The first two weeks of the Ohio State football season served as a reminder there’s a difference between living and living well, as George Strait told us so many years ago. But when all is said and done, all that matters is getting the win in the absurdly zero-sum world of college football. There is always next week to worry about what you did wrong, and the Buckeyes will need to do just that before heading to Miami (Fla.) for a Saturday night showdown.
What we learned last week: I think a variety of things caught up with Ohio State when the Buckeyes took on Toledo last week.
Although none of the players would say it in the post-game interview room, attrition surely was a factor in the too-close-for-comfort 27-22 win over the Rockets.
Some of those missing pieces were, well, missed at various times. That’s especially true on defense, where eight starters from last season were missing once Nathan Williams was declared out for the game. The No. 1 replacement at cornerback was out as well.
Yet I think the defense was not bad overall outside of a couple of big plays on the two Toledo touchdown drives. Eric Page and Adonis Thomas accounted for 1/3rd of the Rockets’ yards on two plays.
I saw three overriding problems: The offensive line didn’t sustain a lot of blocks, the defensive back seven didn’t come off enough blocks and the quarterback couldn’t figure out when to go for the big play. The alternative of the latter could be far worse, but let’s leave that one aside for now.
The first two should be fixable and may have been temporary lapses anyway. I don’t want to get in the habit of making excuses, but I wouldn’t be surprised if some there was some kind of an emotional letdown last week. It’s only natural.
Blocking, tackling and defeating blocks can all be greatly affected by effort and emotion, and I thought all week leading up to the Toledo game the Buckeyes were primed for a letdown. It wasn’t the opener. It wasn’t Miami, and it wasn’t a Big Ten team. Oh, and by the way, spending a night watching the Hurricanes on national TV before they even had to start thinking critically about Toledo probably did not help focus during the week.
The Buckeyes didn’t look flat, per se, but they certainly weren’t as sharp as a week before when an entire offseason’s worth of emotions were unleashed on an Akron team that is almost certainly one of the worst in the country.
What does that mean? Well it means this young group needs to grow up and cut it out if they want to have the type of season Ohio State is used to. While that’s certainly possible, now we all have a better idea of what kind of abyss could await if the team doesn’t mind its Ps and Qs. This team is talented but not so much so that it can just roll the helmets out there and daydream about September trips to Florida, which is where they will be headed at bowl season, too, if they continue to block and tackle like they did against the Rockets.
Learning experiences are a part of life and football, and the best thing to do with these wishy-washy September games is be thankful when they go down in the ‘W’ column and move on with the idea some of the things done wrong can’t become habit before more serious things are on the line.
What we can expect to learn this week: Maybe we’ll find out what the Ohio State coaches think their offense does well.
After watching the game plan against Toledo unfold, we can safely conclude Jim Tressel was not solely at fault for crafting game plans more focused on the opponent than the Buckeyes.
I found it strange they seemed so insistent upon running laterally with those end-arounds and tosses against a smaller defense. I was impressed with the way the Toledo linebackers recognized plays and pursued, but I think Ohio State played into their hands to a certain extent considering their available and healthy running backs are more battering rams than ballerinas. And when the Buckeyes did try to get powerful, they relied too much on the “power” play (a.k.a. “Dave”) as opposed to the isos and lead zones that worked so well against the Zips. Both Carlos Hyde and Rod Smith (who again looked tentative and uncomfortable when he got the ball) are big, shifty backs who look better suited to read a block and run to daylight than to wait for the power play to develop with the pulling guard getting to the hole to blow it open.
Toledo sometimes put an extra defender in the box, but that did not look like the biggest reason the running game struggled. It seemed to have more to do with the Rockets quick front beating the blockers to a spot and mucking things up while at the same time Hyde and Smith were getting started without much of a head of steam. Some members of the offensive line looked to be on different pages a few times as well.
I think the isos and lead plays (of which there were a few but not enough) better lend themselves to play action, too. Joe Bauserman’s fakes were nothing to write home about throughout the day against Toledo, but he’s going to need to affect some eyeballs downfield this week against a far more physically gifted Miami defense.
I guess we’ll also find out what types of pass plays he can execute. Toledo played a lot of coverage and took away a lot of the throws Bauserman was hitting with ease and confidence in the opener. Could his week one success have been a result of simply taking advantage of bad defense? That may well be the case. It’s better to be too safe than too reckless, but a good offense needs a quarterback who knows how to toe that line. It’s really the No. 1 thing that separates the wheat from the chaff, and through four years of open practices and scrimmages, I have never been convinced Bauserman can make those types of decisions in a positive way over the long haul. He has the arm strength to fit the ball into tight places but his inconsistent release hurts his accuracy and reduces the margin for error. If he’s going to airmail a couple or more every week, he really has to know when to hold’em and when to fold’em or the big jackpot hands will be too few and far between. In that case, the Buckeyes will scratch for points against even average defenses.
All-Buckeye Beater Nominees: Eric Page is, of course, a given. He accounted for 14 points, not only catching a pair of touchdown passes but also throwing for a two-point conversion on a play the Buckeyes had covered initially but he kept alive until a teammate was able to get open.
Running back Adonis Thomas (158 yards from scrimmage, one TD) will garner some consideration when it comes time to pick the players who played the Buckeyes toughest, and John Morookian stood out on the offensive line.
Defensively I was most impressed with linemen Malcolm Riley and Johnathan Lamb, linebackers Terrell Anderson and Charles Rancifer and of course cornerback Taikwon Paige. Riley and Lamb were the most disruptive inside while Anderson and Rancifer ran well and wrapped up the Buckeye running backs. Paige broke up three passes, including one on a perfect throw by Bauserman that would have been a touchdown to Verlon Reed. Paige is a bit undersized but looks like a future pro.
DVR Directions: For scouting purposes, you’ll want to record Colorado at Colorado State at 3:30 p.m. if you get the appropriate Fox Sports Net affilaite. At the same time, the best game to watch live figures to be Michigan State at Notre Dame on NBC, where Spartan quarterback Kirk Cousins figures to light up a battered and broken Fighting Irish secondary. Those games have a history of being highly entertaining regardless of the quality of the teams. Warm up at noon by flipping back and forth between Penn State-Temple (ESPN2) and Pittsburgh-Iowa (ESPN).
Cus Words Big Ten Power Poll (last week):
- 1. Nebraska (1): Blackshirts gave up 444 yards; Martinez 345 yards, big play when team needed it despite some inconsistency.
- 2. Wisconsin (same): Another efficient day for QB Russell Wilson and the ground game, but how about a real opponent one of these days?
- 3. Michigan State (4): Made 27 first downs and allowed 1 against Florida Atlantic. Outgained Owls 434-48. When 44-0 score is third-most impressive number, you’ve done something right.
- 4. Ohio State (3): Youngsters going to have to grow up quickly.
- 5. Northwestern (7): Another good performance from fill-in QB Kain Colter for ‘Cats.
- 6. Michigan (8): Could go undefeated if every team left on schedule chokes like Notre Dame.
- 7. Illinois (9): It was only South Dakota State, but Fighting Illini piled 519 yards, allowed 96.
- 8. Iowa (5): Stop me if you’ve heard this one: Hawkeyes give up fourth quarter lead, eventually lose.
- 9. Penn State (6): Potentially respectable defense but quarterback is a black hole. Jones/McGloin combined 12 for 39, averaged 3.7 yards per attempt against Alabama.
- 10. Purdue (same) Has to be the first team ever to have first two games decided by blocked field goals.
- 11. Minnesota (same): Two-man show on offense impressive but not enough for Gophers.
- 12. Indiana (same) I guess losing by three to a bad BCS conference team beats losing to Ball State on a neutral field