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Posts Tagged ‘Damon Webb’

The Game preview: Michigan vs #9 Ohio State

Friday, November 24th, 2017


(Patrick Barron)

It seems like just a few weeks ago that we were eagerly anticipating a big season opener against Florida, hopeful of a big win to kick off a good season despite losing nearly every major contributor from 2016. Michigan did win, 33-17, but it raised expectations and set up what has seemed to be a disappointing season to date. Saturday offers one last chance at redemption as Michigan hosts 9th-ranked Ohio State.

Quick Facts
Michigan Stadium – 12p.m. EST – FOX
Ohio State Head Coach: Urban Meyer (6th season)
Coaching Record: 174-31 (70-8 at OSU)
Offensive Coordinator: Kevin Wilson (1st season)
Defensive Coordinator: Greg Schiano (2nd season)
Last Season: 11-2 (8-1 Big Ten)
Last Meeting: OSU 30 – UM 27 2OT (2016)
All-Time Series: Michigan 58-49-6
Record in Ann Arbor: Michigan 31-22-4
Jim Harbaugh vs Ohio State 0-2
Last Michigan win: 2011 (40-34)
Last Ohio State win: 2016 (30-27 2OT)
Current Streak: Ohio State 5
Ohio State schedule to date
Opponent Result
at Indiana W 49-21
#5 Oklahoma L 16-31
Army W 38-7
UNLV W 54-21
at Rutgers W 56-0
Maryland W 62-14
at Nebraska W 56-14
#2 Penn State W 39-38
at Iowa L 24-55
#12 Michigan State W 48-3
Illinois W 52-14

The national narrative surrounding the Michigan football program has become that the Jim Harbaugh tenure has been a failure and that he may be looking to get out of Ann Arbor. Kirk Herbstreit spewed the nonsense on ESPN College GameDay last Saturday, ESPN anchors discussed if Harbaugh is a candidate for UCLA’s opening prior to Michigan’s basketball game on Monday night, and Paul Finebaum has been shouting Harbaugh’s demise from rooftops all season. Right or wrong, only one thing can change that narrative and that’s beating the Buckeyes on Saturday.

Michigan hasn’t done so since Brady Hoke took advantage of the Jim Tressel-to-Urban Meyer transition by topping Luke Fickell in 2011. Ohio State has won the last five, though if you ask anyone outside Columbus, J.T. was short last year. Michigan took the Buckeyes to double-overtime in the Horseshoe and appeared to have stopped J.T. Barrett short of the line to gain on 4th-and-1, but it was ruled a first down. One play later, Curtis Samuel scored the game-winning touchdown.

And so has been the torturous past decade and a half for one half of the sport’s greatest rivalry. To say Michigan is due for a win and Harbaugh is due for a big rivalry win would be an understatement. But that’s not how it works. Whether Michigan has won 14 of the last 16 or lost 14 of the last 16 it doesn’t change the fact that they enter tomorrow’s matchup as a double-digit underdog and will need to play their best game of the season to pull off an upset.

Ohio State may have the most upside as any team in the country, but they also might have the lowest floor of any of the teams still in contention to make the College Football Playoff. The Buckeyes have one of the nation’s most potent offenses and have averaged 50.4 points in their nine wins, but have scored a total of just 40 points in their two losses.

Their performance against Iowa three weeks ago gives Michigan a sliver of hope that even the mighty Buckeyes can have an off day. Michigan averages a half point more per game than Iowa does, has a slightly better offense and a considerably better defense, so if they play well and catch a break or two, anything can happen.

Let’s take a look at the matchup.

Ohio State offense

Last offseason, Urban Meyer did what many Michigan fans hope Jim Harbaugh does this offseason: go out and land a top-notch offensive coordinator. Meyer pulled in Kevin Wilson, who was fired from Indiana following the 2016 season for player mistreatment. Last year’s co-offensive coordinator was hired by former offensive coordinator Tom Herman at Texas and the other co-offensive coordinator, Ed Warinner, was let go in favor of Wilson.

Wilson was known as a great offensive mind during his six years in Bloomington. Although he went just 26-47, he constantly featured one of the top offenses in the Big Ten. He was summoned to Columbus to bring back the tempo that Herman installed but Beck and Warinner got away from. All he has done is guide an offense than ranks 3rd nationally and 1st in the Big Ten in scoring (44.9 points per game), 12th and 1st in rushing (252.5 yards per game), 20th and 1st in passing (293.6 yards per game), and 4th and 1st in total offense (546.2 yards per game).

The obvious leader of the Buckeye offense is senior quarterback J.T. Barrett, who is looking to become the first quarterback in the history of the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry to win four games over the other. He’s the team’s second-leading rusher with 605 yards and eight touchdowns, but his passing acumen has always been his knock. However, he ranks third in the Big Ten with 245.3 passing yards per game and leads the conference with a completion rate of 66.9 percent. He also has a 32-to-7 touchdown to interception ratio, though five of those seven picks have come in the two losses and six of the seven have come in the last three weeks.

Barrett has the fortune of one of the nation’s best true freshmen in the backfield. J.K. Dobbins ranks second in the Big Ten in rushing with 99.0 yards per game behind Wisconsin freshman Jonathan Taylor, who rushed for 132 yards on 6.9 yards per carry against Michigan last Saturday. Dobbins is averaging 7.3 yards per carry this season with four 100-yard rushing games, though he has done so just once in the past four weeks and twice since Week 3. He has found the end zone just once in the past month, but he has been sharing the backfield lately with redshirt sophomore Mike Weber, who has topped 100 yards in each of the last two weeks and has scored four touchdowns.

Junior Parris Campbell is the team’s leading receiver, averaging 51.8 yards per game, though he hasn’t been as much of a factor lately as he was in the early part of the season. He caught six passes for 136 yards and a score in the season opener and also topped 100 yards in Week 4 against UNLV, but has averaged just 2.8 catches for 32.7 yards over the last six weeks. Redshirt sophomore K.J. Hill leads the team in receptions with 49 thanks to a 12-catch, 102-yard performance against Penn State. He averages just 9.5 yards per reception, which is worst among all receivers.

Junior Johnnie Dixon is the big-play guy, averaging 24.3 yards per reception and he leads the team with eight touchdowns on just 17 receptions. But the oft-injured Dixon missed the Michigan State game two weeks ago and didn’t catch a pass last week. Junior Terry McLaurin and sophomore Binjimen Victor have combined for 12 touchdowns and nearly 700 yards receiving.

Ohio State defense

While the Ohio State offense is operating under a new coordinator this season, the defense is in its second year under former Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano. His defense is good this season, but not quite as good as it has been in recent years. It ranks 22nd nationally and 5th in the Big Ten in scoring (19.8 points per game), 12th and 4th against the run (114.0 yards per game), 15th and 4th against the pass (177.5 yards per game), and 8th and 3rd in total defense (291.5 yards per game).

The strength of Ohio State’s defense — like usual — is the defensive front, led by sophomore end Nick Bosa and senior tackle Tyquan Lewis. Bosa leads the team with 11.5 tackles for loss and five sacks, while Lewis, last year’s Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year, is close behind with 4.5 sacks. Add in junior end Sam Hubbard, senior tackle Tracy Sprinkle, senior end Jalyn Holmes, and redshirt sophomore tackle Dre’Mont Jones, and it’s enough to give Michigan fans nightmares given the Wolverines’ troubles with pass protection this season. Like Michigan’s, it’s a deep and extremely talented defensive line.

Senior linebacker Chris Worley started 14 games at outside linebacker the past couple seasons but moved inside this year and ranks fourth on the team with 43 tackles and five tackles for loss. Junior Jerome Baker and senior Dante Booker are the outside ‘backers, though both missed the Michigan State game two weeks ago. With those injuries, Worley moved back to the outside two weeks ago and redshirt freshman Tuf Borland filled in admirably in the middle.

The secondary got picked apart early in the season, but has gotten better as the season has progressed. In the season opener, Indiana threw for 420 yards and the Buckeyes couldn’t stop Simmie Cobbs, who caught 11 passes for 149 yards and a touchdown. Oklahoma threw for 386 yards a week later, but OSU’s secondary has been much better since. Still, it gave up 244 passing yards to Iowa’s 87th-ranked passing offense three weeks ago.

Redshirt sophomore Damon Arnette and junior Denzel Ward are the starting corners and have combined for 66 tackles, five for loss, three interceptions, 20 passes defended, and 17 pass breakups. Sophomore Jordan Fuller and senior Damon Webb are the safeties and the two leading tacklers on the team with a combined 103 tackles. Webb leads the team with three interceptions.

Ohio State special teams

Redshirt junior kicker Sean Nuernberger is dependable, having made 13-of-15 attempts this season with a long of 38. He was the team’s kicker as a freshman during the 2014 national championship run, making 13-of-20, but lost the job the next season and redshirted in 2016. Sophomore punter Dru Chrisman was the top-rated punter in the 2016 class and ranks second in the Big Ten with an average of 43.5 yards per game.

Campbell leads the Big Ten in kick returns, averaging 36.6 yards per return with a long of 82, though he hasn’t scored a touchdown. Hill is the team’s main punt returner, averaging just 3.5 yards per return.

Prediction

I’m not going to sugar coat it. If Brandon Peters is out tomorrow, I don’t give Michigan much of a chance. John O’Korn is a great guy and clearly loves Michigan, but based on what we’ve seen this season, combined with the offensive line’s struggles in pass protection, Ohio State’s front seven is going to have a field day.

The hope is that Harbaugh, Tim Drevno, and Pep Hamilton have been able to come up with a few wrinkles that can squeak out some points and help get the running game going. Remember last week when they lined Chris Evans up in the wildcat to no avail? Hopefully that’s not the wrinkle tomorrow, but perhaps it was put in against Wisconsin to set up another wrinkle against Ohio State. Who knows, but simply lining up and trying to run at Ohio State isn’t going to work without at least some passing threat.

Defensively, Michigan needs to load the box to stop the run while keeping Barrett in sight at all times and forcing him to throw the ball. If he beats Michigan’s top-rated pass defense with his arm, fine. But don’t let him beat you with his legs. At least one of Barrett, Dobbins, or Weber will likely break a big run, but if the defense can’t keep Barrett contained, it’s going to be a long day.

I think Michigan holds close through the first half thanks to a strong defense, but fades in the second similar to the Wisconsin game. Ohio State simply has too much firepower to leave on the field for long periods of time if Michigan’s offense can’t sustain drives.

Score Prediction: Ohio State 31 – Michigan 13

 

The Game preview: #3 Michigan at #2 Ohio State

Friday, November 25th, 2016


um-osu-game-preview-header(Dustin Johnson)

Ten years ago, No. 2 Michigan met No. 1 Ohio State on a crisp fall day in Columbus in what was being called The Game of the Century. With the Big Ten championship game and College Football Playoff still years away, the winner of The Game would earn a spot in the BCS Championship Game.

um-ohiostate_small
Quick Facts
Ohio Stadium – 12p.m. ET – ABC
Ohio State Head Coach: Urban Meyer (5th season)
Coaching Record: 164-28 (60-5 at OSU)
Offensive Coordinator: Ed Warriner (5th season)
Co-Defensive Coordinators: Greg Schiano (1st season)
Luke Fickell (12th season)
Last Season: 12-1 (7-1 Big Ten)
Last Meeting: OSU 42 – UM 13
All-Time Series: Michigan 58-48-6
Record in Columbus: Michigan 27-26-2
Jim Harbaugh vs OSU 0-1
Last Michigan win: 2011 (40-34)
Last Ohio State win: 2015 (42-13)
Current Streak: Ohio State 4
Ohio State Schedule to date
Opponent Result
Bowling Green W 77-10
Tulsa W 48-3
at #14 Oklahoma W 45-24
Rutgers W 58-0
Indiana W 38-17
at #8 Wisconsin W 30-23
at Penn State L 21-24
Northwestern W 24-20
#10 Nebraska W 62-3
at Maryland W 62-3
at Michigan State W 17-16

After delivering a rousing speech to the team on Thursday night, Bo Schembechler passed away on Friday morning, the day before the game. The loss of the patriarch of Michigan football sent shockwaves around college football and completely changed the tone of the game. Whether it made an impact on the outcome of the game will never be known, but the game turned out to be a shootout. Michigan marched down the field for the game’s first touchdown. Ohio State answered and took a 28-14 halftime lead. Michigan fought back to within four, but was unable to pull it out as Ohio State won 42-39.

We all know the long and painful story from there. Michigan went on to lost the Rose Bowl to USC, then lost the first two games of the next season to Appalachian State and Oregon. Lloyd Carr retired at the end of the season and Michigan suffered through seven seasons of Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke.

Ohio State, meanwhile, went on to win four Big Ten championships, two BCS bowls, and play in three national championship games, winning one of them. During that span, they’ve beaten Michigan all but once, when the Wolverines pulled off a 40-34 win in Hoke’s first season, which was also a transition season between Jim Tressel and Urban Meyer.

Jim Harbaugh returned to Michigan in December 2014 and immediately locked in a solid recruiting class in short time and then turned a 5-7 team into a 10-3 team that beat SEC East champion Florida in the Capital One Bowl. But he wasn’t able to beat Ohio State, falling 42-13 in Ann Arbor. Now, 30 years after his infamous guaranteed victory over the Buckeyes, he takes his Wolverines into Columbus to try to earn a spot in the Big Ten championship game.

Ohio State comes in with an identical 10-1 overall record and 7-1 conference record as Michigan. The Buckeyes’ only loss was a 24-21 defeat at Penn State just a couple weeks after Michigan beat the Nittany Lions by 39 points. But OSU has beaten now-8th-ranked Oklahoma and 6th-ranked Wisconsin, both on the road. Add in a 62-3 thumping of now-16th-ranked Nebraska, and Ohio State has proven it can play with anyone.

Like that Game of the Century a decade ago, this year’s matchup figures to be a monumental battle between two of college football titans. In college football’s greatest rivalry, what more could you ask for? Let’s take a look at the matchups.

When Ohio State has the ball

Despite losing their running back, quarterback, tight end, most of the receiving corps, and their left tackle to the NFL, Ohio State’s offense hasn’t really missed a beat. It leads the Big Ten and ranks fifth nationally in scoring (43.8 points per game), leads the Big Ten and ranks eighth nationally in rushing (263.1 yards per game), ranks fifth in the Big Ten and 68th nationally in passing (230 yards per game), and leads the Big Ten and ranks 21st nationally in total offense (493.1 yards per game).

That the Buckeyes lost last season’s quarterback is slightly overstated given that junior J.T. Barrett is back. He started his freshman season, going 11-1 in 2014 before ending his season against Michigan and watching Cardale Jones lead the team to the national title. Jones won the starting job last season, but Barrett saw ample playing time, including a four-touchdown performance in last year’s Michigan game.

This season, Barrett leads the Big Ten with 24 passing touchdowns, though he ranks sixth in yards per game (209.5) — one spot behind Wilton Speight’s 215.6 — and third in pass efficiency (147.7) — one behind Speight’s 148.9. He has completed 63.4 percent of his passes for 2,304 yards and just four interceptions. But he’s coming off his worst passing performance of the season against Michigan State, in which he completed just 10-of-22 passes for 86 yards and a touchdown. Still, he’s even more dangerous with his legs as he rushed for 105 yards. He has thrown for more than 200 yards in seven of 11 games, including a five-game stretch leading up to the MSU game, and he’s also tied for the team lead with eight rushing touchdowns.

Michigan fans will be familiar with redshirt freshman running back Mike Weber, the Detroit Cass Tech product who originally committed to Brady Hoke, decommitted in favor of Ohio State, and nearly switched back to Michigan after Harbaugh was hired. But he stuck with the Buckeyes and has rewarded them with a 1,000-yard season in his first campaign. He currently ranks fourth in the Big Ten in rushing, averaging 95.1 yards per game. He has rushed for 1,046 yards and eight touchdowns on 6.3 yards per carry. But after opening the season with three 100-yard games in his first four, he has just one in the last seven games. He rushed for 111 yards on 14 carries at Michigan State last Saturday. Penn State and Wisconsin held him to a combined 3.6 yards per carry.

The receiving corps is lead by the dangerous H-back Curtis Samuel. The junior from Brooklyn, N.Y. has 61 receptions for 790 yards and seven touchdowns — all team highs — and he also has 84 carries for 650 yards and seven scores. His 14 total touchdowns rank third in the Big Ten (non-quarterbacks) and he ranks second in the conference behind Penn State’s Saquon Barkley with 132.5 all-purpose yards per game. Sophomore Noah Brown is the team’s second leading receiver with 27 catches for 345 yards and seven touchdowns, while senior Dontre Wilson has 26 for 343 and five. Junior tight end Marcus Baugh is the only other Buckeye receiver with 20 or more receptions with 21 for 242 yards and two scores.

Ohio State’s offensive line is good but not great. They’ve given up one more sack than Michigan’s has this season, but some of that success is a result of Barrett’s mobility. Senior center Pat Elflein and junior right guard Billy Price are the are the best linemen on the team. Elflein was a second-team All-American last season. Sophomore right tackle Isaiah Prince and freshman left guard Michael Jordan are the weaknesses on the line where Michigan’s talented defensive front will attack. Junior left tackle Jamarco Jones has improved throughout the season and is a solid bookend.

When Michigan has the ball

The Buckeye defense ranks second in the Big Ten and third nationally in scoring defense (13 points per game), fourth in the Big Ten and 18th nationally against the run (120.3 yards per game) second in the Big Ten and third nationally against the pass (159.5 yards per game), and second in the Big Ten and fourth nationally in total defense (279.8 yards per game).

Like on the offensive side, despite losing much of their defense to the NFL, the Buckeyes still present the best and most athletic defense Michigan has faced yet this season. But they’re not as great at getting to the quarterback as they have been in years past, ranking just sixth in the Big Ten and 57th nationally with 24 sacks — two-thirds of Michigan’s total. Junior defensive end Tyquan Lewis leads the way in that category with 7.5 sacks, while the other end, sophomore Sam Hubbard, has three. Reserve ends, junior Jalyn Holmes and freshman Nick Bosa, have another six combined. The interior of the OSU line is lead by redshirt freshman Dre’Mont Jones and junior nose tackle Michael Hill who have a combined 59 tackles and five tackles for loss, but no sacks. Freshman backup tackle Robert Landers is also talented with 7.5 tackles for loss and one sack on the season.

There’s no dropoff at linebacker where junior Raekwon McMillan is one of the best middle linebackers in the country. He’s Ohio State’s leading tackler with 71, has 4.5 tackles for loss, one sack, four pass breakups, and two forced fumbles. He’s much more athletic than your typical middle ‘backer. Sophomore WILL Jerome Baker and junior SAM Chris Worley are solid with 103 combined tackles, 12 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, two interceptions, and six passes defended.

The secondary is lead by sophomore safety Malik Hooker, who leads the Big Ten with five interceptions and is dangerous with the ball in his hands, having returned two of them for touchdowns. He ranks third on the team with 60 tackles in addition to 4.5 tackles for loss, half a sack, and nine passes defended. He’s all over the field, both in coverage and run support. Junior Damon Webb — another Cass Tech star that got away from Michigan — is the other safety and he has 48 tackles, two for loss, one interception, and four passes defended. Junior Gareon Conley — a former Michigan commit — and sophomore Marshon Lattimore are the corners and both are very good.

The other third

Fifth-year senior punter Cam Johnston is one of Ohio State’s best weapons, leading the Big Ten in punting average by a whopping 4.5 yards! He’s averaging 46.3 yards per punt with 13 of 43 punts over 50 yards and nearly half (21) downed inside the 20. Senior kicker Tyler Durbin has been the Big Ten’s most reliable placekicker, converting 16-of-17 field goals, the only miss being the block at Penn State. But the former walk-on’s long all season has been 45 yards.

Sophomore receiver Parris Campbell is a dangerous kick returner even though he hasn’t taken one all the way yet. He averages 26.6 yards per return. Wilson is the main punt returner, averaging 6.3 yards per return.

Prediction

I’ll start with a disclaimer. This prediction is based on Speight being able to play the whole game. If he’s unable to play, or if he’s knocked out of the game, I predict a Michigan loss. But I’m hedging my bets on his shoulder not being quite as bad as Harbaugh let on the past couple of weeks.

In a game like this where both teams rank among the nation’s best both offensively and defensively, and both teams will come in full of emotion in a rivalry game, I like to think that they’ll both keep doing what the are good at — what got them there.

As we saw in this week’s The Numbers Game, Ohio State’s defense has been susceptible to big plays, especially in the run game where they rank 77th nationally, giving up 5.91 explosive runs per game. In fact, they’re slightly worse in that regard than Indiana, which entered last week surrendering 5.7 per game — 70th nationally. We all know what Michigan’s running game did to the Hoosiers, racking up seven explosive runs including De’Veon Smith’s scampers of 39, 34, and 25 yards. We also know that on drives in which Michigan has an explosive play they score 73 percent of the time.

Michigan’s offense averages 11.36 explosive plays per game and OSU’s defense surrenders 8.09 per game. Let’s say Michigan’s offense gets eight and scores points on 75 percent of those. Even if they’re all field goals, that’s 18 points. But Michigan will score at least one touchdown, so now we’re into the 20s. Two puts them at 26 points — two touchdowns and four field goals — and I think that’s enough to win the game.

Michigan’s defense surrenders just 6.09 explosive plays per game — fifth nationally — while Ohio State’s offense averages 11.09 (16th). The Wolverines haven’t surrendered more than nine explosive plays in non-garbage time this season. But even so, even if Ohio State’s powerful offense gets its average of 11, Michigan’s defense gives up points just 35 percent of the time. That equates to four scores and I doubt all four will be touchdowns as Michigan has surrendered just 14 all season. Three touchdowns and a field goal is 24 points.

Sure, it may be slightly ridiculous to base a prediction on explosive play stats, but they’ve been pretty accurate all season. And now we have 11 games worth of data to use. If Speight plays, Michigan’s offense will be able to move the ball well enough to put up some point on the Buckeyes, even if they settle for field goals. Senior Kenny Allen will come up big by making all of them. Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Tim Drevno will empty the kitchen sink trying to soften the Buckeye defense for Smith to get the running game going.

On the other side, Michigan will surrender a few big plays, likely including the 50-yard touchdown run up the middle that has become standard for OSU in this game. But by and large, the U-M defense will hold strong and keep the Bucks out of rhythm.

The game live up to its billing, going down to the wire. Allen boots a game-winning field goal, Michigan escapes the snake pit with its first win in 16 years, and heads to Indy for a rematch with Wisconsin. Of course, if Speight doesn’t play, this could be all moot.

Michigan 26 – Ohio State 24