Ladies and gentlemen of UMTailgate.com, may I introduce to you my associate, compadre and friend, Adam Liberman, Public Relations Master of one of the premiere sports franchises in Major League Baseball. He is a graduate of Ohio University and an ardent tOSU fan...which actually makes the conversations that have transpired between us over the last month acceptable because at least he's not a graduate! Earlier today Adam agreed to participate in a little Michigan/Ohio State Q and A. I have added some previous conversations to try and add some context to Wednesday's conversation...
Sent: Tuesday, October 17, 2006 3:02 PM
Hammer: Are you just burning up inside right now?! I went to the Vanderbilt game and the Wisconsin game and I just booked my flight this weekend to Detroit
AL: I am getting quite pumped for a possible undefeated showdown. People's heads will just explode if it comes to fruition. Now that Michigan State is past, it is smooth sailing for OSU. Love the fact the game will be in Columbus and that Tressel/Carr factor.
TH: I'm out of control over here. I've essentially been like this since the beginning of the season (although that's usually the case). It just rarely happens to play out the way we hope. I'm still working on tickets...I'm not sure what to do. I had credentials in 2000 when Henson scored on a naked boot leg to seal the deal but that was my only trip to Columbus and it was a much more peaceful time there (Cooper's last game). I can't imagine what it will be like this year. Are you going?
AL: I was at Cooper's actual last game at the Outback Bowl that year. So sad. Two alumni friends have entered the OSU lottery to be able to buy tickets and I'm seeing what may come my way...This year will be nuts. I last went in 2002 when they won to go to the National Title game and that was insane. Best game/atmosphere I have ever been to in any sport.
Sent: Monday, November 06, 2006 3:50 PM
AL: Your boys almost blew it last weekend! Find your way into tickets yet?
TH: Easy Juice Williams. I don't think I'm going to venture down there...I was planning on driving out to Chicago to watch the game but my buddy is convinced that he is going to drive me to Columbus with him as he has not missed a game since the '98 season.
Sent: Tue Nov 14 17:49:47 2006
TH: So I might have a ticket...
AL: Yeah?! I'm freaking out. I'm so ridiculously pumped. My parents said the coverage in Ohio right now is insane. How much on the ducat?
Sent: Wed Nov 15 00:18:49 2006
TH: Out bid by 25 dollars. Winning bid was 1034.99 for a pair in the Michigan section. I'm actually in Ann Arbor right now and am going to drive to Chicago to watch it with a bunch of my boys..
AL: It's nuts (no pun) up there, I bet?
TH: Calm before the storm. But obviously everyone is talking about it. To be honest I feel pretty good about our chances...
AL: Prediction for you yet?
TH: The score is something of a mystery for me. I can see Mike Hart getting 35-40 carries and having success on the ground. I really believe we will have success on offense but am not sure exactly what my expectations of said success are...150 yards from Hart? 3 touchdown passes from Henne? Not turning the ball over? I think the first two are quite possible.
Defensively I think I have to come to grips with OSU getting scores on at least two or three big plays from Smith, Ginn and Tressel. With that being said I'm thinking 31-21? I believe we'll win by two scores. I used to have a quiet confidence about Michigan football but these types of years don't come around too often. In fact I may never see a team as talented as this one ever again. This defense is superior to our '97 team and the offense is full of playmakers. I like the fact that Tressel is 4-1 against us as well. Extra motivation can't hurt.
AL: I can't explain it, but I REALLY believe in Troy Smith. That's what my head keeps coming back to. What can Michigan do that he hasn't seen?
TH: I don't mean this in a condescending way but have you seen our team play this year? I'm telling youâ€¦our defense is sick. Now, I'd be crazy to think that we could stop Troy Smith but to even think OSU will score more than 24 points to me is crazy. Itâ€™s just on our offense to put up 27 or more.
AL: Care to make a wager?!
TH: You know I was trying to think of something creative that we could come up with that would be respectable and also somewhat enjoyable...rather than 50 bucks or wearing the victors (no pun intended...) school colors. And seeing as I actually went to Michigan it wouldn't have the same impact no matter how deep rooted your ties are to tOSU. I just haven't really put my finger on what it could be. I say we think about some options and come up with something by Thursday.
AL: Sounds good. I should be in the NYC in December around New Year's time if that helps for ideas.
TH: You mean you aren't going to go to the Rose Bowl? On a serious note, Troy Smith scares me. Even with the defense we have I'm not so sure it's going to help us contain him. What team if any did the best in slowing down your offense and what can Michigan do defensively to give it's self the best chance?
AL: The best defense against Ohio State this season has been the weather. The monsoon-like conditions against Penn State, not to mention that terrible field at Ohio Stadium, neutralized the offense. They also had some issues with the 30+ mph winds at Illinois. Illinois played really hard defensively in that game, but I was left wondering if the ultra-conservative play-calling in the second half (20 runs, 10 passes) was the main reason for the goose egg. Other than those two instances, the Big Ten teams have failed to stop Troy & Co. Texas did an OK job, but the balance that OSU has is tough on anyone.
Michigan's defense is the first real monster OSU has faced this season and they will make an impact. I don't doubt they will get to Troy a few times and cause problems for Pittman and the ground game. The question is how often can they disrupt OSU's offense? They have just about everything an offense would need to be unstoppable: solid RBs, a stud downfield WR, a super possession WR and a fifth-year senior QB with cannon arm who can run. If they execute perfectly or UM can't keep them out of rhythm it could be trouble for UM.
Remember, OSU is the first team UM has faced that can match talent. ND isn't there yet. So, I think UM's defense will be effective (they are too good not to be), but I don't think they'll dominate like they have been. UM needs to be able to get a pass rush with their front four. Must. That will allow them to double Ginn and shift coverage to Gonzalez, who's Troy's go-to guy when the going gets tough. If Michigan has to bring extra guys to get pressure on Troy, they are in big trouble. The other thing is Hart and the Michigan offense must take time off the clock and the punting game needs to make OSU go long distances to scoreâ€¦
Here's your question:
I think many Buckeye fans are very comfortable with Troy Smith, especially given his history in big games. Are Michigan fans confident in Chad Henne in the "big" games and how has he grown in the last 12 months to make you feel good with him going into Columbus?
TH: Well if you've seen Chad Henne play this year you would realize that he is one of the five best quaterbacks in the game of college football. He throws laser guided missiles and to be honest, I'm not even sure if laser guided missiles are as accurate as Chad can be most of the time. He has however at times shown a propensity to leave the pocket when things break down and that has gotten him into some trouble when he decides to gain yardage with his feet, however I have confidence in him if he decides to throw on the run. If you saw the touchdown pass he threw to Adrian Arrington in the first quarter against Indiana or the game he had IN South Bend or the needles he has constantly threaded throughout the season this wouldn't be the area in which Michigan fans would have concern. Troy Smith is a much bigger concern to the Michigan fan rather than the possible ineptitude of Chad Henne which has been almost non-existent this year. I would however question whether the right side of our offensive line can hold up in pass protection. Which leads me to my next question...How good is Quinn Pitcock and should I fear the potential disruptive nation of the Ohio State front seven? You had mentioned that you thought Ohio State would sell out to stop the run...Every team we've faced this year has attempted this strategy and have failed miserably by getting torched with the deep pass. Will your defensive back field be able to cover Michigan receivers if asked to play man to man in an attempt to stop the run?
AL: I think this is a case where the comparable talent comes into play. The young Buckeye secondary now is experienced. They are also super fast. I had read about these guys last summer when trying to find nine new starters, but to see them is really something. In a year or two, it may be the best OSU secondary ever. But...they aren't there yet.
OSU will try to stay fresh on the D-Line with their regular rotation of as many as seven or more playing regularly. I think they try to stop the run without sending extra guys in the box, but don't blitz too hard. Make Michigan be patient and have to grind out drives. Giving up the 7-10 yard pass here and there and a 5-7 yard run here and there, but make UM go on long drives.
OSU is tied for the national lead in interceptions and the pass defense is improved over 2005 (those LBs were better vs the run). I think they play to that strength.
As for Pitcock, he's real good. Hard effort guy who plays run and pass well. If your center or guard are caught sleeping, he'll catch them. But he's not any better than those top UM guys like Branch, Woodley, etc.
My question for you, does Manningham really make as much of a difference as many are saying? Breaston is fast and can stretch the field just as far and Michigan always has a guy like Mario. Does it really change how one should approach UM? is he 100%? I have no doubt he'll one day be great on the read route and underneath stuff, but is he there yet?
TH: By saying Pitcock "isn't any better than" Branch or Woodley makes him out to sound that he is as good as those two. To give you a little perspective, most Michigan fans would tell you that Branch is the best lineman in the country and Woodley is one of the five best defensive ends in the country. Both seemingly destined to be drafted with the first 20 picks in the NFL draft next year, with Branch leaving a year early.
As for Breaston, he is our number three/four receiver. I would say freshman Greg Mathews is more reliable in the hands department but because Breaston still can impact a game he should be considered a threat. However, he is relied on for the WR screen and a deep out. Last week he scored his first (and second) touchdowns of the season and I had never seen him run the deep route so he isn't the guy you should focus on, although after last week it seems as though he's finally ready to step up this year. Adrian Arrington is our number two, really 1b. He and Manningham are as good a wide receiver duo as I've seen at Michigan. Toomer and Hayes, Terrell and Walker, Edwards and Avant. In fact Manningham might wind up being a better over all receiver than Edwards but I'm not sure he is as fast as he was before his injury. Just the fact that he played significant minutes last week means enough to our offense and to the game planning of the opposing defense that I expect our passing game to be efficient and effective. Manningham before he got injured had 9 of his 24 catches go for touchdowns. He is a very legitimate big play, deep ball threat. With that being said give me your keys to victory for Ohio State and your level of confidence in their victory out of 10.
AL: I think Pitcock is one of the five best defensive tackles and a first-round pick. So, pretty good.
Stop the run
Establish the 15-20 yd passing game early
Solid special teams
I'm about a 7-7.5 out of 10 in confidence and that's mainly because of Smith. He is amazing. I've never trusted a college QB as much. He just makes plays and avoids disasters. The other big reason is that it is at home.
TH: That's the type of sentence I was looking for in describing Pitcock. I think he's just now getting his due. What potential areas about your team cause you the most fear and if Michigan is able to exploit would have a chance to win...assuming there is such an area?
AL: OSU had two problems with extra points last week, so obviously eyes will be on that.
The Bucks can be moved on with screens and quick hitches. Especially if the UM running game is on the ball. Offensively, I have no worry other than turnovers. Defensively, they need to prove they can stop the run without bringing up extra guys and living dangerously on the outside.
TH: Thanks Adam! Good talk and good luck!