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Posts Tagged ‘Ohio State’

#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

 

Tailgate Tuesday: Hickory smoked trail mix

Thursday, November 23rd, 2017


Tailgate Tuesday has traditionally been our weekly contribution from our resident pitmaster, Joe Pichey from GoBlueBBQ. Due to a new job, Joe has had limited time this season, so I have taken the reigns as interim Maize and Go Pitmaster. These tailgate recipes will be posted each Tuesday throughout the football season and will feature a variety of appetizers, main courses, and sides to help you be the king of your next tailgate. Gentry’s BBQ, a Orlando, Fla. based BBQ and catering company, sponsors this season’s feature by providing their killer rubs and sauces for use in the recipes. Buy them here. In addition, Fogo Charcoal provides charcoal to use in each recipe. Buy it here.

PreviousGator kabobsSteak tacos nortenos with bacon fat flour tortillasBrisket burnt endsFried pork tenderloin sammy with fire roasted green chile jam and savory corn casseroleSmoked onion dipJalapeno ballsSous vide french dip cheesesteakWestern style chopped pork and red slawCarolina hush puppiesSmoked beef empanadasHome-cured applewood smoked bacon; Beer cheese soup
Recipe Archive

Yes, I know today isn’t Tuesday, but I was in San Francisco for work last weekend which meant I wasn’t home to smoke anything. Due to my busy schedule I opted not to smoke a bird for Thanksgiving this year, but I wanted to at least smoke something, so since the worthless nuts from Ohio are coming to town this Saturday I decided to smoke some nuts and make my own trail mix. This one requires as few or as many ingredients you want and allows you to mix and match whatever ingredients you please to make your own trail mix. It’s easy to make ahead of time and bring to tailgates or homegates, or bag and give out as Christmas gifts. Your friends and family will thank you.

Ingredients
1 pound raw almonds
1/2 pound raw cashews
1 pound raw peanuts
1/2 pound raw pistachios
1 bag salted popcorn
1/2 pound sesame sticks
1/2 pound pepitas
8oz craisins
1 large bag plain M&Ms
1 bag Duke’s original smoked shorty sausages
Gentry’s Beef Brigade BBQ Rub
Garlic powder
Directions

As mentioned above, you can use whatever type of nuts or ingredients you want, but here’s the gist of this easy recipe. Honestly, the most time consuming — and fun — part is probably deciding which ingredients to go with. If you have a Caputo’s Fresh Market near you, they have a great selection of nuts, candies, dried fruit, etc.

The general rule of thumb with a trail mix is you want nuts, dried fruit, grains, candy, and meat. You don’t have to include something from all of those categories, but a good selection makes for a well-rounded trail mix.

Fire up your smoker to 225-275 degrees. This isn’t a long smoke, so as long as it falls somewhere in that range you’re good. You don’t want it too hot because the nuts will burn easily. Put all of your nuts in a bowl and cover with water. Let sit for 10 minutes — no more — and then strain out the water. You can smoke the nuts without submerging in water first, but the water really helps both the smoke and whatever rub or seasonings you apply to stick to the nuts. Just make sure not to soak the nuts for longer than 10 minutes because they’ll start to absorb it and become mushy.

Now apply your seasonings. For this recipe I went with Gentry’s Beef Brigade BBQ Rub and some garlic powder. The Beef Brigade rub provides a nice savory, peppery taste to counter the sweeter and fruitier taste of some of your other ingredients.

You can use a cookie sheet to smoke these on if that’s all you have, but a basket or grill topper that has holes in it is preferred to let the smoke penetrate from all sides. Put all of your nuts into a basket or grill topper in a single layer and place in the smoker. You’ll only be smoking these for about 30 minutes, so don’t get too comfortable. About halfway through, give them a nice stir to make sure they’re all getting smoke. You might have to smoke them in two separate batches depending on how many you have, but with the short smoke time, that’s just fine.

After about 30 minutes, pull them out of the smoker and let sit at room temperature for a couple of hours to cool and harden. You’ll notice after you take them out of the smoker that they are kind of soft, which is partly due to the water bath and also the smoking process. Once they sit for an hour or two they’ll harden back up.

Now it’s time to mix in all the other ingredients. I used pepitas, plain salted popcorn, sesame sticks, craisins, Duke’s shorties, and M&Ms in addition to my smoked almonds, peanuts, cashews, and pistachios. Side note: if you’ve never tried Duke’s smoked shorty sausages, you’ve got to give them a try. Duke’s is my go-to beef jerky brand and their shorties are great when hiking, golfing, driving, etc. Just hide them from your kids because they’ll get hooked too, although if you need to get some protein into them, these are a great way. Anyway, just cut them up into small pieces for your trail mix.

Mix everything together in your preferred proportions and now you’re ready to serve! My wife just told me it’s the best trail mix she’s ever had, so hopefully your family and friends feel the same way!

Visit Gentry’s to purchase their great rubs and sauces. You can follow them on Twitter at @gentrysbbq and you can also follow our resident pitmaster Joe at @mmmgoblubbq.

First Look: #8 Ohio State

Tuesday, November 21st, 2017


Michigan put up a fight for 40 minutes in Madison last Saturday, leading the fifth-ranked Wisconsin Badgers 10-7 until midway through the third quarter, but disaster struck in the form of a head injury to quarterback Brandon Peters and the Wolverines suffered a 24-10 defeat to drop to 8-3 on the season and 5-3 in Big Ten play. They have one regular season game remaining and it’s the big one — the one that is simply referred to as The Game. It presents one last chance to salvage what most consider to be a disappointing season and spoil Ohio State’s hopes of a College Football Playoff berth.

Ohio State & Michigan team stats comparison
Offense Defense
Average Rank Average Rank Average Rank Average Rank
44.9 3rd 26.3 82nd PPG 19.8 22nd 17.1 11th
2,778 2,136 Rush Yds 1,254 1,285
252.5 12th 194.2 35th Rush/Gm 114.0 12th 116.8 15th
6.0 4.6 Rush Avg 3.2 3.4
3,230 1,828 Pass Yds 1,953 1,588
293.6 20th 166.2 111th Pass/Gm 177.5 15th 144.4 1st
6,008 3,964 Total Off. 3,207 2,873
546.2 4th 360.4 102nd Total Off./Gm 291.5 8th 261.2 3rd
25.0 15th 19.5 99th KR Avg 17.6 14th 15.6 2nd
3.8 117h 7.5 63rd PR Avg 1.0 1st 10.5 100th
28:40 91st 32:02 22nd Avg TOP 31:20 27:58
50% 4th 33% 112th 3rd Down% 30% 14th 25% 1st
16-96 30th 29-205 102nd Sacks-Yds 29-208 23rd 36-251 8th
65 35 TDs 29 23
13-15 (87%) 15-20 (75%) FG-ATT 5-10 (50%) 9-14 (64%)
54-61 (89%) 36th 31-36 (86%) 53rd Red Zone 23-30 (77%) 22nd 21-26 (81%) 45th
41-61 (67%) 19-36 (53%)  RZ TD 18-30 (60%) 15-26 (58%)
3.79 2nd 2.27 57th OFEI/DFEI 1.39 15th 1.35 11th
40.9 4th 27.8 69th S&P+ 18.8 12th 18.1 8th

When everything is clicking Ohio State may have the most upside of any team in the country. But as their two losses indicate, they also may have the lowest floor of any of the teams in contention to make the final four. The Buckeyes have two good wins, both at home, over then-No. 2 Penn State (39-38) and then-No. 12 Michigan State (48-3). But their two losses to then-No. 5 Oklahoma and then-unranked Iowa have come by a combined 46 points.

The Iowa loss was the most surprising as the Hawkeyes took a 31-17 lead into the half and kept piling on in the second, eventually winning 55-24. They have since dropped their last two games at Wisconsin and at home to Purdue by a combined 33 points to fall to just 6-5 overall and 3-5 in conference play. They’re simply not a very good team, and yet they handed Ohio State a 31-point loss. In fact, in their two games before the Ohio State game and their two games since, they’ve combined to score a total of 56 points — one more than they scored against the Buckeyes.

So is there hope for Michigan? Objectively, sure. The Wolverines average about a half a point more than Iowa does, have a slightly better offense, and a considerably better defense. And in a rivalry game like this, anything can happen. But when applying recent history, its hard to imagine Michigan breaking out of the slump that has seen them lose 14 of the last 16 meetings.

This season, Ohio State features one of the nation’s most explosive offenses, ranking 3rd nationally in scoring (44.9 points per game), 12th in rushing (252.5 yards per game), 20th in passing (293.6 yards per game), and 4th in total offense (546.2 yards per game).

The Buckeyes have been held below 25 points just twice this season and both were losses — 24 points against Iowa and 16 against Oklahoma. They’ve scored 48 or more points in eight of 11 games with a high of 62 against Maryland. The only game in which they scored fewer than 48 but more than 24 was the 39-38 come-from-behind win over Penn State.

The running game hasn’t been held below 163 yards in a single game this season. Michigan’s rush defense, which ranks 15th nationally, allows just 116.8 yards per game and has allowed 163 or more just four times in 11 games, although it has done so in each of the past two. Ohio State has topped 200 yards rushing eight times and 300 yards in each of the last two weeks. The same Michigan State defense that held Michigan to 102 rushing yards on 39 carries yielded 335 yards on 42 carries to OSU.

The passing game isn’t quite as good under senior quarterback J.T. Barrett, but it’s still dangerous and the Buckeyes’ receivers have matured throughout the season. In the two losses, Barrett has thrown a combined five interceptions — four of which came against Iowa — and in the nine wins, he has thrown just three. Iowa and Oklahoma held the Bucks to just 195.5 passing yards per game on just a 53.6 percent completion rate. Those other nine games? He’s averaged 315.4 passing yards on a 69.6 percent completion rate.

Michigan boasts the nation’s top pass defense, allowing just 144.4 yards per game, and with a healthy Lavert Hill back, they’ll present the toughest matchup OSU has faced to date. Michigan has allowed just one opponent — Penn State — to pass for more than 200 yards.

Defensively, Ohio State isn’t nearly as good as they were a year ago but they still rank among the nation’s best. The Buckeyes rank 22nd nationally in scoring defense (19.8 points per game), 12th against the run (114.0 yards per game), 15th against the pass (177.5 yards per game), and 8th in total defense (291.5 yards per game).

With the exception of two games, OSU’s defense has been tough against the run. One of those two, Army, is excusable because they’re a service academy that runs a wacky offense like Michigan’s defense saw with Air Force. The other was Iowa, who inexplicably rushed for a season-high 243 yards on 6.4 yards per carry. To put that in context, Iowa has rushed for more than 200 yards just one other time (against North Texas) and has been held to just 89 yards or fewer four times.

Ohio State’s pass defense has been more susceptible, though it rebounded from a very poor start to the season. In the season opener, Indiana passed for 420 yards and Oklahoma threw for 386 a week later. Since then, Ohio State has allowed more than 200 yards passing just twice and has held three opponents — Army, Maryland, and Illinois — to fewer than 20 passing yards. The exceptions were Nebraska’s 27th-ranked passing offense which threw for 349 yards and Iowa’s 87th-ranked passing offense that passed for 244.

On special teams, Ohio State is one of the nation’s best in kick returns, but one of the worst in the punt return game. They’re also among the nation’s best at defending both kick and punt returns. Kicking-wise, Ohio State has converted 13-of-15 field goals.

The Buckeyes will be the most talented team Michigan has faced this season, but as Iowa showed three weeks ago, they’re beatable. Just how much of a chance Michigan will have will likely depend on the health of Peters.

Register for RunTough for chance to win Michigan-Ohio State tickets

Thursday, September 7th, 2017


The 4th Annual RunTough for ChadTough is quickly approaching and The ChadTough Foundation is offering a pair of tickets to the Michigan vs. Ohio State football game on Nov. 25 to one lucky winner. All you have to do is register for RunTough between now and Friday, September 15 at 11:59pm ET.

Everyone who registers — regardless of age or location — is eligible to win. Each registration counts as one entry into the drawing. The ChadTough Foundation will announce the winner on Mon., Sept. 18 on the organization’s Facebook page and will reach out to the email address associated with the winner’s registration to coordinate ticket delivery.

RunTough is a family-friendly 5K and 1M Fun Run that can be done in Saline, Mich. or virtually anywhere in the world.

All proceeds from the run will go to The ChadTough Foundation, whose mission is to fund research and raise awareness for pediatric brain cancer with an emphasis on Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG).

This event will celebrate Chad’s birthday while rallying to cure pediatric brain cancer.

Visit the RunTough page on the foundation’s website for more information.

Comparing the Big Ten’s returning production from 2016: Defense

Monday, August 28th, 2017


(Dustin Johnson)

A few weeks ago, we outlined the returning offensive production throughout the Big Ten, which showed that last year’s Big Ten champion, Penn State returns the most production in the conference and Michigan finds itself just inside the top half. Today, we take a look at the defensive side, which will show a much different story for the Wolverines.

A year ago, Purdue returned the most defensive production, but finished just 91st nationally in total defense, going just 3-9 overall. Conversely, Michigan returned the fourth-fewest defensive production and finished with the best defense in the nation, and Ohio State returned the second-fewest and finished with the nation’s sixth-best total defense.

The story was different in 2015 as Ohio State entered that season with the most returning defensive production and backed it up with the conference’s third-best defense.

So what does this year have in store? Let’s take a look at the Big Ten’s returning defensive production. At the end, we’ll tie it all together with the offense to see if there are any indications of who will capture the Big Ten title this December.

Defense

Returning defense
Team Percent Returning 2016 Total Defense Rating
Maryland 78% 77
Indiana 78% 45
Iowa 74% 23
Rutgers 72% 97
Wisconsin 71% 7
Penn State 71% 37
Ohio State 69% 6
Northwestern 67% 60
Nebraska 59% 30
Purdue 59% 91
Minnesota 53% 21
Michigan State 51% 32
Illinois 46% 61
Michigan 40% 1

As a whole, there is more returning defensive production throughout the Big Ten than there was a year ago, which is contrary to the other side of the ball which seems less offensive production returning than there was in 2016. Like last year, a weak defensive team leads the way in returning production as Maryland brings back 78 percent if its 77th-ranked defense. The Terps went 6-7 overall and 3-6 in the Big Ten in D.J. Durkin’s first season at the helm, but look to improve on that with their top three tacklers, top five in tackles for loss, and four of their top five sacks returning. They’ll have to create more turnovers if they want to see improvement, as Maryland forced a Big Ten-worst 12 turnovers last season and only seven of those are returning.

Indiana brings back the second-most production for the second straight season and there might just be something there for once. The Hoosiers improved significantly from 120th in 2015 to 45th in 2017 under Tom Allen, who became the head coach when Kevin Wilson was fired this offseason. In the first few seasons of Wilson’s guidance, defense was an afterthought to the electric offense, but Allen changed that last fall. It’s a safe bet to assume the Hoosiers will be more defense-oriented under Allen, especially with the pieces he has coming back, most notably linebacker Tegray Scales, who lead the Big Ten with 126 tackles and 23.5 tackles for loss. Safety Jonathan Crawford, who lead the team with seven takeaways, and corner Rashard Fant, who lead the Big Ten with 20 passes defended, are also welcome returns.

Top returning Big Ten defensive linemen by production
Name (Yr.) Team Tackles TFL Sacks
Gelen Robinson (Sr.) Purdue 61 8 5
Dre’Mont Jones (RS So.) Ohio State 52 4 0
Jesse Aniebonam (Sr.) Maryland 46 14 9
Sam Hubbard (RS Jr.) Ohio State 46 8 3.5
Matt Nelson (RS Jr.) Iowa 43 6.5 5.5
Kingsley Opara (5th) Maryland 41 11.5 3

Iowa, Rutgers, Wisconsin, and Penn State each return just over 70 percent of their defenses this fall. The Hawkeyes have 74 percent of the nation’s 23rd-best defense returning, most notably linebacker Josey Jewell, the Big Ten’s second-leading returning tackler. Iowa’s defense really tightened the reigns during the second half of the 2016 season, allowing just 16.2 points per game over their last five, but they were destroyed by Florida, 30-3, in the Outback Bowl. And now they return seven starters including the entire linebacking corps, which figures to be one of the best in the conference.

Rutgers returns 72 percent of its defensive contributions and eight of 11 starters, but the Scarlet Knights still have a long way to go. In Chris Ash’s first season, the Rutgers defense ranked 97th nationally in total defense and 116th in scoring defense, giving up 37.5 points per game. Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, and Penn State beat Rutgers by a combined 224-0 — an average of 56 points allowed. Ash was Ohio State’s defensive coordinator prior to taking the job in New Brunswick, so a betting man would be wise to expect an improvement over last year, but just how much is the question. Nearly the entire back seven returns, in addition to Michigan transfer Ross Douglas, who may win a starting job as a hybrid linebacker.

Top returning Big Ten linebackers by production
Name (Yr.) Team Tackles TFL Sacks
Tegray Scales (Sr.) Indiana 126 23.5 7
Josey Jewell (5th) Iowa 124 6 1.5
Jermaine Carter Jr. (5th) Maryland 110 9 6
Shane Cockerille (5th) Maryland 108 8 3
Tre Watson (RS Jr.) Illinois 102 4.5 0
Trevor Morris (Jr.) Rutgers 102 3.5 1

Wisconsin and Penn State both return 71 percent of their defensive production from 2016. Whereas the Badgers posted one of the nation’s best defenses — seventh in total defense and fourth in scoring defense — Penn State was an above average defense, ranking 37th in total and 47th in scoring. Wisconsin has to replace T.J. Watt and Vince Biegel at outside linebacker, though Garret Dooley got significant playing time while Biegel was injured a year ago. The inside linebackers, Jack Cichy and T.J. Edwards, are among the Big Ten’s best. The biggest losses in the secondary were safety Leo Musso and cornerback Sojourn Shelton, who accounted for 10 of the team’s 28 takeaways.

Penn State somehow came out of nowhere to win the Big Ten last season after starting the season 2-2 including a 49-10 blowout loss at Michigan. Now, with the most offensive production returning from what became an explosive offense, the Nittany Lions are in great shape in 2017 if the defense improves even slightly. Six starters return along with 71 percent of the defensive production. Free safety Marcus Allen lead the team with 110 tackles a year ago and he’s back to lead a secondary that has some questions marks. Penn State has a strong linebacking corps returning with Jason Cabinda and Manny Bowen bringing back 149 tackles 12.5 for loss, and three sacks.

Ohio State and Northwestern return 69 and 67 percent of their defensive production, respectively, but Ohio State featured the nation’s sixth-best defense and Northwestern had an uncharacteristically bad 60th-ranked unit. The Buckeyes bring back six full-time starters including most of their front seven. Dre’Mont Jones, Sam Hubbard, and Tyquan Lewis lead what most pundits are calling the best defensive line in the Big Ten — though Michigan’s should have something to say about that — while Jerome Baker and Chris Worley return at linebacker. The main question mark is the secondary which returns only free safety Damon Webb, but has a lot of talent filling in.

While Northwestern’s total defense wasn’t great in 2016, it’s scoring defense ranked 24th, giving up just 22.2 points per game. The Wildcats lost three games that its defense played well enough to win and that was the difference between a good season and a mediocre season. Now, seven starters return including three from the line and three from the secondary. Safety Godwin Igwebuike lead the team with 108 tackles last season, while fellow safety Kyle Queiro and cornerback Montre Hartage return. The three combined for 11 takeaways a year ago. Nate Hall is the only returning starter at linebacker, and Pat Fitzgerald will have to find a replacement for Anthony Walker, who was one of the Big Ten’s best linebackers in 2016.

Nebraska and Purdue both return 59 percent of their defensive production. The Cornhuskers return six starters from the nation’s 30th-best total defense and 33rd-best scoring defense. Most of the secondary returns to form what should be one of the Big Ten’s best secondaries this fall. Only four teams nationally allowed fewer passes per game of 20-plus yards than Nebraska’s 2.2, and most of their interceptions return. Safeties Aaron Williams, Joshua Kalu, and Kieron Williams and cornerback Chris Jones combined for 234 tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss, four sacks, and 12 takeaways and all are back for more.

Top returning Big Ten defensive backs by production
Name (Yr.) Team Tackles TFL Takeaways
Marcus Allen (Sr.) Penn State 110 6 2
Godwin Igwbuike (5th) Northwestern 108 6 3
Brandon Snyder (RS Jr.) Iowa 85 3 5
Patrick Nelson (RS So.) Illinois 75 2.5 1
Jonathan Crawford (Jr.) Indiana 71 0.5 7
Tony Fields (Sr.) Indiana 70 0.5 2

Purdue also has six returning starters, but its defense ranked 91st nationally last season and 117th in scoring. It wasn’t quite Rutgers bad, but it was close, giving up 38.3 points per game. Defensive tackle Gelen Robinson is the conference’s top returning defensive lineman in terms of production with 61 tackles, eight for loss, and five sacks. Linebackers Markus Bailey and Danny Ezechukwu should form the strength of the defense, while a pair of additions to the secondary — T.J Jallow from East Mississippi Community College and Josh Okonye, a grad transfer from Wake Forest — will add some depth to an inexperience secondary.

Minnesota and Michigan State return 53 and 51 percent of their 2016 defensive production, respectively. Both ranked in the top 32 nationally last season, but the Gophers are breaking in a new head coach. Landing P.J. Fleck, who took Western Michigan to a New Year’s Six bowl, was a big coup for the program but he has to replace about half of his defensive production and six starters. Michigan State, meanwhile, felt the sting of losing defensive coordinator, falling from 25th in scoring defense in 2015 to 61st last season, allowing 27.8 points per game. To make matters worse, the MSU defense lost its best player, Malik McDowell, to the NFL and the team has been dealing with arrests and suspensions all offseason.

Illinois and Michigan return the least production this fall with the Illini bringing back 46 percent and Michigan just 40 percent. Illinois had just the 61st-best total defense and 94th-best scoring defense in Lovie Smith’s first season last fall. The former NFL head coach was known as a defensive minded coach and he added former NFL cornerback Donnie Abraham to his staff this summer. Linebacker Tre Watson is the fifth-leading returning tackler in the Big Ten and safeties Stanley Green and Patrick Nelson are good pieces to build around.

Michigan had the nation’s best defense in Don Brown’s first season running the unit and most expect a big dropoff this fall. The Wolverines lost 10 of 11 full-time starters, eight of which were drafted, including Heisman Trophy candidate Jabrill Peppers. But although it seems hard to believe, this year’s defense figures to be faster and more athletic than the one that was made up of Brady Hoke recruits a year ago. Replacing Peppers will be no easy task, but that’s a spot that Brown has proven he can mold playmakers to succeed in throughout his career. Rashan Gary is a popular pick for a breakout season on the line and a host of young but talented defensive backs are ready to step in. The Wolverines may not lead the nation in defense in 2017, but the dropoff won’t be as big as many expect.

Conclusion

Since we began analyzing returning production four years ago, the eventual Big Ten champion fell within a very similar range when offensive and defensive returning production numbers were plotted on a chart. Ohio State, Michigan State, and Penn State all fell within the grey oval in the chart below.

As you can see, no teams fall within that zone this season, but the closest are Rutgers and Wisconsin. It’s a pretty safe bet that Rutgers won’t win the Big Ten, but Wisconsin has a very real chance to do so. If the Badgers were in the East they’d have a tougher road, but they’re the clear favorite to win the West with a favorable conference slate that has them traveling only to Nebraska, Illinois, Indiana, and Minnesota. They host Northwestern, Iowa, and East crossover Michigan.

The Badgers have approximately the right mix of returning production on both sides of the ball to make a run at the Big Ten title, and if the past three years hold true they very well may do so this December.

Comparing the Big Ten’s returning production from 2016: Offense

Monday, July 17th, 2017


(Sean M. Haffey, Getty Images)

Independence Day has come and gone, which means fall camp kicks off in a couple weeks and college football season will be here before we know it. While Michigan doesn’t have quite the hype it had entering last season the Wolverines still find themselves ranked in the top ten in most preseason publications.

It’s time to kickoff our preseason coverage with a look at how each team in the Big Ten compares in terms of returning production. It’s certainly not the end all be all when it comes to determining how each team will fare, but in the three years that we’ve been tracking this, it has produced some interesting results. All three years, the eventual Big Ten champion returned nearly the exact same mix of offensive and defensive production.

In 2014, Ohio State returned 60 percent of its offense and defense and won the conference. In 2015, Michigan State returned 54 percent of its offense and 67 percent of its defense — roughly 60 percent overall — and won the league. Last season, Penn State returned just under 60 percent of its total production and, you guessed it, won the Big Ten.

Could that sweet spot hold true again this year? We’ll get to that, but let’s start with the offense.

Offense

Returning offense
Team Percent Returning 2016 Total Offense Ranking
Penn State 90% 49th
Northwestern 81% 73rd
Purdue 74% 80th
Ohio State 71% 31st
Indiana 64% 56th
Michigan 62% 58th
Illinois 61% 123rd
Rutgers 53% 128th
Wisconsin 50% 89th
Maryland 50% 95th
Minnesota 47% 107th
Michigan State 39% 75th
Iowa 30% 121st
Nebraska 22% 90th
Returning scoring offense
Team Percent Returning 2016 Scoring Offense Ranking
Penn State 88% 21st
Northwestern 82% 87th
Purdue 73% 101st
Ohio State 67% 13th
Michigan 65% 11th
Illinois 63% 122nd
Indiana 62% 88th
Minnesota 54% 63rd
Wisconsin 53% 67th
Rutgers 52% 127th
Maryland 50% 88th
Michigan State 38% 104th
Iowa 30% 95th
Nebraska 20% 79th

Penn State joins last year’s Nebraska, 2015’s Ohio State, and 2014’s Maryland as the teams with the most returning offensive production from the year prior. But that’s not necessarily good news for the Nittany Lions. None of those three won their division that fall as Nebraska finished third in the West at 9-4, Ohio State went 12-1 but finished second behind Michigan State in the East, and Maryland finished third in the East at 7-6.

Like Ohio State in 2015, Penn State is the returning Big Ten champion and only has to replace its top receiver. The Nittany Lions return the Big Ten’s top passer, Trace McSorley, and the second-leading rusher, Saquon Barkley. The pair accounted for nearly 5,500 yards of offense and 54 touchdowns in 2016. James Franklin will have to find a replacement for receiver Chris Godwin, who was drafted 84th overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after leading the team with 982 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns. But Gesicki is the leading returning tight end in the conference with 679 yards and five touchdowns a year ago and rising seniors DeAndre Thompkins and Saeed Blacknall combined for nearly 800 yards and four scores in 2016.

Top returning Big Ten quarterbacks by passing production
Name (Yr.) Team Comp/Att (%) Yards TDs
Trace McSorley (RS Jr.) Penn State 224/387 (57.9) 3,614 29
David Blough (RS So.) Purdue 295/517 (57.1) 3,352 25
Richard Lagow (5th) Indiana 253/438 (57.8) 3,362 19
Clayton Thorson (RS Jr.) Northwestern 280/478 (58.6) 3,182 22
J.T. Barrett (Sr.) Ohio State 233/379 (61.5) 2,555 24
Wilton Speight (RS Jr.) Michigan 204/331 (61.6) 2,538 18

After Penn State, Northwestern returns the second most offensive production with 81 percent of its offense and 82 percent of its scoring offense back for another year. The Wildcats finished fifth in the Big Ten West with a 7-6 overall record and a 5-4 conference record and their offense wasn’t the strength, finishing 73rd nationally in total offense and 87th in scoring.

Quarterback Clayton Thorson is the fourth-leading returning quarterback in the Big Ten after throwing for more yards (3,182) than any other sophomore in Northwestern history. Running back Justin Jackson lead the Big Ten in rushing last season, averaging 117.2 yards per game, and he’s back for his senior season. Like Penn State, Northwestern has to replace its top receiver, Austin Carr, who was far and away the Big Ten’s leading receiver a year ago. His 1,247 yards were 252 more than the next best. Junior Flynn Nagel is NU’s leading receiver with 447 yards and two touchdowns.

Top returning Big Ten running backs by production
Name (Yr.) Team Rush Att. Yards TDs
Justin Jackson (Sr.) Northwestern 298 1,524 15
Saquan Barkley (Jr.) Penn State 272 1,496 18
Rodney Smith (RS Jr.) Minnesota 240 1,158 16
Mike Weber (So.) Ohio State 182 1,096 9
Akrum Wadley (5th) Iowa 168 1,081 10
Ty Johnson (Jr.) Maryland 110 1,004 6

Purdue returns the third-most offensive production with 74 percent of the nation’s 80th-best offense and 73 percent of the 101st-best scoring offense coming back. Redshirt sophomore quarterback David Blough was one of the lone bright spots for the Boilermakers, who went just 3-9 overall and 1-8 in the Big Ten. Blough lead the conference with 279.3 passing yards per game and finished second with 25 passing touchdowns. His 517 passing attempts were 38 more than any other conference quarterback despite playing one fewer game.

Ohio State is an intriguing story this fall, returning the fourth-most offensive production from last season with 71 percent of their total offense and 67 percent of their scoring. But the big addition that isn’t shown in the returning production statistics is the offseason hiring of offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson, the offensive guru who was Indiana’s head coach the past six seasons. His hiring was music to the ears of OSU fans who had become increasingly angered with Ed Wariner and Tim Beck’s erratic play calling.

Wilson will install his tempo-based spread attack into an offense that returns more than two-thirds of its production and that could be a scary thing. The Buckeyes do have to replace Curtis Samuel, who finished third on the team with 771 rushing yards and lead the team with 865 receiving yards, racking up 15 touchdowns in the process, but with Mike Weber returning from a 1,000-yard freshman campaign and J.T. Barrett back for another season behind center, Ohio State should take a step forward on offense this fall. The only question mark is at the receiver position where tight end Marcus Baugh is the leading returner with just 269 yards and two touchdowns.

Top returning Big Ten receivers by production
Name (Yr.) Team Receptions Yards TDs
Nick Westbrook (Jr.) Indiana 54 995 6
Malik Turner (Sr.) Illinois 48 712 6
Mike Gesicki (Sr.) Penn State 48 679 5
D.J. Moore (Jr.) Maryland 41 637 6
Jazz Peavy (5th) Wisconsin 43 635 5
Troy Fumagalli (5th) Wisconsin 47 580 2

Indiana, Michigan, and Illinois all return about the same amount of offensive production — in the low 60 percent — but Michigan stands out among the three for a couple of reasons. Whereas Michigan and Indiana both ranked about the same in total offense last season (Indiana 56th, Michigan 58th), Illinois had the nation’s 123rd-best offense. And Ohio State’s gain was Indiana’s loss with regards to Wilson. The Hoosiers’ offense is sure to take a step back under new offensive coordinator Mike DeBord.

Michigan, meanwhile, returns quarterback Wilton Speight — the first returning starter at the position since Harbaugh has been in Ann Arbor — and also returns plenty of experience at the running back position. Chris Evans is slated to assume the starter role which he shared with De’Veon Smith a year ago. Evans showed flashes of brilliance as a true freshman and now looks to expand that into a full season this fall. Receiver is the main question mark for the Wolverines after losing Amara Darboh, Jehu Chesson, and Jake Butt to the NFL. But there is plenty of young talent ready to step up.

The next level of returning offensive production includes Rutgers, Wisconsin, Maryland, and Minnesota, who each return around half of last season’s production. Rutgers had the nation’s worst offense and second worst scoring offense last season, so they won’t factor into the discussion. Maryland had four different quarterbacks who passed for at least 200 yards last season and returns two of them, but also returns a 1,000-yard rusher in Ty Johnson. Minnesota has to replace quarterback Mitch Leidner, who passed for 2,169 yards and rushed for 366, but brings back the third-leading returning running back, Rodney Smith, who rushed for 1,158 yards and 16 touchdowns.

Wisconsin is the team that could be poised for another run at a Big Ten title this fall with solid talent returning. Quarterback Alex Hornibrook will take the reigns fully this fall after sharing with Bart Houston. The redshirt sophomore completed 58.6 percent of his passes for 1,262 yards, nine touchdowns, and seven interceptions a year ago. He has two of the Big Ten’s top six returning receivers to throw to in Jazz Peavy and tight end Troy Fumagalli, who combined for 1,215 yards and seven scores last season, but does have to find a replacement for Corey Clement in the ground game. Bradrick Shaw rushed for 457 yards on 5.2 yards per carry and the Badgers add Pitt transfer Chris James, who averaged five yards per carry in 2015.

A trio of usual stalwarts bring up the rear in terms of returning production as Michigan State, Iowa, and Nebraska have the least returning this fall. The Spartans found themselves in the same position last year and their total offense went from 73rd nationally in 2015 to 75th in 2016, while their scoring offense fell from 60th to 140th. They do have running back L.J. Scott back, but have to replace their top four receivers and quarterback Tyler O’Connor. Brian Lewerke figures to start the season behind center, but Dantonio’s offense has as many question marks as any team in the conference.

Iowa brings back just 30 percent of its total offense and scoring offense, both of which ranked among the Big Ten’s worst in 2016. Quarterback C.J. Beathard, running back LeShun Daniels, and receiver Riley McCarron are all gone, but Akrum Wadley does bring back his 1,081-yard, 10-touchdown performance.

Finally, Nebraska has just 22 percent of its 90th-ranked total offense and 20 percent of its 79th-ranked scoring offense returning. The Cornhuskers have to replace quarterback Tommy Armstrong, their top two rushers, and three of their top four receivers. Redshirt junior Tanner Lee and redshirt freshman Patrick O’Brien will battle for the starting quarterback position and head coach Mike Riley will have to find playmakers everywhere to step up.

It’s shaping up to be an interesting Big Ten race this fall, at least as far as offenses are concerned, with a lack of top-flight quarterbacks and not many household names returning. The rich seem to be getting richer as Penn State and Ohio State have the clear advantage offensively. If the Nittany Lions can continue the torrid offensive pace that they closed 2016 with they’ll be a force to be reckoned with, and if Kevin Wilson can improve the Buckeyes’ offense, we could be looking at a two-team race.

Stay tuned as we take a look at the returning defenses later this week.

Holtmann hiring gives Ohio State a hero, not the villain it deserves

Wednesday, June 14th, 2017


(Getty Images)

Rivals are supposed to feature villains — unlikable characters who are easy to hate, who say and do all the wrong things, and who — of course — never play by the rules. So why is Ohio State actually trying to make me like them?

The hiring of Butler head coach Chris Holtmann to replace Thad Matta, which was made official on Monday, presents a major paradox for me. I now have to either root for Ohio State or root against a great guy whose career I’ve been following and rooting for since he was an assistant coach in the early 2000s at the alma mater we both share.

Many here may be surprised to learn that I don’t hold a Michigan degree, though my maize and blue blood runs just as deep as those who do. I grew up a Wolverine for life with a mom and grandfather who were both alums and my dream was to play soccer for the Maize and Blue. A knee injury that sidelined my junior season ended those dreams, and when it came time to choose a school, I narrowed my choice to two: pay full, out-of-state tuition to attend Michigan, or accept a soccer scholarship to my dad’s alma mater, Taylor University.

I chose the latter in order to pursue soccer, and when I arrived in tiny Upland, Indiana as an 18-year old freshman, Coach Holtmann was there to serve as my academic advisor. Still in his late 20s, Holtmann was just beginning his coaching career as an assistant at the school where he earned All-America honors as a player.

The following year, Holtmann left Taylor to take an assistant coaching position at Gardner-Webb, his first step into NCAA Division 1 basketball. I followed his career as he moved onto John Groce’s staff at Ohio University, then returned to Gardner-Webb to take his first head coaching position, where he produced the most wins in school history in his third season, earning Big South Coach of the Year honors.

The following season, he joined Brandon Miller’s staff at Butler and a year later became interim head coach when Miller took a leave of absence. Three months later, he was officially named head coach, and this past season he was named Big East Coach of the Year.

It was a quick rise from NAIA assistant to Big Ten head coach, but given his basketball pedigree, it’s not a complete surprise. His mentor, Paul Patterson, is the winningest coach in Indiana basketball history — and 11th-most at any level — notching 734 wins, 15 conference titles, 14 NAIA National Tournament appearances, one final four, 12 Conference Coach of the Year honors, and the 1991 National Coach of the Year award in 34 seasons at Taylor. He was a small school Bobby Knight and regularly landed high-character recruits who were talented enough to play at least lower-level Division 1.

From 1984-94, Patterson’s teams won 25 games in 10 straight seasons — including Holtmann’s entire playing career –, putting the Trojans in the company of UCLA, UNLV, and Lipscomb as the only men’s teams at any level of college basketball to accomplish the feat.

He coached a hard-nosed, defensive-minded, methodical style of basketball that is also evident in Holtmann’s teams. His coaching tree features branches that span all levels of basketball with Hotmann now being the farthest reaching to date. Groce, who was most recently the head coach at Illinois from 2012-17, was a teammate of Holtmann under Patterson in the early 90s. He’s now the head coach at Akron.

Others include: Michigan assistant coach Jeff Meyer, who is the all-time winningest head coach at Liberty University; Steve Brooks, who accumulated a 468-132 record and two NAIA Division II National Championships in 17 seasons as the head coach of Indiana Wesleyan’s women’s team; Ty Platt, who has averaged 17 wins a season in nine seasons at the helm at Huntington University; Dave Close, who has won more than 500 games as a high school coach in Stow, Ohio; Chad Tapp, the head coach at Lyon College; and current Taylor head coach Josh Andrews, who also coached Princeton High School to the 2009 Ohio state title game where they came up two points short to the Trey Burke- and Jared Sullinger- led Northland team.

For a small liberal arts school with less than one-tenth the undergraduate enrollment of Michigan and less than five percent that of Ohio State’s to produce two Big Ten head coaches and another top assistant is nothing short of remarkable. And while Groce didn’t quite work out in Champaign, it’s impossible not to root for Holtmann to succeed.

Ohio State was supposed to hire someone like LaVarr Ball to complement archenemy Urban Meyer — and Jim Tressel before him — with an easy-to-hate coach on the hardwood. The hiring of Holtmann is a dramatic plot twist, and although the rest of the Michigan fan base doesn’t share the same connection to Holtmann that I do, he will prove to be a rare Ohio State coach that is hard not to like.

I won’t be buying scarlet and grey any time soon, but on every day except when facing Michigan Coach Holtmann will have my support.

Big Ten power rankings 2016: Pre-bowl

Wednesday, December 28th, 2016


power-rankings_header

Each Wednesday throughout the season we will release our Big Ten power rankings. These are voted on individually by the five members of our staff and then each team’s ranking is averaged to reach our power rankings. As these are simply power rankings, they are based on each team’s performance to date, not what happened last season or what will happen in the future.

Previous: Week 1, Week 2, Week 3, Week 4, Week 5, Week 6, Week 7, Week 8, Week 9, Week 10, Week 11, Week 12

*Black dash signifies previous week’s ranking

Big Ten power rankings – Pre-Bowl
Team Up/Dn Last Week This Week
1. Ohio State (11-1, 8-1) Even Beat Michigan 30-27 2OT CFP Semifinal – Fiesta Bowl
Sat. vs #2 Clemson (12-1, 7-1), 7pm, ESPN
2. Michigan (10-2, 7-2) Even Lost at #2 OSU 27-30 2OT Orange Bowl
Fri. vs #11 FSU (9-3, 5-3), 8pm, ESPN
3. Penn State (11-2, 8-1) Up 1 Beat #6 Wisconsin 38-31  Rose Bowl
Mon. vs #9 USC (9-3, 7-2), 5pm, ESPN
4. Wisconsin (10-3, 7-2) Down 1 Lost to #7 PSU 31-38 Cotton Bowl
Mon. vs #15 WMU (13-0, 8-0), 1pm, ESPN
5. Nebraska (9-3, 6-3) Even Lost to Iowa 10-40 Music City Bowl
Fri. vs #21 Tenn. (8-4, 4-4), 3:30pm, ESPN
6. Iowa (8-4, 6-3) Even Beat Nebraska 40-10 Outback Bowl
Mon. vs #17 Florida (8-4, 6-2), 1pm, ABC
7. Minnesota (8-4, 5-4) Even Lost at #6 Wisc 17-31 Holiday Bowl
Tue. vs WSU (7-5, 7-2)
8. Northwestern (6-6, 5-4) Up 1 Beat Illinois 42-21 Pinstripe Bowl
Wed. vs Pitt (8-4, 5-3)
9. Indiana (6-6, 4-5) Down 1 Beat Purdue 26-24 Foster Farms Bowl
Wed. vs Utah (8-4, 5-4)
10. Maryland (6-6, 3-6) Even Beat Rutgers 31-13 Quick Lane Bowl
Mon. vs Boston College (6-6, 2-6)
11. Illinois (3-9, 2-7) Up 1 Lost at NW 21-42 Season Over
12. MSU (3-9, 1-8) Down 1 Lost at #7 PSU 12-45 Season Over
13. Purdue (3-9, 1-8) Even Lost at Indiana 26-24 Season Over
14. Rutgers (2-10, 0-9) Even Lost at Maryland 13-31 Season Over

Heading into the heart of bowl season, Ohio State and Michigan hold onto the top two spots despite neither making the Big Ten championship game. Both face tough bowl games this weekend with Michigan playing 11th-ranked Florida State in the Orange Bowl on Friday night and Ohio State facing 2nd-ranked Clemson in the College Football Playoff semifinal on Saturday night.

Penn State leapfrogs Wisconsin thanks to a 38-31 win over the Badgers in the Big Ten championship game. The Nittany Lions will try to continue their late-season momentum with a Rose Bowl win over 9th-ranked USC on Monday. Wisconsin, meanwhile, gets a no-win situation against 15th-ranked Western Michigan in the Cotton Bowl on Monday. Beat the Broncos and it just shows the difference in the level of competition. Lose to the Broncos and it’s a black eye for the program even though WMU is one of just two undefeated teams.

Nebraska, Iowa, and Minnesota hold onto the five through seven spots, though the first two are tied for fifth. Nebraska holds a one-game advantage in the standings, but Iowa throttled the Cornhuskers 40-10 in the regular season finale. They both get to face SEC foes in their bowl games with Nebraska seeing 21st-ranked Tennessee on Saturday and Iowa taking on 17th-ranked Florida on Monday. Minnesota beat Washington State in the Holiday Bowl this past Tuesday, but that was not factored into this week’s power rankings.

Northwestern and Indiana flip spots after regular season ending wins over Illinois and Purdue, respectively. The Wildcats upset Pittsburgh in the Pinstripe Bowl on Wednesday afternoon (not factored into this week’s rankings) and Indiana played 19th-ranked Utah in the Foster Farms Bowl Wednesday night.

Maryland held onto the 10th spot after topping Rutgers 31-13. They lost to Boston College in the Quick Lane Bowl on Monday night, though it also is not factored into this week’s rankings.

Illinois, Michigan State, Purdue, and Rutgers round out the rankings as the only four non-bowl eligible teams in the Big Ten. All four lost their season finale. They’ll look to rebound in 2017.

 

New in Blue: 2017 WR Donovan Peoples-Jones

Thursday, December 15th, 2016


(Brandon Brown)

Donovan Peoples-Jones – WR | 6-2, 193 | Detroit, Mich. (Cass Technical)
ESPN4-star, #4 WR Rivals: 5-star, #2 WR 247: 5-star, #1WR Scout: 5-star, #4 WR
247 Composite: 5-star #1 WR
Other top offers: Ohio State, Michigan State, Florida State, Florida, Alabama, Clemson, LSU, USC

Yesterday, Michigan pulled in four-star receiver Tarik Black of Cheshire, Conn. Today, Jim Harbaugh bolstered his receiving corps even further with a commitment from the top receiver in the country, Donovan Peoples-Jones. The Detroit Cass Tech star pledged his commitment to the Wolverines live on ESPN2 on Thursday evening.

Peoples-Jones is a five-star according to 247, Rivals, and Scout, and a four-star according to ESPN. Scout ranks him as the top receiver in the country, Rivals second, and Scout and ESPN fourth. All four have him among the top 32 overall players in the nation with 247 ranking him the highest at eighth. Rivals ranks him 13th, ESPN 27th, and Scout 32nd. According to the 247 Composite, he’s the top receiver and the 11th-best overall player in the 2017 class.

The 6-foot-2, 193-pound receiver committed to Michigan over a top five that also included rivals Ohio State and Michigan State, Orange Bowl foe Florida State, and 2017 season-opening opponent Florida. He also held offers from most of the other national powers, including Alabama, Clemson, LSU, USC, and Stanford, to name a few.

Scout lists Peoples-Jones’ strengths as body control, elusiveness with catch, and speed, while listing his area to improve as strength. Scout’s Allen Trieu raves about his potential.

“Exceptional athlete with above-average size, but top notch speed, explosiveness and outstanding leaping ability. Shows the ability to make tough grabs downfield with defenders on him, and has excellent body control and ball tracking skills. Must still get stronger and continue to polish his route-running, but has all of the physical tools to be a go-to receiver in college.”

Peoples-Jones joins Black and Brad Hawkins as receivers that will head to Ann Arbor in 2017. He’s the 22nd player in the class and the 10th on the offensive side. He doesn’t have quite the size of Black, but there’s a reason he’s rated higher across the board. While Black projects to be more of a possession receiver, Peoples-Jones has a chance to be a star go-to receiver. Together, they form a great receiving haul that will challenge for playing time after the loss of seniors Jehu Chesson and Amara Darboh.

With two in the fold this week, Michigan will hope for more good news when five-star offensive tackle Isaiah Wilson announces his commitment at noon Eastern tomorrow.