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Friday, November 17, 2006

It returns! This week's guest is Tom Orr, who you may remember from last year's version of this feature. Until this year, when he broke off and decided to start a super-sweet secret Internet project, Tom was the designated Michigan Monday guy at the OZone.


What's Boone's status for the game? He had a scope a couple weeks ago, right? Will he play and will he be 100%? How big of a deal will it be if he's not?

He’s supposedly going to play, which I guess is not much of a surprise. The thought of Boone, Kirk Barton, Tim Schafer or anyone else going one-on-one with LaMarr Woodley is not a particularly comforting one, whether they’re 100% or not. I’m expecting to see a lot of tight ends staying in to block and/or Stan White and Dionte Johnson staying in the backfield in passing situations. Keeping Troy Smith in one piece is a rather significant piece of the puzzle for this year’s team.

Any concerns with Smith's thumb? Deep ball accuracy and such?

Compared to the “blocking Woodley” situation? Not really. I guess it could be an issue, especially if it’s really windy. The last forecast I saw was for winds of 10-20 mph, which shouldn’t screw things up too badly.

I have a feeling the pass protection will play a bigger role in deciding whether OSU can throw deep than Troy’s thumb.

The conventional wisdom holds that Ohio State will eschew conventional sets and go with an exclusively spread look. Do you think this will be the gameplan?

I think a spread formation allows OSU to go after the weak link (such as it is) of Michigan’s defense, that being the DBs. The more you can get lineman and linebackers off the field and guys like Brandon Harrison, Charles Stewart and/or Johnny Sears on it, the better off you are.

However (and I hate to beat this into the ground), it’s going to depend on the line’s ability to block Michigan’s front four. If you have to keep an extra guy or two in there to keep Troy Smith from getting turned inside out, you can’t go five or perhaps even four-wide.

Michigan's run defense has been outstanding all year. Opponents have basically given up on the run before the game starts, saving runs for a change of pace. Will Ohio State try to establish the run or will they try to pass until we loosen up? What sort of success do you see Ohio State having on the ground?

I don’t think you’re going to see a 25-carry game out of anyone on the offense. This just has the feel of a 15-carry for Pittman, 5-carry for Chris Wells kind of day. They’ll run to keep Michigan honest, but as for lining up in the I-formation and pounding the ball, I just don’t see it happening. If Pittman hits 100 yards on the ground, it would probably take something really weird (tons of turnovers, cheap TDs on defense or special teams) for Michigan to win.

I would not be surprised to see some variations on the option-choice plays with Smith in the shotgun, deciding at the snap whether to hand it to Pittman going one way or to keep it and take off going the other. I think you’ll see a lot more of that than you will the old-school pounding the ball between the tackles.

Do you think the Michigan secondary is vulnerable? That Harrison vs. Hartline/Robiske thing doesn't seem like the world's best option, but it's also a third-wr versus a nickel back. Gonzalez and Ginn versus Trent and Hall... advantage who?

Honestly, that’s the biggest advantage that OSU has. I don’t know if that’s a good thing for Michigan or Ohio State.

I kind of think Michigan will put Leon Hall on Gonzalez and let Morgan Trent cover Ginn, likely with safety help on most plays. I don’t see either one of those guys breaking 50 yards receiving. [!!!!!!!!!!!!!! -ed]

If OSU wins, they’ve already got the Player of the Game trophy engraved with Troy Smith’s name, but I think a guy like Brian Robiskie or Brian Hartline is going to be the one who is the true MVP. Sort of like how it was a total joke for Tom Brady to win the Super Bowl MVP over Mike Vrabel a few years ago when Vrabel made one of the biggest plays of the game on both sides of the ball.

(Ahem.) [Orr is being shot right now for daring to question Tom Brady. -ed]

Scrambly, scrambly, scrambly. Devastating or not?

Not as consistently devastating as it was two years ago, but I think he’s got one good one in him on a third down or some other key play.

One would have to assume that stopping Smith from running wild is going to be one of, if not THE primary goal on most defensive snaps for Michigan.

That may open some things up in the passing game on throws off option looks, like the little jump pass he threw off a speed option look against Illinois.


Do you buy the Michigan blogger theory that Hart will be able to run on the OSU defense? It seems that competent rushing attacks have rolled up fairly good YPC, but since they've all fallen way behind they've had to go dormant. How have the linebackers been when not having passes batted directly to them? Is the Kerr/Homan combo at WLB a potential issue?

One of the topics that the rocket surgeons on ESPN were beating into the ground this week was whether this year’s defense was better than last year’s. I know the numbers say yes, but I have to think that anyone with two eyes and a basic understanding of football would have to consider that question an insult to their intelligence.

I keep looking back at the “points allowed” column on the schedule and wondering how the hell it reads “12, 7, 7, 6, 17, 7, 7, 3, 0, 10, 10.”

Teams have been able to run the ball on this defense in a way that they haven’t against the great (2002, 2005 and 2003 until late November) defenses of the past. I’m firmly of the belief that the solid rush defense numbers that they’ve posted overall are more of a function of the big leads they’ve been playing with that forced opposing teams to start throwing on every down.

I’m not saying it’s going to be 1995 all over again, but if Michigan wins, it’s going to be Mike Hart’s name on that Player of the Game graphic.

The linebackers have been okay. The bar was set pretty high by last year’s crew, and I don’t think there’s a unit in the country that measures up Carpenter, Hawk and Schlegel. This year’s unit is good but (outside of Kerr) quite young. This time next year, you’ll be cursing their names.

This year, they won’t kill the Bucks, but as a unit they’re not going to take over the game, either.

OSU last year: six interceptions. This year: 21. Why the huge disparity? Fortune, or something more significant? There's a massive turnaround in OSU's turnover margin -- they were actually negative a year ago -- despite having a monstrously kickass defense. Now: turnover city. Meaningful? Random?

Ummm… yes? I’ve been a big believer in Jim Feist’s idea that it doesn’t necessarily carry over from year-to-year regardless of personnel, but it’s really hard to dismiss the fact that this team has seemingly come up with a turnover every time they’ve needed one this year.

This is sort of like the fact that the 2002 team just had every ball bounce their way. Is it luck? Divine intervention? Perfect positioning by the best coaching staff in the country? Outstanding physical and mental ability on the part of the players?

Sure, why not?

How about this: If OSU forces a bunch of turnovers against a usually ball-responsible Michigan team this Saturday, it’s a meaningful stat. Otherwise, it’s random statistical noise that means nothing.


Right: who wins and why?

Look, we all know I can’t pick Michigan. I just escaped that state after a three-year sentence, and I’m not about to risk banishment back to America’s version of the Siberian gulags.

That being said, I’ve seen people picking scores like 38-10 and 42-6. I’m not sure what anyone’s basing the on. Barring a fiesta of turnovers and defensive/special teams scores, I don’t see anyone breaking 30.

I don’t think OSU will be able to run the ball on Michigan with anything approaching a consistent basis. I do, however, think that OSU will be able to hit a couple big plays—maybe a big kick return, maybe a fly route to Robiske with Ginn or Gonzalez cutting underneath to draw the safety. Troy Smith puts up decent but not explosive numbers (175-200 yards passing, 30 yards rushing and maybe a couple scores), Pittman grinds out a quiet 15-carry, 65-yard game, and Robiskie, Hartline or Rory Nicol ends up as the leading receiver.

Defensively, the Michigan run game worries me more than the pass game. I’m not really sure why. It’s probably the notion that if Michigan can run the ball they will. I don’t see them throwing it 30 times unless OSU shuts down the run game or they get way behind. Mike Hart has the best game against OSU of his career (although that doesn’t set the bar very high, does it?). Maybe 100 or 120 yards for him?

One of the receivers makes a big play (how’s that for an overly generic statement?), and we see the waggle or a screen pass about a dozen times. Michigan holds a bunch and it doesn’t get called.

In my mind, I’m really worried about stopping Hart. Of course, I was really worried about stopping Iowa and Texas as well. At this point, I’ve learned to shut my brain off and rely on the fact that OSU defensive coordinator Jim Heacock is very, very good at his job and will probably cook something up.

If this game was in Ann Arbor, Michigan probably wins. Unfortunately for you guys, it’s not. I don’t think Michigan will put up enough big plays to get the crowd out of it, which will certainly help. Remember- you can’t go crying to the refs if it gets too loud any more.

Frankly, I think this may come down to a field goal late. For the first time since 2001, I’m not sure who that benefits.

All week long, I’ve been saying OSU 17, Michigan 13 so I guess I’ll stick with that. Something like 20-17 is well within the realm of possibility. I definitely don’t see the sense in laying a touchdown. That line is a product of OSU fans believing that failure to bet on their own team constitutes some sort of medium-level treason.

Many thanks to Tom.