|Ohio State 6-5, 3-4 Big Ten Roster | Schedule||November 26, 2011 12:00 PM ET - ESPN —— Michigan Stadium Ann Arbor, MI||#17 Michigan 9-2, 5-2 Big Ten Roster | Schedule|
"It is easy to go down to hell; Night and Day the Gates of Dark Death stand wide; But to climb back up again, to retrace ones steps to the open air, there lies the problem, the difficult task."
-Virgil, The Aeneid
There is true evil in this world. An ancient and brooding evil, relentless in its desire to consume all that is joy and light in this world, be it through an incessant, high pitched chattering of metal, or a poisonous whisper of arrogance, heard by millions as they struggle with the eternal conflict between that which is good and that which is not. Evil that cares not for truth, or justice, or hope, but instead only seeks to consume and destroy.
For within the blackened walls of the city of Ann Arbor dwells demons conjured up from the very fires of hell; their dark arts sustain the fires that fuel the furnaces of the University of Michigan, the fortress high on the dusty moor. Unspeakable acts once took place there; a traitor from the side of good nearly led them to ultimate victory a generation ago, his successor continuing his dark work and expanding ever more. But it was not to last, for the past ten years saw an unprecedented peace fall over the land as a steely-eyed paladin in vested garments fought back against the merchants of despair. He won contest after contest, intent on destroying the bellows that once stoked the fires of Ann Arbor. Evil retreated.
But it did not die. Though the University of Michigan lay in ruin, it's evil could not be fully extinguished. The remaining flicker turned into a spark, which turned into a flame, which now threatens once again to consume the whole of Middle West. Led by an unspeakable union of demon and human calling itself "Hoke," they have chosen the wolverine as their emblem, and are marching ever closer to dominance.
They must be stopped. A legion from Ohio State journeys north; undermanned and weak from internal strife, they know they have but one chance to salvage hope from what has been lost. The saint of martyrs, Luke, is at their helm. Here is the challenge that they face.
Denard Robinson is a maniacal dervish of pain and hate. His breakout year of 2010 was astounding; astounding in the sense that he somehow survived rushing the ball 256 times for over 1700 yards despite being a willowy husk of a human. This season he has been somewhat more limited in that capacity, as new offensive coordinator Al Borges would like Denard to be more of a QB than a tackling dummy. As a result, the Zingwraith is rushing for a somewhat less impressive 947 yards on 174 carries, but that still makes him the leading rusher on the team.
It may strike some of you as odd that I talk about Denard's rushing before his passing, but that's mainly because this sad little man is absolutely awful as a passer this year, completing just over half of his passes and having 14 interceptions to 15 touchdowns. The key to mitigating whatever Voldemort-esque magic that he can do with his legs is to take away any and all underneath routes, make sure that you've got the fastest guy on the team to spy him, and then let him chuck as many errant jump balls to Roundtree and Hemmingway as he desires. Iowa and Michigan State beat him by being the aggressors and forcing him to make decisions on the run. The Buckeyes will have to do the same.
This isn't actually much different from the game plan last year, but the x-factor this year is a conniving weasel named Fitzgerald Toussaint. Cast out from Youngstown and cursed to eternally wander the Earth alone, Toussaint has temporarily settled in as the primary back in Hoke's offense. In the last four games, Toussaint has sacrificed countless goats and managed to accumulate 6 touchdowns (5 of them on the ground) while averaging nearly 140 yards of rushing. He looks smaller than he is, and Michigan is just as willing to send him up the middle as they are to get him on the edge. Iowa more or less stopped him, which in tandem with slowing down Denard won them the game.
Yesterday Luke and I discussed how Michigan's fetid pile of excrement that last year they referred to as a "defense" is somehow much improved this year, and it is much helped by being led by Sith master Greg Mattison rather than literal circus clown Greg Robinson. Michigan's passing defense has benefited the most from this move, going from 112th to 14th in yardage given up per game. Kovacs, Woolfolk and Floyd are the three heads of a secondary Cerberus that is only giving up 184 yards through the air on average. Playing a relatively weak schedule with some poor passing offenses helps, but sadly one has to include Ohio State in that category.
Michigan also has some excellent playmakers on defensive line as well. When Brady Hoke sacrificed the orphan district of Ann Arbor to conjure the Balrog named Mike Martin, he got what he paid for. A relentless attacker, he and fellow denizen of the deep Will Heininger do a perversely admirable job at plugging the interior of the line. On the outside, a bat-demon taking the form of a human calling himself "Craig Roh" is the primary blitzer, accounting for 4 sacks this year. Ohio State's success or failure will depend on how well they attack this unit.
The Eternal Braxton Miller has now a golden opportunity to enshrine himself in the Annals of Light with a magnificent game against the ultimate evil, just as many have before him. In 2004, Troy Smith gloriously pressed the circle button over and over to spin his way around and through Michigan defenders for 145 yards on the ground as he passed for 241 through the air. In 2007, Beanie Wells brutalized the Wolverines for 222 yards on 39 magnificent carries. And now, in 2011, Braxton has his shot to do the same. We've seen flashes of things to come this year. Tomorrow would be a good day to show it to everyone.
Of course, he'll need help. Posey the Avaricious and Herron the Bombastic, after a time wandering in the mists have returned to the fold, and they represent the most important parts of this offense. Posey is essentially the only consistent pass catching threat that the Buckeyes have; even Philly Brown, who was expected to provide a boost, has been somewhat lackluster since his return. Posey needs to find ways to get open through what is assuredly going to be multiple double teams.
For his part, Boom needs to play the best game of his life. In his first three games back he looked like a season-changer, racking up 415 yards of rushing and 2 TDs. But Purdue and Penn State both got wise, and coupled with some poor offensive line play, the Boilermakers and the Lions limited Herron to 3.4 and 4.2 yards per carry, respectively. Carlos the Handsome may help here, but the coaches may be somewhat reluctant to give him the ball after his critical fumble last week.
The defense remains as confusing as ever. Despite worries that he might not play, Hankins looked deep within himself and managed to perform pretty well against Penn State. The loss of Sweat hurts, but really it's going to be younger guys like DT Joel Hale and LB Ryan Shazier who will have to be on point and stick to their assignments in an effort to shut down the Michigan running game.
The secondary still concerns me. When in zone, they still seem perplexed by who has what assignments, and their third and long defense has somehow gotten even worse. Man coverage is probably the best move here, but then you run the risk of getting eaten alive if the defensive line can't hold its ground. Because of this, the defensive line must dictate the flow of the game. Rotate Simon around until he finds a weak spot, line up Hankins at end, blitz Bryant a billion times it doesn't matter. Just do whatever needs to be done so that OSU lives up to its billing as the 17th ranked defense in the country from the first snap, and not after halftime.
In all seriousness, this should be a crazy and pretty incredible weekend. I guess should we lose this game we can all succor ourselves with the thought that Urban Meyer will soon be the new head coach, but I don't want to do that. I want to go into this new era of Ohio State football with my head held high, knowing that we just beat our eternal foe, on the road, in a game where we were not favored. I want to have the satisfaction of being able to tell Michigan fans that it doesn't matter who our coach is, or what the NCAA says, or who got suspended when. I want to have the pleasure of saying that we're winners and you're losers, not because of some hold Jim Tressel has over Rodriguez or because we're playing with guys who shouldn't be or because it's a home game or whatever, but because despite everything, Ohio State was the better team on November 26th, 2011 and there wasn't a damn thing you could do about it.
This week there are no King Cool Guys or Queen Sad Guys or Prince Cool Ladies. There are only winners and losers. We're going to be winners.
But sadly, not this year.
Ohio State 22, Michigan 24