Saturday, November 21, 2009

Ohio State vs Michigan Preview

Everyone--Sorry that I'm late with this--but at least it will fresh in everyone's minds before the game!


RUN GAME:  Michigan, along with Oregon, are what I consider "pure spread-run teams."  That means they not only are shotgun, but that their run game is based almost entirely around the inside and outside zone read, unlike, say Florida, who runs a lot of power plays.  For Michigan, though, they are going to focus on running their outside zone read and inside zone read. (h/t: mgoblog).

There is lots of great material on Michigan's offense.  Rich Rodriguez discusses his run game here and here.  MGoBlog has a good breakdown here.  Relatedly, here is a good piece on the Oregon offense, whose run game is very similar.

Michigan has, at times this year, also lined up in the I with Brandon Minor, particularly ins short yardage situations.  But with him being doubtful for the game, it is likely they will focus exclusively on the spread.

An offense almost entirely reliant on the zone read puts a lot of pressure on the Quarterback, both to make the right read and make plays with his feet.  Forcier has been inconsistent with both.  MGoBlog has repeatedly discussed how Forcier has made incorrect zone reads.  And, while he is slippery in short yardage, Forcier does not have the speed to be a true run threat.  Robinson is a greater threat, but he is very unpolished-Michigan often just calls lead sweeps with him in the game.

Ohio State will likely throw a lot of 'scrape exchanges' at Michigan to confuse these Quarterbacks.  At base, a scrape exchange is where the backside DE and LB change responsibilities to confuse the QB's read.  The QB will see the DE crash down and keep, but then the OLB will be there for contain.

Ohio State has also gone to a 3-4 "half under, half bear" defense partially for the very purpose of attacking zone read teams.  It puts Gibson and Spitler standing up at the end of the LOS where they can use their athleticism to make plays.

And, of course in defending zone read teams, it helps to have athletes like that on the edge who can commit down to take away the zone gap, and still be athletic enough to make plays.


Michigan does not have what you would call a  'conceptually sophisticated' passing game.  By that I mean that it is almost entirely a 3-step drop passing game and does not really attack coverages downfield.  Michigan will mostly throw quick hitches and slants off of zone action and then occassionally throw a smash route.  So you will see a lot of this:

They also like running a sprint out game and moving the pocket.   Part of this also has to do with their personnel.  Neither of their Quarterbacks have great arms or shown the ability to be dropback, NFL style passers--Forcier seems best when he is in space improvising.  Nor do they have the line to protect, or the receivers to stretch defenses, so they are limited in what they can do.

For this game Michigan will have to get creative to move the football.  This is particularly true if their best player, Brandon Minor, does not play.  Last year Michigan had some success early running the outside zone right at Gibson--look for them to try that again--though Gibson is far better at the point of attack this year.  Look for them also to try find creative ways to get Denard Robinson and their 'scat backs' the balls in space.  Michigan will likely run a lot of quick passing game and screens to try to negate Ohio State's talent advantage, soften up the defense, and make a big play.  Then they will likely try and go to their zone read game.  If Ohio State plays fundamentally sound and does not get pulled out of position Michigan will have to work for every yard.  As MGoBlog discusses, OSU will likely do what they did to Penn State and others--play six in the box with two deep safeties, dare Michigan to run, and count on their front six to be better than Michigan's.  

Michigan Defense

There is no other word to describe Michigan's defense besides bad, both in scheme execution and personnel.

These are the scores for Michigan's last four games and Wisconsin's drives in the Second Half:

October 24
No. 13 Penn State
L 35-10
5-3 (1-3)
October 31
at Illinois
L 38-13
5-4 (1-4)
November 7
L 38-36
5-5 (1-5)
November 14
at No. 20 Wisconsin
L 45-24
5-6 (1-6)

WIS 20
Passing Touchdown
WIS 35
Passing Touchdown
WIS 40
Rushing Touchdown
WIS 30
Field Goal Good

Schematically, Michigan is essentially running a 4-3 under with a stand-up backside end, making it look like a 3-4.  Chris Brown has a great read on it here.  In a lot of ways it is similar to what OSU does.  As the season has gone on though, Michigan has gone to more of a 4-4 look, which could also be called a 3-5-3.  Basically, they are bringing what would be their backside safety up into the box.  Essentially, 4-3 under teams that play cover 1, like USC have their backside safety responsible for run support. Michigan has just started showing it more explicitly in a (vain) attempt to stop the run.

And Michigan does in fact play a lot of 'cover 1 robber' behind it.  Penn State was able to repeatedly exploit this with smash routes.  (Video curteosy of MGoBlog).

It will be interesting to see what kinds of coverage Michigan plays today.  Teams that have tried to play forms of man coverage versus Ohio State have gotten burned by Terrelle Pryor's running ability, most famously here:

I expect Michigan to fall back into more zone coverages for that reason.

Michigan's primary problem, though, is their personnel.  MGoBlog had a great two part series on how recruiting, attrition, and talent development has decimated Michigan's defense.  Their line is undersized, their linebackers play extremely undisciplined, and their safeties are not talented.  As MGoBlog discusses here, Wisconsin killed Michigan with play action all day, drawing up the inside linebackers and throwing over the top of them.  (You can also see that in the clip above).

Brandon Graham is the only difference maker on that defense and has played at an exceptionally high level all year, especially when considering the talent surrounding him.  Expect Ohio State to handle Graham similar to what they did with Adam Clayburn last week:  have running backs and TE's chip on Graham and/or stay in to give Cordle some help.  This is the one matchup where Michigan could create problems for OSU.  Other than that, expect Ohio State to take advantage of the Michigan defense's poor discipline and talent levels.  Like Wisconsin, Ohio State will likely dial up play action off their inside runs to get Posey running deep in the secondary.  Relatedly, they will likely also do more misdirection, both in the forms of counters and bootlegs.  We have seen more of this as the season has progressed and I expect to see more here.  Then, I think Ohio State will settle back into the power run game that has been so successful the last two weeks.  Ohio State followed a similar pattern of starting out the game throwing and then turning to the run against Iowa.  Look for a similar gameplan here.  The difference, though, is that Ohio State will be able to hit plays downfield off of play action when they were not able to against Iowa.  Look for Michigan to have a lot of difficulty stopping Ohio State and a big game from Terrelle Pryor. 

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