The Game of Games
The Rose Bowl Michigan v. USC 5PM EST on ABC
It's here. Finally. Our long wait for meaningful football is over.
My apologies for the lack of posting leading up to today. However, as I'm currently typing this on a 3 dollar internet cardin Mexico, I'm sure you'll understand when I say there has been a whole lot of time to post. However, I've got Thirty minutes and a goofy Mexican keyboard to get you up to speed, so lets get to it. Forgive any spelling errors, I've gotta be quick.
Previewing the Big Game
Ivan Maisel take a hard look at the teams, what they've got, and what they've got to prove.
Brian breaks it down to the bone. Seriously. Everything.
Excellent stuff from Stadium and Main.
The Free Press Previews the Game.
Rosenberg takes a look at the subplots.
The Detroit News takes a long look too.
Go Blue Wolverine picks Michigan.
CSTV's experts pick a winner.
Battle of the Blogs II
CSTV was kind enough to invite me back to give a preview of the Michigan USC game. Specifically the offense. My last preview was, well, wrong. However, I'm fairly confident this one is a little more on point.
USC employs a very different front seven alignment than Michigan has seen all year. Specifically, they run a 3-4 defense with random and repeated blitzes from their very large, very fast linebacker quartet. From time to time USC will line up in a more tradititional 4-3 alignment with one of their faster LBs lining up outside as a DE.
The Michigan offense and USC defense match up pretty evenly. The x-factor, as it always is, is Steve Breaston, whom I expect to have his best game as a Wolverine. Anyway, below is a small preview of the matchup.
Michigan’s Offense v. USC’s Defense
If you’re lazy, let me save you the trouble of reading the rest of this column. Michigan’s Offense should score a heap of points on USC’s defense. I know this will come as a shocker, but I’ve got Michigan in the win column come the end of New Years Day.
For those of you thirsting for a little more football insight, allow me to elaborate.
Michigan’s Offensive Line v. USC’s Defensive Line
Both units are coming off somewhat sub-par showings in their rivalry games. Michigan’s O-Line allowed an uncharacteristic four sacks versus a talented and fast OSU defensive front. The majority of the pressure came from the place you least want it, straight up the middle. On the otherside, USC recorded three sacks against UCLA, but none of them came from their D-Line. Making matters worse, though USC held UCLA’s tailback to 55 yards they allowed their QB to rush for 72 and failed to pick him off a single time.
On Defense, USC brings its pressure with its Linebackers. Even so, don’t sleep on large scary man Lawrence Jackson who leads the Defensive line in sacks with 3.5. Unfortunately for USC he’s the only real presence over the football. The Trojan’s don’t possess a sun-blocking DT (e.g., One Mr. Quinton Peacock) capable of single handedly destroying Michigan’s game plan. Michigan’s interior line matches up well with USC and at the corners of the line, Jake Long is All-American caliber and Reuben Riley has been more than sufficient. While USC employs a different defensive scheme than Michigan has seen this year, Mike Hart is one of the best QB protectors in the college game and Michigan’s Line has proven it can handle the fast and furious as well as the gigantic and angry.
Despite USC’s speed and skill, Michigan’s Offensive line is the better unit. Against OSU, a very similar defensive unit in terms of skill and speed, Michigan ran for 165, threw for 267 yards, and racked up 39 points. USC is giving up close to 100 yards on the ground per game. Expect Michigan to exceed that number, and rack up 150+ on the ground between Hart, Minor, and Jackson. USC should get to Henne once or twice, but Michigan will control the line of scrimmage.
Michigan’s Running Attack v. USC’s Run Defense
This loosely translates into Mike Hart v. USC’s Line Backing corps. If there is a better power running back in the country than Hart, I haven’t seen him. Hart routinely turns two yard losses into five yard gains. Though he doesn’t have the break away speed of a Reggie Bush or a Chris Wells, Hart continually racks up hard runs of 15-25 yards. With that type of running Michigan’s offense eats up both yardage and time while keeping their opponent’s offense off the field. Further adding to already substantial Mike Hart lore is the fact that Hart has fumbled once in three years. Once. Hart ranks 7th in rushing yards nationally and has added 14 TD’s to his 1500 plus yards on the ground.
Waiting for him will be a cadre of talented, fast USC Linebackers. USC’s three top tacklers are their starting Linebacking corps. Rey Maualuga, Keith Rivers, and (porn name alert!) Dallas Sartz are all over 65 tackles on the year. Sartz leads the team in sacks with 6 and his compatriots have 2 a piece. Their most impressive effort this year was holding star running back and Mario Kart aficionado Marshawn Lynch to 91 yards on the ground on no TDs.
The unfortunate thing for USC is none of the offenses USC faced had either the Offensive line or the versatility of Michigan. Michigan’s possession of two legitimate deep threats, a stable of talented tight ends who can block, and freak of nature Steve Breaston, generally forces offenses to pick their poison. Michigan will run right at USC regardless of whether there is immediate success. If Michigan gains heavy yards early, especially behind OT Long and OG Kraus, they will pound those plays into the ground until they are stopped. If Michigan doesn’t have immediate success, they’ll run those plays anyway in order to set up the pass. Michigan’s size advantage at the line, the athleticism of their key blockers, and Mike Hart make stopping the Wolverine running game a tall order for anyone.
I expect Hart to have a banner day, around 150 yards and 2 TDs. Edge Michigan.
Michigan’s Passing Offense v. USC’s Pass Defense
This is where USC may have the advantage. One of the hardest things to keep sharp during a long layoff is a QB’s timing with his receivers at game speeds. Making that harder will be Thomas Terrell and the USC pass defense. Terrell is a bad, bad man. Starting all 12 games he leads the Trojans with 12 pass break ups, in addition to racking up 46 tackles and 2 interceptions. As USC’s top cover corner he’ll match up against Mario Manningham and attempt to keep the sophomore under wraps. This may be the best match up of the game when they pair off. This will leave Harris Carry matched up against Adrian Arrington. Where I rate the Manningham/Terrell match up as a push, Michigan has the advantage here. Arrington proved to be a top receiver during Manningham’s absence and his ability to make the tough catch over the DB has been a staple this year.
Safeties Taylor Mays and Kevin Ellison will patrol the back of the field and are sure tacklers with some ball hawking instincts. Mays leads the team with 3 INTs and Ellison has one to his credit.
The game will likely turn on Michigan’s short passing game. In looking at USC’s schedule, Chad Henne is the best QB USC will have faced this year. Further, despite his occasional stumble against lesser teams, Henne is the very definition of a big game QB. As a freshman against Texas in the Rose Bowl, Henne threw for 227 and 4 TDs. Against OSU he’s only thrown 2 INTs (both his freshman year) in three games. Henne is at his best when the pressure is on. The same can not be said for any of the QB’s USC has faced.
Tyler Ecker, thought to be Michigan’s best Tight End going into the season, is finally back from injuries and should play significant minutes. Backing him up is pass catching/notsomuchblocking sophomore sensation Carson Butler. Both Tight Ends have smooth hands and incredible wheels for guys over 6-3. Butler is the better pass catcher and can outrun most LBs. The LB/TE match up goes to Michigan, but barely.
The key to the game will be Steve Breaston. Playing in his third Rose Bowl, Breaston has seen nothing but heartache in his previous two. Dogged by a sensational freshman year he was unable to live up to, Breaston scampered through the 2004 Rose Bowl with a cast on his hand and tender hamstrings. This year he’s been both healthy and productive. Second only to Mike Hart in all purpose yards, Breaston led the Wolverines in receptions with 51 and total receiving yards. Of Breaston’s catches 51 catches, 33 went for first downs or touchdowns. Michigan has the advantage in the passing game, but only because of Breaston.
This is Steve’s Rose Bowl.