A Michigan fan and an Ohio State fan debate Saturday's big game.

The stadium scene.
Nov. 16 2006 12:53 PM

Mutual Contempt

A Michigan fan and an Ohio State fan explain why they hate each other and who's going to win Saturday's big game.

(Continued from Page 2)

Jonathan: Well, I see you're determined to play the role of Neanderthal Buckeye fan to the hilt, right down to the tenuous grasp of historical facts. So, my knuckle-dragging friend, I'll happily straighten you out on a couple points.

Usually it's the historically aggrieved party that nurses an obsession about an ancient conflict. But Ohio won the Toledo War. You have no reason to hate us, considering that you took a sliver of our land. And we don't hate you for seizing Toledo from us, either. Frankly, Toledo isn't exactly Paris.

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Second, Woody Hayes already had 50 points when he went for two in 1968. The conversion failed. But the poor sportsmanship did help inspire Michigan to upset the massively favored, No. 1 Buckeyes the following year. Thus was established the great Buckeye tradition of massive overconfidence.

Which brings us to Saturday's game. On the surface, Ohio State is a far better team than Michigan. Michigan outscores its opponents by an average of 29-12, which is good, but OSU outscores its opponents by an average of 36-8, which is staggering. We've been beating up on teams. You've been annihilating them.

But I think the matchup is actually much closer than it seems, for a couple of reasons. First, Michigan has played a slightly tougher schedule: Our opponents have a 63-55 record, while OSU's are 55-63. Second, Michigan's offensive coaches are notorious for shutting things down after getting a lead, making our statistics suffer. Through the first three quarters, OSU has scored just one point per game more than Michigan. The massive differential in fourth-quarter scoring accounts for most of OSU's higher total. Yet there's only one game Michigan has played all year in which we've made any effort to score in the fourth quarter.

Third, Ohio State's defense is not as good as it appears. Even though Ohio State surrenders 30 yards more per game than Michigan, it gives up four fewer points. Why? Turnovers. Specifically, the Buckeyes are insanely good at making interceptions, with 21 on the year. Indeed, many of Ohio State's opponents moved the ball quite easily against them, only to give up the ball when they neared the goal line. Football-stats geeks note that turnovers are more a function of the offensive team than the defense. Great defenses are somewhat more prone to creating them, but the offense you're playing against has more to do with it. You can't count on the opponent marching down the field and throwing a bad pass or fumbling time after time.

Turnovers and Ohio State's fantastic offense have covered up a fairly glaring weakness: run defense. In the Texas, Northern Illinois, Penn State, and Iowa games, opposing tailbacks averaged nearly six yards a carry against Ohio State. Now, OSU hasn't played a lot of decent running teams, and they've jumped ahead of most of their foes, so that weakness hasn't hurt them very badly. It may well on Saturday.

Ohio State, as I said, has a legitimately great offense. But Michigan's defense is perhaps even stronger. In particular, the run defense is off the charts. Ohio State's fantastic 2005 defense allowed 73 rushing yards a game, leading the country. The best run defense of the last few years was the 2003 Southern Cal's, which allowed 60 yards a game. This year, Michigan allows 30 rushing yards a contest.

I don't see Ohio State running for any sustained yardage, and they'll be forced to throw. Of course, OSU is very good at throwing the ball, but Michigan has a strong pass defense as well. (Both teams actually give up the same yards per pass attempt: 5.5. OSU has twice as many interceptions, but as I said, you can't count on that continuing.)

Buckeye fans are probably counting on Troy Smith, a shoo-in for the Heisman at this point, working the same magic he used on Michigan the last two times he faced us. Don't count on it. The Wolverines' last defensive coordinator, who peed down the side of his leg every time he faced a mobile quarterback and whose name I cursed every morning when I awoke and every night when I went to bed, is finally gone. Our new coordinator plays a far more aggressive style.

Ohio State is considerably better at passing than Michigan (8.6 yards per attempt versus 7.7). On the other hand, Michigan will probably have a better running game than Ohio State on Saturday. That means we'll have the element of surprise on our side when we pass, and we'll be able to catch the Buckeye defense off guard. OSU will probably have the run taken away and have to pass against a defense that's expecting it. That should mitigate any advantage they might have through the air.

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