Sunday, December 31, 2006

Rose Bowl Preview

The Series

  • Record: 4-5-0 (USC leads)
  • Since '69: 1-5-0
  • First Meeting: 49-0, Michigan, 1/1/1948, Rose Bowl, Pasadena, CA
  • Last Meeting: 14-28, USC, 1/1/2004, Rose Bowl
  • USC
    • Most Points: 14-28, USC, 1/1/2004, Rose Bowl
    • Since '69: Same
    • Biggest Margin of Victory: Same
    • Since '69: Same
    • Biggest Shutout: N/A
    • Since '69: N/A
  • Michigan
    • Most Points: 49-0, Michigan, 1/1/1948, Rose Bowl
    • Since '69: 22-14, Michigan, 1/2/1989, Rose Bowl
    • Biggest Margin of Victory: 49-0, Michigan, 1/1/1948, Rose Bowl
    • Since '69: 22-14, Michigan, 1/2/1989, Rose Bowl
    • Biggest Shutout: 49-0, Michigan, 1/1/1948, Rose Bowl
    • Since '69: N/A

I'm sitting in a hotel room in Los Angeles, trying to tease out some semblance of a preview from just looking at the statistics of these two teams, and I don't think there's enough of a difference to make a convincing case.  USC's offense scores 30.3 ppg; ours does 30.2.  Their defense gives up 14.9 ppg; ours yields 14.6.  The numbers on offense and defense are also comparable, and I don't think you can say that this year the Pac-10 was significantly weaker than the Big Ten.  Factor in the non-conference competition they faced, and you can see why a 1-loss USC team seemed to have paved the road to Glendale in Trojans.

Look at the numbers for USC and compare them to Michigan's.  They're shockingly similar in a lot of ways when you look at the per-play numbers.  Our rush defense, like usual, stands out like a beacon, but that's about it.

It looks like this'll be a game that comes down to individual match-ups, preparation, and coaching ("Name three things I suck at previewing...").  

Michigan's rush D is OMG!SHIRTLESS.  It can stand up and be counted on.  OSU hurt it most by taking away support at the second level.  Unless USC comes out 5-wide and starts really punishing the secondary, we should be able to avoid the sort of crippling long runs OSU made against us.  Chauncey Washington looks to be the sort of grinding back that Michigan's been able to contain all year.  CJ Gable and Emmanuel Moody have more speed, but they probably won't be carrying the bulk of the load.

John David Booty doesn't like to get hit.  Also, the sky is blue, Earth orbits the sun, and fire is hot.  There aren't a lot of quarterbacks out there who want to stand in the pocket and get pounded, so they tend to get rattled when pressure gets there consistently.  Unlike Troy Smith, Booty isn't a mobile quarterback.  Among quarterbacks Michigan has seen this year, he's probably most like Brady Quinn, honestly.  The good thing for him is that he has an offensive line.  The bad news is that they haven't seen anything like Michigan's front seven.  Thanks to Brian's remarkable breakdown, you can see that UCLA's speed-rushing around the tackles got them that pressure, at least early in the game.  That sounds like Crable and Woodley to me.

If Booty doesn't get rattled, he can be a terrific quarterback, and he has a deep receiving corps to work with.  None of them are burners like Ted Ginn, Jr., but they're good athletes with size and hands.  Steve Smith leads the team in receptions and yards, and the thinks he'll be able to have a good day against Morgan Trent.  Leon Hall will likely draw Dwayne Jarrett, who bears a resemblance to the towering James Hardy of Indiana.  Jarrett's missed some time due to injury, otherwise he'd likely lead the team.  This is where USC probably has their biggest advantage.  We can help ourselves out here by doing that pass-rush thing.  Willis Barringer and Prescott Burgess are both healthy again, so that should also improve our chances.

On the other end of the ball, Michigan should open up the playbook like they did for Notre Dame and OSU.  None of the run-it-into-the-ground stubbornness from the games against lesser competition.  USC is a solid defensive team in both the run game and the secondary.  Hart should find some room to run, and should find a bit more if Henne can deliver the ball effectively.  USC likes to play a lot of zone, apparently, so there should be some holes in there for Breaston, Arrington, and Ecker.  USC simply doesn't give up long touchdowns through the air, but they haven't seen Manningham (with an extra month and a half to heal that knee, I might add).  

This game could get down to a field-position battle.  Neither team punts or kicks off particularly well.  USC's kicker, Mario Danelo, has been excellent.  He's 13/14 with a long of 44 yards.  Rivas has been solid as well, with a long of 48 yards on 16/19.  Two of his misses are from more than 40 yards out.  Gable's kick returns average a bit longer than Breaston's have been, but Steve has a 64-yard one that CJ can't match.

So, after all that? I have no idea how this one will play out.  It's Michigan in the Rose Bowl against USC, so I'm inherently pessimistic.  But this team has wildly exceeded my expectations all year long, only falling short to the #1 team in the country by three points on the road in the most hostile stadium in America.  24-21, Michigan.

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