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Michigan vs Ohio State game preview

Friday, November 23rd, 2012


As Thanksgiving has come and gone, we find ourselves at the game that signals season’s end, the annual showdown with Ohio State looming and yet another regular season ready to be etched into the record books. For some, like Denard Robinson and Jordan Kovacs, it means one final chance to perform against a bitter rival. For others such as Devin Gardner, it’s a chance to break out on the big stage and set the expectations heading into next season. Furthermore, for those such as Brady Hoke, it’s a chance to establish the upper hand over his foremost adversary. Yes, The Game is here.

Ohio Stadium  -  Columbus, Ohio
12pm EST  -  ABC
______________

Ohio State Head Coach: Urban Meyer (1st season)
Coaching Record: 11-0 (115-23 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Tom Herman
Defensive Coordinator: Luke Fickell
Returning Starters: 19 (9 offense, 10 defense)
Last Season: 6-7 (3-5)
Last Meeting: Michigan 40 – Ohio State 34 (2011)
All-time Series: Michigan leads 58-44-6
In Columbus: Michigan leads 27-24-2
In Ohio Stadium: Ohio State leads 23-21-1
Current Streak: Michigan 1

For so many years, the season-culminating battle has determined Big Ten titles and national championship game berths. It has featured legendary performances and provides bragging rights for the next 364 days. The game had lost some of its luster over the past few years, but Michigan finally got back in the win column a year ago. Now, Ohio State comes in unbeaten and Michigan enters with a chance to win the Big Ten Legends division and advance to the championship game. The stakes are high, just as they should be.

Although the Buckeyes aren’t able to parlay their magical season into the BCS National Championship game due to the sanctions brought on by Jim Tressel and his merry band of tattooed men, that doesn’t stop them from honoring him and his 2002 national championship team prior to the game. And it makes them that much more hungry to come together, beat Michigan, and go down in Ohio State lore as one of the greatest teams in Buckeye history.

As the old adage goes, when the two teams square off, you throw out the records. But despite the fact that Ohio State is undefeated and Michigan has three losses, these teams are pretty even. It can certainly be argued that if the teams had switched out-of-conference schedules, their records would be reversed. Ohio State’s first four opponents have a combined record of 18-27, while Michigan’s three losses were to teams with a combined record of 31-3.

Can Michigan pull off a second straight win over the Buckeyes and their first in Columbus since 2000? Or will Ohio State conclude their season undefeated and continue Michigan’s futility across the border? Let’s take a look at the matchups.

When Ohio State has the ball

Ohio State has been a high scoring team all season, averaging 38.2 points per game. The Bucks have scored over 50 four times and have been held below 20 just once, although they needed overtime to top 20 last week against Wisconsin. Perhaps the Badgers provided the blueprint for slowing down the Buckeye offense by keeping Braxton Miller from getting outside. But it’s easier said than done. Miller completes 56.8 percent of his passes for 168 yards per game and carries the ball 19 times for 110 yards per game. He’s certainly more dangerous on the ground but has enough of a throwing ability to make defenses pay if they key too much on his feet.

In the backfield, Carlos Hyde is a powerful back that averages 5.2 yards per carry. Despite not playing in two games, he’s nearing 1,000 yards and has had three games this season with at least 137 yards. He’s also a touchdown machine with 15 on the season and has scored at least one in each of the past six games.

Brady Hoke and Urban Meyer face off for the first time

The receivers aren’t the stars we were used to seeing, but they are capable. Sophomore Devin Smith is the big play guy with 555 yards and six touchdowns on just 28 receptions. Philly Brown is the more reliable with 48 receptions for 456 yards and two touchdowns. Tight end Jake Stoneburner has caught just 15 passes all season, but four of them have been touchdowns, so he’s a dangerous one to watch for in the red zone. Sophomore Evan Spencer is the only other Buckeye with double digit receptions (11), though he hasn’t caught a TD, while 10 others have caught at least one pass.

The offensive line is good, but not the typical mauling Ohio State line. They use a zone blocking scheme for the running game, but aren’t great in pass protection, having given up 26 sacks, which ranks 88th nationally. By comparison, Michigan has allowed just 11.

When Michigan has the ball

As I discussed in yesterday’s Friend vs Foe, Ohio State’s defense is built to defend the traditional Big Ten offenses such as Wisconsin, Penn State, and Michigan State. And in those games, they did look good. But against spread offenses, they have been porous. While the rush defense is respectable, giving up just 117 yards per game, teams have been able to pass all over the Buckeyes to the tune of 250.1 yards a game.

The line is anchored by tackle Jonathan Hankins, who Brady Hoke called “as good of an interior lineman as anyone in the country.” The space eating junior ranks fourth on the team with 52 tackles, four of them have gone for loss, including one sack. On the end is John Simon who leads the Big Ten with nine sacks to go along with 14.5 tackles for loss. Strongside end Nathan Williams has 39 tackles and two sacks, while Garrett Goebel holds down the other tackle spot and does a good job.

Linebacker Ryan Shazier is the man that makes the Buckeye defense go. He leads the team with 110 tackles and 14.5 for loss. He also has four sacks, three forced fumbles, and an interception. He’s fast and athletic, but also still prone to some of the boneheaded plays we saw out of him as a freshman last season. Etienne Sabino returned last week from a broken leg that was suffered against Nebraska to help stabilize the Buckeye defense, while converted fullback Zach Boren holds down the middle.

The secondary is the weak point, most notably corner Travis Howard. Despite four interceptions, he’s not a great cover corner and should be the one Michigan targets. Bradley Roby is a good cover man who leads the nation with 19 passes defended. Against Nebraska he picked off Taylor Martinez and returned it for a touchdown

The other third

Kicker Drew Basil has attempted just six field goals all season, making four, though he did hit 16-of-19 last season. Punter Ben Buchanan averages 40.9 yards per punt, which ranks seventh in the Big Ten. The return game could be dangerous with Corey Brown ranking third in the conference in punt returns with an average of 13.6 yards per, but the Buckeye kick return unit ranks just 87th nationally.

Rushing Attempts: 29 – Denard will pass Butch Woolfolk for 6th in career rushing attempts.
Rushing Yards: 121 – Denard will pass Jamie Morris for 3rd in career rushing yards. With 200, he will pass Anthony Thomas for 2nd. With 16, he will pass Missouri’s Brad Smith (2002-05) for 2nd in NCAA FBS history.
Rushing Touchdowns: 1 – Denard will pass Mike Hart for 3rd in career rushing touchdowns.
100 rushing yards: Denard will pass Jamie Morris for 4th in career 100-yard rushing games.
Pass Completions: 17 – Denard will pass Tom Brady for 5th in career completions.
Pass Yards: 211 – Denard will pass Elvis Grbac for 3rd in career passing yards.
Total Yards: 47 – Denard will pass Illinois’ Juice Williams (2006-09) for 6th in career total yards in Big Ten history.
Receiving Yards: 63 – Roy Roundtree will pass Jason Avant for 8th in career receiving yards. With 85 he will pass Marquise Walker for 7th. With 100 he will pass Tai Streets for 6th. With 126 he will pass Mario Manningham for 5th. With 133 he will pass David Terrell for 4th.
Field Goals: 1 – Brendan Gibbons will pass Bob Bergeron for 6th in career field goals made. With 2 he will tie Ali Haji-Sheikh for 5th.

Prediction

There is so much unknown with Michigan’s offense right now which will make it hard for Ohio State to prepare. The Devin at quarterback, Denard everywhere else offense that was showcased last week has so many possibilities that it’s hard to imagine Michigan’s offense struggling against the Buckeye defense that allowed 49 points to Indiana, 38 to Nebraska, and 22 to both Purdue and Illinois. Perhaps the best matchup to watch will be Taylor Lewan opposite of Simon as both have established themselves as the best in the Big Ten at their respective positions.

Look for Michigan to find a variety of ways to get the ball to Denard in space and let him go to work with his feet against mistake-prone linebackers and a poor tackling secondary. Along with that, expect him to be used as a decoy equally as much, as Ohio State will make sure to always know where he is on the field. I also would not be surprised at all see Denard throw a pass once more, but off of a reverse or step back screen rather than from behind center. For Gardner, the open spots will be underneath the cover-4 zone, where Ohio State has given up yards all season, so Jeremy Gallon and Drew Dileo will have plenty of open space. It will be up to them to make guys miss after the catch.

Defensively, Michigan will try to keep the Buckeyes up the middle and force Miller to beat them through the air. Expect to see Kovacs walk up early and often in run support, leaving the secondary exposed to a big play here and there. And, as is usual in a game like this, a big special teams play could swing the game in one direction or the other.

It’s going to be a back and forth offensive shootout that could go either way, but I think Ohio State figure out a way to contain the Michigan offense without Fitz Toussaint and will pull it out at home. Let’s hope I’m wrong.

Ohio State 38 – Michigan 35

2012 opponent preview: Ohio State

Friday, August 10th, 2012


Last night’s commitment of St. Clairsville, Ohio linebacker Michael Ferns continued Brady Hoke’s recruiting onslaught of the state down south. Today, we take a look at his home state team, the team we feel will be the second toughest opponent on the schedule this season, the Ohio State Buckeyes. For previous opponent previews, see UMass, Minnesota, Illinois, Northwestern, Iowa, Purdue, Air Force, Notre Dame, Nebraska, and Michigan State.

Overview

Despite being ineligible for post-season, Urban Meyer's squad figures to be one of the Big Ten's top teams

Despite being in a state of flux entering the 2012 season, a lot of excitement surrounds the Buckeyes. After a disappointing 6-7 record, and following the NCAA sanctions that led to Jim Tressel’s resignation, Ohio State went out and got the best coach available, Urban Meyer.

The former Ohio State assistant (he coached tight ends and receivers in 1986-’87) is best known for winning a pair of national championships at Florida in 2006 and 2008 before retiring in ’09. The lure of the job in Columbus was too good to pass up and now he’s intent on guiding the Buckeyes right back to the top of the Big Ten. He’s installing an up-temp offensive style that has never been seen in Columbus and that’s where much of the excitement stems among a fan base used to the old “Tressel-ball” offense.

Offense

The good news for Meyer is that he inherits 19 returning starters, the most prominent being sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller. Miller earned the starting nod four games into his freshman year last season and seemed to improve every game. He finished the season with a 54.1 completion percentage, 1,159 yards, and 13 touchdowns, but he was asked to throw just 14 times a game. What’s encouraging was that he threw just four interceptions. But it was his leg that did the most damage as Miller rushed 159 times for 715 yards. He had three 100-yard games, including one against Michigan.

He has drawn comparisons to former Buckeye Troy Smith and if he can refine his passing, he’ll be a dangerous quarterback for years to come. Miller will benefit the most from Meyer’s offense, which thrived with Tim Tebow at the helm at Florida. It will utilize his ability to run and limit the need for a downfield passing game.

If Braxton Miller improves his accuracy, he'll be one of the conference's most dangerous QBs

While Miller was the team’s leading rusher a year ago, the leading running back, Dan Herron, is gone. However, the next two do return. Jordan Hall and Carlos Hyde combined for 205 rushes for 971 yards and eight touchdowns, though neither had a 100-yard game. Hall seems best suited for Meyer’s spread, which gets the ball to playmakers in space, allowing them to beat defenders one-on-one. Hyde is more of a power back, something Meyer never really had at Florida, so his role in the offense will be one to keep an eye on.

The offensive line has to replace three starters, but if there is a silver lining to the suspension of left tackle Mike Adams for several games last season, it’s that some of the backups got starting experience that will pay off this season. Moving over to left tackle will be Jack Mewhort who started at right guard last season. Reid Fragel has locked down the other tackle spot, moving over from tight end. Meyer likes the mobility that Fragel provides. On the interior, Andrew Norwell and Marcus Hall both return, while Corey Linsley looks to be the top contender to replace Mike Brewster at center. The concern on the line is depth, which Meyer will be looking to build throughout fall camp.

The biggest area of concern for the OSU offense is receiver. DeVier Posey is gone, though he missed most of the season last year due to suspension. Last year’s leading receiver, sophomore Devin Smith, is back, but “leading receiver” should be taken lightly in this case. He’s a burner, but caught just 14 passes for 294 yards and four touchdowns. Corey Brown, Verlon Reed, and Chris Fields also return. Brown is likely to be the No. 1 wideout this fall after a standout spring. Reed had a strong freshman campaign in 2010, but missed most of last season with a torn ACL. Tight end Jake Stoneburner is a solid receiving threat who played some slot receiver throughout the spring.

Defense

On defense, Ohio State will be traditionally strong, returning nearly everybody. The star of the defense is end John Simon, an All-Big Ten first-teamer last season. Joining him on the line are tackles Jonathan Hankins and Garrett Goebel, and end Adam Bellamy. All three have starting experience and will give Ohio State one of the best defensive lines in the Big Ten.

The linebackers will also be a solid group. The two outside spots are set with Etienne Sabino and Ryan Shazier. Sabino had a solid year last season with 62 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss and three sacks, while Shazier was the surprise of the year for the Buckeyes with 57 tackles, five for loss, and three sacks as a true freshman. He brings great athleticism to the spot and will be looked upon to break out this season. The biggest position battle is middle linebacker where Storm Klein and Curtis Grant are battling it out. Klein was the starter last season but missed some time in the spring with a knee injury, opening the door for Grant to surpass him on the depth chart.

Senior John Simon is the leader of the Buckeye defense

The secondary is extremely talented, but paper thin heading into the fall, at least at the cornerback spot. Bradley Roby has locked down one corner position after a breakout redshirt freshman season. The other spot is a battle between Travis Howard and Doran Grant. Howard was last year’s starter, but a bit of a letdown. Due to the dismissal of Dominic Clark, Meyer will have to rely on youth for depth at corner behind Roby, Howard, and Grant.

The leader of the secondary is safety C.J. Barnett who led the team with 75 tackles last season. He’s one of several returning safeties with experience. Christian Bryant will likely hold down the other safety spot, while Orhian Johnson, last year’s starter, is fighting for time. Bryant was the team’s third leading tackler with 68. Corey Brown is a former five-star recruit to provide depth as well.

Special Teams

On special teams, both kicker Drew Basil and punter Ben Buchanan return. Basil made 16 of 19 field goal attempts last season with a long of 47, while Buchanan averaged 41.3 yards per punt, which ranked fifth in the Big Ten. In the return game, Hall was effective last season, ranking sixth in the conference in punt returns and fifth in kick returns, so he’ll surely improve on that this season.

Outlook

Overall, the Buckeyes have the talent to be vastly improved. The main question is how quickly they will grasp Meyer’s new system. Last season was essentially a wash with no real offensive system, several key players missing significant time due to suspension, and an interim head coach. It’s safe to say there will be significant improvement in 2012.

If the offense can simply improve to average, it could be the difference between two or three wins. Last year’s total offense ranked 107th nationally with 318 yards per game, and scoring offense ranked 81st, averaging 24 points per game. Just improving into the top 50 in scoring offense would have given the Bucks five more points per game and could have swung a couple of losses into wins. That’s a realistic expectation, especially with what should be an improved defense.

The schedule also lends itself to an improved record with four weak out-of-conference games against Miami (Ohio), UCF, California, and UAB. The Buckeyes open the Big Ten schedule at Michigan State and also have to visit Wisconsin the week before hosting Michigan, but the other two road trips are at Indiana and Penn State, both of which should be wins.

Date Opponent
Sept. 1 Miami (OH)
Sept. 8 UCF
Sept. 15 California
Sept. 22 UAB
Sept. 29 @ Michigan State
Oct. 6 Nebraska
Oct. 13 @ Indiana
Oct. 20 Purdue
Oct. 27 @ Penn State
Nov. 3 Illinois
Nov. 17 @ Wisconsin
Nov. 24 Michigan

Given the favorable schedule, the experience returning on an already stellar defense, and the improvement of the offense in Meyer’s spread system, the Buckeyes should win eight or nine games this fall and challenge for the Big Ten Leaders Division title. Leaders Division foes should take advantage of their opportunity this season since Ohio State is ineligible to compete in the Big Ten Championship game due to sanctions, because the Bucks are a year or two away from returning to their usual perch atop conference.

What it means for Michigan

If the Buckeyes weren’t banned from the postseason, they would likely be the favorites to represent the Leaders Division in the Big Ten Championship game. But with nothing to look forward to after Thanksgiving, Nov. 24 will be their bowl game. In fact, every intangible surrounding the matchup tilts to OSU’s favor. The game is in Columbus where Michigan hasn’t won since 2000, and although Michigan won last season, it means the Bucks are out for revenge. A new coach running an offensive system that will seem like crack to Buckeye fans used to watching paint dry already has expectations soaring.

Michigan may very well enter the game controlling its own destiny in the Big Ten title race, needing a win to capture the Legends Division and Ohio State will relish the opportunity to play spoiler. That’s why no conference game will be tougher for the Wolverines.