Usually I don't have the time to break down football games that don't involve Penn State. But this week we have to make an exception for Michigan and Ohio State. The stakes could not be any higher in this matchup. Forget all the rivalry crap, although that certainly adds to the excitement. Forget that the Big Ten Championship is on the line, although that certainly is important. What's at stake is the #1 ranking and the right to go to the BCS Championship game. It's #1 vs. #2 in the regular season. To give you an idea of how rare this is, it hasn't happened since 1993 when #1 Florida State beat #2 Notre Dame. We haven't had an in conference #1 vs. #2 matchup like this since Oklahoma and Nebraska in 1987. This is a truly rare thing worthy of calling your sister-in-law and telling her you will not be able to attend her wedding this weekend.
First let's look at their NCAA ranks in various catagories.
At first glance there isn't much that sticks out. Maybe Ohio State has a slight advantage in the passing game, but it's always tough to tell based on pass defense statistics. You never know how much of that is bad defense and how much of it is teams abandoning the run and trying to come back from behind. Especially with Lloyd Carr who has been known to drop back into a prevent defense when he gets a ten point lead in the third quarter. Scoring defense is pretty even with both teams in the top 5. While you might be tempted to say it will be a low scoring game, keep in mind both teams have good offenses. It's not Vanderbilt and Northwestern they are playing. Both teams have weapons and I expect some scoring in this game.
When Michigan Has the Ball
They are going to get it to Mike Hart. Forget all the Henne to Manningham/Arrington crap. Hart makes their offense go. When Ohio State starts to fall asleep and creeping the safeties up, Henne will give them one of his perfect fake handoffs, stare at the safety until his legs turn to stone, and hit Manningham on a perfect post pattern in the endzone. From the few times I've seen Michigan this year, this play looks unstoppable. It's like a money play on Madden. Michigan can seemingly pull it out and nail it any time they want it. Nobody can stop it, and I don't think Ohio State will either. Look for Manningham or Arrington to catch a few of them.
The strength of the Ohio State defense is turnovers. No team in the Big Ten forced more of them this year. The problem for the Buckeyes is that Michigan doesn't turn the ball over. Ball State aside, Mike Hart never fumbles. And Chad Henne has learned to protect the ball. So I think the strength of the Ohio State defense will be neutralized in this game. Michigan will move the ball and they will do it well.
When Ohio State Has the Ball
Pittman will get stuffed. After watching them in Happy Valley I'm convinced the Michigan defensive line is the best I've ever seen. They will have no problems stopping Pittman leaving the game on the shoulders of their Heisman candidate, Troy Smith. The defensive line will have to be disciplined. If they over pursue Smith, he's going to kill them with his scrambling abilities. But I think they will do a good job of keeping him in the pocket and even get a few sacks. Here's why.
Ted Ginn Jr. is the most overrated wide receiver not playing in South Bend. Every Ginn highlight is of him running past the defender with no safety help. Against good defenses that force him to actually run something other than fly routes, he sucks. Justin King shut him down for two catches. He's only had three games all year where he broke 70 receiving yards. He's not that good and Leon Hall will shut him down. The intriguing matchup is on the other side. The winner of the battle between Trent and Gonzalez may decide the game.
Both teams are really strong and it's going to be a close game. Looking at in on paper it's too tough to call. But everyone knows football games aren't played on paper. They're played by little men inside the box in your living room. This game is going to come down to the intangibles, as the highly educated announcers and dumb jocks turned broadcasters like to say.
I believe Ohio State peaked too early this season. They spent all summer practicing and preparing for Texas and it showed. They looked pretty average against Penn State and Iowa, but pulled it out against clearly inferior teams. But it's been over a month since they had a difficult test. Illinois was close, but I don't think there was any ever doubt they were going to win that game. I think Ohio State is going to come out a bit rusty in this one.
Michigan on the other hand strikes me as a team with purpose this year. They come out very business like and get the job done. They're not caught up in the hype of the number one ranking. They're not talking about Heisman trophies. They just seem really focused.
I know this doesn't exactly come across as great analysis. There aren't any statistics that can back this up. But I get the sense Ohio State thinks they need to win this game. Michigan on the other hand knows they can win this game.
Final Score Prediction