A second viewing of Ohio State’s 31-16 win over Central Florida mostly reinforced some things from watching it live at the stadium.
Braxton Miller was the man of the match mostly because of his feet, quick enough to get him out of trouble that was sometimes his doing but usually someone else’s.
He made things harder for himself at times because he was misreading the zone reads and inverted veers, but he was still able to outrun defenders and make people miss to create something out of nothing. Obviously there were a handful of other times he was left high and dry by someone else missing an assignment, too.
While much has been made of his running, I thought he took a step forward in the passing game. There was the interception that came on a bad throw and probably a bad read, but overall he was challenged to keep his composure and take what the defense was giving him. He did that, regularly checking down and completing short routes as UCF was determined to play a deep shell in passing situations, which made sense because it has the linebackers to run and cover ground underneath. His pace was better than last week, and he continues to refine his mechanics.
The line is clearly leaning left at this point as tackle Jack Mewhort and guard Andrew Norwell are the most reliable blockers the Buckeyes have while Corey Linsley has also excelled inside. Right guard Marcus Hall had a hit and miss day, while Reid Fragel struggled some in both run blocking and pass protection.
The wide receivers continue to come along, working well on the underneath stuff. Devin Smith in particular had a nice play where he had a corner fading hard on a go route then cut outside to give Miller a nice target on an out pattern. Then he made the same guy miss in the open field and picked up about 15 yards. Smith, Corey Brown, Evan Spencer and Jake Stoneburner all had notable blocks on big running plays as well. That was hard to miss, in fact. One of the biggest came when Smith stalked a guy well enough to interfere with him and give Miller room for the last five yards on a crucial third-and-long pick up late in the first half. That led to a touchdown. On the downside, I did think on one of Miller’s overthrows Brown was too easily impeded in his route by the defensive back. He needs to win those one-on-one battles.
As for the running backs, Bri’onte Dunn is just what the coaches have said: He runs strong with the ball in his hands, but he has to make sure he’s going the right way if he wants to get it. Whether as much is true of Rod Smith remains to be seen as he hasn’t even gotten as many opportunities yet.
UCF did not seem to have much trouble getting a feel for what the Buckeyes wanted to do from a schematic standpoint. They were leaving seven in the box (maybe shading to the slot a bit some times) and rushing the free safety into the play to gain a numbers advantage if OSU had a running back and Zach Boren in the game together.
OSU did not do a lot to counter this within that formation, although the Knights’ approach would have been less effective if Miller had read some things better and kept it when he had room or given it when the back was open. That’s kind of the point of the option – to negate a defensive player without blocking him.
Additionally, one has to guess the Buckeye coaches were less comfortable calling downfield passes without Hyde. I’m not sure Dunn or Smith is reliable yet in pass protection. You can’t throw it if you can’t protect, so much of the passing game was of the quick variety.
Conversely, UCF was committing to the pass when the Buckeyes lightened up and spread things out more, so the adjustment came in running Miller from that look to keep the chains moving when questions arose at RB.
While the Ohio State offense relied mostly on Miller to make big plays to overcome mistakes, the defense had the opposite kind of day. The Buckeye stop troops graded out well in terms of general efficiency but again suffered from lapses in coverage and missed tackles that led to big plays. These are just things they have to get ironed out if they are going to contend for a division title even with the Big Ten looking very vulnerable at the moment.
Orhian Johnson’s big game could be a huge development as they have been waiting for years for him to step up and be a game changer. He was all over the place, getting in passing lanes and making tackles in space, something he’s struggled with in the past. Johnson has always been a heady guy and can bring a lot of leadership to the field if he can play well enough to justify a spot in the regular lineup.
Johnny Simon and Johnathan Hankins showed up in that they were drawing extra attention. Same with Ryan Shazier, who plays at a very high pace and can’t be missed out there. Who else is going to step up and make something happen when they are singled?
Christian Bryant has had a solid couple of games, and Travis Howard continues to be opportunistic (despite playing through a stinger, which should be commended), but C.J. Barnett and Bradley Roby both had lapses that shouldn’t come form guys of whom much is expected, Barnett as a tackler and Roby drifting out of his area in pass coverage.
Schematically, they are a little limited by youth, but I think doing a little more to stir things up is appropriate. That has not been the style of Luke Fickell since he started calling the signals last season, so it will be interesting to see if he changes his stripes at all now. As far as that goes, Fickell was continuing to follow the path set down by Mark Dantonio when he came here with Jim Tressel in 2001. They did away with the in-your-face press defenses of Fred Pagac Sr. that first drew the Silver Bullets moniker in 1996, forced instead to take a more measured approach to combat the proliferation of spread offenses across the country. I think they’ve moved too far in the direction of conservatism, though, the past two years.
UCF did OSU a favor with the game plan. They might have been harder to defend if they had tried harder to establish the run. It wasn’t hard to get a read on what they were doing because they leaned so heavily on the pass despite having the personnel to run the ball and give the Buckeye defenders more to think about. Perhaps that could have created some more big-play opportunities for wide receivers who did not seem to have the ability to make their own against coverage.
The young defensive linemen held their own, but it was easy to see this was not a MAC offensive line as Adolphus Washington and Tommy Schutt had a harder time pushing them around. They were more in survival mode. Noah Spence was isolated in coverage on a UFC touchdown pass on which the defense looked to be misaligned. They were badly outflanked by the formation.
On a side note, I thought Joey Galloway put in a solid day as an analyst. His delivery was not always great, but his knowledge was clear. Recognizing things as they happen and explaining them accurately with any detail before the next play is the most difficult task of that job, and he handled it well. It’s much easier to see it on replay, but he was seeing coverages and did a good job of explaining things as they unfolded.