Kellett's Keys to Victory
Why Michigan Will Beat Ohio State
1. The Running Game
I don't see this being a very high scoring game. I don't think anybody really does. Anthony earlier estimated that there's maybe an 8% chance this thing turns into a shootout. Michigan's running game gives them an advantage in this regard. I refuse to even acknowledge pundits (cough Mark May cough) who think that Antonio Pittman is as good of a running back as Michael Hart. Sorry, not buying it. You're telling me that with a noticeably more dangerous passing attack, Pittman didn't average 4.0 ypc in every game? Sorry. That means you're not an elite running back. I'm not saying Antonio Pittman isn't good, he certainly is. But elite running backs like Michael Hart don't rush 32 times for only 58 yards (1.8 ypc) against Illinois, or 2.7 ypc against Michigan State.
Pittman will be facing one of the best run defenses in the history of college football, so I expect him to be limited to at least below 3 yards per rush, if not worse. Michael Hart, on the other hand hasn't averaged worse than 4 yards per rush in any game this season while averaging over 124 yards per game. Granted, this could end up being his least productive game of the season, but the consistency he's shown me has proven that he will at least be effective in helping Michigan control the ball, gain first downs, and ultimately win the field position battle. Michael Hart must do this. If Antonio Pittman outperforms Michael Hart, Michigan will not win.
2. A Defense That Doesn't Depend on Turnovers
Both teams have very good defenses. Michigan is allowing an astonishing 22 yards per game on the ground, and 231 overall, while Ohio State leads the nation allowing only 7.8 points per game. However, the key difference is that Michigan's defense does not depend on turnovers. Ohio State has 22 interceptions this year, which is an enormous part of their nation-leading 7.8 ppg allowed on defense. However, in a game as important as this, turnovers are not going to be found around every corner. Michigan has Michael Hart, who has not lost a fumble in his career, and I would be shocked to see Michigan put Henne in a situation where he's made to force a pass. Henne is hopefully too smart at this point in his career to throw an interception in a game like this just because he's getting backside pressure. He will take the sack.
Take a look at the yards per play stats:
Michigan defense: 1.3 yards per rush
Ohio State defense: 3.2 yards per rush
(Keep in mind that Michigan has played a tougher schedule which included NCAA leading rusher PJ Hill)
Michigan defense: 5.5 yards per pass attempt
Ohio State defense: 5.5 yards per pass attempt
Michigan sacks: 41
Ohio State sacks: 33
I think from this analysis it's clear that Michigan has a better defense. Turnovers depend a lot on other variables, as do points allowed per game. Ohio State has a great defense, no doubt about it, but considering Michigan's tougher schedule and their clear statistical advantage in some categories, I think they have a defense that will put their offense in good field position often enough to win this game. If Michigan can get to Troy Smith a few times, and effectively shut down Antonio Pittman, Michigan will win this football game, with or without creating turnovers.
Michigan 20 Ohio State 13
1) Pop 'em early. Stay aggressive.
For the Blue to win this game the last thing they can do is play scared. OSU is going to be loading up to stop Hart, and when they do, we have to take our shots down the field regularly. If we can get OSU's safeties off the line, we'll eat up their ground game. I think all Wolverine supporters understand that, ideally, Hart gets thirty rushes in this game. But, the worst thing we can do is suffer a bunch of three and outs, which would mean: Punt to Ginn, Punt to Ginn, Punt to Ginn. Ohio State hasn't faced a downfield passing attack like ours all year, test those corners and safeties early and often.
2) Understanding Troy Smith
All the analysts keep talking about how Michigan has to bottle up Troy Smith and not let him make plays with his feet. This is true. But the problem with Troy Smith this year, hasn't been when he runs with the ball, but rather when he avoids the rush and then chucks the ball downfield. Let's be honest, Ted Ginn is an awful route runner, and has trouble getting open on his inital move. But as soon as Troy Smith avoids the rush and moves out of the pocket. The game turns into a punt return for Ginn and he uses his track-star speed to rush for an open area. So, what's the key: When Michigan blitzes, they HAVE to get to him, and when they don't, bottle up Ginn and Gonzales in a stifling zone.
3) What to do with Leon Hall
It's really amazing that all week I have not heard an analyst ONCE mention Leon Hall. NOT ONCE!!! He might be the best player on the best defense in the country, and is the best cornerback in the land. I see Michigan employing a similar strategy as they did against Notre Dame: Let Hall bottle up Gonzales, and roll the rest of the coverage towards Ginn. Gonzales has become a media darling because he routinely faces the team's second best corner, and no one rolls the coverage towards him. Confuse Ginn (who doesn't read a defense well) with multiple zones on his side (and always give safety help over the top) and take out Gonzales with (let me repeat) THE BEST CORNERBACK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL.
4) Be smart on 3rd and Long.
I still want to be in attack mode all game, but we really need to understand that 3rd and 13 inside our 35 is running down. Ohio State's defense has made it's hay all year on getting interceptions and fumble/sacks on these third and longs. Don't play into their hand and risk a big turnover on our side of the field. Give the ball to Hart or Jackson, punt the ball, and get the defense on the field.
5) BLOW UP THE GIMMICK PLAYS (ie, Stay at home).
Michigan's defense is so solid at every position (look away Morgant Trent. LOOK AWAY!), that it's tough to envision Ohio State killing us with off tackles, dives, button-hooks, or fly routes. But, they certainly have a ton of read-options, reverse-passes, double-reverses, and flea flickers up their sleeves to turn the big play. And, unlike a team like Indiana, when a team with this kind of offensive speed and firepower runs a gimmick play it's scary. So English has to be preaching to his guys not to overpursue. It's all right to bend a little and give up a first down - that won't kill you; but giving up that 44 yard reverse will.
I think Michigan has the more talented football team. I really do. Who knows how it will play out one solitary Saturday in Columbus, though.
Now: A Few Good Men:
Sam: Did I ever tell you I wrote a paper about that '97 Michigan team?
Sam: One of the best teams ever
Kaffee: Yeah they were.
Sam: And if I were Dawson and Downey and I were given a choice between the '97 team and this year's team to represent me in the Horseshoe this year, I'd pick this team every day of the week and twice on Sunday. You should've seen them thunder away at Notre Dame.
Kaffee: Would you beat #1 OSU in the Shoe?
Kaffee: You think the '97 team would've?
Sam: With the talent OSU's got, not in a million years. But here's the thing, and there's really no way of getting around this. Neither the '97 team nor Sam Weinberg is playing in the greatest game of all time, so there's really only one question. What would the 2006 team do?
My answer to that: Michigan 31 - OSU 20