That wasn’t close. Las Vegas picked Michigan. Virtually all the experts picked Michigan. I picked Michigan. We were all wrong, and it wasn’t close. That was an extremely disappointing performance in all three phases of the game. I’m sure I won’t cover every disappointment, but I’ll get it started.
Hit the jump for the rest of the preview.
The offensive game plan was totally unimaginative. One of my biggest frustrations with Jim Harbaugh’s offense is that they go into a shell in big games. He wastes the creative plays on lesser opponents and then uses the vanilla stuff against the likes of Ohio State. How many jet sweeps did Michigan run? Zero. How many double passes? Zero. Reverses? Zero. Crazy formations? Zero. I think you get the point. On top of that, Michigan was very much in the mode of run-run-pass for much of the game, leaving them in a lot of 3rd-and-long situations. Michigan came up against one of the most talented defenses they had faced all season, and they gave themselves virtually no tactical advantages whatsoever.
Who is your backup QB? Michigan has a backup QB problem, and its name is Brandon Milton. Shea Patterson got hurt late in the game, and he was replaced by redshirt sophomore Brandon Peters, who promptly threw a precise short pass that was literally an inch away from being a touchdown. On the next series, true freshman Joe Milton entered the game and threw an interception on his first attempt that was nearly returned for a touchdown. Whoever your backup QB is should be getting the second-most reps in practice, and that guy should have been in the game when Patterson got hurt. It happened against Rutgers (Peters got one rep before giving way to Milton), and now it happened in a situation where it actually mattered, too. Milton did end up completing a long pass to Nico Collins and scoring on a zone read, but by the time that happened, there was virtually no chance for a comeback.
Michigan lacks playmakers on offense. This has been a major concern for a while, and it reared its head against Ohio State. Where are the guys who can run away from a defense? Where are the guys who can take it to the house on jet sweeps? Where are the guys who can blow the top off a defense by running a seam route? Karan Higdon and Chris Evans can’t run away from quick defenses. Ronnie Bell has some juice at wideout, and Donovan Peoples-Jones is a difference-maker. Otherwise…nada. Grant Perry has been just a guy his whole career, and Michigan was down to playing walk-on Jake McCurry on offense against Ohio State. Kekoa Crawford and Eddie McDoom both transferred prior to the season, and both of them could have made some impact if they had stuck around and developed. They’re probably not the difference between a win and a loss here, but Eddie McDoom would be a better option than McCurry.
Michigan’s gotcha play: tight end screens. Michigan called screens to Sean McKeon and Nick Eubanks. One worked for about 11 yards (McKeon’s), while the other one was thrown straight into the ground. Ohio State’s version of getting the ball to their playmakers in space is running mesh routes with slot receivers or running Parris Campbell on a jet sweep. Michigan’s? Throwing a screen to a 6’5″, 250 lb. guy who’ll be lucky to run a 4.9 at his pro day. This isn’t a call to change the offense entirely, but you can work some of these philosophies into a pro-style offense. Michigan went the whole way while handing off the ball to a) the deep back or b) the off-set back. No fullback traps, no fullback dives (except on the goal line from the Dead T), no jet sweeps, etc.
The defense was handled. There was zero pass rush, and Ohio State just kept going back to the well over and over again. That’s one thing I respect about Urban Meyer’s coaching. When something is working for him, he goes back to it again and again and again and again and again until you figure out a way to stop it. The Buckeyes were working mesh non-stop, and even before Michigan figured it out, they started running “mesh return,” which really flummoxed the guys in man coverage. They were chasing the crossing routes full speed only to have the receiver sink his hips and head back to where he started. The defense had zero sacks and didn’t even put noticeable pressure on Haskins. Other than largely stopping the run (until the game got out of hand), the Buckeyes had their way with the defense. In all honest, Haskins had a couple wide open players running deep that he barely missed, which could have turned this game into an even bigger blowout.
Defensive line hot take time. I was caught up in it just like everyone else, but Rashan Gary’s placement as the #1 recruit in the 2016 class was too high. Strongside end, defensive tackle, whatever, if I told you in 2016 that the #1 recruit in the country was a defensive end who would amass 10.5 sacks in a three-year career (with one game left), including 3.5 as a senior, you would have been disappointed. Nick Bosa had 17.5 career sacks and only played in three games as a junior. And it’s not like Gary was by himself – he had guys like Taco Charlton, Chris Wormley, Chase Winovich, and Maurice Hurst taking attention away from him. Speaking of Hurst, I mentioned this in the preview this week, but the lack of production from Michigan’s defensive tackles this year has been very damaging. Michigan couldn’t get any pressure in Haskins’s face, and they’re certainly not making plays in the running game. I have a great deal of respect for Greg Mattison as a coach, but this season was not his best example of development.
Brandon Watson is S-L-O-W. I have been concerned for a couple years about Brandon Watson’s lack of speed, but virtually no one was able to take advantage of him until Ohio State. And by “take advantage,” I mean torch him and expose him to the whole country. The problem is that Michigan had no one else except Ambry Thomas, who hasn’t developed into a full-fledged cornerback yet. So it was Watson’s game, whether he was getting torched or not. The Buckeyes ran crossing routes away from him, and he couldn’t keep up.
Stop chasing points. I have no idea why Michigan started going for 2-point conversions so early in the game. It was stupid and desperate. I was very disappointed that the team was out-coached on so many levels. That’s not a phrase I use frequently, either. But I think it’s appropriate this time.
This is frustrating. Of course Ohio State is better than Purdue and more than one point better than Maryland and so on. But this 2018 team is Michigan’s best squad in a long time, and the Wolverines can’t even stumble into a victory. The only time Michigan has won in the last fifteen years was Luke Fickell’s interim year of 2011 at the Big House. Ohio State is good, but lesser teams trip up the Buckeyes more often than the Wolverines have been able to in the last decade and a half. Naturally, the Buckeyes played their best game of the year against Michigan, and Michigan played one of their worst.
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