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Michigan vs. Ohio State Preview
Thursday, 2006 November 16 - 9:19 pm
As John said... it's ON.

The Michigan vs. Ohio State rivalry has been voted the greatest rivalry in college football, and perhaps in all of sports. The annual contest is known simply as "The Game". The two teams have played each other 102 times since 1897. This is the first time they will play as the #1 and #2 team in the country.

There could not be more at stake. You want drama? Here's what's on the line: the Big Ten championship, the national championship, the Heisman trophy race, the coaching legacies of Lloyd Carr and Jim Tressel, and years of recruiting. People will talk about this game for decades to come.

I think there's one word to describe the general feeling of Michigan fans: hopeful. We know what Michigan is capable of doing. We've got a fast and ferocious defense; arguably the best defense in the country. We've got experience and talent on offense, with weapons galore. We've got a steady and experienced kicker, several speedy kick returners, and some of the finest coaches around.

But all those things could be said of Ohio State also.

My impression is that Ohio State fans have a somewhat different impression of this game. In Buckeye country, the feeling is that Ohio State simply cannot lose this game. The offensive combination of Troy Smith and Ted Ginn Jr. are unstoppable, they say. Michigan's offense is too lackluster to penetrate Ohio State's defense, they say. Coach Jim Tressel is a mastermind compared to Lloyd Carr, they say.

They are wrong.

I will not predict a Michigan victory. In fact, I think the odds are that Ohio State, playing at home, is somewhat more likely to win the game. But what I will say is this: it is certainly possible for Michigan to win, and that possibility is greater than what some Buckeye fans might think.

Here's why.

Michigan should be able to stop the Ohio State running game. Michigan's run defense is for real. You don't lead the country in run defense because of fluke plays and dumb luck. The front seven for Michigan are fast and athletic, and nothing that opponents have tried have worked.

Michigan should be able to run the ball on Ohio State. Michigan has run up some big running numbers, and this was even when opponents stacked the line with eight or nine players. No, Vanderbilt isn't in the same class as Ohio State when it comes to defense, but if Michigan can run against nine Vanderbilt defenders, they can run against seven Ohio State defenders.

Michigan will be able to slow Ohio State's passing attack. Yes, Ohio State will make plays on offense: Troy Smith and Ted Ginn are too talented to stop completely. But Michigan will be putting pressure on Smith all day, and with the running game bottled up, Ohio State may face some uncomfortable down-and-distance situations. True, Michigan's safeties and nickel backs don't necessarily match up well against some of the Ohio State receivers. But remember, this is a different Michigan defense than what we've seen. Michigan won't sit back in nickel and dime defenses and let themselves get picked apart. If Ohio State goes with four wide receivers, you can bet that Ron English will choose to blitz and take his chances with single coverage.

Michigan will be able to pass the ball. Henne has made outstanding progress as a quarterback since last year; his abilities to read coverage, look off defenses, and make accurate throws are seriously underrated. We don't see Henne passing much since Michigan has been content to pound away with the running game against inferior opposition... but the talent is there, lurking. And with Adrian Arrington and Steve Breaston developing into legitimate secondary downfield threats, expect them to get a lot of passes as secondaries start to key on stopping Mario Manningham.

And Coach Lloyd Carr? I'd take him over Jim Tressel every day and twice on Sunday. You have to listen to his press conferences to appreciate how much he understands the nuances of the game. He is as fine a teacher of the game as college football has ever seen. Conservative? Stodgy? Maybe. But that's Michigan football. It's what makes Michigan the winningest program in college football history. Spread offenses are flashy and running quarterbacks are exciting, but at Carr knows that fundamentals are what win games in the long run. Sure, maybe a running play on first down is predictable. But so is a passing play on 3rd-and-10, if you've failed to advance the ball on 1st and 2nd down. And as for Tressel, did anyone think he was such a genius before he had Troy Smith to work with?

Now, with all that being said, I'm still nervous about the outcome.

Yes, Michigan's run defense is good. But even the best run defense can get gashed for a big play or two. All it takes is one bad angle from a linebacker, and boom. It hasn't really happened to Michigan this year, but who knows what could happen, especially with Ohio State's sloppy natural turf? Antonio Pittman is a strong running back who's rushed for 1032 yards this season. You can't count him out.

Yes, Michigan's running attack is good. But they've not faced a defense like Ohio State, and just two consecutive poor running plays would put Michigan in an obvious passing situation, opening up all kinds of bad scenarios... especially if Michigan is backed up in its own end. And anyway, the running game won't mean as much if Michigan finds itself trying to claw out of a 14-point deficit.

Yes, Michigan's pass defense is good. But Troy Smith is dangerous. Michigan could play perfect defense for 97% of the game, and Troy Smith could win the game in the remaining 3%. And what's more, Ohio State knows this. They'll never feel like they're out of the game, because they believe in Smith's playmaking ability. Smith has passed for 26 touchdowns this year, to eight different receivers.

Yes, Michigan's passing attack is potent. But we've seen, throughout the season, things that cause us concern: dropped passes, passes tipped at the line of scrimmage (because Henne has a low release), and sacks. Which passing attack will show up Saturday?

In the end, I'll bet that the outcome of the game will come down to something that no one sees coming: a slip in the secondary, a blocked kick, a penalty at a crucial point in the game, or a blown call by a referee.

A final thought... as much as Troy Smith's abilities worry me, let's think about the fact that Michigan knocked two Penn State quarterbacks out of the game in October. Michigan absolutely punishes quarterbacks. Would Ohio State be confident about, uh, Justin Zwick's ability to lead them to victory?

Oh yeah... it's ON.
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Posted by Ken in: sports

Comments

Comment #1 from Ken (realkato)
2006 Nov 17 - 12:25 pm : #
As if Michigan didn't already have enough motivation for this game... WXYZ in Detroit is reporting that legendary Michigan coach Bo Schembechler has died at the age of 77.

Article on ESPN
Comment #2 from olafandy (Guest)
2006 Nov 17 - 3:35 pm : #
Crushed. Just crushed and saddened as all of the Michigan faithful are on this day.

It's funny...I have this image of Woody greeting Bo as he enters into heaven saying "Damn you, Bo! I know you planned this!"
Comment #3 from Ken (realkato)
2006 Nov 18 - 8:43 pm : #
Well. It's over. Michigan loses 42-39. I don't think you can fault the performance Michigan turned in today. This was a game for the ages. Maybe we'll get a rematch in the title game after all. Full story coming soon.

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