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Q & A With Tom Orr on The Game
By The O-Zone Staff

Tom (The OZone): What do you expect out of Hart on Saturday?

Brian (mgoblog):This is more of a question about the offensive line than Hart. Hart will pick his holes well, dodge more than his fair share of tacklers, and get run down by the Buckeye linebackers if they’re unblocked. Too often this year the four yards he makes from nothing have merely prevented a four yard loss.

I don’t think Hart’s game, which relies on brilliant field vision, shifty moves, and surprising after-contact power, matches up well against the Buckeye defense and their active linebackers, but I didn’t think it matched up well against Penn State, either, and he had a very solid day against one of the nation’s best run defenses (23 for 108 and 4 catches for 40 against the #8 run D). Michigan’s favorite play for him is the draw, which minimizes the offensive line’s inability to move opponents out of holes or pull effectively and lets Hart’s vision and cutting come to the forefront. This was even effective against the Penn State front seven, which appears to be nearly OSU’s equal.

That does provide some hope, but realistically it’s going to be a tough slog for Hart and a lot of second and long. Hart was largely shut down last year by the same team behind the same offensive line. I think he’ll do better but I would be ecstatic with a 25 carry performance that just squeaks over the 100 yard barrier. I don’t expect it.

Tom (The OZone): What the heck do you think is wrong with Henne, and which one (Good Henne/Bad Henne) are we going to see this week?

Brian (mgoblog):Unfortunately I don’t think there’s a Good Henne/Bad Henne dichotomy any longer. There’s just Henne. He’s been effective when the opposing DBs are forced to play off and he can screen his opponents to death or hit Avant on slants and crossing routes, but he’s been wildly inaccurate for much of the year and has trouble finding receivers on a regular basis. He’s made a large number of inexplicably bad decisions—see the end of the Penn State game for reference—has missed enough open receivers to cost the team at least one game, and has been consistently inconsistent.

He still has a gun for an arm and has the ability to rifle the ball like the second coming of John Elway, though. And he’s got the wide receiver screen down pat. Expect more of the same from him this week. He’ll alternate brilliant throws that will make his NFL draft highlight reel with balls that sail yards off target. Loeffler was reputed to have spent the bye week(s) breaking down and reconstructing his throwing motion and he did look much better against Indiana, but we’ll have to see whether that takes or not.

Tom (The OZone): Who's the one player on that offense who you can least afford to lose?

Brian (mgoblog):Can I pick two? I can’t choose between Avant and Hart. I’ll go with Avant because I expect the running game to be unrepentantly mediocre against the Buckeye defense no matter who’s getting the carries. Avant provides critical reliability for a unit that has had a vast shortage of that quality all year. He has the ability to turn Henne’s inaccurate bullets into impossible first downs and has underrated burst after receiving the ball. He’s a terrific player who does not get nearly the credit he deserves. If Henne wasn’t bound and determined to throw it three yards wide of him whenever he gets open on a corner route in the endzone, he’d have Braylonesque statistics, though without the flair.

He also blocks like a mother (this week he hilariously claimed to be a better blocker than receiver, in which case he should replace Matt Lentz at RG), which is critical for the profusion of wide receiver screens that we’ve run all year. I don’t think there’s a more underrated player in the league.

Tom (The OZone): Where do Avant/Breaston/Manningham rank on the list of receiving units in the Big Ten?

Brian (mgoblog):High up there, but that’s partially because only OSU and maybe Iowa have excellent corps this year. I’d place them behind OSU. I’ve discussed Avant. Breaston’s proven that he’s not a tremendous downfield threat since he treats balls thrown over his shoulder like punts but he still has that ability to change direction like those motorcycles from Tron. Manningham is like a Breaston who can burn you deep but he doesn’t really know the routes yet—an interception in the Iowa game was clearly his fault and his playing time has been sparing despite his obvious ability. Collectively their numbers are not impressive, but they’ve done all they can. Henne’s missed a large number of open wide receivers this year.

They’re good. They can run after the catch and they’re a major reason that Michigan’s managed to putter through its schedule despite Henne’s disappointing year, but without Braylon they are missing the long ball in a major way. Other than Manningham’s 30-ish yard touchdown against Penn State Michigan has not completed anything that can be classified as a bomb all year, and that’s largely on the wideouts. They have their strengths but that’s their major drawback.

Tom (The OZone): What's going to run through your head when Troy Smith drops back to pass, doesn't see anyone open and tucks it to run? Panic? Confidence?

Brian (mgoblog):Compared to last year I’m much more confident—faint praise perhaps—but it’ll depend heavily on down and distance. Michigan’s implemented a delayed blitz scheme that has Michigan dropping eight momentarily and keeping David Harris as a spy on a lot the second and third and mediums that a scrambling quarterback can convert. That scheme has worked well. In those instances I welcome a Smith scramble because Harris has done a great job tracking opponents down this year and nothing good comes out of a quarterback throwing against a three-man rush.

If Michigan is not in this spy alignment, however, Smith will find success and I will curse the illegitimately gained first downs he’ll get just by improvising. I expect this will happen with some frequency, but since our safeties tend to do things like prevent 50 yard runs this year I won’t be terrified of a backbreaking giant gain. At least, I won’t until it happens a couple times.

Tom (The OZone): How is Michigan going to defend Holmes/Ginn/Gonzalez?

Brian (mgoblog):They’ll lay back. Michigan’s had some aggressive play from the corners this year but this has usually been against teams with sketchy downfield passing games and receivers that don’t have warp drive. Expect an unholy ton of zone coverages with some man mixed in. They won’t be aggressive enough for my tastes but they’ll attempt to get to the quarterback with just their defensive line. That doesn’t seem like a bad bet with Woodley, Branch, Woods, and Watson going up against what seems like a bit of a patchwork unit (one that could not handle Tamba Hali at all, for instance). Even though Alex Boone was a heavily hyped recruit, he’s still a true freshman with a major player opposite him. Michigan will have to exploit that matchup.

Another reason for the zone: to keep Smith’s scrambling in check. Expect to see a ton of it.

Tom (The OZone): If you were a Michigan coach, how much would you play John Thompson instead of Chris Graham this week?

Brian (mgoblog):Thompson would play on every down that seems to be a clear running situation and every time the Buckeyes line up in a conventional I-formation. Graham has been a disappointment this year. He can’t fight off blocks and has frequently taken the wrong hole or sat passively, waiting for the play (and the blocker) to come to him. The Iowa game was an eye opener: Albert Young gashed the Michigan defense with Graham on the field but when Thompson came on in the second half his effectiveness was greatly reduced. Thompson still missed some tackles, but even on those plays the difference between the two was apparent. Thompson would slip past a blocker and barely miss making a nice play, while Graham would wave an arm trying to fend off a blocker he can’t handle.

When the Buckeyes spread the field I would expect redshirt freshman nickelback Morgan Trent to come on in place of the third linebacker anyway. Graham may not play much at all.

Tom (The OZone): Your thoughts on kicking to Ginn/Holmes?

Brian (mgoblog):The same as your thoughts on kicking to Breaston: don’t. I think Michigan will do a much better job preventing opportunities in the return game than they did last year. The key is the new punter/kickoff guy Ross Ryan. Most of Ryan’s kickoffs get five yards into the endzone and only about a quarter of his punts are returned. Those few that are returned are not returned far: Michigan has halved the average yardage it yields per return. I’d be surprised to see Ohio State get more than a couple cracks at returning anything.

There’s a tradeoff there in that Ryan’s punts are usually quite short—don’t expect any 50 yard boomers—but I’ll take it after what happened last year.

Tom (The OZone): Take the scenario I laid out in my answers: Michigan is down 2 points in the final seconds, the wind is swirling and Garret Rivas is lining up for a potentially game-winning 44-yard field goal. How are you feeling?

Brian (mgoblog):Couldn’t it be 34 yards on a calm day? Obviously I’m panicking, as that’s right on the edge of his range and this year he’s shown that Hayden Epstein knack for missing field goals at the wrong time. That’s 50-50, maybe 60-40 in favor of Michigan. Thus I’m feeling like God owes me for injuring Mike Hart and will guide the field goal home.

Tom (The OZone): Finally, let’s hear it—what do you see happening on Saturday?

Brian (mgoblog): I also don't have a read on this game. It's hard to tell which Ohio State offense is the real Ohio State offense. I don't know if Hart and Long are healthy. I don't know if Henne's going to hit the open receivers he finds, or if he'll have time to find them.

But let's try anyway. When Michigan is on offense, I think our guards are going to get their butts kicked on a regular basis. The running game is not going to work very well, so Michigan will look elsewhere for moderate yards on first down. Expect a lot of wide receiver screens and misdirection plays like Michigan started breaking out against Northwestern and Indiana. I think Michigan will try to get the ball in Breaston, Bass, and Manningham's hands on a regular basis and see what happens. I don't think they'll be able to drive the field more than once or twice, but I think Michigan will get enough plays from their collection of fast guys to score about 20 points.

Defensively, Michigan won't give up the monster plays they did a year ago but it will be at the expense of aggressiveness. Blitzing will be infrequent. Michigan will rely on the defensive line to pressure Smith into mistakes and will task David Harris with spying on him. Lamarr Woodley and Alan Branch will have to win their matchups against the Ohio State tackles to prevent Holmes and Ginn from running downfield unfettered. I think that's the key matchup in the entire game. They'll do well but not well enough to shut down the Buckeyes entirely.

I think this one is going to be a nailbiter every step of the way. Rivas kicks a 44-yard field goal at the buzzer to win. I guide it in with my mind as I discover that I have telekinetic powers. Michigan 23-21. I levitate home.

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