Ohio State vs. Michigan Preview

This Saturday will mark the 112th time that Ohio State (10-1) and Michigan (9-2) have met.

Almost just as importantly, this game is the first of the Urban Meyer/Jim Harbaugh era.

The two were born in the same hospital. They grew up in the 1960s about ten miles from each other. And while Meyer returned to the school where he earned his Master’s Degree, Harbaugh, the man once called “Captain Comeback,” would eventually come back to coach his alma mater.

RankESPN went so far as to call them “Natural Born Rivals.”

And just like the coaches in this rivalry, the teams coming into this Saturday’s clash, poetically mirror each other in certain ways.

Both play tough defense. Both have found enough offense to win, despite both teams struggling to win the turnover battle.

Both suffered heartbreaking losses to Michigan State on the last play of the game.

And, yes, both have excellent coaches. Meyer is 152-27 with two national championships. Harbaugh is 58-29 in the college ranks. Like Meyer he has won The Woody Hayes Trophy, a fact gleefully pointed out on Michigan’s website, six bullet points above a mention of his appearance on “Saved By the Bell.”

Interestingly, while few would question the credentials of the Michigan staff (they have a combined 85 years of coaching experience, including 36 in the NFL), the Wolverines have not excelled in some of the areas traditionally pointed to as indications of greatness in that area.

They take penalties, they have been gashed on special teams, and they’ve lost the ball 5 more times than they’ve managed to take it away from their opponent.

Where they’ve excelled is in developing their players and getting the most out of their talent. That’s especially true of graduate transfer quarterback Jake Rudock.

Rudock is completing 64.4 percent of his passes, which is more than 3 percentage points better than his best year at Iowa. He also has more yards than his previous high, even though he has fewer attempts to this point. He has 16 touchdown passes, 10 of which have come in the past three games. Although not the most graceful of runners, he has four rushing touchdowns.

Sure, it’s a stretch to compare him to some other signal callers Harbaugh has coached, a list that includes Andrew Luck and Colin Kaepernick when Kaepernick was at his most successful, but Rudock certainly has improved.

Of course, it helps to have such immense targets. If you take a look at the four players who lead Michigan in receiving yards, the shortest of them is 6’2″, and that happens to be leading receiver Amara Darboh.

Two of the Wolverines top pass catchers are tight ends out of the state of Ohio. Cincinnati’s AJ Williams has a dozen receptions. Jake Butt of Pickerington has 43 and 3 touchdowns.

Meanwhile, despite missing the Maryland game with an injury, De’Veon Smith paces the Michigan rushing attack with 621 yards on 145 carries. Just as they’ll throw to the tight ends, UM will use the running backs in the passing attack, and Smith has 15 receptions.

On the other side of the ball, Michigan has been unforgiving. They sack the opposing quarterback almost 3 times per game. They’ve allowed just two red zone touchdowns over the course of the last four games (17 possessions). They’re giving up an average of 14.9 points a contest.

They are led by players like 6’3″, 232 pound linebacker Joe Bolden, who has 67 tackles, and corner Jourdan Lewis, who has 19 pass breakups and two interceptions.

Defensive end Chris Wormley, all 6’5″ and 300 pounds of him, has crashed into the opponents’ backfields enough to rack up a dozen tackles for loss.

And Desmond Morgan and Jarrod Wilson each have 33 solo stops.

Then there is Jabrill Peppers. Peppers is not only 5th on the team in tackles, he’s 5th when it comes to all-purpose yards as well. The safety sometimes shows his youth in pass coverage, but still has 10 pass breakups. He has all 194 Michigan punt return yards, and returns kicks as well. Although he has yet to run one back for a touchdown on special teams, he’s still been in the end zone twice this year, as they use him on offense, too.

Ohio State has won four of the last five times they’ve traveled to Ann Arbor. Peppers and his teammates won’t make it easy for the Buckeyes to continue their run when they kick off Saturday at noon on 97.1 The Fan.


Terrelle Pryor Is “Homeless”

Former Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor has a new team, having signed a one-year deal with the Kansas City Chiefs, and he’s settled in by visiting the local veterans and children’s hospitals.

That hasn’t earned him any goodwill with at least one of the locals, though…

So for all the recent talk about how great the Duke/North Carolina basketball rivalry is (and last night’s game was fantastic), today score one for Ohio State/Michigan.

Hat tip to friend and colleague Tim Hall.

Get to Know: Michigan

It’s hard to say which low point most epitomizes Michigan’s season. Was it the two tickets for two colas promotion that so angered fans who had ponied up a whole lot more than $3 for their seats?

Was it the Shane Morris concussion? Or the fact that seemingly everyone in the stadium…aside from the head coach, knew the quarterback was concussed? Maybe it was the 12:52 a.m. press release issued regarding the injury?

Maybe it was the petition calling for the ouster of former athletics director Dave Brandon? Or the rally on campus demanding the same?

Maybe it was the one-sided losses? Or the achingly close ones?

Maybe it was the school’s president taking shots at the one thing Michigan fans, despite the losses, still could take pride in: their team’s academic achievement?

Maybe it was the disgruntled former players? Maybe the defecting of potential future Wolverines?

To add insult to injury the last decommitment came at almost the same moment that Maryland was scoring the game-winning touchdown to practically ensure Michigan will not be heading to a bowl this season. (That is barring an upset against Ohio State, of course.)

The 23-16 loss to the Terps, who were playing without their best player Stefon Diggs, might actually be what best encapsulates the Wolverines rough season. There was so much about it that seemed to summarize what kind of year it’s been for the Maize and Blue.

Though one of the least penalized teams in the country, Michigan had a flag that cost them a punt return touchdown and another that kept an eventual Maryland scoring drive alive.

Devin Funchess, widely regarded as one of Michigan’s greatest threats in the passing game, had a critical drop.

Head coach Brady Hoke used two timeouts in a three-minute span of the third quarter. His decision-making was so suspect, that a reporter covering the game decided to include the “uh’s” in his transcription of Hoke’s eventual explanation for what happened.

And, naturally, it all happened on Michigan’s “Big House, Big Thanks” fan appreciation day. Big letdown, right?

It hasn’t been all bad news for the Wolverines. Most of their bright spots, however, have been on defense.

It has not been the offense led by quarterback Devin Gardner. Though, completing over 60 percent of his passes, Gardner has 14 picks to go with just 8 passing touchdowns. In fact, should he throw a TD pass against Ohio State, it will be his first since a November 1st win over Indiana. In addition, that game against the Hoosiers marked the only time this season Gardner has thrown for more than 200 yards.

It was also a home game for UM. Actually, Gardner has not thrown a touchdown pass on the road this entire season. At the same time, he has been intercepted 8 times in those away games, and his completion percentage dips from 65.7 percent in Ann Arbor to 53.7 percent when he has to venture elsewhere.

As a result, Gardner will often try to run the ball, but he’s only averaging 2.8 yards a carry.

Michigan’s leading rusher is De’Veon Smith, a sophomore out of Warren, Ohio, whose workload picked up after a season-ending injury to Derrick Green. Green, despite missing the past five games, is still the team’s second-leading rusher in terms of yards.

Funchess, as previously mentioned, is Michigan’s main pass-catching threat. He’s 6’5″ and a converted tight end. Over 50 percent of the team’s receptions have gone to either Funchess or 6’2″ sophomore Amara Darboh.

Jake Butt is the team’s tight end, which I tell you, because he’s a Pickerington kid, whose name is Butt and he plays tight end, which might be the best thing ever.

Michigan’s offensive line has given up 21 sacks this season, which ranks them 54th nationally.

The Wolverines defense, on the other hand, is statistically one of the better ones in the country. Michigan is 9th nationally in rushing defense. That’s where they are ranked in total defense as well, while they are 21st in scoring defense. There are only 29 other teams who have been better at getting to the opposing quarterback.

It is notable that most of these achievements occurred with the help of defensive end Frank Clark, who had a team-leading 13.5 tackles for loss, but is no longer with the squad following his arrest on domestic abuse charges.

Still, Michigan hasn’t allowed a first half touchdown in their last three games, so even without Clark, they have managed to find something on D.

That something is senior linebacker out of Westlake, Ohio, Jake Ryan. Ryan has 104 tackles on the year, two sacks, a pick and two forced fumbles. He’s aided by fellow linebacker and also Ohio native (Cincinnati), Joe Bolden. Bolden has added 93 tackles and two sacks of his own.

And, yes, Michigan’s top-three leading tacklers are all from Ohio, because safety Jarrod Wilson is an Akron product.

What Michigan’s defense has not done is force turnovers. They are 120th in the nation in takeaways.

The end result is that the Wolverines are 5-6, although one saying that comes up a lot when it comes to The Game is “throw the records out.”

It’s funny really, because “the team up north” might be the nicest thing anybody has called Michigan all season.

Statement from Brady Hoke

“I want to publicly apologize to Coach Dantonio as well as the players and supporters of Michigan State for our act of poor sportsmanship displayed pre-game yesterday. I spoke with Mark earlier today and expressed to him that we meant no disrespect to his team. During our regular Friday night team meeting, one of the topics presented to motivate our team was a history lesson addressing commitment and teamwork in a tough environment. A tent stake was presented to the team as a symbol of this concept. The stake was brought into our locker room as a visual reminder, and one of our team leaders chose to take it out on the field. As the leader of our football program, I take full responsibility for the actions of our team. We believe in displaying a high level of respect at the University of Michigan and unfortunately that was not reflected by this action prior to kickoff.”

I Don’t Buy It

Michigan coach Brady Hoke on Monday insisted that quarterback Shane Morris had an ankle injury. On Tuesday, he refused to say when he learned Morris had a concussion.

Now athletics director Dave Brandon, as you can see from the tweet above, is insisting Hoke found out about it Monday afternoon.

I don’t buy it, and here’s why:

1) Let’s say we accept the premise put forth in a statement by the Wolverines. Hoke didn’t see the play during which Morris was hit in the head as it happened Saturday. He didn’t even watch the replay as it aired on the video board. Are we also supposed to accept that he didn’t see the play during the course of reviewing game tape Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon? Oh, and he should have known to look for it. He was asked about it after the game.

2) Speaking of that same interview, Hoke can’t claim as his defense that once he did actually witness the play, he assumed trainers had cleared Morris. What he told reporters postgame proves otherwise. “I don’t know if he had a concussion or not, I don’t know that,” he said. So he didn’t know Saturday what medical treatment had taken place, and he was so incurious, once he saw the hit, he didn’t follow-up?

3) And do we believe that Hoke didn’t have any communication with trainers about the concussion before Sunday’s practice? He didn’t receive a written summary of the team’s injury situation from the medical staff? When he was told that Morris couldn’t practice, he may have assumed it was a result of the ankle injury, but he didn’t follow up by asking how long Morris would be out? That question surely would have elicited a response that would indicate a concussion, not the ankle was sidelining him.

4) Someone informed Hoke that the medical staff would be releasing a statement regarding Morris. (We know this because it was Hoke who informed the media a statement was forthcoming.) If Hoke thought there wasn’t a concussion, why did think the statement was necessary? Why didn’t he ask what would be in the statement?

5) Dave Brandon claims to have interviewed everyone involved in the Morris situation before releasing a statement Tuesday morning, but incredulously, that group did not include Hoke?

So, to me, this just doesn’t add up.