Preview of Michigan – Ohio State

Just a few thoughts heading into this titanic tilt on November 18.  It is unlikely that these teams will not be undefeated when they meet in three weeks.  It may be the latest in the season that two undefeated teams have met since the BCS was created.  In fact, since the BCS has consistently failed to match the two best teams in the nation (with the notable exception of last year’s USC-Texas game), this could certainly be viewed as a national championship game.

As a Michigan alum, I have some bias toward the maize and blue.  With that confession, I will say that I believe Ohio State has three distinct advantages heading into this game.  First, the game will be played in Columbus.  Second, Jim Tressel is 4-1 against Michigan and Lloyd Carr.  Third, Ohio State’s kicking and special teams game is better than Michigan.   These three advantages have to be worth about 10-13 points, but OSU won’t be more than a 4 or 5 point favorite going into the game.

Some thoughts looking ahead:  Michigan’s defense is the best I’ve seen this year – by a considerable margin.  I’ve been impressed with Auburn, LSU, Arkansas, Ohio State and Florida on defense, but Michigan’s front 7 has absolutely brought the wood in every game this season.  The front four stuffs the run (tops in the nation), rushes the passes (Lamar Woodley is the real deal), and pursues through the whistle.  If a runner breaks through the line and thinks he won’t be caught from behind, he could be in for a rude awakening.  The linebackers run sideline to sideline and have good enough hands to play pass coverage.  So, why isn’t Michigan absolutely destroying teams like Iowa, Penn State and Northwestern?

Two reasons:  1) the coaches have peeled back the playback because they’ll need to open it up on November 18th;  2) Mario Manningham is not playing.  Manningham is the key to Michigan’s explosiveness on offense.  Michael Hart is the key to their effectiveness on offense.

I’ve also been painfully reminded that Steve Breaston couldn’t catch a cold while wearing a Speedo in an igloo.  He is a classic “body catcher” who lets the ball get into his body and drops passes that can become interceptions against high-quality opposition.  Ted Ginn, Jr. and Anthony Gonzalez don’t do that – ever.  Ohio State’s receivers are better than Michigan’s receivers, but I’d take Manningham in this offense over Ginn and Gonzalez.

I like Troy Smith’s mobility over Chad Henne’s pocket presence.  I like Troy Smith’s pocket presence over Chad Henne’s pocket presence.  I like Troy Smith over Chad Henne.

I like Michael Hart over OSU’s backs, but I like OSU’s depth over Michigan’s.  Antonio Pittman is the real deal – and so is his backup.  Michigan’s #2 and #3 backs don’t run with the fury of the Buckeye running backs.  I don’t believe that OSU could block Michigan’s front four straight up – but Tressel’s play calling will be structured to loosen up the defense.  I think the game will come down to play calling by both offenses.  Both teams will need to be creative and work the field position game.  Michigan’s punter, however, is another source of weakness.  If Michigan if frequently backed up in their own end of the field and forced to punt to Ginn, it could be a long day.  I suspect, though, that Michael Hart will be able to do his thing and that the Blue Wall of Silence will overwhelm the OSU defenders.

Perhaps the most interesting contests left for these teams will be Michigan-Indiana and Minnesota-Ohio State.  Both of these teams would like nothing than to play spoilers – and both run the type of offenses that can put up points quickly.

Predictions?  Be patient.

3 comments

  1. Interesting take and I appreciate your objectivity. Nothing worse than a true “homer” who doesn’t look at the facts. I agree with your advantages OSU has, though Tressel being 4-1 isn’t an advantage…it’s just a stat.

    I’m prediting OSU in a tight game…21-17…something like that. I think both offenses will be over-amped early in the game which will cost some points.

  2. Tressel’s 4-1 record means that this group of OSU players have been uniquely successful against Michigan. You have to go back to Woody Hayes to find another group like this one. With that said, Tressel’s 4-1 advantage is an indication of his skill as a playcaller and game manager. The talent gulf between these two is never larger than the eye of a needle. So, when one coach can run off 4 of 5, it’s a big deal for the players and perhaps most importantly for the coordinators on both sides of the ball. I see your point – but I believe those 4 wins are a proxy for something else. Clearly it meant nothing that Spurrier was 8-3 against Fullmer before last night – so I feel you…but in this case – there may be some value.

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