This week we find a standard from one of the greatest albums of The Beatles as we examine what is going on with the Buckeyes after two games. Specifically that has to do with the offense, but we promise to write about the defense some day…
What we learned last week: Perfection isn’t necessary when you have really talented players, even if only one of them is really ready to play at a high level.
Braxton Miller is no stranger to carrying a team on his back, but that does not make his efforts against Central Florida any less impressive. The sophomore quarterback handled the ball on 51 of Ohio State’s 75 plays (more if you count zone-read handoffs) and accounted for 296 of the Buckeyes’ 411 total yards. He had to do so much heavy lifting because the offense around him remains very much a work in progress in pretty much every department.
That includes Miller’s arm, his receivers, the running backs and the offensive line.
None of this comes as a great surprise of course, but it has been interesting to watch things develop, and that figures to continue to be the case throughout this season and probably into the next couple of them.
Urban Meyer came to Ohio State as a brand name, but his offense is truly still not fully developed. It was in its adolescent stages at Florida and now we get the chance to see it deal with the trials and tribulations of early adulthood in Columbus.
Why do I say that? Well, it started as a way to use the width of the field to create room for overmatched offensive players he had at his first two stops as a head coach.
It found the perfect trigger man and complementary piece at Florida in Tim Tebow and Percy Harvin, but even with those two in place, the full offense was never really seen. That’s because it wasn’t really needed. When you have one guy who can run over anyone in his path whenever he needs to and another who can outrun them, why get too fancy?
This is by no means a criticism because it obviously worked well enough to win two national championships and it quite frankly is just a common sense way to do business (effectiveness be damned).
Along the way, he found defenses adjusting to the different ways he was utilizing his players, so he had to add more and more things to the offense. He was not at Florida long enough to build a second version of the attack, however. Perhaps he would have figured out a way to use a drop-back passer and some speedy running backs, but we’ll never know. Obviously, his successor did not.
Now he’s at Ohio State and we’re seeing him deal with a different type of personnel than he had at Florida. The early results have felt mixed, but the team is still averaging more than 43 points per game, so a few things have gone right.
Obviously expectations play a role in how people – fans and coaches alike – the early returns from this offense, but there is one undeniable lesson: Athletes in space can do a lot to erase mistakes.
That is the major difference between this offensive philosophy and the one that preceded it here. Being in the spread full time means that many more chances for Miller or someone else to break a tackle and turn three or four yards into 10-15 or more because it is just harder to swarm to the ball when you have to account for people over a wider area.
What we figure to learn this week: How Meyer and his staff adjust.
Obviously, the status quo is not going to do it forever. No one seems to think that even though many feel the need to point it out anyway.
Much like Jim Tressel getting into his old comfortable I-formation when it was time to put a game away, Meyer rode Miller hard down the stretch because it was the surest way to gain yards and keep the opposing defense off the field.
How this thing evolves, both next week and next month and next season, is going to be fascinating.
The past few years have proven that many teams can match speed for speed when it comes to defending the spread. That is why the pure spread as it was constituted not too long ago is not really a great equalizer anymore. It’s just another way to try to score points, one best used only if that’s what the personnel dictates.
Meyer has gradually added more and more elements of power football into his version of the spread, and that is a good thing for his circumstance since he is more likely to find elements of that type of game readily available in the recruiting ares of the Midwest than he is pure speed guys who can just burn up extra yards in space.
It all brings it back to execution, and that means execution by everyone, just like in the power days of yore. In the spread, one can take half the field away and ask a smaller group of players to execute things, but as it contracts, the numbers shift more back toward the defense. They don’t ever have to go all the way back to where they were when everyone’s quarterback was just a handoff machine on running plays, but they aren’t what they were when Vince Young was feasting on wide open fields in the southwest in the middle of the past decade and Pat White was doing the same thing to the defenses of the Big East.
Meyer’s interviews leave no doubt he is willing to do whatever is necessary to move the ball and score points, so I don’t believe he will let himself be driven into a corner like Rich Rodriguez did at Michigan. Meyer also has better skill people in place now and a greater variety of pieces to use than Rodriguez had early at Michigan.
With a soft schedule and plenty of margin for error because the national title is not on the line this season, Ohio Stadium should provide a fun lab for experimenting on the next version of Meyer’s spread.
The next chance to play around with it comes Saturday against California.
Thoughts on the Big Ten: Oh boy, was that an ugly weekend. I had low expectations for the conference coming into the season but I may have to reevaluate and adjustment down.
At this point only Michigan State looks like a legitimate contender to make any noise nationally, but they don’t seem quite ready for prime time yet. On the bright side, the Spartans’ deficiencies are largely based on youth and inexperience, meaning there is reason to believe they could improve significantly as the season wears on.
That Michigan would struggle to contain the option of Air Force is no great surprise, nor is it that Denard Robinson was talented enough to bail the Wolverines out when all else was failing. It’s too early to make any final conclusions about Brady Hoke’s club considering they have faced one very tough team and one very quirky team. That lined up like a bad pair of matchups all along. I do think there are issues in the trenches that aren’t going away, though.
Seeing Wisconsin take a step back is not a surprise, but watching their offensive line get stuffed so thoroughly was. A significant amount of coaching talent left Madison in the offseason, so how Bret Bielema handles this adversity should be interesting to watch. Montee Ball was the bell cow for the Badgers last season, but in this day and age it is harder for running backs to carry a team. Paul Chryst always did a great job in Wisconsin of maximizing his talent. Maybe his replacement at offensive coordinator, Matt Canada, will be able to match his efficiency, but it is probably going to take time for him to learn his new personnel and adjust.
As far as Nebraska goes, any time a team gives up more than 650 total yards in a game, there can’t be just one thing to fix, but I think the No. 1 issue could be personnel. I’m not sure they have had much luck replacing any of the handful of standouts they have lost over the past three years, first along the defensive line and then in the secondary and now at linebacker. Growing pains under a new defensive coordinator could be partly to blame, too, but it does not seem as if they have done a whole lot different schematically. Either way, they must tackle better. Tough to waste a 30-point game from an offense that looks like it will be very dangerous all season.
Illinois obviously needs Nathan Scheelhaase to compete offensively, but the Fighting Illini defense was shredded at Arizona State. That continues a trend for Tim Beckman since he left Ohio State. His squad probably still has the ability to make some noise in this weakened league, though.
Along those lines, I think Purdue has enough skill players to maintain a puncher’s chance in a flawed league, but the Boilermakers just can’t ever seem to hold things together for too long.
Bottom line: If Michigan State shores up the offensive line, the Spartans shouldn’t lose a conference game as long as Andrew Maxwell doesn’t completely implode on any single Saturday.
New offenses are not taking early on at Penn State and Iowa, but I’m not sure that is much of a surprise.
Northwestern had a nice win against Vanderbilt, but the Wildcats are bound to play down to the level of someone and get knocked off sooner or later. That’s kind of what they do.
Indiana had a shot to scare some people with their offense until losing Tre Roberson, but that might reduce the odds that Penn State goes winless in the league.
We knew PSU was depleted by transfers, but if the Nittany Lions’ best chance to win involves throwing more than 40 times per game, I don’t see that ending well.
With a dynamic senior at quarterback, perhaps Minnesota becomes the most dangerous team toward the bottom of the standings if you’re looking for upsets later in the season.
DVR Directions: To check out Ohio State’s week four opponent, you’ll need Fox Sports South, ESPN GamePlan or ESPN3 as UAB will be taking on South Carolina at 7 p.m. on Saturday night.
If possible, I recommend recording that one to watch later and tuning in to see Michigan State play host to Notre Dame at 8 p.m. on ABC. The Buckeyes are headed to Spartan Stadium in two weeks.