Michigan – Ohio State: Game of the Century

I wrote my preview of Michigan-Ohio State three weeks ago.  Not much has changed since then.  Both teams are healthy.  The signature players have continued to perform as advertised.  Aside from the rise of Rutgers and the advance of Arkansas, not much changed among the elite teams.  Sure, USC dropped a tough game in Corvallis and Stoops stubbed Cal’s toe in the desert.  Nonetheless, here we are.  The hype machine is in full swing and the ESPN Gameday crew is headed to Columbus, Ohio for what promises to be one of the best games we’ve seen since last year’s USC-Texas game.

It’s tough to make a prediction for this game.  I don’t have a feel for the type of game that will be played.  With teams that are this evenly matched, you could get a defensive struggle, a shootout or a blowout (either way).  Michigan’s defense is as good as I’ve ever seen at the U.  Last year, I had an extensive conversation with some of my fellow alums about why Michigan was no longer an elite team (7-5 last year).  Many of them attributed this to the absence of athletic QBs at the school.  The examples of Vince Young, Troy Smith and others stand out.  I, conversely, felt that the answer was really to be found along the line of scrimmage.  In recent years, there haven’t been any defensive lineman from Michigan drafted in the first round by the NFL.  Moreover, most Michigan D-linemen weren’t be drafted at all.  Aside from James Hall and Shantee Orr (currently a reserve LB), I would be hard pressed to name a Michigan lineman in the NFL. 

When you look at USC (Mike Patterson, Kenechi Udeze, Frostee Rucker, Shaun Cody, etc.), LSU (Chad Lavalais, Jarvis Green, Marcus Spears, Claude Wroten, Marquise Hill,  and Anthony “Booger” McFarland), Oklahoma (Tommie Harris, Kelly Gregg, Dusty Dvoracek, etc.), Texas (Casey Hampton, Cory Redding, Marcus Tubbs, etc.), and Georgia (Richard Seymour, Phillip Daniels, Marcus Stroud, Jason Ferguson, etc.) it’s easy to see why these programs have been so dominant.  Don’t even open the conversation to include defensive players from Florida State and Miami. 

Moreover, the same is true of the offensive line.  Michigan used to turn out NFL quality linemen every year.  Lately, it’s not what you might expect.  Instead, Michigan has been turning out a mixed-bag of wide receivers, tight ends and quarterbacks.  For every Tom Brady, there is an Elvis Grbac.  For every Braylon Edwards, there is a Marquise Walker.  And the tight ends like Benny Joppru and Jerame Tuman are among the more pedestrian players at a position that has enjoyed a Golden Age in recent years.  So, athletic quarterbacks aside, Michigan has not effectively been able to impose its will on elite opponents. 

This year is a different story.  The defensive line reminds me of the group that USC had which absolutely destroyed Michigan in the Rose Bowl – and the groups (plural) that LSU used to crush Oklahoma and Miami in the past few years.  Units like this are difficult to put together, but worth pursuing because their value to a football team cannot be overstated.  I suspect that if they play with discipline and composure, they will decide the game.  I don’t believe that OSU has an answer for Alan Branch and Lamar Woodley.  I suspect that Tressel’s priority will be to minimize their aggressiveness and limit the plays the line can make in the backfield.  Power running and trickery.  That’s the tried and true mechanism.  A few old Green Bay Packer power sweeps and some new Green Bay Packer screens and reverses and draws and traps are in the forecast.  But, the key for OSU will be winning on 1st down. 

I’ve already said that OSU home field advantage, kicking game, and coaching advantages have to be worth about 10-13 points.  Still, I have a feeling (not a strong one though), that Michigan finds a way to this game behind the BALL CONTROL game of Michael Hart and the quick strike game of Mario Manningham.  I like Michigan to win a close one – high scoring – second half adjustments by both teams…Michigan 34, Ohio State 28.

12 comments

  1. i was waiting for this prediction – figured it was coming this week. i like osu by about 14…34-20 or something like that. first quarter will be tentative and there will be some dropped balls. they will settle down in the second half and itll be close till late.

  2. I made the homer pick. Objectively speaking, I couldn’t honestly pick against Troy Smith. I said as much in my earlier discussion. I’ve always liked the way he plays the game. He’s so calm and cerebral. His confidence is critical in big games.

    As I said, I could see a close game (either way) and I could see a blowout (either way). I guess I can’t get past the quality of the D-line – even though OSU has two guys (or buildings, if you prefer) who run about 6-8, 330.

  3. 38-21. The ‘U’ will be a little extra juiced because of the hype, as well as Bo’s passing. The D-line will be negated by a quarterback who has consistently shown that, not only is he NOT mistake-prone, but actually excels when his O-line disintegrates and there is no one between him and the Defensive linemen—yes, when there is no one between himself and the opposing linemen! How sick is that? Blitzing this guy just doesn’t seem wise, disguised or not. English has the the fellas playing hard-edged assignment/no freelance football, but OSU’s weapons are simply too lethal.

    A longitudinal view of OSU’s play under Tressell witnesses a team simply exhibiting championship-caliber play, whereas with my alma mater, such is simply not the case. Even if the score is much closer, the continuity of OSU’s play over the past few years will, unfortunately for the ol’ Maize and Blue, be the difference. Wish I could go with the homer pick, but the football purist in me sees otherwise. However, it would be good, too, if I was totally wrong.

  4. I feel your pain. Troy Smith is an absolute monster. His mind set is the key. He reminds me of guys like Vince Young, and Tommy Frazier…they were soooo good that they knew the outcome of the game before the first snap.

    If Michigan wins, it will be because the coaches call an excellent game and the players execute. Talent wise, they’re pretty even, but the play calling will be big.

  5. As I said back in October, Tressel would come out with a game plan that UM had not seen – and it’s about more than Smith’s considerable talent – but he’s exploiting personnel and space mismatches created by the coaches. Long way to go. We’ll see.

  6. Classic game. Too bad Henne couldn’t make one or two more plays when the Michigan D stiffened. Lloyd Carr made some big time adjustments in the 2nd half and Michael Hart was great in a close high-scoring game, but – OSU held on because of Tressel and Smith in the first half.

  7. smith is pretty damn good – i havent really been sold on him all year, but am now. probably solidified his heisman trophy with that 4 TD games. wonder if hell play on sundays?

    michigan game them a good run…curious to see what happens to them in the rankings. usc may appear to have the inside track to a game with ohio state…expecially if they beat notre dame next week.

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