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Posts Tagged ‘Mike Weber’

#9 Ohio State 31 – Michigan 20: QB play, missed opportunities doom Michigan in The Game

Saturday, November 25th, 2017


(Patrick Barron)

Michigan’s offense took the field with 2:47 remaining and a chance to go win the ball game. Instead, John O’Korn dropped back to pass and heaved the ball downfield to a wide open Ohio State safety. With two open receivers on the play, the fifth-year senior misread the coverage, according to Jim Harbaugh after the game, and Michigan fell for the fourth time this season and the sixth straight time to rival Ohio State, 31-20.

The sequence of events perfectly summed up the entire game as Michigan often took a step forward, two steps back, three steps forward, and two more steps back. The game plan was good enough to win but the quarterback play wasn’t. It’s as simple as that.

Final Stats
Michigan  Ohio State
Score 20 31
Record 8-4 (5-4) 10-2 (8-1)
Total Yards 295 350
Net Rushing Yards 100 226
Net Passing Yards 195 124
First Downs 16 17
Turnovers 1 0
Penalties-Yards 6-50 9-75
Punts-Yards 7-288 6-270
Time of Possession 28:43 31:17
Third Down Conversions 9-of-17 8-of-16
Fourth Down Conversions 0-of-1 0-of-0
Sacks By-Yards 3-13 5-43
Field Goals 0-for-0 1-for-2
PATs 2-for-3 4-for-4
Red Zone Scores-Chances 3-of-3 2-of-2
Red Zone TDs-Chances 3-of-3 2-of-2
Full Box Score

O’Korn loves the University of Michigan and has poured his heart and soul into it. He has been heavily involved off the field, paying visits to U of M Mott’s Children’s Hospital and befriending superfan Larry Prout Jr. For all of those things, he’s the model Michigan Man and deserves to be commended. But he simply wasn’t good enough on Saturday, and when you play big-time college football you have to accept due criticism as well.

Michigan got the ball first, but was forced to punt. After the defense forced an Ohio State punt, the offense went to work, driving 77 yards on 13 plays for the game’s first touchdown. To his credit, O’Korn made some nice throws, including a 27-yard strike to Zach Gentry on 3rd-and-8 to set up the opening score.

At the end of the first quarter, facing a 4th-and-20, Urban Meyer called timeout to allow his punter to kick with the wind instead of letting the quarter run out. Donovan Peoples-Jones made him pay, returning the punt 42 yards to the Ohio State 11-yard line. An Ohio State holding penalty moved it to the six. Two plays later, O’Korn found tight end Sean McKeon in the end zone to put Michigan ahead 14-0.

But Ohio State answered, mounting an 11-play, 75-yard touchdown drive of its own on the ensuing possession. However, Michigan had a great chance to continue its momentum when Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett overthrew his receiver right into the hands of safety Josh Metellus. But he couldn’t hold on and Barrett made him pay with a 21-yard touchdown scamper on the next play to pull OSU within 14-7.

After a Michigan punt that gave Ohio State the ball near midfield, the Buckeyes evened the score with a 26-yard touchdown pass from Barrett to tight end Marcus Baugh. The teams went into the half knotted at 14.

Ohio State began the third quarter with possession, but Michigan’s defense forced a three-and-out, gaining the field position edge that resulted in a go-ahead score two drives later. Starting at their own 49, O’Korn hit Kekoa Crawford in the flat, who raced 43 yards to the Ohio State 8-yard line. Three plays later, Karan Higdon scored from two yards out, but Quinn Nordin’s extra point attempt was blocked, putting Michigan ahead 20-14 midway through the third.

As has been the case much of the season, Michigan’s stout defense surrendered a score following an offensive score, allowing Ohio State to drive 78 yards on 11 plays. Midway through the drive, Barrett went down with a leg injury and was replaced by Dwayne Haskins, who made two big plays. First, he connected with receiver Austin Mack for a 27-yard gain on 3rd-and-13. Mack held onto the ball despite a vicious hit by Tyree Kinnel that left Kinnel injured with a likely concussion. Two plays later, he evaded a rushing Maurice Hurst and galloped 22 yards to the 1-yard line. J.K. Dobbins finished the job to put the Buckeyes ahead 21-20.

Michigan’s offense failed to get anything going the rest of the way as O’Korn was sacked four times and threw the game-ending interception. Ohio State added a 44-yard field goal and a 25-yard Mike Weber touchdown run in garbage time to expand the margin of victory.

For the game, Michigan rushed for 100 yards and passed for 195, essentially equaling the total yardage Ohio State’s defense allows per game. O’Korn completed 17-of-32 passes for 195 yards, a touchdown, and the interception. Chris Evans amassed 101 total yards, rushing for 67 on 6.1 yards per carry and catching five passes for 34 yards, to lead the team in both rushing and receptions. Higdon added 55 yards on 5.1 yards per carry, while Crawford led the team with 57 receiving yards.

Defensively, Michigan held Ohio State to 350 total yards — 200 below their season average — and just 124 yards through the air. Barrett completed 3-of-8 passes for 30 yards and a touchdown, while Haskins completed 6-of-7 for 94. Dobbins topped the century mark with 101 rushing yards on 6.7 yards per carry, while Weber added 67 on 4.5.

Michigan finishes the regular season with an 8-4 record overall and 5-4 in Big Ten play, while Ohio State improves to 10-2 and 8-1 and will face undefeated Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game next Saturday in Indianapolis. Michigan will await its bowl fate following next weekend’s conference championship games. Most signs are pointing toward the Holiday Bowl in San Diego on Dec .28 with the Wolverines facing either Harbaugh’s former team (Stanford) or Michigan’s former coach, Rich Rodriguez’s new team (Arizona).

Game Ball – Offense

Chris Evans (11 carries for 67 yards, 5 receptions for 34 yards)
It was apparent from the outset that Evans was playing determined football, fighting through tackles and gaining extra yards on Michigan’s first few possessions. On Michigan’s first touchdown drive, he had runs of nine yards and 24 yards and also a 13-yard reception on 3rd-and-11. On Michigan’s next possession, he converted a 3rd-and-4 with a 5-yard catch. He finished the game with three explosive runs (of 10 yards or more) and three of Michigan’s nine third-down conversions. It was his third game ball in Michigan’s final four weeks.

Previous:
Week 1 – Quinn Nordin (4-of-6 field goals, 2-of-3 from 50-plus)
Week 2 — Ty Isaac (20 carries for 133 yards, 6.7 yards per carry)
Week 3 — Donovan Peoples-Jones (2 receptions for 52 yards, 2 punt returns for 104 yards and 1 touchdown)
Week 4 — John O’Korn (18-of-26 for 270 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 interception, 5 rushes for 12 yards)
Week 5 — Karan Higdon (12 carries for 65 yards, 5.4 yards per carry, 2 receptions for 33 yards)
Week 6 — Karan Higdon (25 carries for 200 yards, 3 touchdowns, 8.0 yards per carry)
Week 7 — None
Week 8 — Brandon Peters (10-of-14 for 124 yards and 1 touchdown)
Week 9 — Karan Higdon (16 carries for 200 yards and 2 touchdowns) & Chris Evans (18 carries for 193 yards and 2 touchdowns)
Week 10 — Chris Evans (15 carries for 80 yards and 2 touchdowns, 2 receptions for 29 yards)
Week 11 — Donovan Peoples-Jones (4 receptions for 64 yards)

Game Ball – Defense

Rashan Gary (10 tackles — 5 solo — 3 tackles for loss, 2 sacks)
The old sports adage is that great players rise to the occasion in big games. Michigan’s star sophomore defensive end, Rashan Gary, did just that. He has been unfairly criticized at times this season for not posting gaudy numbers while taking on double teams and allowing others to make plays. Today, he was a force from the start. He sacked Barrett for a three yard loss on Ohio State’s second possession and again on OSU’s second possession of the second half, that time for a loss of six on 3rd-and-5 to force a punt. Then, when Michigan needed to get the ball back for a chance to win, he stuffed Weber for a loss of two on 3rd-and-1, setting up a 43-yard field goal, which the Buckeyes missed. To make the performance even more impressive, Gary injured his shoulder in the first half — some reports said he dislocated it but popped it back in and continued playing. It was an inspiring performance by the star of Michigan’s defense.

Previous:
Week 1 – Devin Bush (7 tackles, 5 solo, 3 tackles for loss, 2 sacks)
Week 2 – Tyree Kinnel (9 tackles, 8 solo, 1 tackle for loss, 1 sack, 1 interception return for touchdown)
Week 3 – Chase Winovich (9 tackles – 3 solo – 2 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, 1 quarterback hurry)
Week 4 — Chase Winovich (6 tackles — all solo — 4 tackles for loss, 3 sacks
Week 5 — Maurice Hurst (8 tackles — 6 solo — 2.5 tackles for loss)
Week 6 — Rashan Gary (7 tackles — 3 solo — 2.5 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 2 quarterback hurries)
Week 7 — Khaleke Hudson (4 tackles — 4 solo — 1 tackle for loss, 1 quarterback hurry, 1 pass breakup)
Week 8 — Maurice Hurst (8 tacles — 2 solo — 2 tackles for loss, 1 sack)
Week 9 — Khaleke Hudson (13 tackles — 11 solo — 7.5 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 1 forced fumble)
Week 10 — 4 tackles — 3 solo — 1 pass breakup, 1 interception returned 80 yards)
Week 11 — Khaleke Hudson — 9 tackles — 3 solo — 1.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, 1 pass breakup, 1 quarterback hurry)

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

 

M&GB staff predictions: The Game

Saturday, November 26th, 2016


StaffPicks_banner20152

Previously this week: First Look: Ohio State, Tailgate Tuesday, Five-Spot Challenge, Big Ten power rankings, The Numbers GameGame preview

The day we look forward to all year is finally here. For the first time in 10 years both teams enter with enormously high expectations. Not only is a Big Ten championship game berth on the line, but a potential spot in the College Football Playoff is up for grabs. Win and you’re still alive. Lose and you’ll get a decent bowl game as a consolation prize.

Let’s not waste any more time with the pleasantries. You know the stakes. Here are this week’s picks:

Justin (2)

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.

Staff Predictions
Michigan    Ohio St   
Justin 26 24
Derick 14 24
Sam 17 24
Josh 13 27
Joe 21 20
M&GB Average 18 24

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

Derick (1)

It’s finally time for the game everyone has been waiting for, and it’s even more important than we all imagined. Michigan and Ohio State will be fighting to stay alive in the College Football Playoff race, while the loser will be out of the running.

Last year, Michigan appeared to have a good chance to take down Ohio State at home, but the combination of J.T. Barrett and an excellent running back tore the Wolverines apart. Unfortunately for Michigan, that combination still exists.

Three weeks ago, I thought Michigan was the better team, but after a loss to Iowa and an awful offensive performance against Indiana at the home finale, that confidence has started to slip away.

I think Michigan is one of the three best teams in the country this season, but I think it will come up short on Saturday.

Ohio State 24 – Michigan 14

Sam (3)

So this is what it has all come down to. This, for all the marbles. A win for Michigan means a Big Ten championship game berth for the first time since its inception and one game closer to their first ever appearance in the College Football Playoff.

Unfortunately, I’m not nearly as hopeful about the outcome of this game as I was about three weeks ago when it looked as if the Wolverine offense was inching closer to their vaunted defense. One miserable performance and one quarterback injury later and the offense is looking fairly pedestrian of late while the defense continues to play about as well could be reasonably expected.

If the Maize and Blue are to have any shot it’s going to need to come in a defensive slugfest with a ground game that’s just good enough to put a couple scores on the board. I have an inkling that if Jabrill Peppers records his first ever interception, the visitors will walk away victorious. I also have an inkling that we we won’t be seeing that.

I trust Don Brown’s defense to hold the Buckeyes at bay for the most part but I have little faith that Michigan’s offense is going to be able to consistently churn yardage out against a stout OSU defense with what is likely to be a one-dimensional attack. In the end, J.T. Barrett will make the difference over John O’Korn to maintain Buckeye dominance of late in this yearly war and keep Harbaugh’s squad out of the final four. As much as it pains me to say it, give me Ohio State.

Ohio State 24 – Michigan 17

Josh (1)

I’ll just come out and say it: If anyone other than a close to 100 percent Wilton Speight comes out on the first series I don’t see Michigan winning this game. I said in my preseason prediction that Michigan would lose to Iowa (they did) and OSU. I also said that serious injuries to key players could derail the season. If Speight is out, Michigan loses; plain and simple. I just don’t see how John O’Korn can lead them to victory in Columbus.

That said, IF Wilton Speight does play I think Michigan has an excellent chance to win.

On defense, Michigan needs to have figured out how to stop the missed tackling issues and they need to seal the edge. If not, Curtis Samuel is going to run rampant downfield. J.T. Barrett doesn’t scare me if he’s forced to pass, the problem is when the defense loses contain. I’m interested to see what Don Brown has cooked up. Personally, I’d use the pass rush to contain him and just slowly close the pocket around him and trust the back end to do their jobs. But Don Brown is not exactly known for being a passive, sit back and wait coordinator. However, this is why he was brought in; to solve the problem OSU’s offense presents and to win The Game.

If they can keep Barrett from escaping pressure and finally seal the edge to keep Samuels and Mike Weber from breaking free for long runs then Michigan should be able to give the offense enough to work with to come out with the win.

On offense, Michigan needs to keep OSU honest with a balanced attack and they ABSOLUTELY HAVE TO hit a few deep balls so the running game doesn’t get bottled up. As much as I love the running backs Michigan has not one of them possesses all the skills of an elite back. Penn State’s Saquan Barkley and Michigan State’s L.J. Scott had some great games against this defense, but I don’t think any one back on Michigan is as good as either of those two. Every single guy who carries the ball has to bring his A-game for Michigan to win. OSU needs to be thinking about who is back there and what he can and cannot do, information overload.

Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson just need to keep being themselves but Jake Butt and his tight end cohorts need to be a bigger part of the passing attack. They are built to wreak havoc against OSU’s defense.

All signs point to O’Korn, not Speight, being the quarterback this weekend and I don’t see how he can improve that much from last week to be able to pull out a win in Columbus. I called this a loss in the preseason and unfortunately I am going to keep it that way.

Ohio State 27 – Michigan 13

Joe (6)

It’s finally here. The biggest game of the entire NCAA football season. This one will be special on all fronts. I’m not even going to go into all the different scenarios and player predictions. Let’s just say Michigan wins by one.

Michigan 21 – Ohio State 20

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

First Look: #2 Ohio State

Monday, November 21st, 2016


osu-cheerleader-fall

Michigan rebounded from its loss to Iowa with a workmanlike win over Indiana on Saturday. It certainly wasn’t pretty, but it showed resilience, and finding a way to win without starting quarterback Wilton Speight will give the Wolverines some confidence heading into Columbus on Saturday.

Ohio State comes in with an identical 10-1 record overall and 7-1 in the Big Ten. Like the classic Michigan-Ohio State battles of old, The Game will have a major impact on the Big Ten title race. If Michigan wins, the Wolverines head to Indianapolis to face Wisconsin (assuming the Badgers beat Minnesota). If Ohio State wins and Penn State beats Michigan State, the Nittany Lions will win the East and head to Indy. If OSU wins and Penn State loses, the Buckeyes will play for the title. In other words, Michigan just needs to win.

Let’s take a look at how the teams compare through the first 11 games of the season.

Ohio State & Michigan statistical comparison
Ohio State | Michigan Rank Defense Rank
Points Per Game 43.8 | 42.3 5 11
13.0 10.9 3 1
Rushing Yards 2,894 2,588 1,323 1,195
Rush Avg. Per Game 263.1 | 235.3 8 19
120.3 108.6 18 10
Avg. Per Rush 5.7 | 5.2
3.4 3.0
Passing Yards 2,530 2,374 1,755 1,507
Pass Avg. Per Game 230.0 215.8 68 82 159.5 137.0 3 1
Total Offense 5,424 4,962 3,078 2,702
Total Off Avg. Per Game 493.1 451.1 21 38 279.8 245.6 4 1
Kick Return Average 24.1 17.3 14 121 18.4 21.0 25 | 78
Punt Return Average 5.2 16.0 96 6 3.1 7.6 11 63
Avg. Time of Possession 34:25 33:06 4 15 25:35 | 26:54
3rd Down Conversion Pct 51% | 44% 9 | 42
29% | 21.0% 7 1
Sacks Allowed-Yards/By-Yards 17-100| 16-103
30 24
24-169 | 36-247 57 9
Touchdowns Scored 62 60
15 | 14
Field Goals-Attempts 16-17 14-19
13-15 | 7-13
Red Zone Scores (50-56) 89%|(53-58) 91% 29 | 16
(21-30) 70%|(13-19) 68% 8 5
Red Zone Touchdowns (37-56) 66%|(40-58) 69% (9-30) 30%|(8-19 42%
Off. S&P+/Def. S&P+ 38.6 36.1 14 25 15.1 | 5.6 7 1

I won’t sugarcoat anything. Ohio State is the best team Michigan has faced this season. That doesn’t mean they aren’t susceptible — they almost lost to Michigan State this past Saturday — but there’s no denying that they’re a more talented team than Michigan has faced to date. And the numbers show that.

Wisconsin has a defense to rival Ohio State’s, but not the offense. Colorado has a top-30ish offense and defense, but not on OSU’s level. Same with Penn State.

The Buckeyes’ lone loss was a 24-21 defeat in Week 7 at Penn State. At the time, it looked to be a bad loss as the Nittany Lions were just 4-2 coming into that one with a loss to Pitt and a 39-point loss to Michigan. But Penn State has reeled off four straight wins since that upset of Ohio State and sits poised to capture the Big Ten East division crown if Ohio State beats Michigan on Saturday.

The Buckeyes rank fifth nationally in scoring offense, averaging 43.8 points per game — a point and a half more than Michigan. They have topped 60 points three times and surprisingly, none were against Rutgers, through they did score 58 against the Scarlet Knights. They’ve eclipsed 50 points in four of 11 games, but have been held to 30 or fewer points in four of their last six games. Their lowest point total of the season came this past Saturday when they managed just 17 points at Michigan State.

Ohio State does it mostly with their rushing game, which ranks eighth nationally, averaging 263.1 yards per game. That’s about 28 yards more than Michigan averages. OSU has topped 200 rushing yards in nine of 11 games with only Wisconsin (185) and Penn State (168) holding them under 200. By comparison, Michigan has tallied under 200 yards five times, including against Wisconsin (130), but ran all over Penn State to the tune of 326 yards. Against common opponents, Ohio State has averaged 255 rushing yards, while Michigan has averaged 271.

The passing game isn’t nearly as dominant, despite a senior quarterback with a lot of experience. The Buckeyes rank 68th nationally with 230 passing yards per game. They average about 14 more passing yards per game than Michigan. But that’s a result of Wilton Speight’s injury forcing John O’Korn to play this past Saturday, as the Wolverines entered the IU game averaging 231.5. Ohio State has thrown for fewer than 100 yards twice and 152 yards or fewer in four of 11 games. They had a season-high 417 passing yards in the season opener against Bowling Green’s 110th-ranked pass defense. Their most impressive performance was a 352-yard output against a decent Nebraska defense three weeks ago. Against common opponents, Ohio State has thrown for three more passing yards per game than Michigan (206 versus 203).

Defensively, the Buckeyes feature an elite defense that isn’t quite on Michigan’s level, but not far behind. They rank third nationally in scoring defense, allowing 13 points per game. Only four opponents have scored more than 20 points and they’ve held five to 10 points or fewer.

The rush defense ranks 18th nationally, allowing 120.3 yards per game, about 12 more than Michigan’s 10th-ranked run defense allows. Wisconsin and Michigan State both topped 200 yards on the ground against the OSU defense with 236 and 207, respectively. Wisconsin averaged 5.1 yards per carry and Michigan State averaged 5.9 — both about a yard more per carry than their respective season averages. The Buckeyes have held six of 11 opponents under 100 rushing yards, but those six opponents have an average Rushing S&P+ ranking of 63. Michigan’s defense has held eight of 11 opponents under 100. Against common opponents, Ohio State has allowed 132 rushing yards per game, while Michigan has held opponents to just 89 rushing yards per game.

Ohio State’s pass defense allows just 159.5 yards per game, which is good for third nationally. It’s 22.5 yards more than Michigan’s top-ranked pass defense allows. Three of 11 opponents — Oklahoma, Wisconsin, and Northwestern — have topped 200 passing yards. The Buckeyes held Rutgers to just 33 passing yards (Michigan held them to five) and also had the fortune of knocking Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong out of the game early, and thus, holding the Cornhuskers to just 126 passing yards. Against common opponents, OSU’s pass defense has allowed about six fewer passing yards per game than Michigan has.

On special teams, Ohio State is pretty solid all around, ranking 14th nationally in kick return average, 25th in kick return defense, and 11th in punt return defense. The one weak spot is that they rank 96th in punt returns, averaging 5.2 yards per return. Michigan ranks sixth in that category thanks to Jabrill Peppers’ average of 16 yards per return, which means he essentially gives the Wolverines an additional first-down worth of field position on each return. The Buckeyes are also consistent with field goals (16-of-17), red zone scoring (89 percent), and third down conversions (51 percent, ninth nationally).

As you can see, this game is destined to be a dog fight for 60 minutes. Michigan’s defense will keep the Wolverines in the game. The main question will be whether or not Wilton Speight is healthy enough to play. If he is — and has full mobility — the Michigan offense can move the ball similar to the way MSU did. But if Speight can’t go, Ohio State will do a much better job shutting down Michigan’s running game than Indiana did, and O’Korn will have to make plays with his arm. That’s not a good proposition for the Wolverines.

New in Blue: Running back Mike Weber

Wednesday, August 6th, 2014



Mike Weber(Tanya Moutzalias, MLive.com)

Mike Weber – RB | 5’10”, 205 | Detroit, Mich. – Cass Technical
ESPN: 4-star, #14 RB Rivals: 4-star, #10 RB 247: 4-star, #13 RB Scout: 4-star, #13 RB
Other top offers: Michigan State, Ohio State, USC, Wisconsin, Miami, Nebraska, Tennessee

Just a week and a half after receiving a commitment from the top 2015 recruit in the state of Michigan, Brady Hoke and the Michigan football program picked up a big commitment from the second-ranked player in the state. Detroit Cass Tech running back Mike Weber pledged his commitment to his home-state Wolverines and announced it via Twitter shortly after 9 p.m. EST.

Weber is a four-star across the board, ranked no worse than 169th nationally by any of the four major recruiting services. Rivals has Weber the highest as the 10th-best running back in the class and 103rd-best player overall. Scout has him 13th and 104th, while 247 Sports ranks him 13th and 144th, and ESPN comes in the lowest at 14th and 169th.

Rivals and 247 are in agreement about his size, listing him at 5’10”, 205. ESPN lists him an inch shorter and Scout has him an inch shorter and five pounds heavier. Regardless, by the time he gets to campus a year from now, he’ll fit the mold of the current leaders on Michigan’s depth chart, De’Veon Smith and Derrick Green (both 5’11”, 220).

Scout lists Weber’s strengths as cutback ability, hands, and vision, and his area to improve as power. Allen Trieu had this to say: “Weber is a compact back who runs with good patience. He is a slasher with a good burst and good acceleration. He catches the ball well out of the backfield and also does a nice job in pass protection. He has run largely out of the shotgun in high school and would have to adjust if he goes to more of a traditional I-form team in college. He’s shown the ability to run between the tackles but is not a true power back.”

Weber’s commitment ends a long, up and down process for the Michigan coaching staff at the position in the 2015 class. The top overall back in the class, Damien Harris initially committed to the Wolverines on July 29, 2013, but decommitted following Michigan’s 7-6 season. When he released his top five last week, Michigan was absent. Weber was all but out of the running for Michigan at the beginning of the year, but following Harris’ decommitment, Weber became a top priority. The battle for Weber was between Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, and USC. The Spartans landed Hubbard, Ohio running back Larry Scott three weeks ago, and many feel Harris will wind up at Ohio State. That left Weber for Michigan and the Wolverines are more than pleased.

Current 2015 commit, quarterback Alex Malzone, who played a big role in securing Weber, tweeted his excitement:

When Weber gets to campus, he will join a crowded backfield. Justice Hayes will be a redshirt senior; Drake Johnson, who was number two on the depth chart coming out of fall camp a year ago before tearing his ACL, will be a redshirt junior; De’Veon Smith and Derrick Green will be true juniors; and Ty Isaac will either be a true junior or redshirt sophomore depending on whether or not he receives a hardship waiver for his transfer. With no running back in the 2014 class, it was imperative that Hoke sign one in 2015, and the depth ahead of him will allow Weber time to work his way into the lineup.

Weber’s commitment gives Michigan the top running back, quarterback (Malzone), and receiver (Brian Cole) in the state of Michigan in the 2015 class. The three also represent three of the top four players in the state. Michigan State has offensive lineman Kyonta Stallworth, who ranks third.

Weber is the 10th commitment in Michigan’s 2015 class, joining Malzone, Cole, tight end Chris Clark, offensive linemen Grant Newsome and Jon Runyan Jr, defensive backs Tyree Kinnel and Garrett Taylor, linebacker Darrin Kirkland Jr, and kicker Andrew David. The class now ranks third nationally per 247 in terms of average rating (91.10), behind only Alabama (93.61) and USC (91.12). In Scout’s rankings index, the class is tied for first with Alabama, though they haven’t officially added him at the time of this post.

Drew’s Mailbag: Running backs, running backs, and more running backs

Monday, June 16th, 2014


It’s time for another installment of Drew’s Mailbag, which will run frequently throughout the offseason as Maize and Go Blue prepares for and previews the 2014 Michigan football season. The topics will cover more than just football, though. I will address any questions regarding Michigan athletics, including basketball, recruiting, etc., you may have. So fire away on Twitter (DrewCHallett) or via email (drew.maizeandgoblue@gmail.com).

Many of you submitted great questions this past week. However, with the recent announcement that former USC running back Ty Isaac has transferred to Michigan, the topic on everyone’s mind is Isaac and Michigan’s running back situation. Therefore, this installment will focus solely on Michigan’s running backs situation, and I will address your great questions on other topics in a future mailbag. With that said, let’s dive in:

Is it better if [Ty] Isaac is able to play right away or save his eligibility? –Zach (@ZachWoodruff3)

When running back Ty Isaac announced on Twitter that he would be transferring from USC to Michigan, the first question out of Michigan fans’ mouths was whether he would be eligible to play this season. Isaac transferred from USC because he desired to be closer to his mother, who has an inner ear problem due to recent complications related to a surgical procedure, in his hometown of Joliet, Illinois. Consequently, Isaac and Michigan will soon or already have submitted paperwork to the NCAA requesting a family hardship waiver. If the NCAA grants it, Isaac would be able to play for Michigan this fall, rather than sit out all of the 2014 season.

However, it seems like a longshot that the NCAA will approve Isaac’s family hardship waiver request. Whether or not the NCAA grants the waiver depends on the nature of the family member’s illness or injury, the type of care the athlete must provide, and the proximity of the athlete’s new school to his ailing family member. Although Isaac’s mother’s ear injury is undoubtedly a serious one, it does not seem to be an injury that requires constant care and assistance from Isaac on a daily basis. Further, the NCAA recently refined the rules to deny family hardship waiver requests from athletes who transferred to a school further than 100 miles away from the family member’s home. The NCAA’s rationale was that the athlete would be too far away from home to provide regular care for his ailing family member if outside this 100-mile radius. Ann Arbor is 250 miles away from Joliet. Thus, the odds are against Isaac that the NCAA grants his request and allows him to play for the Wolverines this season.

Isaac

Isaac is unlikely to receive a hardship waiver that would allow him to play this season

Yet, this would probably be the better outcome for Michigan. If the NCAA grants Isaac’s waiver, there would be a logjam on Michigan’s depth chart at running back. The Wolverines already have three scholarship running backs entering their sophomore season of athletic eligibility—Derrick Green, Drake Johnson, and De’Veon Smith. Isaac would be the fourth if he is allowed to play this season. There are not enough carries to go around for four running backs on a squad, let alone four that would all be sophomores. At least two would be no better than Michigan’s third-stringer for the remainder of their careers. It would lead to their inevitable transfer from Michigan due to lack of playing time.

Further, not only would there be a logjam, Michigan would possibly not have any quality freshmen or sophomore running backs for the 2015 season. After taking both Green and Smith in the 2013 class, Michigan did not heavily pursue any running back targets in 2014, setting its sights on the running back corps in 2015.

Initially, all went as planned as Michigan received a commitment from five-star Damien Harris in late July 2013. But, after Michigan’s 7-6 record in 2013 and the subsequent firing of offensive coordinator Al Borges, Harris decommitted. Michigan has since fallen out of the lead with its other top running back targets and seems to be trailing by a considerable margin in all of those recruitments. There is a very real chance that the Wolverines strike out at running back in 2015 after passing in 2014. Therefore, if Isaac does not redshirt, there would be a giant gap in Michigan’s depth chart. It may not affect Michigan immediately, but it could be a major issue in the foreseeable future.

The counterpoint is that Michigan does not have the luxury to worry about its depth chart in 2017 and beyond. Coming off two seasons with 8-5 and 7-6 records which have head coach Brady Hoke feeling some heat, Michigan cannot afford another disappointing season. The Wolverines need to put together a successful season and that means winning games now. In order to do that, Michigan will need to have all of its best talent available to play immediately. This includes Isaac, who was a five-star recruit in high school. This is a great point, and I do not necessarily disagree with it.

This is why the best scenario for Michigan is the NCAA granting Isaac’s family hardship waiver request, but Michigan still planning to redshirt Isaac anyway. It would provide Michigan the opportunity to at least attempt to balance its depth chart at running back. Additionally, it would give Green and Smith—who also were heralded running backs in high school—another crack to live up to high expectations after a somewhat discouraging freshman season.

However, if Green and Smith do not produce as Michigan needs, then the Wolverines would still be able to shed Isaac’s redshirt and throw him in there this season. Isaac would then still be able to salvage Michigan’s running back situation for2014. This would be the best of both worlds for Michigan. This is the outcome that Michigan fans should root for, although the odds of Michigan still redshirting Isaac if the NCAA grants his waiver are slim to none.

If Ty Isaac gets a hardship waiver, what do you think the pecking order is at RB? –Steve (SteveCKays)

Even if Ty Isaac receives his family hardship waiver and is eligible to play this season, he still will be behind Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith on the depth chart. At least initially. Green and Smith have been No. 1a and No. 1b, respectively, on the depth chart since the end of last season. I do not think that changes with the addition of Isaac. Green was Hoke’s prized recruit in the 2013 class as a five-star prospect and the best player at his position. He had 83 carries as a freshman, which was the second-most by a Michigan running back behind the departed Fitzgerald Toussaint, and 42 of those were in Michigan’s final three regular-season games. Although Green had an underwhelming first year, reports are that he finally is back in the shape he was in when he was considered the best running back in his recruiting class. If Green can demonstrate that combination of size and strength that made scouts drool, he will be Michigan’s starting running back in 2014.

Nonetheless, Smith will be pushing Green for the starting job. Smith does not quite have the physical measurements that Green has, but Smith has shown flashes of a running back who has great instincts and can fight through tackles. He and Green split carries with the first-team offense throughout Michigan’s spring camp, and Smith actually worked with the first unit more during Michigan’s spring “game.” Nonetheless, I believe Smith still is slightly behind Green in this competition, but they both likely will see carries on first and second downs this season.

Where Isaac would enter the picture, at least initially, would be as Michigan’s third-down back. Prior to Isaac’s transfer, this role belonged to Justice Hayes. However, Isaac would be a perfect fit here. First, one of Isaac’s greatest assets is his hands. While Isaac can do a great job of taking a handoff, making one cut, and exploding through the line of scrimmage, he may even be a better safety valve by catching passes out of the backfield on screens and other routes. Further, Isaac is 6’3”. Although he still needs to work on his pass blocking, his size will better help him block opposing rushers than Hayes, who is 5’10”. If the NCAA grants Isaac’s waiver request, this is where he would make his greatest impact for Michigan’s offense. However, if both Green and Smith struggle, Isaac would be the player given an opportunity to be the featured back in Michigan’s offense.

With only one RB slot in the 2015 class, is [Damien] Harris still the No. 1 target? –Zach (ZachWoodruff3)
Cass Tech's Mike Weber is a priority for new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier (Scout.com)

Cass Tech’s Mike Weber is a priority for new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier (Scout.com)

No, I think Cass Technical’s Mike Weber (Detroit, Mich.) has passed Madison Southern’s Damien Harris (Berea, Ky.) as Michigan’s No. 1 target at running back in the 2015 class. Before Michigan fired offensive coordinator Al Borges, there was no doubt that Harris was the top guy on its recruiting board. Not only did Harris grow up rooting for the Wolverines, but he also was considered by many recruiting services to be the best running back in his class. In fact, at the moment, Rivals ranks Harris as the fourth-best player overall in the 2015 class. So it was a great recruiting win for Michigan when Harris chose to commit to the Wolverines in late July 2013.

However, one of the key reasons why Harris offered his verbal pledge to Michigan was Borges. With Borges no longer in Ann Arbor, Harris wanted to reconsider his options and see if Michigan still was the best place for him. So he decommitted. Although Harris reiterated over and over that Michigan still was his favorite school, it is very rare for a recruit to re-commit to a school after decommitting. Will Campbell and David Dawson are the exceptions, not the rule. As time has passed since Harris’ decommitment, his interest in Michigan seems to have waned, while he has become more intrigued with Ohio State, unfortunately. I think Michigan has realized this and adjusted its priorities.

On the other hand, Michigan’s relationship with Weber has improved tremendously since it hired Doug Nussmeier to replace Borges. After Harris’ commitment, Michigan and Weber fell out of contact as the Wolverines had their man at running back. But, since Nussmeier’s arrival in Ann Arbor, Michigan’s interest in Weber seems to have peaked. Weber has been quoted recently as saying that Michigan has made him a priority again and that he is interested in Michigan once again. He also added that no one at Michigan is recruiting him harder than Nussmeier.

Although the Wolverines still are outside Weber’s top three, which includes Ohio State, Michigan State, and Wisconsin, Michigan has a great opportunity to jump back into the race. It certainly does not hurt that Weber has unofficially visited the Michigan campus twice in the past two weeks. All signs indicate that Weber is Michigan’s top running back target for the 2015 class. This is probably the right move because he likely is Michigan’s best chance at not striking out at the position in this recruiting cycle.