What we learned last week: Ohio State needs a lot of help in a lot of areas, and some of it probably isn’t coming (especially in the light of Monday’s news).
The Buckeyes are too young at quarterback, too young at wide receiver, inconsistent on the offensive line and rudderless when it comes to scheme.
The defense is good but not ready to be great yet, and it’s probably not going to get great fast enough to save a season that could spin out of control by the time we reach Halloween thanks to a daunting schedule.
Perhaps I’m overreacting, but as we were writing and copy editing the print edition of Buckeye Sports Bulletin on Sunday, I kept having to remind myself the final score was 10-7 because it felt like 100-7.
I want to give the Michigan State defense some credit, but I think it got a lot of help from Ohio State’s personnel and its coaching staff in maintaining a lofty statistical ranking I wasn’t sure it had really earned through the first month of the season. The Spartans do have a good group on that side of the ball, but their play was accelerated by a complete lack of having to think about what it was doing. That must have been some of the most fun a lot of those guys in green and white have had on a football field because the Buckeyes made for easy pickings.
Not only was Ohio State’s plan lacking, its adjustments were baffling. Or, I guess I should say its lack thereof. I understand there are only so many ways to plan that accommodate the shortcomings of a freshman quarterback with unreliable receivers, but there are supplements to the play calls that a junior high team could learn and execute.
What we can expect to learn this week: About the heart of the players and the courage of the coaches.
Nebraska is reeling from an embarrassing loss of its own, but the Cornhuskers must be looking at their visit from Ohio State as a good chance to get well. All is far from lost for the Big Ten’s newest member, which can take comfort in the fact it has no juggernauts to go through to earn a rematch with Wisconsin in the inaugural Big Ten football championship game.
Taylor Martinez presents an interesting next opponent for the Buckeyes in that like Braxton Miller, he knows something about struggling in the passing game early in his career. He represents both how things can be better and worse from an Ohio State perspective. Martinez is older but still looks pretty out of sorts when asked to make things happen with his arm. He is faster than Miller in terms of straight line speed, but he has nowhere near the natural arm talent the Buckeyes’ signal caller is blessed with.
Martinez appears to get a lot more help from the guys in the booth, however. Despite his limitations, he is in an offense that is designed to take advantage of his strengths. That doesn’t mean they are always available, but there seems to be an actual plan for various situations even if he cannot execute all of them.
I’m not sure that is the case with Ohio State. They don’t seem to know where to begin to start using Braxton Miller – or Joe Bauserman, for that matter.
The Ohio State staff needs to challenge the players it has to execute a full game plan, not put in half of a basic game plan and hope for the best.
In the past, this program has avoided the significantly down season that has befallen basically every other perennial top 10 team by almost always avoiding asking players to do things they can’t do. That was something that made Jim Tressel unique among the big-time coaches. Sometimes it galled those who found him too conservative, but he knew how to press the right buttons more often than not. That probably suppressed some of the potential highs but it definitely avoided a lot of lows, and I think the overall result was one most people were happy with when each season was over and another Big Ten trophy was in the case at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center even if they were nervous more often than they would have liked to have been at times along the way.
Now they seem to have gone too far in that direction, though. The drive to avoid mistakes has removed almost any chance of success, too. A fear of failure overshadowed a desire for success last week, and it threatens to suck the whole season into oblivion if that continues.
Kids are resilient. I don’t think they’ll be down for long, nor will they spend too much time feeling sorry for themselves. They do have some talent, even if a lot of it is young, probably too young. But they need direction and guidance, both from on the sideline and within the huddle.
Where will that come from? Will it come from anyone? That’s the biggest question facing the Buckeyes now as they stare mortality in the face with more than half a season yet to go.
I said before the season they could be 3-3 on Oct. 9 and all would not be lost, but there is a lot that has to be taken care of before the second half of that statement can be proven true.
In the past they have had strong personalities to lead them through adversity, from Craig Krenzel and Mike Doss to Troy Smith and A.J. Hawk to James Laurinaitis and Malcolm Jenkins to Kurt Coleman and Jermale Hines and even Terelle Pryor. Whether they were getting guys to fall into line behind them or dragging them along with their natural ability, those guys got the job done. They overcame adversity no matter where it came from.
But those guys also never faced this much sheer trouble all at once, and they were never so young when they had to do it.
All-Buckeye Beater Nominees: No shortage of candidates this week, eh?
Let’s start with B.J. Cunningham, who one has to think has a spot locked up when we go back to look at who played the best against the Buckeyes. Nine catches, 154 yards and a tone-setting touchdown will do that for a man. I’m leaving off quarterback Kirk Cousins because he may have done more to hurt his team’s chances to win than he did help them by turning the ball over three times, but nearly the whole defense gets consideration. That includes defensive linemen Jerel Worthy, William Gholston and Marcus Rush, linebackers Max Bullough and Chris Norman, safety Isaiah Lewis and cornerbacks Darqueze Dennard and Johnny Adams. Before the game I wondered if the young Spartan stop troops were for real, and while I think Ohio State did itself few favors with its game plan, the visitors were up to the task of shutting the Buckeyes down.
DVR Directions: If you want to take a look at a couple of teams Ohio State should be able to beat, check out Minnesota-Purdue at noon on ESPN, but the best early game should be Oklahoma-Texas on ABC.
For scouting next week, the Buckeyes’ next opponent, Illinois plays at Indiana on Big Ten Network at the odd starting time of 2:30 p.m.
While you’re waiting for the Buckeyes and Cornhuskers to kick things off at 8, stick with BTN for an hour of what should be an entertaining Michigan-Northwestern game.
Big Ten Picks: After a 4-0 start to the season, there’s nowhere to go but down, eh? Purdue should bounce back form its loss against Notre Dame to handle the reeling Golden Gophers, but the Michigan-Northwestern game is somewhat of a tossup. I went with the Wildcats to start the season, so I will stick with that pick. The bloom has to come off Michigan at some point. Illinois should trounce Indiana, and Iowa will go into Penn State and claim another victory.
Check the Buckeye Sports Bulletin online newsletter Friday for my pick on the OSU-Nebraska game.
Cus Words Power Poll
- Michigan State
- Ohio State
- Penn State
Everyone is looking up at the Badgers, obviously, who are better on offense than I thought they would be thanks to star quarterback Russell Wilson and an offensive line that hasn’t missed a beat from last year’s studly unit.
The Spartans are a work in progress, but they will be hard-pressed to improve to the point they can knock off the Badgers unless Cousins can cut out the turnovers. Can’t count out Illinois until someone gives us a reason to, and Nebraska is somewhat of a mystery right now.
I’m curious to find out just how good Iowa is as the season wears on, and the same can be said of Michigan.