What we learned last week: There’s life in the old bear’s alma mater yet*.
The title of this post refers not only to the title of a George Strait song but also Ohio State’s game-winning approach to the 17-7 decision they claimed against Illinois on Saturday.
The Buckeyes can be dangerous when they put their mind to it, especially on defense. Illinois has bona fide threats at quarterback, running back and out wide. The offensive line is not bad, but it was dominated by the Ohio State defensive front.
Ohio State’s linebackers looked more active and sound this week, too, and the continued maturation of a secondary starting two sophomores, a redshirt freshman and a junior has to be an encouraging sign with the Buckeyes’ biggest test of the season next on the schedule.
We also learned about the value of tackling and breaking tackles, but we probably should have known about that already.
The biggest challenge for the 2011 Silver Bullets is mental. They can compete with a lot of people from a raw talent standpoint (we’ll find this out for certain in two weeks).
Ohio State running backs Boom Herron and Jordan Hall exploited a lot of only so-so holes and left more than a couple unblocked defenders grasping air, turning potential no-gainers into positive plays that kept the chains moving and the clock rolling.
Their creativity with the ball in their hands often made up for the lack of creativity from those calling the plays.
I understand the need to be conservative given the wind and the state of their freshman quarterback, but I think they overdid it again. I can’t shake the idea that in protecting Braxton Miller they are stunting his growth (as I referenced in my last post). Maybe I’m giving the kid too much credit for what he can do at this point in time, or maybe he was more gimpy than they let on, but I still believe he would be better if he had a longer leash. I never thought confidence was an issue for him – and they still talk about his unflappable demeanor now – but he seems uncomfortable with what he is looking at in the pocket, and I think part of that can be attributed to the limited situations in which he is allowed to do it. Time will tell.
Even if Miller (or perhaps the wide receivers) cannot handle anything more than they have asked of them, I continue to be mystified at the lack of versatility in the pro-style running game.
Certainly it will be interesting to see if any evolution takes place between now and the next time the Buckeyes take the field.
*That’s a Jack Nicklaus 1986 Master’s (check in around the 3:3o mark) reference probably only a handful of people – including Jeff Svoboda and Kyle Roland – will get, but I’m comfortable with that.
What we can expect to learn this week: With Ohio State given the week off, the focus shifts to East Lansing for a huge showdown between Wisconsin and Michigan State.
Buckeye fans who warmed up for their team’s win in Champaign last weekend with a noon viewing of Michigan State’s win over Michigan probably felt like they had seen that game before. The young Spartan front seven continued to prove it is for real as it ran roughshod over the Wolverine offensive line and terrorized quarterback Denard Robinson. They eventually knocked him out of the game, and for the second year in a row shut down the vaunted Michigan offense.
Michigan State was something of an enigma in the first month of the season, but I think the Spartans are for real now. The defense is young, but probably the most talented to inhabit East Lansing in quite some time. They are coached by a proven defensive mind, play hard and play sound. They also seem to have the secondary to really bring it with the front seven when they feel like it, as they did against Ohio State and Michigan.
Standing toe to toe with the Badgers figures to be an entirely new challenge, of course. While Wisconsin’s almost unbelievable statistics are certainly an indication of a talented group, they are a bit inflated by the weakness of the Badgers’ schedule to date.
It will be interesting to see how they respond to their first big boy opponent of the year, one that is willing to punch them in the mouth and see what happens.
The wild card in this game is the Michigan State offense. I’m still not sure what to make of that group. I love the running backs and wide receiver B.J. Cunningham, but I’m still not sold on the offensive line. MSU will also have to get a much better effort against the Badgers than it got against Ohio State from Kirk Cousins, the Spartans’ surprisingly erratic senior quarterback.
Pretty much the only thing at which Wisconsin has not excelled this season is forcing turnovers (at least until last week), and giving the ball to the Badgers would seem to make them pretty much invincible at this point.
I’ve seen some Ohio State fans talk about wanting to be the ones who end Wisconsin’s bid for a perfect season, but the better scenario has the Spartans knocking off the Badgers first. If that happens, Ohio State would be very close to controlling its own destiny in the divisional race by upsetting Wisconsin next week. The only other thing the Buckeyes would need is one more Illinois loss, and the Badgers will probably take care of that next month.
All-Buckeye Beater Nominees: Illinois linebacker Jonathan Brown was as good as advertised with 17 tackles, including 2.5 for loss and 1.5 sacks. The same can be said for Illini defensive ends Whitney Mercilus and Michael Buchanan, who combined for two more sacks.
Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase and wide receiver A.J. Jenkins both had moments they flashed their ability, but neither quite solved the OSU defense, so we are leaving them off the list.
DVR Directions: The Buckeyes are not playing so there’s no need to record anything this week. The best game of the week is the one that also happens to involve Ohio State’s next opponent, anyway. Save that hard drive space!
Big Ten Picks: Iowa has been a bit of an enigma so far this season, but I will take the Hawkeyes at home against Indiana. Look for Illinois to bounce back against Purdue, although that should be a close one. I think Ohio State exposed the Fighting Illini a little bit, but there is some real talent on that team, more than resides in West Lafayette.
Nebraska should enjoy its second straight off week, this one against hapless Minnesota, and I think Northwestern gets some revenge on Penn State for its second half collapse last season in what turned out to be Joe Paterno’s 400th win.
And what about the big nightcap? I would not be surprised to see the Spartans knock the Badgers from the ranks of the unbeaten, but I just cannot pick Cousins in this one. I always look at the revenge factor, and Wisconsin has that working in its favor as well. The matchup of the Badger offensive line and the Spartan defensive front should be fun to watch, but I think Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson will make a couple of plays that prove to be the difference.
Record last week: 4-0. Season record: 10-2
Cus Words Power Poll
- Michigan State
- Ohio State
- Penn State
Things are starting to come together. Obviously we will know more about the top two after this coming weekend, and it will be interesting to see where the Cornhuskers and Buckeyes go from here. Ditto Illinois. How will the Illini bounce back from their first loss of the season?
I think Michigan’s downward spiral is just beginning, and Penn State is due a reality check or two. Not sure what to make of Iowa and Northwestern, yet, but they are solidly ahead of the bottom quarter of the league. Purdue does have a chance to shoot past a couple of teams, but will Danny Hope’s squad do it? Time will tell.