As Michigan – Ohio State games go, the buzz around Ann Arbor about this year’s edition is virtually nil. There was a series of games 20 years ago between these two storied rivals where the Buckeyes were ranked much higher than the Wolverines, but not even those games featured with such wildly different seasonal outlooks. 10-1 Ohio State versus 5-6 Michigan is going to put the cliché’ throw the records out to the test.
The Maize & Blue’s ability to stay in the contest will come down to whether it can raise its performance level to a height it hasn’t seen this season. Michigan ranks 119th (out of 125) in the country in turnover margin and shot itself in the foot numerous times with dropped passes and costly penalties that were directly responsible for points. Many fans wonder if a team that has consistently displayed that kind of futility can suddenly clean things up in the last game of the season.
“I don’t think it is reasonable to believe Michigan can play a (clean) football game against anybody,” Big Ten Network analyst Marcus Ray said. “I don’t care if it is Ohio State or if it is against Northwestern. I think they are who they are. When you’re 11 games into the season and you still have those types of miscues that is just your identity. Ohio State I think has a lot more speed than Michigan and I believe they are playing for something, which is a Big Ten Championship and also a berth to go into the playoffs. It is not even about Michigan for Ohio State. It is about how good Ohio State wants to be and how are they going to use this game to stay injury free. At this point this game is irrelevant as far as what their Big Ten goals are, but it is relevant as far as keeping the series a certain way against Michigan and using this game to play at a high level and some other things for their next two football games. That’s why it is extremely lopsided.
Back to (last week’s) game for a second, C.J. Brown’s legs scare me because Maryland can’t run the ball, but their quarterback ran for almost 90 yards just scrambling around and doing what he does. Seeing as he had 90 yards, it doesn’t look good if J.T. Barrett has the ball in his hands because he can do more damage than C.J. Brown.”
That highlights another issue the Wolverines will have to rapidly improve upon to contend with the Buckeyes. Michigan is ranked ninth in the country against the rush, surrendering a paltry 2.94 yards per carry and 107.2 yards per game, but when the Terrapins increased their tempo late their effectiveness improved. The same thing happened earlier in the month in the nail-biting win over Northwestern.
“Part of that is I don’t think Greg has a chance to call the defense he wants to call,” Ray explained. “He calls the defense has to call just to get lined up. A base defense, like ‘let’s go base cover-3, regardless of what the formation, because we’re getting tempoed we can only call this coverage.’ It is not like first and 10 and breaking out of the huddle or you have got full 30 seconds on the clock and he can look at the sheet, call a defense, and line up according to his game plan. I think Michigan has been facing problems with tempo because Greg really can’t use his game plan defense and he has to go with his fail safe defenses and sometimes maybe call two of them and you can’t really substitute. So the offense has an advantage. We saw Northwestern when they went up tempo, they caused Michigan a lot of problems. You saw it last year with Indiana and their tempo. They called three plays at the line of scrimmage run them one, two, three and you have to play one defense. So one out of those three plays is going to get you. So expect to see some tempo. Ohio State is a no-huddle team, but it doesn’t mean they’re a hurry up team. They have the ability to be a hurry up team, so knowing that gives Michigan some problems, look for Ohio State to probably use some of the tempo that Indiana used last year during the game.”
So clearly the Wolverines have some major bad habits to shake to even have a chance Saturday. One good habit they hope to carry over is their improved ability to run the football. The bright spot on an otherwise dim contest last Saturday was the 292 yards rushing they posted. They were also effective versus Indiana (184 yards and over five ypc) and Northwestern (147 yards and over four ypc). The Buckeyes clearly have much more talent, but they’ve been vulnerable against the run. They’ve surrendered over 200 yards on the ground each of the last two week, including 281 yards to Indiana last week. Michigan will definitely try to exploit that weaknesses, but don’t look for Brady Hoke’s bunch to simply try to blow the Buckeyes off the ball..
“Number one you have to zone block,” said Ray. “Your formations create space up front. When you start getting linebackers walked out to split the difference between a slot defender and he still halfway in the box and that kind of talk. When you start to spread teams out a little bit, teams that you can’t out-man, you basically had to zone block them. I think Ohio State’s front four is better than Michigan’s offensive line. What’s going to have to happen is to neutralize Michael Bennett and Adolphus Washington is Michigan’s interior linemen are going to have to double team in space and it is called space blocking, area blocking when you talk about gap control blocking versus a team that can get penetration. You want to wall them off and work up second level. Now if you can’t get to second level, those linebackers will run through and make some plays. I think Michigan will zone block Ohio State (because) I don’t think they can line up and down-down block, trap-pull guys and expect to have success. They can come back every now and then and start trapping or run a play here or there where you down block and you pull some people from the other side. (Ohio State’s) defensive line is too talented for you to just line up and try to outman them unless you have guys that are tough and well coached and that’s what you do anyway like Minnesota or Wisconsin.”
Stay tuned to GoBlueWolverine for our pre-game strategy file and a sit-down with Michigan offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier.