To that end, Ohio State will enter the Horseshoe on its Senior Day with emotions high for the outgoing seniors and in the wake of the thrilling victory over Iowa. Many parents have come north not just for The Game, but for Thanksgiving as well. Managing, containing those emotions for the 18 point favorites to do the necessary violence to That Team Up North is necessary. The starting rosters are previewed below.
That Team Up North’s Offense
Awful defense has been the story of Rich Rodriguez’ tenure in Ann Arbor, now in its third year. Previously, woeful offense was part of the narrative as well. His offense was 99th in scoring offense in 2008, 39th scoring offense (59th total offense) in 2009, and now the 15th scoring offense in college football in 2010. They’re 5th nationally in total offense. Quarterback Denard Robinson (#16), who we all agree is the sure Heisman winner this year, is a huge reason why. The spot player as a true freshman in 2009 beat out the defending Heisman trophy winner Tate Forcier (#5), who had a host of issues bugging him in the summer. The word out of Ann Arbor was that the game had slowed down considerably for Robinson, who admitted that he was too jittery at this tempo to really follow through with his reads. Word also was that his passing improved considerably and was now a viable passing threat. I think the latter has been overstated considerably (he started from near zero), but the former is definitely true. If not for some nicks and bruises during the course of some games, he might be the unquestioned conference player of the year. He may still, for all I can foresee. I don’t claim to know the ins and outs of TSUN football history, but he’s obliterated several records for the program and, my understanding, in the Big Ten as well. Robinson’s problem is that he’s a sophomore. So, while he’s made leaps and bounds in quarterback development, and is an all-around good guy and student of the game to improve even more, he’s just not at the point where he can be considered automatic. Regardless, 2,229 yards passing (63% completion rate), 1,538 yards rushing (6.77ypc) and 14 rushing touchdowns is damned impressive. Critics of Rodriguez — fans of rival programs and doubting TSUN fans alike — are skeptical that so much of that comes A) against terrible teams like Notre Dame or UMass and B) well after he’s been stuffed earlier in the game and at a point where teams lose interest in playing defense against the Wolverines (Wisconsin, for example). Whatever you think of those arguments, Robinson can be dangerous if he is not taken seriously and he must be respected by the players and the coaching staff. While Robinson is en route to a sure Heisman, his backup — Taters — comes in routinely when Denard gets injured. Given how important Robinson is to the operation of the offense, he can be fatigued, dinged.
Denard Robinson gets praise for his quarterback play, especially running the ball. The other unit on the team that deserves praise is the offensive line. They are finally now playing at the level necessary to make Rodriguez’ spread-n’-shred viable. These aren’t Lloyd Carr’s linemen anymore. The beefy road graders operate in Madison now, not Ann Arbor. The line goes Taylor Lewan (#77), Stephen Schilling (#52), David Molk (#50), Patrick Omameh (#65), Mark Huyge (#72). Schilling is the true veteran of the group, the biggest lineman of the five and a clear holdover of the Lloyd Carr era not far behind us. This will be start number 48 for the outgoing senior and team captain. Patrick Omameh saw quality time last year as a freshman. He was one of Rodriguez’ first recruits when he got the job and the subject of a late recruiting battle in that 2008 class. Rodriguez saw him as an ideal lineman, and Ohio State saw him more as a defensive lineman that they just did not want to go up north. He’s coming off a quality individual performance last game against the Badgers. Molk is another good one inside, who may get some preseason buzz for hardware next year. There’s some youth, inexperience on the edges. Lewan is a true freshman, already with several starts under his belt. Huyge, the second biggest lineman of the group, has come in for Perry Dorrestein. I’m not entirely sure why, but it may be that Huyge is more of what Rodriguez is looking for than Dorrestein, a Carr holdover.
Robinson is the star of the show, and the offensive line has become viable for the offensive philosophy, but the Wolvereenies also feature several offensive backs worth knowing. Robinson will likely be given the task of picking up yards with his feet, as he is lethal between tackles. Starting tailback Vincent Smith (#2) took over for enemy of Grant Schwartz, Michael Shaw (#20), midway through the season. Smith is not tall enough to ride most rollercoasters (5’6), but can be shifty and averages 8 yards a tote. He was concussed last week against Wisconsin, and may be questionable to play. While not running the most sophisticated routes, a veteran wide receiver corp within Rodriguez’ offensive scheme can still create chaos for a Buckeye secondary that’s prone to errors. Roy Roundtree (#12) is the best of the group. He’s not the fastest, but he gets open, and how. You may remember his program best 246 yard performance in the double overtime victory against Illinois. He good, and the Illinois game was not his only display of heroism. He is complemented with other Rodriguez-era regulars like Darryl Stonum (#22) and Junior Hemingway (#21). Kelvin Grady (#19), the converted basketball player, converted tailback, will see the field as well. As this is a spread philosophy, the Wolvereenies will feature your X-Y-Z receivers that can have a tight end that’s more blocker than downfield threat. Kevin Koger (#86), the Toledo native, can get downfield (see: Penn State game), but assists more in blocking.
That Team Up North’s Defense
Gerg Robinson’s “tickle bear” defense will probably not survive the offseason. It’s… well. It’s been rough, as I will try to remain diplomatic in this series of preview posts. Saying that it’s been rough is probably putting it lightly. They conceded 65 points to the Zookers, but were fortunate that the offense scored 67 in that game. They got smashed by Wisconsin repeatedly (48pts), blasted by Iowa (38pts), taken to the cleaners by walk-on Matt McMoxie (41pts), could not stop Indiana in a win (35pts), and were shredded liberally by 1-AA Massachusetts (37pts). This is a sampling of events that led the Wolvereenies to be the 99th scoring defense, 92nd rushing defense, 111th passing defense and 112nd total defense. Think about those middle two stats for a moment: rushing defense and passing defense. It is often the case that, say, a terrible rushing defense is ostensibly a middle of the road passing defense. That is because teams that can run over a terrible rushing defense will often not bother to throw it that much. That’s not the case for Gerg’s unit. And let that sink in. Again, it’s been rough and it’s hard to see Gerg surviving the offseason in Ann Arbor.
The Wolvereenies transitioned to a 3-3-5 hybrid scheme this year, previously playing a more conventional under defense (that wasn’t particularly good either) in 2009, Gerg’s first year. It hurts that Brandon Graham matriculated to the NFL. They could use that disruptive predator again. Mike Martin (#68) stands out on the defensive line. He’s the nose guard and a former state champion in wrestling. In essence, he is the type of lineman that Ohio State typically likes and he may have a future on Sundays. When healthy, he is a difficult matchup for a center and Brewster would have himself a battle. However, he is probable with an ankle injury. He has 6 TFLs and 2.5 sacks on the season. Ryan Van Bergen (#53) and Craig Roh (#88) are the defensive ends in the 3-3-5. Van Bergen has been starting for two years now. At 6’6, he is a legitimate threat to knock down passes and he makes good use of his hands. He leads the team in sacks (3.0) and QB hurries (4), and has 5.5 TFLs. Roh is the most productive of the bunch. He has 5.5 TFLs and 39 tackles.
The linebackers are frequently bemoaned on MGoBlog for the poor play wrapped up in poor schematic design. Read MGoBlog — as you should — and you will frequently find Brian bemoaning that Gerg’s 3-3-5 is not a stack. By putting the linebackers 2 feet behind the linemen, they are in poor position to get inside-out and make plays. There are two outgoing seniors in the linebacking unit. Jonas Mouton (#8) is the most productive, leading the team in tackles with 102. Like most linebackers, he’s uncomfortable in coverage but can be counted on in run support. The other senior — Obi Ezeh (#45) — has had a career that I think most TTUN fans would sooner forget. Ask them about Ezeh and it’s more likely something negative will come up. The two outgoing seniors flank a sophomore middle linebacker. Kenny Demens (#25) is 5th on the team in tackles.
The secondary for the Wolvereenies has, well… well. There are a lot of contributing factors here, including transfers (e.g. Emilien, Turner), failures to enroll (Dorsey), people who are currently in jail (Cissoko) and season-ending injuries (Woolfolk). It’s left the secondary in near shambles. The best of the bunch is probably former walk-on and second generation Wolvereenie Jordan Kovacs (#32). He has 95 tackles entering this game. That is a statistic I don’t think anyone wants to see for a safety1. Regardless, Kovacs is limited athletically but does not make many mental mistakes. Whatever TTUN fans think of Gerg or the Rodriguez era in general, they’ll probably salute Kovacs for making the best of a bad situation. The other safety is another Ohioan, Ray Vinopal (#20). You may remember him getting tripped up BW3 style chasing the Big Ten’s slowest tailback, Illinois’ Jason Ford, during his long touchdown run. Senior James Rogers (#18), one of the two starting cornerbacks, famously guaranteed Wisconsin would not score 83 points against them and vowed to make a statement to Chris Spielman on Saturday. His counterpart is Courtney Avery (#5), another true freshman. The fifth defensive back is Cameron Gordon (#4), a redshirt freshman and converted wide receiver.
TTUN wins if… uggh. Anyways, I think their fans that are measuring this game and wanting to know how they could squeak out a win in Columbus as 18 point underdogs will want it to play out like the Illinois game. I don’t think their fans have any faith in the defense to play at another level. That is, their fans have been given no reason to believe that they won’t concede a ton of points. To that end, TTUN may win if Denard can respond every single time. Taters did a lot of the heavy lifting against the Illini, but the story would essentially have to be the same. If Ohio State scores a TD, Denard needs to respond in order to keep pace. Every time. The deeper the hole they find their way in, the more this game looks like Wisconsin or Michigan State for them and a hopelessness sets in. I always run through worst case scenarios. Terrelle Pryor being careless with the ball and throwing into coverage may create more possessions for the Wolvereenies and more empty possessions for the heavily favored Buckeyes. TTUN fans will not expect this to look like Purdue, should they win. They will expect it to look like the Illinois game.
Ohio State wins if… it ends it early. Mind you, the Buckeyes have not exactly been fast starters against Rodriguez. They were only up 14-7 at half in 2008 and the Buckeyes had zero rushing yards in the first quarter last year. If the offense has improved to the point where Pryor can prey on bad defenses (especially at home), then the sooner the Buckeyes can make this game look like the Iowa, Wisconsin games for the visiting fans, the better. To that end, it’s critical to keep the pressure on the Wolvereenies. I know OSU likes to play prevent when they have a huge lead to bleed clock, but Rodriguez’ offense does not consume clock. They are capable of scoring quickly. I think Iowa got bored with them and let them back into the game after jumping out to a 28-7 lead. Likewise, Wisconsin was ahead 24-0 at intermission last week before getting careless, not minding the fence, and suddenly finding that 4 score lead turn into a 10 point ball game. It’s not enough to stab the Wolverines to let them die. You have turn the knife and immediately desecrate the corpse. If so, Ohio State fans will be in full party mode before the game is over. That’s the way I want it.
- That said, he does have 7.5 TFLs. [↩]