound the Wolverines’ problems, OSU employs one of the best pass rushes in college football, registering the second-most sacks in the country. This is likely that last thing that Michigan’s offensive line—ranked 110th in sacks allowed and dead last in tackles-for-loss allowed—wants to hear.

The statistics suggest undoubtedly that Ohio State is the better team. By far. Las Vegas sports books agree with that sentiment, too, setting the Buckeyes as a 15-point road favorite against Michigan. This is not unfamiliar territory for the Maize and Blue. This is the fourth time in the past six years that Ohio State has been a double-digit favorite against the Wolverines.

The good news for Michigan is that Vegas’ betting lines do not determine the outcome of games. Rather, they indicate the quality of two teams relative to one another and help determine which games a team should win and which games a team should lose. The bad news, though, is that Michigan has not won a game against Ohio State that it was supposed to lose in a long time—since 2000 to be exact. Also, Michigan is only 2-10 against the spread versus OSU since then and has not covered the spread against its rivals from Columbus since 2006. Given this trend, the odds that Michigan will not only cover the 15-point spread, but also win outright against the Buckeyes are bleak.

Additionally, under Hoke, Michigan has lacked the ability to upset opponents when given the rare opportunity to do so. In the 11 games in which his team was the underdog, Michigan has won only three times for a paltry winning percentage of 27.3. The Wolverines earned those upset victories against Notre Dame and Illinois in 2011 and Northwestern this season—although, Michigan was no more than a 4.5-point underdog in each.

To be fair, Michigan is not the only team with a poor winning percentage as an underdog. Most teams struggle to win these games. Otherwise, the people employed by Vegas sports books most likely would be pursuing another profession. As the following table indicates, since 2011, all but two Big Ten teams have lost a majority of the games in which Vegas deemed them an underdog:

B1G Schools’ Records as a Favorite and an Underdog Since 2011 – By School
School Overall Record Record as a Favorite Record as an Underdog
MICHIGAN 26-11 (70.3%) 23-3 (88.5%) 3-8 (27.3%)
Illinois 13-23 (36.1%) 12-7 (63.2%) 1-16 (5.9%)
Indiana 9-26 (25.7%) 7-5 (58.3%) 2-21 (8.7%)
Iowa 18-18 (50.0%) 16-8 (66.7%) 2-10 (16.7%)
Michigan State 28-10 (73.7%) 22-5 (81.5%) 6-5 (54.5%)
Minnesota 17-19 (47.2%) 10-2 (83.3%) 7-17 (29.2%)
Nebraska 27-11 (71.1%) 24-5 (82.8%) 3-6 (33.3%)
Northwestern 20-17 (54.1%) 14-3 (82.4%) 6-14 (30.0%)
Ohio State 29-7 (80.6%) 25-3 (89.3%) 4-4 (50.0%)
Penn State 23-13 (63.9%) 19-4 (82.6%) 4-9 (30.8%)
Purdue 14-23 (37.8%) 11-2 (84.6%) 3-21 (12.5%)
Wisconsin 28-11 (71.8%) 27-5 (84.4%) 1-6 (14.3%)

However, not all underdogs are the same. Small underdogs have a significantly better chance to win than an underdog projected to lose by double digits. This should not be groundbreaking to most. The following table provides, since 2011, how often Big Ten underdogs have won based on the value of the spread:

B1G Schools’ Records as an Underdog Since 2011 – By Spread Value
0.0 to +3.0 +3.5 to +7.0 +7.5 to +10.0 +10.5 to +14.0 +14.5 or More
22-21 (51.2%) 9-34 (20.9%) 8-25 (24.2%) 1-17 (5.6%) 2-40 (4.8%)

There have been three different types of Big Ten underdogs recently. First, teams that were an underdog by a field goal or less actually have won more often than they lost. Second, teams that were an underdog by more than field goal but no more than 10 points won just more than one-fifth of their games. Michigan has been no exception under Hoke. U-M is 2-2 in games in which it was a three-point underdog or less, 1-5 in games in which it was a 3.5-point to 10-point underdog.

The third type, which unfortunately applies to Michigan this Saturday, consists of teams that were projected to lose by more than 10 points. These teams win outright only once in a blue moon. Since 2011, these underdogs have won only three times in 60 chances. Here are those three monumental upsets:

B1G Underdogs (10.5 Points or More) that Won Outright Since 2011
Date Underdog Opponent Spread Score
Oct. 29, 2011 Minnesota Iowa +14.5 22-21
Nov. 5, 2011 Northwestern Nebraska +17.5 28-25
Oct. 19, 2013 Minnesota Northwestern +12.5 20-17

This is only the sixth time since at least the mid-1990s—and likely much earlier than then—that Michigan has been this type of underdog. In that span, the Wolverines have pulled off the shocking upset only once, but it was not under the direction of Hoke. Instead, it occurred in Lloyd Carr’s final game as Michigan’s head coach, when the Wolverines beat Urban Meyer- and Tim Tebow-led Florida, 41-35, in the 2008 Capital One Bowl, despite being a 10.5-point underdog.

Nevertheless, this was not the only time that Maize and Blue pulled off such a big upset. The 2008 Capital One Bowl may be fresher in the minds of Michigan fans, but the other one was slightly more notable. On November 22, 1969, the top-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes arrived in Ann Arbor with a then-school-record 22-game winning streak to play Michigan. Prior to that year, OSU had beaten U-M in 11 of the past 15 games of the rivalry, including a 50-14 rout in 1968. Very few outside the U-M locker room, if any, expected Michigan, a 17-point underdog, to beat a team considered by some at the time to be the best college football team in the history of the sport.

It will take a monumental effort to pull off what the 1969 team did (Bentley)

The rest is history. Michigan manhandled Ohio State for all 60 minutes, relying on seven OSU turnovers en route to a 24-12 victory, which was coined by ABC play-by-play announcer Bill Flemming as “the upset of the century.” The historic upset sent Michigan to the Rose Bowl, prevented Ohio State from clinching its second straight national championship, and sparked the legendary Ten Year War between Bo Schembechler and Woody Hayes. It is regarded by many as the most important win in Michigan football history.

So what does this mean entirely for the 2013 Michigan football team with “The Game” only three days away? It means that the Michigan fan base does not believe the Wolverines can upset the Buckeyes. It means that the statistics do not believe that the Wolverines can upset the Buckeyes. It means that Vegas sports books do not believe that the Wolverines can upset the Buckeyes.

Guess what? They are all probably right. The odds that the Wolverines upset the Buckeyes are slim to none.

So despite the fact the author of this column has preached for weeks that the truth lies within the numbers, the Michigan players need to walk out of the Michigan Stadium tunnel at noon this Saturday and yell collectively, “Screw them! Screw the numbers!” They need to remember 1969. They need to remember that, although they may not be as talented as that 1969 Michigan team, the Wolverines have stunned the Buckeyes before as a double-digit underdog. They need to remember that history has a tendency to repeat itself.

And, most importantly, they need to #BeatOhio.

Three Notes You Should Know Before Michigan-Ohio State

  1. This Saturday will be the third straight game that Michigan will be an underdog. Two weeks ago, U-M was a 2.5-point underdog against Northwestern, and, last week, it was a six-point underdog to Iowa. This is the first time since the final three games of the 2010 season against Wisconsin, Ohio State, and Mississippi State that the Wolverines have been an underdog in three consecutive contests.
  1. Both Blake Countess and Raymon Taylor added interceptions to their season totals. Countess became the 14th Wolverine to pick five passes in a season—the most by a U-M player since Todd Howard intercepted six passes in 2000. Taylor’s fourth interception meant that Michigan has two players with at least four picks in the same season for the first time since 1998.
  1. As this section has mentioned almost weekly, Jeremy Gallon has been climbing up Michigan’s receiving lists. Gallon has 1,109 receiving yards this season, needing only 66 yards on Saturday to have the second-most, single-season total in school history. In addition, Gallon and Devin Funchess have 1,795 combined receiving yards in 2013. If they add 262 more to that total by season’s end, they will be the most prolific single-season receiver duo in U-M history.

You can follow Drew on Twitter: @DrewCHallett

Five-Spot Challenge: Ohio State

Wednesday, November 27th, 2013


Congratulations to tooty_pops for winning last week’s Five-Spot Challenge. As seems to be the theme this season, he benefited from being the least confident in Michigan on Saturday. His prediction of 30 was just one more than Iowa receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley’s total punt return yards. He was also the closest to Jeremy Gallon’s receiving yards, just 14 away, and the second closest to the total made field goal yards by Brendan Gibbons – which was zero. He was also the second closest to Devin Gardner’s total yards (127 away). Tooty_pops wins a $20 M Den gift card.

Jim Mackiewicz came in second with a total deviation of 311. He wasn’t closest in any category, but was consistent in all five. Kashkaav, the winner of the UConn week, finished third and was the closest to Gardner’s total yards (tied with new contestant lmack). Kfarmer16 tied tooty_pops at just one away from Martin-Manley’s punt return yards, while the winner from two weeks ago, Myrick55 was the closest to Gardner’s total field goal yards.

We’re still looking for our first correctly predicted score. GrizzlyJFB was the closest, correctly picking Iowa’s 24 points, but was six high on Michigan. The average combined score among the 14 contestants was Michigan 20 – Iowa 16. Only three of 14 picked Iowa to win.

The weekly results have been updated and the overall standings will be updated shortly.

We all know what week this is, so in the spirit of the rivalry, we’re going to offer up a few more questions than normal. Good luck and Go Blue!

We played like we should have all season – with emotion

Tuesday, November 26th, 2013


There isn’t much hope for Saturday’s game against Ohio State, unless of course it’s hoping for a miracle. Michigan is near the bottom of the Big Ten Legends Division, having only the poor Wildcats of Northwestern beneath them. Going into Saturday the Maize and Blue are looking pretty downtrodden and the gridiron cry for this week seems to be ‘Let the opposition be merciful and our potential be miraculously fulfilled.’

Will it happen? Well, it’s not impossible.

Two decades ago, Michigan played the Bucks and came away with an improbable win. Going in they were 6-4 – not exactly an impressive or fear-inducing number for the fifth-ranked Buckeyes. But when the game clock expired on that cold November day the score read 28-0 and team with the goose egg was Ohio State. The Wolverines had pulled off a stunner.

Can the 2013 team pull off such a victory? They’re 7-4 and the Buckeyes are third in the nation. So at the first glance the circumstances are similar to those in ’93.

Tyrone Wheatley rushed for 105 yards in the first half of the 1993 game (AP photo)

The coach of our rival all those years ago? John Cooper, the man who is remembered not for his worthy credentials on the field, but for his inability to beat ‘That Team Up North’.

Urban Meyer isn’t likely to suffer such infamy, though time will tell. For all we know, this could be the beginning of the reverse of fortune for Michigan in this time-honored rivalry. But if it is, going by the results of the early ’90s game, the Wolverines are going to have to put forth an excellent defensive game.

Four interceptions helped to lift the home team over their highly touted opponent that day, as well as an impressive 100-yard game by Tyrone Wheatley in only two quarters. It also helped that Ohio State used two different quarterbacks, and the one that Cooper stuck with saw his passes in the hands of Michigan defenders about as often as his teammates’.

Will Braxton Miller, who has thrown for 19 touchdowns and just four interceptions, make the same poor decisions and give up the football? It could happen. But what’s more likely is that the problems Michigan has faced all year will not be washed away by the fervent and inspired play of their defense.

Devin Gardner’s touchdown to interception ratio is 17:11. The Wolverines are 100th in the nation in rushing. The ’93 Buckeyes? Their rushing game was nearly as ineffective and led to situations where they were forced to pass. Being transparent and passing poorly, Ohio State suffered.

This year however, the Buckeyes are third in the nation in rushing yards, and it’s unlikely that they will make a mistake like accidentally downing the ball on a punt near their own red zone. But stranger things have happened in football than an underdog victory.

I think then-head coach Gary Moeller said it best at the time: “It was probably our lack of success during the season that helped in our victory. We played like we should have all season – with emotion.”

If Michigan can do that, maybe, just maybe they’ll be play an outstanding game and redeem the season.

First Look: Ohio State

Monday, November 25th, 2013


Michigan’s season continued its downward spiral on Saturday as the Wolverines blew a 14-point halftime lead and gained a season low 158 total yards of offense in the process. Now, the one game season begins with rival Ohio State coming to town.

The obvious storyline is Ohio State’s 23-game winning streak. Urban Meyer still hasn’t lost since he took over in Columbus last season and the Buckeyes are still trying to back their way into the BCS title game. With Alabama and Florida State ahead of them, Ohio State needs to not only win, but win impressively to try to gain ground. The Bucks have already locked up a spot in the Big Ten Championship Game against Michigan State, but you can be assured that they won’t overlook Michigan.

Ohio State has won its 11 games by an average of 30.4 points per game, beating Florida A&M 76-0, Penn State 63-14, and Purdue 56-0. But not every game has been a blowout. Wisconsin, Northwestern, Iowa, and even Illinois to some extent played the Buckeyes tough despite losing. Wisconsin is by far the best team Ohio State has faced and if not for a dropped interception at the end of the first half that was followed by a 40-yard touchdown strike on the next play, the Badgers might have ended Meyer’s streak.

The following week was supposed to be a big showdown at Northwestern. ESPN College Game Day was there and the Wildcats led 20-13 at halftime and 30-27 midway through the fourth quarter. But Northwestern has lost seven straight and with each passing week Ohio State’s win looks less and less impressive.

Those were the only ranked teams the Buckeyes have beaten this season and only Wisconsin is still ranked. When it comes to common opponents, aside from Northwestern, Ohio State beat Penn State and Iowa, both teams that Michigan lost to. However, the Bucks had them both at home while Michigan played them both on the road. The fourth common opponent is Indiana, which Ohio State beat 42-14 this past Saturday. Michigan set several offensive records against the Hoosiers, but the Buckeyes didn’t even top 500 total yards.

There’s no argument which is the better team, but does Michigan have any chance of upsetting the men of the scarlet and grey? Or will Urban’s streak continue? Let’s take a look at how the two compare statistically.

Ohio State Statistics & Michigan Comparison
Ohio StateMichigan Rank Opponent Rank
Points Per Game 48.7 | 33.1 3 | 47 18.4 | 25.1 8 | 52
Rushing Yards 3,4621,417 1,048 | 1,280
Rush Avg. Per Game 314.7 | 128.8 5 | 100 95.3 | 116.4 6 | 14
Avg. Per Rush 6.9 | 3.2 2.9 | 3.2
Passing Yards 2,3782,574 2,619 | 2,603
Pass Avg. Per Game 216.2234.0 75 | 62 238.1 | 236.6 81 | 80
Total Offense 5,8403,991 3,667 | 3,883
Total Off Avg. Per Game 530.9 | 362.8 7 | 95 333.4 | 353.0 12 | 26
Kick Return Average 23.5 | 22.6 27 | 41 17.8 | 22.6 10 | 92
Punt Return Average 9.0 | 6.7 52 | 91 16.5 | 7.4 119 | 57
Avg. Time of Possession 32:0631:41 23 | 31 27:54 | 28:19
3rd Down Conversion Pct 53% | 38% 7 | 83 33% | 38% 16 | T51
Sacks Allowed-Yards/By-Yards 13-69 | 32-244 T20 | T110 36-250 | 21-159 T2 | T69
Touchdowns Scored 73 | 45 26 | 30
Field Goals-Attempts 8-9 | 16-23 7-10 | 23-29
Red Zone Scores (51-54)94% | (39-46)85% 4 | T52 (24-31)77% | (33-39)85% 31 | T80
Red Zone Touchdowns (45-54)83% | (30-46)65% (19-31)61% | (19-39)49%

Ohio State’s offense is one of the best in the nation, ranking third in points per game (48.7), fifth in rushing average (314.7), and seventh in total offense (530.9). While Michigan’s offense has struggled in Big Ten play, Ohio State’s hasn’t missed a beat. The lowest offensive total they have recorded in a game this season is 390 yards. Michigan has seven of 11 games with fewer total yards, and in three of Michigan’s last four games, the Wolverines gained less than half the total yards of Ohio State’s worst game.

Meanwhile, Michigan’s defense has held six opponents to fewer than 390 total yards, including Nebraska and Northwestern, so there is some hope that Greg Mattison’s crew can at least slow down the Buckeyes.

Ohio State does most of its work on the ground. Led by Carlos Hyde – the first 1,00-yard rusher of Meyer’s career – and Braxton Miller, the Buckeyes average a Big Ten best 314.7 rushing yards per game. Hyde has rushed for at least 100 yards in each of his last six games. The most total rushing yards Michigan’s defense has allowed in a game is the 168 yards Iowa gained on Saturday.

Urban Meyer brings a 23-game winning streak into Ann Arbor (Rich Barnes, USA Today Sports)

The Buckeye passing game isn’t as explosive, but that’s more because it doesn’t need to be than because it can’t be. Miller’s arm has vastly improved since the last time he came to Ann Arbor two years ago. The Bucks average just 216.2 passing yards per game, but Miller completes nearly 68 percent of his passes and has a 19-4 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Michigan’s pass defense ranks 80th nationally and has allowed more than 300 passing yards four times this season.

Defensively, Ohio State is similar to Michigan in that it is better against the run than against the pass. Indiana and California both gained 132 yards on the ground and no opponent has gained more. That’s bad news for a Michigan running game that has gained just 130 total rushing yards in the past four games combined.

The Buckeyes’ pass defense is actually slightly worse than Michigan’s, giving up a yard and a half more than Michigan per game. California, which is 1-11 and the only win was over an FCS team, passed for 371 yards on the Buckeyes. Wisconsin, Northwestern, Iowa, Penn State, and Indiana each threw for at least 237 yards.

In addition to gaining a lot of yards offensively, Ohio State ranks seventh nationally in third down conversions (53 percent), 20th in sacks allowed (13), and fourth in red zone offense, having converted 94 percent of their 54 red zone trips and 83 percent of those have been touchdowns.

The Bucks are strong in those categories on defense as well, ranking 16th in third down conversions (33 percent), second in sacks (36), and 31st in red zone defense (77 percent).

If there is one statistical weakness for the Buckeyes, it’s a minor one. Ohio State ranks 119th nationally in punt coverage, allowing 16.5 yards per return. However, that stat is a bit misleading as OSU has punted only 34 times all season and only six of those have been returned. Of the other 28, 21 have been downed inside the 20.

When looking at the two teams statistically, there isn’t really anything to give much hope of an upset. But they play the games on the field, not on paper, and as the two teams have shown over the long history of the storied rivalry, anything can happen. Michigan could salvage its disappointing season with a win, and that’s really all the Wolverines have to play for at this point.

Key Players
Passing Comp-Att Yards TD INT Rating
Braxton Miller 132-195 1,626 19 4 165.8
Kenny Guiton 75-109 749 14 2 165.2
Rushing Attempts Yards TD Long Avg/Carry
Carlos Hyde 138 1,064 13 55 7.7
Braxton Miller (QB) 116 738 5 70 6.4
Jordan Hall 79 519 8 49 6.6
Kenny Guiton (QB) 40 330 5 44 8.3
Receiving Receptions Yards TD Long Avg/Game
Philly Brown 49 596 9 58 54.2
Devin Smith 40 591 7 90 53.7
Jeff Heuerman (TE) 22 314 2 40 28.5
Evan Spencer 22 216 3 25 19.6
Defense Solo Assisted Total Tackles TFL-Yds Sacks-Yds
Ryan Shazier (LB) 77 31 108 19.5-72 5.5-44 (4FF)
CJ Barnett (S) 42 19 61 0-0 (2INT) 0-0
Bradley Roby (CB) 46 10 56 1.5-5 (3INT) 0-0 (12PBU)
Noah Spence (DE) 18 24 42 13.0-77 7.5-64 (1FR)
Kicking FGA FGM Long XPA XPM
Drew Basil 9 8 45 66 65
Punting Punts Yds Avg. TB In 20
Cameron Johnson 34 1,479 43.5 1 21
Full Stats

Michigan-Michigan State game preview

Friday, November 1st, 2013


Last season Michigan got the Michigan State monkey off its back with a 12-10 win in the Big House. But tomorrow’s meeting carries even greater implications since Michigan already has a conference loss. There is no margin for error left if the Wolverines want to win the Big Ten Legends Division as a loss would effectively put Michigan two-and-a-half games behind the Spartans with four games remaining. It would also be Michigan’s fifth loss in the past six matchups with the hated rival, something nobody in maize and blue wants to face.

Fans in East Lansing want to believe the tide is turning, or has already turned. They’ll tell you that Michigan no longer owns the state. But this isn’t the first time Michigan State has gained a brief upper hand in the rivalry. Yes, Michigan holds a 68-32 advantage (plus five ties), but from 1950 to 1968 MSU went 13-4-2. Enter Bo Schembechler.

He replaced a coach who was, at the time, the worst in program history. Sound familiar? Bo promptly lost to Michigan State in East Lansing his fist season – Michigan’s fourth loss in five meetings. But from there, Michigan won the next eight against the Spartans and went on a 30-8 run under Bo, Gary Moeller, and Lloyd Carr.

The series finally turned back in State’s favor when Rich Rodrigeuz took over, and by the time Brady Hoke was hired to replace the new worst coach in program history Michigan had lost three straight. Like Bo, he lost his first meeting in East Lansing, but turned the tables a year later.

Quick Facts
Spartan Stadium – 3:30pm EST – ABC
MSU Head Coach: Mark Dantonio (7th season)
Coaching Record: 76-46 (58-29 at MSU)
Offensive Coordinator: Jim Bollman (1st season)
Defensive Coordinator: Pat Narduzzi (7th season)
Returning Starters: 11 (5 offense, 6 defense)
Last Season: 7-6 (3-5, 4th Legends)
Last Meeting: Michigan 12 – MSU 10 (2012)
All-Time Series: Michigan leads 68-32-5
Record at Spartan Stadium: Michigan leads 17-12-1
Current Michigan Streak: Won 1
Last MSU Win: 2011
Last Michigan Win at MSU: 2007

Our neighbors up I-96 want you to believe they own the rivalry now, but if Michigan could regain the series dominance once after a few lean years there’s no reason to think it can’t do so again.

Michigan State comes in as the leaders of the Legends Division with a 7-1 record overall and 4-0 record in conference. The lone loss was a 17-13 defeat at Notre Dame on Sept. 21 in which the Michigan State offense was limited to just 254 total yards – their lowest of the season.

The seven wins, however, have come against six FBS opponents with a combined record of 15-30 and an FCS foe. Not exactly a formidable group of opponents.

The nonconference slate included wins over Western Michigan (26-13), South Florida (21-6), and Youngstown State (55-17) in addition to the Notre Dame loss, while the Spartans opened conference play with with four of the worst teams in the Big Ten – Iowa, Indiana, Purdue, and Illinois. If any team in the top half of the Big Ten was anything worse than 7-1 at this point it would be a major disappointment.

Michigan has the advantage of coming into this one off a bye, which means Hoke and staff had two weeks to prepare for the Spartans. But Hoke’s teams have struggled to win on the road since he arrived in Ann Arbor. Can Michigan pull off the win and put themselves in the Legends Division driver’s seat? Or will Michigan State regain the Paul Bunyan Trophy for the fifth time in the last six years? Let’s take a look at the matchups.

Michigan defense vs Michigan State offense: When Michigan State has the ball

Offense is not what wins the games for Mark Dantonio’s squad this season, but after a sluggish start to the season, it has shown some signs of life the past few weeks. Early on, it seemed the Spartan offense was struggling to find its identity after losing Le’Veon Bell to the NFL. Dantonio and first-year offensive coordinator Jim Bollman shuffled through quarterbacks trying to find the right one to simply move the ball without an every down workhorse to carry the load.

In the first two games of the season, Michigan State’s offense scored just 19 points combined (two touchdowns, a missed extra point, and two field goals) against Western Michigan and South Florida. The 26 total points MSU scored against WMU are the lowest the Broncos have allowed all season, and 14 of those came from the Spartans’ defense. The 21 total points MSU scored a week later are the third fewest scored against USF this season, but again 14 of those came by way of the MSU defense. The two teams that scored fewer than 21 points against USF – Cincinnati (20) and UConn (10) – did so with their offense, which means no offense has scored fewer points agains the Bulls than Michigan State.

Connor Cook's arm has been inconsistent, but he has avoided turnovers (Rey Del Rio, MSU Athletic Communications)

The Spartan offense seemed to get going, scoring 55 against Youngstown State, 26 against Iowa, 42 against Indiana and Illinois, while being held to 13 by Notre Dame. But then Purdue came to town and the MSU offense of the first two games returned. Purdue’s defense allows 34.4 points per game but Michigan State’s offense mustered just seven. Even Indiana State of the FCS, which hasn’t won a game against Division 1 competition, scored more offensive points against the Boilermakers.

As mentioned above, much of the early season scoring troubles originated from the quarterback position. Last year’s starter, Andrew Maxwell, began the season as the starter but completed just 15-of-30 passes for 114 yards in the first two games. Redshirt freshman Tyler O’Connor got a shot, but was equally as ineffective, failing to record a touchdown. Dantonio finally settled on redshirt sophomore Connor Cook who fully grabbed the reigns against Youngstown State and has been up and down since, but has proven most capable of managing the offense.

Cook has completed 59.9 percent of his passes this season for 1,238 yards, 12 touchdowns and just two interceptions. Against Notre Dame, he completed just 16-of-32 for 135 yards and against Purdue he connected on just 13-of-25 for 107, but in the other four games he has completed 68.1 percent of his passes. The most impressive performance was last week against Illinois when he missed on just one of 16 throws for 208 yards and three touchdowns.

The Spartans don’t throw downfield a lot, instead using the run to set up a lot of crossing routes and underneath passes, which is a big reason for Cook’s rather pedestrian but mistake-free numbers. He also doesn’t have a many standout targets to throw to, but redshirt sophomore Macgarrett Kings Jr is his favorite target. Kings leads the team with 26 receptions for 303 yards and has big play ability on crossing routes. Senior Bennie Fowler is the second leading receiver with 20 catches for 278 yards and leads the team with four touchdowns. He had a big game against Iowa, catching nine passes for 92 yards and a score, but hasn’t caught more than three passes in any other game. Redshirt junior Tony Lippett is the tallest receiver at 6’3″, while Aaron Burbridge and Keith Mumphrey are the only others that have double digit receptions.

The running game is headlined by redshirt junior Jeremy Langford who has really come on in Big Ten play. After failing to reach 100 yards in each of the first five games, the 6’0″, 206-pound back has eclipsed 100 yards in each of the last three. He leads the team with nine touchdowns, and his 141 carries are third-most in the Big Ten behind Fitzgerald Toussaint (155) and Iowa’s Mark Weisman (149). He has averaged 23 carries a game in the last three.

The only other back that has more than 50 carries is redshirt junior Nick Hill, who has 55 for 289 yards. True freshman Delton Williams is the bruiser of the bunch at 6’1″, 220. He saw his first action once Big Ten play started and leads the team with a 7.2 yards per carry average. Against Indiana he ran 12 times for 92 yards and he had five rushes for 78 yards and a touchdown last week against Illinois.

While there aren’t a lot of big time playmakers on the Spartans’ offense, the line might be its best unit. It has paved the way for a respectable running game and most importantly has protected Cook, allowing a conference best six sacks, which is half as many as Michigan has allowed. The main reason for the consistency is the lack of major injuries which have plagued the MSU offensive line the past few years. The line is anchored by fifth-year seniors, right guard Dan France and left guard Blake Treadwell who have a combined 50 starts on the line.

Overall, Michigan State’s offense is the definition of conservative and that’s by design. With such a strong defense and a first-year starter at quarterback, there’s no reason to take too many risks offensively. Michigan hasn’t had much success at getting to the quarterback this season, so don’t expect many blitzes to try to attack the stellar offensive line. Look for Michigan to sell out to stop the run and force Cook to make throws to beat them. That’s essentially what Notre Dame and Purdue did and Cook wasn’t very accurate.

Michigan offense vs Michigan State defense: When Michigan has the ball

Defense is the reason for the excitement in East Lansing as Pat Narduzzi’s group leads the conference and ranks in the top three nationally in most defensive categories. As mentioned above, the Spartan defense has scored five touchdowns, singlehandedly keeping MSU in some games early on. They give up just 12.3 points per game and have allowed just three total points in the past two weeks. Only Indiana’s high-powered offense has scored more than 17 points, but the 28 the Hoosiers scored were still well below their season average and 19 fewer than they scored against Michigan two weeks ago.

Michigan's line will have its hands full with Marcus Rush and the rest of the MSU defense (MSU Athletic Communications)

It’s an aggressive defense that doesn’t do anything outrageous, but is well coached and plays good fundamental football. Despite losing two very good players on the defensive line, tackle Jerel Worthy and end William Gholston, the unit might be even better this season. Redshirt sophomore Shilique Calhoun is certainly an upgrade to Gholston. He currently has eight tackles for loss and four sacks and leads the nation with three defensive touchdowns. The other end is redshirt junior Marcus Rush who has started 34 career games and has three sacks of his own this season. Nineteen game starter Tyler Hoover is also a veteran on the line and redshirt sophomore Damon Knox rotates in as well.

The linebackers are a very smart and talented group led by seniors Denicos Allen and Max Bullough who are the team’s leading tacklers with 48 and 47, respectively. Allen has three sacks and is tied for the team lead with eight tackles for loss, while Bullough has one sack and 6.5 TFL. Junior Taiwan Jones is another experienced player who starts at the Star linebacker position.

The secondary may be the best, and certainly the most aggressive unit on the team. The corners play press coverage and are prone to pass interference penalties, but are a big reason the defense is so good. Darqueze Dennard may be the best cover corner in the Big Ten and has two interceptions and seven pass breakups to show for it. The senior has started 34 career games and was a first-team All-Big Ten selection last season. Redshirt sophomore Trae Waynes has performed well despite being a first year starter. Safeties Isaiah Lewis and Kurtis Drummond have a combined 49 career starts and 13 interceptions.

There’s no question this will be the best defense Michigan will face all season, and for an offense that struggled against the likes of Akron and UConn, that’s more than a bit worrisome. But the problems that plagued the Michigan offense in those games – most notably turnovers – have been more under control since Michigan’s last bye week, and this offense has more weapons than any team Michigan State has faced yet this season.

Michigan has had trouble moving the ball against the Spartans the past couple of years, but it was also much easier to defend with Denard Robinson’s inability to make the throws that Devin Gardner can make. State was able to load the box and force Denard out of his comfort zone. With Gardner, that can lead to big plays.

The other third: Special Teams

Michigan State has used a pair of kickers for field goals this season and they have combined to make 10-of-13. Senior Kevin Muma made 4-of-6, but was replaced by true freshman Michael Geiger who has made 6-of-7 with a long of 49. Muma handles kickoffs and has a touchback rate of just under 50 percent. Redshirt junior punter Mike Sadler is one of the Big Ten’s best, currently second with a 43.1-yard average.

Nick Hill and Macgarrett Kings handle the kick returns, which have been few and far between this season. The Spartans have only returned nine kicks through eight games for a meager 17.4-yard average. Receiver Andre Sims Jr shares punt return duties with Kings. Sims has 15 returns for an average of 8.6 yards, while Kings has 11 for 8.5.

Prediction

Gardner will pick up yards with his feet but if he takes care of the ball Michigan will win (MGoBlue.com)

The absolute biggest key to this game will be turnovers. If Gardner avoids the bad mistakes that he made against Akron, UConn, and at the end of the Notre Dame game, Michigan will have a very good shot to win this game. If he feeds right into the Spartan defense, it will likely spell doom. Michigan State’s offense likely isn’t going to put together many long scoring drives, so the last thing Michigan can afford is to give up a defensive touchdown or turn the ball over in its own territory giving MSU a short field.

It’s vitally important for Michigan to get off to a quick start. Michigan State’s offense isn’t built for playing from behind and its defense gains momentum as the game goes on. If Michigan falls behind and has to get out of its normal offense, State’s defense can tee off on Gardner. A couple of early scores will change the game and force the Spartans back on their heels, opening things up, and take the crowd out of the game.

Look for Michigan to start the game with the shotgun and pistol looks and try to dictate the way the game goes before settling into its more traditional under center offense. As Drew pointed out in his Inside the Numbers post earlier in the week, Michigan has had twice as much success running the ball out of the shotgun/pistol than under center, but it will need to run about half of its offense from under center simply to have a balanced offense. Michigan State hasn’t allowed a team to rush for 100 yards yet this season, but I think Michigan will eclipse that mostly because if there is one thing State’s defense has struggled with the past couple of years it’s dual threat quarterbacks. Ohio State’s Braxton Miller and Nebraska’s Taylor Martinez both had big games last season, and Indiana’s Tre Roberson had a good game a couple weeks ago. Gardner is less one-dimensional than Denard Robinson and will be able to extend plays with his legs while making throws Denard couldn’t make.

Defensively, Michigan will force Cook to pick apart the defense. Jake Ryan, who is in line to make his first start of the season, will be key in stopping the quick screens and jet sweeps that Bollman likes to run. This isn’t a big play offense, so as long as Michigan can stop the run it shouldn’t have much trouble holding the Spartans to less than 20 points, which will be enough to allow Michigan to win the game.

Michigan 24 – Michigan State 17

Big Ten power rankings: Week 8

Tuesday, October 22nd, 2013


1. Ohio State (7-0, 3-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Iowa 34-24 This Week: Saturday vs Penn State (4-2, 1-1), 8pm, ABC

Fans in the Horseshoe got an unexpected scare on Saturday when the reeling Hawkeyes forced the Buckeyes to rally in the fourth quarter to stay undefeated. Though the Ohio State defense yielded three passing touchdowns, Braxton Miller’s efficiency through the air was enough to overcome that, as the junior completed 22 of 27 passes for two touchdowns.

2. Wisconsin (5-2, 3-1) – Even
Last Week: Beat Illinois 56-32 This Week: Bye (11/2 at Iowa)

The Melvin Gordon show was on full display in Champaign this weekend as the running back scored three times and totaled 142 yards. James White and Corey Clement jumped in to give Wisconsin a total of six rushing touchdowns on the day and Joel Stave led a turnover-less offense to another easy victory.

3. Penn State (4-2, 1-1) – Even
Last Week: Bye This Week: Saturday at #4 Ohio State (7-0, 3-0), 8pm, ABC

Following a huge quadruple-overtime win against Michigan on homecoming, Penn State had a bye week to prepare for another huge game in Columbus. If the Nittany Lions can pull another upset on Saturday night then the season will be a success regardless of the current bowl ban. Freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg will need to be almost perfect for Penn State to have a chance against the Buckeyes.

4. Indiana (3-4, 1-2) – Even
Last Week: Lost to Michigan 63-47 This Week: Bye (11/2 vs Minnesota)

No matter what happens to the Hoosiers, their offense is always explosive. After dropping 28 points on a Michigan State defense that ranks among the best in the country, Indiana walked into Ann Arbor and scored six touchdowns and 47 points in the rain. Unfortunately, the defense had a record-breaking day en route to allowing 751 yards. Indiana’s fast drives allowed the Wolverines to possess the ball for almost 40 minutes.

5. Illinois (3-3, 0-2) – Even
Last Week: Lost to #25 Wisconsin 56-32 This Week: Saturday Michigan State (6-1, 3-0), 3:30pm, ABC

Despite scoring 32 points against a top-10 defense, Illinois got blown out by 24 at home on Saturday and remain winless in the conference. No matter how well Nathan Scheelhaase plays, Illinois needs to gain more than 72 yards on the ground and 2.5 yards per carry to control the clock and give their defense a chance.

6. Purdue (1-6, 0-3) – Even
Last Week: Lost to Michigan State 14-0 This Week: Bye (11/2 vs Ohio State)

Purdue put up its most valiant Big Ten effort on the road this weekend, holding Michigan State to 14 points. It’s impossible to win without scoring, however, and when a bad offense meets a great defense things can get ugly. The Boilermakers had just 66 yards rushing and completed only 14 passes; failing to put anything on the scoreboard.

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1. Michigan State (6-1, 3-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Purdue 14-0 This Week: Saturday at Illinois (3-3, 0-2), 3:30pm, ABC

Nobody expected Michigan State to get much resistance from the lowly Purdue Boilermakers on Saturday, and despite the meager 14-point victory, there were no surprises. The Spartans had control of the game from the moment they scored their first touchdown, but concerns arose in the bigger picture. The offense failed to score a touchdown on a terrible Purdue defense, and quarterback questions continue to be a problem for Mark Dantonio heading into the most crucial part of the schedule.

2. Michigan (6-1, 2-1) – Up 1
Last Week: Beat Indiana 63-47 This Week: Bye (11/2 at Michigan State)

Coming off a close loss in one of the toughest atmospheres in the nation, Michigan used an offensive onslaught to get back on track. Quarterback Devin Gardner broke Michigan’s total yards record with 584 and helped Jeremy Gallon set the Big Ten receiving yards record with 369. Running back Fitzgerald Toussaint woke up and had his best game at Michigan, piling up 151 yards and four touchdowns. Michigan has another week off to figure out what went wrong on defense before traveling to East Lansing to take on in-state rival Michigan State.

3. Nebraska (5-1, 2-0) – Down 1
Last Week: Bye This Week: Saturday at Minnesota (5-2, 1-2), 12pm, ESPN

Nebraska had an off week in the middle of a three-week stretch in their schedule that includes Illinois, Purdue and Minnesota. The Cornhuskers have won the first two of those games handily and haven’t had much competition six games into 2013 besides losing to UCLA 41-21. Nebraska is a top-10 team in terms of points scored and boasts one of the strongest rushing attacks in the conference.

4. Iowa (4-2, 1-1) – Even
Last Week: Lost to #4 Ohio State 34-24 This Week: Saturday vs Northwestern (4-3, 0-3), 12pm, BTN

Despite suffering their second straight conference loss, Iowa looked strong in Columbus and took a tie into the fourth quarter against No. 4 Ohio State. A stagnant offense got back on track after faltering against Michigan State last weekend as Iowa looks to play spoiler in a division that is likely out of reach with two losses.

5. Minnesota (5-2, 1-2) – Up 1
Last Week: Beat Northwestern 20-17 This Week: Saturday vs #24 Nebraska (5-1, 2-0), 12pm, ESPN

The Golden Gophers were the surprise talk of the Big Ten Saturday when they beat Northwestern in Chicago. Minnesota’s defense led the charge, holding Northwestern to 17 points and forcing three turnovers. James Manuel’s pick six in the third quarter helped cover up for a weak offensive effort.

6. Northwestern (4-3, 0-3) – Down 1
Last Week: Lost to Minnesota 20-17 This Week: Saturday at Iowa (4-3, 1-2), 12pm, BTN

Things have spiraled out of control for Pat Fitzgerald’s Wildcats after entering the conference schedule with more promise than any other season in recent memory. Northwestern let Minnesota get away with 89 yards of penalties and a 4-of-13 third down conversion rate. Three losses has pushed this team way out of contention for the conference championship, and it will have to overcome the disappointment to become any kind of threat to the rest of the division in 2013.

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Big Ten power rankings: Week 7

Tuesday, October 15th, 2013


1. Ohio State (6-0, 2-0) – Even
Last Week: Bye This Week: Saturday vs Iowa (4-2, 1-1), 3:30pm, ABC

Urban Meyer didn’t have to worry about his undefeated record as Ohio State Head Coach in week seven, as his team had a bye to prepare for the visiting Hawkeyes. Realistically, the Buckeyes won’t have to worry about that record for the next several weeks as Iowa, Penn State, Purdue, Illinois and Indiana lead up to the showdown in Ann Arbor against Michigan on November 30th.

2. Wisconsin (4-2, 2-1) – Even
Last Week: Beat #19 Northwestern 35-6 This Week: Saturday at Illinois (3-2, 0-1), 8pm, Big Ten Network

Wisconsin had the most impressive week of any team in the Big Ten, trouncing No. 19 Northwestern 35-6. Despite three turnovers, the Badgers held the ball for over 38 minutes of game time and more than doubled the total yards of the Wildcats. By holding Northwestern to just 44 yards on the ground, Wisconsin shut down Trevor Siemian allowed just two third down conversions in 17 attempts.

3. Penn State (4-2, 1-1) – Up 2
Last Week: Beat #18 Michigan 43-40 4OT This Week: Bye (10/26 at Ohio State)

With less than six minutes left in the game against Michigan, things were looking pretty grim for Penn State. Down 10 after laying an egg in the  third quarter, Bill O’Brien’s crew somehow managed to tie the game with under 30 seconds left and took advantage of some poor Michigan kicking to win in four overtimes. The most electric atmosphere in the Big Ten is still a difficult place to play with or without a bowl ban in place.

4. Indiana (3-3, 1-1) – Down 1
Last Week: Lost to Michigan State 48-28 This Week: Saturday at Michigan (5-1, 1-1), 3:30pm, Big Ten Network

The Hoosiers continue to put up impressive offensive performances, this week putting up 28 points on the best defense in the conference. The Spartans, who hadn’t given up more than 17 points in a game and average 15.8 points allowed per game, allowed four offensive touchdowns to Indiana. Surprisingly, this Hoosier team was still in the game in the fourth quarter and could have picked up an impressive road win had any sort of defense showed up.

5. Illinois (3-2, 0-1) – Down 1
Last Week: Bye This Week: Saturday vs #25 Wisconsin (4-2, 2-1), 8pm, Big Ten Network

Illinois needed a bye week after a 20-point loss to Nebraska on the road, but things aren’t going to get any easier for Nathan Scheelhaase and the Fighting Illini offense. In the next two weeks, Illinois will welcome No. 25 Wisconsin and Michigan State into Champaign; two of the strongest defensive teams in the Big Ten. For Illinois to avoid battling Purdue for the cellar of the Leaders Division it must find a way to win at least one of these games.

6. Purdue (1-5, 0-2) – Even
Last Week: Lost to Nebraska 44-7 This Week: Saturday at Michigan State (5-1, 2-0), 12pm, Big Ten Network

2013 has not been easy for first-year Head Coach Darrell Hazell. Purdue continued to be the punching bag of the Big Ten on Saturday as a Taylor Martinez-less Nebraska offense managed to put up over 40 points on the Boilermakers, who couldn’t find any rhythm on offense. Purdue has now lost four of their six games by more than 30 points (including the last three contests) and currently stands at 1-5 overall.

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1. Michigan State (5-1, 2-0) – Up 3
Last Week: Beat Indiana 42-28 This Week: Saturday vs Purdue (1-5, 0-2), 12pm, Big Ten Network

Mark Dantonio took advantage of a lowly Indiana defense to work on a more balanced offensive attack in week seven. Quarterback Connor Cook had a solid game and the Spartans had almost as many yards through the air as they did on the ground. Defensively Michigan State gave up a little more ground than usual, but the 42-28 shootout proved that this team can win in any fashion and is a real threat to win the Legends Division in 2013.

2. Nebraska (5-1, 2-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Purdue 44-7 This Week: Bye (10/26 at Minnesota)

The Husker passing attack struggled in its third game without star quarterback Taylor Martinez as Purdue was able to intercept quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. three times. Fortunately for Nebraska the Purdue offense hasn’t improved and managed to put up just over 200 yards on the day. Four rushing touchdowns lead the charge in Nebraska’s 44-7 win against the Boilermakers

3. Michigan (5-1, 1-1) – Down 2
Last Week: Lost to Penn State 43-40 4OT This Week: Saturday vs Indiana (3-3, 1-1), 3:30pm, Big Ten Network

Michigan traveled into State College on Saturday night and should have come out with a win in one of the toughest atmospheres in college football. Unfortunately, untimely penalties and questionable coaching decisions led to a blown 10-point fourth quarter lead and poor field goal kicking cost Michigan in the four overtimes. The inconsistency of the Wolverines finally came back to bite them.

4. Iowa (4-2, 1-1) – Up 1
Last Week: Bye This Week: Saturday at #4 Ohio State (6-0, 2-0), 3:30pm, ABC

Heading into the toughest game of the season in Columbus, Iowa had a bye week to prepare for Braxton Miller and Ohio State. The bye week isn’t exactly an advantage, as Urban Meyer’s squad took the week off as well and have been much more impressive offensively than the Hawkeyes. Iowa’s offense will need to come up with something really unexpected to give the Buckeyes a game in the Horseshoe.

5. Northwestern (4-2, 0-2) – Down 2
Last Week: Lost to Wisconsin 35-6 This Week: Saturday vs Minnesota (4-2, 0-2), 12pm, ESPN2

It’s hard not to feel sorry for the Northwestern Wildcats. Just two weeks ago they were undefeated, ranked in the top 20 and battling Ohio State in the fourth quarter for the inside track to the Big Ten Championship game. Now after two extremely difficult cross-divisional games the Wildcats are 0-2 in the conference and grasping for some kind of hope after losing by 29 in Madison.

6. Minnesota (4-2, 0-2) – Even
Last Week: Bye This Week: Saturday at Northwestern (4-2, 0-2), 12pm, ESPN2

Jerry Kill received some much-needed news during the bye week when the team gave him leave without specifying a time table. Kill had his fourth game day seizure last week before the Gophers’ game in Ann Arbor. On the field Minnesota has begun the inevitable slide that comes with the conference season and a terrible rushing defense has left it no chance to get to Indianapolis in 2013.

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