There’s an odd contrast to both teams this game, and it’s a contrast that’s developed over the years. For the Buckeye fan’s formative years (if you’re my age), or young adulthood (if you’re a bit older), Hate Week (as it should be called) was more a Dead Week. Michigan owned this series in the 1990s, going 7-2-1 against the Buckeyes. We own it now. A Buckeye win on Saturday gives the Wolverines only 2 wins against Ohio State this decade (2000, 2003). Lloyd Carr flipped this rivalry on its head (with assistance from John Cooper) for the first couple years when he took the reins. Jim Tressel has, in turn, altered the course of this rivalry during his tenure as Ohio State coach. Rich Rodriguez is the man now in Ann Arbor, but his first year as Michigan’s Man did not result in a soulcrushing loss for Ohio State that Bo Schembechler (1969), Gary Moeller (1990) and Lloyd Carr (1995)1 were able to deliver in their respective first years. Fortunately, the second half of Rodriguez’ first game against Ohio State was hilarious.
This contrast extends to this season as well. 2009 started out, and will end, very differently for each side. Ohio State mostly limped out the gates. A near miss against Navy was followed by an eye-gouging display of offense against the Trojans in a losing effort. Anxieties mounted regarding playcalling, assistant coaches, Pryor’s development and so on. Meanwhile, Michigan started 4-0, were putting up points aplenty, and had their QB considered to be a frontrunner (preliminary, but deserved at the time) for the conference’s offensive player of the year. Now, Ohio State has rallied after an avoidable loss to Purdue in a bipartisan Ross-Ade Stadium, has won out to this point, and will go to the Rose Bowl in January. On the other hand, Michigan has lost 4 straight, a number that goes to 6 straight if we omit the game against Delaware State. While we sit at the top of the conference, another loss for the Wolverines puts them at last place in the conference (pending what happens with the Bucket Game between the Hoosiers and Boilermakers). Another loss for the Wolverines also makes them bowl ineligible for a second straight year, something I would never, ever have expected to see in my lifetime.
Michigan will pull out all the stops for Ohio State, and it’s something we’ll have to be consider. This is basically the biggest game they’ll play here. If they lose, their season is over. If they win, perish the thought, they’re eligible to play in the “Little Caesars Pizza Bowl” in a game no one will watch. That’s right win, and you get a bowl commissioner saying “take them to Detroit”2. Tate Forcier, the aforementioned freshman QB who had a hot start to this season, will lead the charge. He’s 4th among the conference QBs in QB ratings (behind Kirk Cousins, Daryll Clark and Scott Tolzien) and, generally, has been much better than I would’ve expected entering this season. I’ve noticed, though, that as the season’s moved forward, Forcier has been doing less and less. It may be fatigue. He’s second in conference in sacks taken (behind Minnesota’s Adam Weber), something that reflects on the O-line (going Mark Ortmann, Stephen Schilling, David Moosman, Patrick Omameh, and Perry Dorrestein, left to right). Where he would cut up field and rush for yards against Notre Dame and the Directional Michigan schools, he now seems to scramble to hope something opens downfield. He’d sooner run out of bounds for a small loss or minimal gain than he would do his best Tim Tebow impersonation. Denard Robinson will take some snaps as well. He’s definitely more a run threat than a pass threat. He’s been on the field for 86 plays, running 59 times for 320 yards and throwing 27 times (12 completed) for 185 yards. As you know, both QBs are freshmen. Unless it gets real ugly, you won’t see David Cone or, our good buddy, Nick Sheridan.
Michigan’s one of the conference’s best running teams (195.8 ypg), second only to Wisconsin (208 ypg) in yards per game. Under ideal circumstances, I think Rodriguez would run the ball all day. His style of “spread” is not to be confused with the Leach/Franklin Airraid. Brandon Minor is the team’s leading rusher with 502 yards (5.2 per carry) and 8 TDs. 260 of those came against Purdue and Notre Dame. Carlos Brown contributes 48 yards a game to the effort as the team’s second leading rusher. The third leading rusher? The aforementioned Denard Robinson, who contributes about 29 a game. The QBs combined account for almost 50 yards to the decimal of the team’s 195 rushing yards a game. Michael Shaw and Michael Cox and Vincent Smith round out the meaningful rushing yards for the Wolverines offense.
Michigan has a host of WRs that will see the field against the Buckeyes. Though possessing one of the conference’s most productive QBs in the conference’s highest scoring offense3, Michigan averages only 195 yards through the air. A little surprising, but I remind myself that we are far and away last in that category. Groan. The starters are listed as Roy Roundtree, Martavious Odoms4, Junior Hemingway and Greg Mathews. Roundtree, Mathews and Odoms lead the team with receptions with 23, 23 and 22 respectively. Roundtree has that element of explosiveness. He showed as much against Purdue with a 10 catch, 126 yard effort. I admit I don’t follow Michigan football that well (and why would I?), but Roundtree has impressed me more than Odoms in what I’ve been able to see. Michigan has not had too much to boast on the field of play, but I think Rodriguez has done a much better job this year incorporating the tight end into the offense. It was something lacking from his WVU days, but Kevin Koger has come along for the Wolverines. He has 16 catches, 220 yards and a pair of TDs.
I also hope to see a lot of Zoltan Mesko this game. He’s the punter Tressel wishes he had.
Michigan’s offense has mostly served them well this season, minus the Nittany buzzsaw they ran into earlier this year. Their defense? Not so much. Michigan’s rush defense is the conference’s worst in conference play, allowing 196.6 yards per game. They’re 84th nationally in scoring defense, 84th nationally in rushing defense, and 82nd nationally in pass defense. Perhaps conference play is a better measure. Therein, they fork over 444 yards a game to opposing offenses. The most embarrassing was probably the Illinois game, where they conceded over 500 yards to an Illini offense that struggled to net over a 100 against any other team with a pulse to that point. It has not been a good first year for defensive coordinator and former Syracuse man Greg Robinson.
Brandon Graham made some noise early this week. He’s also been making noise the entire season. He did more talking than I would for a W/L record, but the senior defensive end is the team’s best defensive player. He has 57 tackles, leads the team in sacks (8.5) and accounts for an absurd amount of the team’s TFLs. Graham is the star of the show for Michigan’s defensive line, but NT Mike Martin and tackle Ryan Van Bergen should be highlighted as well for rounding out the unit. Van Bergen has five sacks.
Craig Roh is one of those hybrid-y type linebacker/end positions in Greg Robinson’s defensive schemes. In Robinson’s schemes, I think this gets called a “quick end”. He’s only a freshman, but has contributed already. He’s third in sacks, third in TFLs, and has 30 tackles. Obi Ezeh is the middle linebacker, and, if I remember correctly, it’s been rough going for him this season. He’s second in team tackles and has 5 TFLs, but most discussion of him centers around the term “regress” and not “progress”. The same holds for Jonas Mouton (WLB). He was yanked against Purdue for a screwup on Purdue’s first TD. Is Stevie Brown their best linebacker? It’d seem that way. He’s second in TFLs and leads the team in tackles. He usually close to the ball.
I don’t want to exaggerate, but I can’t think of a secondary in college football (that I’ve seen at least) that’s struggled more than Michigan’s unit. Boubacar Cissoko’s absence from the secondary sadly makes them better, but does not turn them into Florida’s secondary. The two cornerbacks are Donovan Warren and Troy Woolfolk, with Warren probably serving as the best member of the secondary. That’s not saying a lot, and he fluctuates from being respected to the point where someone else in the secondary is preyed upon to other times being toasted. Woolfolk was originally a safety, but moved to corner. Speaking of safeties, Dane Sanzenbacher will hopefully be roaming behind SS Jordan Kovacs and FS Mike Williams. They’ve struggled too… a lot. Again, it’s been a rough season for everyone in the secondary. I hope it’s rougher on Saturday.
- I thought about individually linking to these games on YouTube, but… nope… not gonna. [↩]
- If there’s one thing wrong with my blog (and there are several), it’s that I don’t reference Kentucky Fried Movie enough. [↩]
- This “highest scoring offense” distinction for Michigan disappears if you consider league games only. In Big Ten games, they are 7th in conference. [↩]
- Roundtree and Odoms split duty at the Y position in Rodriguez’ offense. [↩]