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Posts Tagged ‘Raekwon McMillan’

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.

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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

The Game preview: #10 Michigan vs #8 Ohio State

Friday, November 27th, 2015


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College football’s best rivalry renews at high noon tomorrow, and for the first time in years a lot is at stake for both teams. Both have a shot at a Big Ten championship game appearance, though it depends on the outcome of the Michigan State-Penn State game later tomorrow afternoon. If Penn State beats the Spartans, the winner of The Game will advance to Indianapolis to face Iowa for the conference title.

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Quick Facts
Michigan Stadium – 12p.m. EST – ABC
Ohio State Head Coach: Urban Meyer (4th season)
Coaching Record: 152-27 (48-4, 30-1 at OSU)
Co-Offensive Coordinators: Ed Warriner (1st season)
Tim Beck (1st season)
Co-Defensive Coordinators: Luck Fickell (4th season)
Chris Ash (2nd season)
Last Season: 14-1 (8-0)
Last Meeting: OSU 42 – UM 28 (2014)
All-Time Series: Michigan leads 58-47-6
Record in Ann Arbor: Michigan 31-21-4
Record in Michigan Stadium: Michigan 23-19-3
Jim Harbaugh vs Ohio State: 1st meeting
Last Michigan win: 2011 (40-34)
Last Ohio State win: 2014 (42-28)
Current Streak: Ohio State 3

But even if Michigan State seals their fate with a win, there’s still plenty to play for. Ohio State is still alive for a second straight College Football Playoff berth, though they need a lot of help. Michigan, meanwhile, has lost nine of the last 10 to their rivals from Columbus and would love nothing more than to cap the first season of the Jim Harbaugh era in the same fashion as his mentor, Bo Schembechler: by beating Ohio State. A win would essentially clinch a New Years Six bowl for Michigan, likely the Rose Bowl against whichever Pac-12 team doesn’t make the playoff.

Before we get ahead of ourselves, the biggest game of the season is tomorrow. The game lost some of its luster a week ago when Ohio State lost to Michigan State, ending its 23-game winning streak, but that should only give Michigan more confidence that it can make it two in a row for the Buckeyes. After plowing through the Big Ten last season, dominating Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship game, cruising past Alabama and Oregon to win the national title, and winning their first 10 to open this season, Ohio State was starting to look invincible. But last Saturday they were exposed by the first team with a pulse they’ve played all season, tallying just 132 total yards of offense in a 17-14 loss to the Spartans.

Prior to that, the combined record of their 10 opponents was a paltry 43-58. The only Power 5 team Ohio State had played was Penn State, who they beat 38-10. Their second best win was a 20-13 victory over Northern Illinois in Week 3. In other words, probably close to a dozen teams nationally would have been 10-0 with that schedule.

So was the Michigan State game just an aberration? Or did the schedule from the first 10 weeks simply mask larger problems? Let’s take a look at the matchup.

When Ohio State has the ball

Ohio State fans are increasingly upset with new offensive coordinators Ed Warriner and Tim Beck. The architect of last year’s offense, Tom Herman, moved on to Houston and currently has the Cougars at 10-1 and ranked 21st in the AP and Coaches polls.

This season, Ohio State ranks 48th nationally and 3rd in the Big Ten in total offense (424.1 yards per game), 15th and 1st in rushing (230.4 yards per game), 100th and 10th in passing (193.7 yards per game), 37th and 2nd in pass efficiency (141.61), and 36th and 2nd in scoring (34.4 points per game).

The talk leading into the season centered around the trio of quarterbacks at Urban Meyer’s disposal, and while Braxton Miller made the switch to receiver, Meyer let the quarterback race hang in suspension for too long. Cardale Jones got the nod to start the season, but has since lost it in favor of J.T. Barrett. Neither has found consistency. Jones has completed 62.5 percent of his passes for 1,460 yards, eight touchdowns, and five interceptions, while Barrett has completed 64.4 percent for just 668 yards, nine touchdowns, and three interceptions. Barrett’s legs have been more dangerous, scoring eight rushing touchdowns with an average of 6.1 yards per carry. Miller, meanwhile, is the third leading receiver with 324 yards and three touchdowns and the third leading rusher with 227 yards and one score.

The best player on the offense is junior running back Ezekiel Elliott, who up until last week was one of the leading Heisman Trophy candidates. He ranks second in the Big Ten with 132.5 rushing yards per game and had rushed for at least 100 yards in each game until being held to just 33 yards on 12 carries last week. The fact that he got only 12 carries is a sore subject among Buckeye fans as Meyer chose to run Barrett more often than his workhorse. Elliott made his feelings known after the game that he wasn’t happy with the play calling and essentially announcing his intention to enter the NFL Draft after the season.

Junior Michael Thomas is the leading receiver with 47 receptions for 659 yards and eight touchdowns. He has had two 100-yard receiving games with seven catches for 107 yards against Maryland and five catches for 103 yards against Rutgers. The other nine games he has been pretty consistent with four or five catches for 60-80 yards. The one outlier is last week when he caught just two passes for eight yards. Much of that is a result of Ohio State only throwing a few passes due to the weather, but Michigan State’s secondary has been porous all season and he wasn’t able to take advantage of it. Sophomore Jalin Marshall is the second leading receiver with 29 receptions for 417 yards and four touchdowns. He had a six-catch, 110-yard game against Indiana, but the has been pretty pedestrian since then.

The offensive line is experienced, returning four starters from last year’s dominant line, but like the offense as a whole, has been consistent all season. Senior left tackle Taylor Decker is the leader and a likely first-round NFL draft pick next spring. The line was dominated by Michigan State’s defensive front last Saturday, and the question begs whether the team’s rushing success is more of a product of Elliott than the line’s ability to open holes. It has done pretty well in pass protection, having allowed 16 sacks this season — the same number Michigan has allowed.

When Michigan has the ball

Ohio State’s defense ranks 8th nationally and 3rd in the Big Ten in total defense (298 yards allowed per game), 30th and 7th against the run (133.7 yards per game), 5th and 3rd against the pass (164.3 yards per game), 7th and 4th in pass defense efficiency (100.64), and 2nd and 2nd in scoring defense (14.1 points per game).

The defensive line was considered one of the best in the nation last season and is very good again this year. Junior defensive end Joey Bosa is the one everybody talks about after leading the Big Ten in tackles for loss (21) and sacks (13.5) in 2014. He won the Nagurski-Woodson Defensive Player of the Year award last season. He hasn’t been quite as dominant at getting to the quarterback in 2015 with just four sacks, but he does still lead the team with 15 tackles for loss (third in the Big Ten) and 12 quarterback hurries. The other defensive end, Tyquan Lewis, ranks second on the team with 12.5 tackles for loss and leads the team with 6.5 sacks. Inside, senior tackle Adolphus Washington is a force for offensive linemen to block. He has seven tackles for loss and four sacks. The other starting tackle spot is a rotation between senior Tommy Schutt and sophomore Michael Hill. Schutt has five tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks, while Hill has gotten more playing time as of late and has a half of a tackle for loss.

Once you get past the front four, it doesn’t get any easier. The linebacking corps is fast and versatile, led by sophomore Raekwon McMillan, who leads the team and ranks third in the Big Ten with 105 total tackles. He also has four tackles for loss and one sack, but more than getting into the backfield, he flies around the field making tackles. Senior weak side linebacker Joshua Perry ranks second on the team with 88 tackles, fourth with seven tackles for loss, and fifth with three sacks, while sophomore strong side linebacker Darron Lee has 52 tackles, eight for loss, and 2.5 sacks.

The secondary is also very talented, led by junior safety Vonn Bell, who leads the team with nine pass breakups and ranks third with 59 tackles. He also has two interceptions. Junior Tyvis Powell is the other safety. Michigan fans will remember him as the guy who intercepted Devin Gardern’s two-point conversion attempt two years ago in the Big House. He has 59 tackles, three pass breakups and two interceptions. The corners are sophomores Gareon Conley and Eli Apple, who have combined for 63 tackles, three for loss, half a sack, 10 pass breakups, and three interceptions. Both are very good in coverage.

The other third

One area of weakness for Ohio State has been field goal kicking. Meyer has seemingly lost confidence in senior kicker Jack Willoughby‘s ability to make anything longer than 40 yards. He’s 7 of 11 on the season, but is 0-3 from 40-49 yards and just 3 of 7 from 30 yards or more. Punting, on the other hand, isn’t a problem for the Buckeyes. Junior Aussie punter Cameron Johnston ranks second in the Big Ten with a 43.9-yard per punt average. Of his 54 punts, 17 have gone longer than 50 yards, 24 have been downed inside the 20, 20 have been fair caught, and just six have gone into the end zone for a touchback.

Junior H-back Dontre Wilson and sophomore running back Curtis Samuel are the kick returners, averaging 23.9 and 22.8 yards per return, respectively. Marshall is the punt returner, and a dangerous one at that, averaging 12.8 yards per return.

Prediction

Ohio State laid an egg against Michigan State last week and it’s hard to imagine them doing so two weeks in a row. That’s the bad news for Michigan. The good news is the Wolverines have played well at home all season and have plenty of motivation with a potential Big Ten Championship Game appearance on the line. The weather calls for a perfect late November Saturday with cloudy skies, 42 degrees, and no precipitation, so the scene will be set for a classic Ohio State-Michigan game. And I think that’s exactly what we will get.

Make no mistake about it; Ohio State is the better team. But the gap that has separated the two teams for the last decade will be as narrow as it has been since the last time the two faced off as top 10 teams in 2006. Michigan will need to break out its bag of tricks, but won’t need to fully rely on them like they have the past several meetings. Michigan has a legitimate chance to win. The biggest key will be giving Jake Rudock time to throw. It’s unlikely that Michigan will be able to move the ball consistently on the ground, since it hasn’t done so against anyone since early in the season. But Rudock has been as good as any quarterback in the Big Ten during conference play, and especially the last three weeks when the passing game has taken off. Jehu Chesson and Amara Darboh will have trouble getting open against Conley and Apple, and Jake Butt will meet his match against Bell, so if Rudock is constantly under pressure, it will be a long day for Michigan’s offense.

Fortunately, I believe Jim Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Tim Drevno will pull out all stops with Jabrill Peppers. Harbaugh hinted at using the dynamic sophomore more at running back earlier this week, and with a month off between this game and a bowl — barring a Michigan State loss — there’s no need to hold Peppers back. I could see a running back rotation of Peppers and De’Veon Smith with Peppers getting the majority of the snaps in a variety of looks to not only get the ball to him in space, but use him as a decoy to get others open. That’s really the best shot Michigan has at being able to move the ball with any consistency.

On defense, Michigan will have to stop Elliott. That’s really what it comes down to. The chance of him getting just 12 carries is about as likely as Rudock running the triple option. Elliott may get 12 carries in the first quarter until Michigan proves it can stop him. Remember the Indiana game when Jordan Howard ran and ran and ran again? That’s what Ohio State’s game plan will be. If Michigan’s front seven can rise to the occasion and slow him down, Ohio State’s offense is much more containable. Miller is a threat when he gets the ball in space and has the ability beat the defense deep, but the rest of the offense isn’t as dangerous as anyone else Michigan has faced and Jourdan Lewis can lock down Thomas.

If Elliott is gashing through Michigan’s defense for six to eight yards a pop, Michigan will lose. If Michigan’s defense is holding him in check like Michigan State’s did, and forces the Buckeyes to rely on Barrett’s arm and legs, I like Michigan’s chances. I think the latter will happen. Michigan will sell out to stop Elliott and may give up a big play or two to Miller or Barrett, but will gladly take that over getting the ball rammed down its throat play after play after play. Peppers puts together a performance for the ages in all three phases of the game, reminiscent of his idol, Charles Woodson’s, performance 18 years ago, and leads Michigan to a thrilling narrow win.

Michigan 27 – Ohio State 24