Ah, The Game. Michigan brings in a slightly disappointing squad this year while the Buckeyes are searching for a spot in the national chamionship game, but that does nothing to undermine The Game's importance. Nor does it guarantee a win on Saturday.
Ohio State is up the fifth in the F/+ ratings. That's the lowest of the big three undefeated teams, but within striking distance of Alabama and Florida State. Michigan, on the other hand, is 38th.
Michigan is most comparable to Iowa this season (of the teams the Buckeyes have faced), with a worse rushing attack and slightly better passing offense. You'll remember that Iowa kept it close for a half until the Buckeyes ran over the second half. That is certainly a possibility for this Saturday.
Comparing the Offensive Lines and Rushing Attacks
- We've known for a while that UM's weakness on offense is the line, but Football Outsiders' line statistics really, really drive home this point. At 2.58 line yards per carry (115th in the country) and with only 30% of carries going for five or more yards (114th in the country), about the only worse metric is the "stuffed" rate, which indicates Michigan had 28.5% (dead last in the country) of rushes "where the running back is tackled at or behind the line of scrimmage." Carlos Hyde has had two carries go for negative yards all season.
- Michigan might take some solace in knowing that these numbers haven't been updated in a month...except that in the four games since the Wolverines have rushed for 130 yards on 134 carries for an average of .94 yards per carry. These numbers were against the top-ranked, 87th, 47th, and 4th-ranked defenses (according to the S&P defense statistics. In the same span the Buckeyes have faced the 9th, 74th, 90th, and 75th-ranked rushing defenses for 1,505 yards on 173 carries (8.69 yards per carry).
- Michigan's offensive line is best at preventing sacks, with just a 6% sack rate (73rd in the country). They're particularly good on standard down pass protection (how many standard down passes do you think Borges has called, though?).
- They've had 14 explosive rush plays with a long of 38 yards. The Wolverine backs (Touissant, Green, and Smith) just aren't getting the holes necessary for consistent gains, nor are they reaching or passing defenses' second levels.
So the Wolverines just really haven't been able to establish any consistent ground game. Nothing in short yardage, limited explosive plays, and an abundance of tackles for loss allowed. With the 14th-ranked S&P+ rush defense coming to town, the Wolverines can't count on getting any semblance of a ground game for The Game.
But How About the Rest of the Offense?
- Surprisingly, most of Gardner's big passing plays have come on first down, with 14 explosive plays compared to just seven on second down and three on third down.
- Gardner has maanged double digit passing yards per attempt against Central Michigan, Minnesota, and Indiana. Ohio State doesn't actually have a single game averaging double digits in passing yards per attempt.
- Michigan is tied for 78th in interceptions with 12. Ohio State is tied for 18th with 6.
|PPP||YPP||YPA||EX. Plays||RedZone TD %|
|Ohio State Defense||.262||18.1||4.76||30||61.3%|
Gardner averages 8.4 yards per attempt overall while Braxton has 8.3 - the difference is in number of interceptions. Turnovers plague the Michigan defense, while Braxton has had an excellent year in protecting the football.
OK, So Tell Me About the Defenses
There really aren't too many defensive lines I would take over the Buckeyes' right now. With two new wrinkles in Shazier playing rush end on pass downs and Adolphus moving in to defensive tackle, the Buckeyes have four legitimate candidates for getting to the quarterback.
The Michigan defensive line isn't at all bad, it's just also not going to carry the game for Mattison:
- Michigan is 46th in adjusted line yards while the Buckeyes are 78th. The Buckeyes are most proficient in standard down sack rate while the Wolverines are best at pass down line yards per carry.
- Michigan has 63 TFLs total, with nine against Central Michigan and eight against UConn. The Buckeyes have 75 total, but have reached double digits in TFLs in each of the last three games.
- In other miscellaneous stats, the Wolverines have 31 passes broken up to the Buckeyes' 49. Roby has 12 alone and has the opportunity to reach the 17 he set last year. Ryan Shazier has only one less forced fumble (4) than the Wolverines have had all season.
- There might be some evidence that the Michigan defense wears out in the fourth quarter, as opposing teams have the most carries and the highest yards per attempt in the fourth quarter (though not by large margins).
- One area where the Michigan defense deserves some praise is in the redzone. They are actually tied for fifteenth in the country in redzone touchdown percentage. Half of the time an opponent gets close to scoring, the Michigan defense tightens and forces a field goal. Not bad, Mattison. But don't expect any more praise than that.
Putting all of this together, here's how the OSU offense and UM defense match up with one another:
|PPP||YPP||YPA||Ex. Plays||RedZone TD %||Turnover|
|Ohio State OFF||.664||10.8||7.24||67||83.3%||+7|
The Buckeyes have a +37 explosive play margin and the Wolverines have a +8 explosive play margin. Ohio State has a +7 turnover margin and the Wolverines are +4. Again, despite underperforming relative to talent and expectations and having a stone age offensive coordinator, the Wolverines haven't performed terribly. They're net positive in both turnover margin and explosive play margin, which are two essential metrics for predicting wins. The only problem for UM is that the Buckeyes far exceed the Wolverines in both numbers.