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Preview: Ohio State 2017

ohio_StEssentials

WHAT Michigan (8-3) vs
Ohio State (9-2)
WHERE Michigan Stadium
Ann Arbor MI           
WHEN Noon Eastern           
November 25th, 2017
THE LINE Vegas: M +12           
S&P+: M +10.3
TELEVISION FOX
TICKETS can be had
WEATHER around 40, 5% chance of rain, 15 mph wind

Overview

Ohio State lies on the shores of Lake Superior and was founded as a halfway house for drunken vicars, wayward beaver trappers, and all manner of other ne'er-do-wells in the wildernesses of 18th century Western Ontario. In the intervening years, little has changed.

Run Offense vs OSU

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it's not a rule that you have to all-caps TUF BORLAND but it might as well be

Michigan's thunderous run of face-mashing came to an abrupt halt last weekend against Wisconsin, when Karan Higdon and Chris Evans managed 45 yards on 18 carries between them. Wisconsin is very, very good and Ohio State has been more prone to weird breakdowns, but that's an ice-cold bucket of water on hopes that Michigan had accomplished anything on the offensive line this year.

Now Michigan gets the #2 rush defense in the country. The #1 line yards D; the #3 success rate D. If Michigan had had a middling to good day against Wisconsin you could squint and project that something good might happen. As it is, not so much unless you want to hang your hat on games against Oklahoma and Iowa. That is your choice. I do not recommend such an approach.

What hope exists is mostly dependent on getting OSU's linebackers in the wrong place. OSU's leading tacklers this year are safeties Jordan Fuller and Damon Webb. This is usually not a great sign for a defense—although OSU seems to be coping just fine—and S&P is registering "successful" plays on approximately 60% of those tackles. The linebacker unit is in flux, with MLB Chris Worley moving back out to the spacebacker spot that he's manned for most of his career and TUF BORLAND emerging as the middle linebacker.  That is not a panacea and it's possible that Michigan's various attempts to get linebackers batting at air will be much more effective Saturday than they were against Wisconsin. 

Also a potential help: Ohio State has simplified what they're trying to do after the Iowa game and that might help Michigan's line calls from being as disastrous as they were against Wisconsin. They're a 4-3 over that is fairly similar to MSU's, and Michigan's run blocking in that game was quite good. Whether good blocking is actually enough to move the ball depends on how aggressive OSU is willing to get with their safeties and if Michigan can put an opposing player in the wrong spot.

Also... Michigan might be facing slightly better players on the opposition DL. It is a vague possibility.

KEY MATCHUP: CONFUSIN' STUFF vs FOLKS LIABLE TO BE CONFUSED.

[Hit THE JUMP for... actually don't hit the jump. Nevermind.]

Pass Offense vs OSU

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nope!

In a word, nope. Michigan's gestures at Brandon Peters availability a week after he was apparently knocked out on the field are probably more gamesmanship than reality. Scattered mutterings about Wilton Speight maybe getting back are probably in the same category; of late there's been more concern for his career than optimism about his availability. In all likelihood, it's John O'Korn starting against Ohio State.

If that's not enough to turn your stomach, it's the country's #118 sack rate allowed versus the #30 sack rate. That likely understates the OSU line's ability to get to the quarterback. If you've tuned into OSU games this year you've seen just about every opponent gameplan around the fact they can't protect their quarterback, throwing a blizzard of (generally ineffective) WR screens and other quick stuff, like those insta-fades at Simmie Cobbs in the opener. OSU's DL is #1 in havoc rate. It will create havoc against a plainly substandard Michigan OL.

What blips of hope exist are largely because of the Iowa debacle, where OSU's defense was constantly out of position against regular-ass Iowa stuff. Unfortunately, OSU's had a month to identify and fix those issues, which never seemed like long term problems to begin with. Ross Fulton:

Ohio State had even more systematic problems against the pass by being confused in their coverage schemes. Iowa offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz often used spread formations such as trips with base 12 personnel to get advantageous matchups against the Buckeyes’ man coverage. Ohio State’s back seven rarely knew how to align in response.

Most problematically, the Buckeyes were frequently trying to check to different coverages as Iowa was shifting and using motion – checks that often left the Ohio State defense – particularly their linebackers, confused in their assignments. ... the Buckeye back seven simply looked lost – as if they did not practice all week as to how to align against a 12-personnel team.

One week later OSU faced MSU, the closest thing to Michigan's offense this year's Big Ten possesses, and held them to under 200 yards in a 48-3 whomping. Brian Lewerke averaged 3.6 yards an attempt and threw two interceptions.

Michigan can't protect, it's playing a third string quarterback, the only receiver to have any impact over the last few weeks is a true freshman, and they're playing a program that has been preparing for this game all year. Michigan will get a couple things here and there like the Gentry and Hill completions against Wisconsin as they diagnose some likely holes in OSU's coverage; passing downs will be a disaster, and there will be several of them.

KEY MATCHUP: NOT IN THE FACE vs YEP, IN THE FACE.

Run Defense vs Ohio State

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small darting person

This is annually an elite rushing offense and this year is no different. OSU is 2nd in S&P+, and #1 in the country at success rate. JK Dobbins, JT Barrett, and Mike Weber are all averaging at least 6.7 yards a carry. Whee!

When OSU has slight struggles it's because opposing rush defenses are able to force Barrett into a ton of carries on zone read plays. One of the hallmarks of OSU's rare losses are box scores featuring as many or more Barrett runs than RB carries. Barrett had 18 attempts against Oklahoma; RBs got the ball just 16 times. Barrett had 14 carries against Iowa; running backs got just 15 attempts. When things are going badly for Ohio State, the tiny slice of Buckeye twitter that I follow is usually typing something along the lines of "it's the third quarter and JK Dobbins has 4 rushes for 71 yards." And... uh... yeah, good point.

Part of that is the nature of the Ohio State offense. Option football does let the opponent dictate who carries the ball. In OSU's case that's usually dictating who carries the ball five or more yards downfield—even in their losses OSU averaged 4.9 and 5.4 yards a carry—but dumping 80% of the offensive load on Barrett seems to get the rest of the offense disjointed and withers the OSU passing game. Barrett averaged just 5.6 YPA in OSU's two losses; he threw five of his seven picks in those games.

OSU has correspondingly focused on ways to muck with the opposition's ability to force a Barrett keep. The Barrett:RB ratio against MSU was 9:33, and Barrett had just five carries in OSU's walkover of Illinois. They will continue in this vein against Michigan; last year OSU started off with a couple of new outside runs that got Michigan blocked to the safety for a couple of chunk plays. M was able to adjust and turn the game into a slog afterwards, but this defense hasn't been quite on the level of last year's.

The line more or less has, and that's where the battle will be won or lost for Michigan. The key player in this game is Michigan's seventh member of the front seven, whether that's Mone, Solomon, or Furbush. If that guy can win against single blocking and Michigan can shut down OSU's inside zone without dedicating extra guys to it, there's just enough to downshift the OSU defense into rockfight Michigan can win.

If it goes more like it did against Penn State, woe, dolorous woe. Because while the matchup superficially looks just like the one Michigan more or less dominated a year ago, you have one and a half starters at every DL spot—or at least you should. Michigan has nothing resembling the depth they did a year ago and a third and short conversion is bad news for them in both the short and long term. Michigan's path to victory here requires the defensive line obliterating the OSU OL. While they should win that matchup, they probably won't be able to win it enough.

KEY MATCHUP: As above, it's MONE/FURBUSH/SOLOMON vs BEING THE HOLE IN THE DIKE MICHIGAN CANNOT FILL WITHOUT FATALLY COMPROMISING THE REST OF THE DEFENSE.

Pass Defense vs Ohio State

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OSU's passing offense has been wildly inconsistent, but Barrett and a bunch of defenses focused on the run game has been enough to get them to 21st in S&P+. The game to game picture is wild.

Barrett faced Iowa coming off a bravura 33/39 performance against Penn State in a comeback win during which it often seemed like Barrett was the only OSU player who actually wanted to win. The Hawkeyes intercepted him four times and left him baffled on the rest of his throws. The next week against MSU he had 183 yards on just 21 attempts, two touchdowns... and two INTs. Those three games and Oklahoma (183 yards on 35 attempts) are the only OSU games against pulse-bearing opponents, and they paint a strange picture.

Michigan will hope to land on the vicious interceptions side of the spectrum; to do so they will have to heat up Barrett more than most opponents have. OSU's pass protection has turned around this year; they're 30th in adjusted sack rate allowed. In context that's more "meh" than legitimately good, but raise your hand if you'd do something profane if you could make Michigan's pass protection "meh." That's everyone. Right tackle Isaiah Prince was a huge train wreck last year; this year he's showing up on PFF lists as a good player. Michigan will hope that much of that is an artifact of the opposition and he has just as hard a time checking Gary and Winovich as he did Charlton and Wormley a year ago. That's not the worst bet you could make.

Michigan will also hope to get a dismal performance from Ohio State's drop-prone receivers. Coached by money-stealing doofus Zach Smith and apparently unfamiliar with the invention of the jugs machine, OSU receivers have made a bunch of bogglingly bad plays. Since they're still scholarship D-I players those come in bursts and disappear from time to time. One hilariously dropped touchdown would be welcome, and this is a game where I'm perfectly happy to make Barrett try to hit slot fades.

The biggest dangers OSU presents here are RPOs, which have become an increasingly large chunk of the offense as the year goes along, and slot/spread H Parris Campbell in space. If Michigan approaches RPOs the same way they have this year it'll take Hudson or McCray holding their water and dropping into the slant to prevent an easy completion—a task easier said than done against an offense like OSU's. Michigan has gotten incrementally better at this as the year has gone along.

Campbell is not a tactical issue.  Michigan just needs to tackle him. Campbell's capable of taking a dink throw and breaking it into a huge gain. Despite mostly being targeted short, Campbell leads OSU's non-garbage-time crew with 11.5 yards a target. Tyree Kinnel's occasional issues here could result in a big chunk Michigan can't afford to give up.

KEY MATCHUP: GARY AND WINOVICH versus OSU TACKLES. Must arrive early and angry.

Special Teams

Michigan might as well put a potted plant back to return punts. Sophomore Drue Crisman has had one of his 33 punts returned and has a 19:3 inside 20 to touchback ratio. He's also averaging 44 yards a kick. JFC. Kicker Sean Nuernberger is 13/15 on the year.

OSU hasn't gotten much from their return units this year. KJ Hill is a bit of an odd choice as a punt returner and has just 3.5 yards an attempt on 19 returns; Parris Campbell is much more dangerous as a kick returner, with a 37 yard average on 9 cracks.

KEY MATCHUP: AHHH YOU PUT IT THROUGH THE UPRIGHTS AGAIN

Intangibles

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Cheap Thrills

Worry if...

  • Michigan attempts to pass or run.
  • The defense wears down late.
  • Alex Malzone plays.

Cackle with knowing glee if...

  • JT Barrett has 15 carries by halftime.
  • Also he throws two pick sixes.
  • There are no seconds left and Michigan is ahead somehow.

Fear/Paranoia Level: 9 (Baseline 5; +1 O'Korn Vs Ohio State, +1 for Behind That OL, +1 for Against A Defense That Already Had Its Manball Wakeup Call And Decimated The Next Guy, +1 for We Always Have The Worst Luck In Competitive OSU Games, +1 for I Would Like To Revisit Point #1,  -1 for Maybe Someone Knows Something I Don't And That's Why The Spread Is Only 12?).

Desperate need to win level: 10 (Baseline 5; +5 for The Game.)

Loss will cause me to... get in a fight with some idiot in my twitter mentions.

Win will cause me to... be happy.

The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:

Pretty much the only thing Michigan has going for it is the "throw out the record books" stuff where rivals will store up an entirely different way of being for the final game of hatred. I don't see how that tilts towards Michigan with OSU coming off a drubbing of Illinois and an (admittedly hilarious) hamblasting of MSU; the last time OSU had to put anything new on film was probably the first quarter of that game. Michigan is coming off a road loss to Wisconsin. If they had much in their quiver they didn't show it.

The defense should be able to hold up in most ways since Don Brown has undoubtedly spent a ton of time prepping for this game over the last few weeks of non-QBs, but it won't take much for Ohio State to have a seemingly intractable lead. OSU will be able to sustain a number of drives; paired with Michigan three-and-outs the Hoke-esque valiant effort followed by a fourth quarter crumble seems inevitable.

Offense? Don't talk to me about offense.

Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:

  • O'Korn has more completions than sacks taken. Barely.
  • Barrett throws an ugly pick that keeps Michigan in it through halftime.
  • Ohio State, 28-10.


This post first appeared on Mgoblog, please read the originial post: here

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Preview: Ohio State 2017

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