Tag Archives: Central Florida

Ohio State Football Week 3: Fixing A Hole

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.

Ohio Stadium Sept. 8, 2012

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.

Overheard at Ohio State Football: Central Florida

Cleaning out the reporter’s notebook after another week on the Ohio State beat…

URBANISMS

Ohio State’s head coach started out by thanking fans for their part in the Buckeyes’ 56-10 win over Miami last week.

He then went over what is apparently going to be a weekly routine of reviewing how they did in regards to the Plan To Win and who graded out with a “champion” effort.

The defense was not great, but it was very good for three quarters. He appreciated finishing plus-3 in the turnover battle but was very disappointed in the red zone numbers. That was a black mark on the game.

The kicking game made all of its goals and produced a touchdown, and he was content with third down production and field position.

(See BuckeyeSports.com for champions/players of the week.)

He has a great respect for UCF and head coach George O’Leary, who has has known for a long time. They have big defensive tackles, a big athletic quarterback and ran power plays at Akron all night last week.

It will be a much different look from last week when Ohio State played pass-happy Miami, but the players should be able to familiarize themselves with it because they can load the film up on iPads and watch it wherever they want.

Braxton Miller’s passing was positive with room for improvement against the RedHawks. He suffered from a couple of drops early and jerked a couple of passes. When he keeps it smooth, he can really throw it, but he has to stay calm. They need him to get through some growing pains fast.

He wasn’t too concerned with the slow start because the team was playing hard. They just had to make some adjustments.

Meyer is glad to have the first game out of the way because there are a lot of little administrative things people worry about when they haven’t done them before.

He was pleased to see his team get thrown around a little bit on their home field in the opener and liked how they responded.

Asked about Miller becoming a Heisman candidate, he said, “Oh gosh…” then pointed out the grueling Tuesday practices have a way of humbling people when those types of things come up.

The failed goal-line package will likely be adjusted, but he still wants to see that his team is able to line up and blow teams off the ball when they need to. Someone missed a block on the failed run at the end of the first half.

It is too early to tell if this is a self-motivating team, but there are several guys who can get themselves up and going. That includes Johnny Simon (of course).

He felt good about the way the offensive staff meshed in its first time together in a real game.

Nathan Williams played about 30 snaps, more than they expected because of the looks they got from Miami that led them to use a package that had the Leo/Viper dropping into coverage a lot. They preferred to have him do that over freshman Noah Spence.

Miami schemed up their defense pretty well against the Buckeyes’ base offense, but OSU was able to make some plays once it adjusted to a different formation. He was happy to see the staff recognize that and adjust quickly.

He sees Miller and running back Carlos Hyde as guys who can make big plays. Now perhaps Devin Smith can join that group since he’s made one in a game.

Asked what was holding Smith back before, Meyer said he plays like a young player in a new offense sometimes. Running track took him away from the team some in the spring, too. Wide receiver is tough in Meyer’s offense. It requires a lot of knowledge and activity (including blocking).

He hopes the one-handed TD grab can be an “ignition play” for Smith’s career. It was a bigger play than the game-winning touchdown against Wisconsin last season when he just kind of wandered open and had the ball drop into his hands after Miller found him on a scramble.

He talks to the offensive staff between series – not during – to give his input on what they should call. He listens over the headset and interjects if he wants them to run something like a power play or a counter or to go deep. In the hurry-up offense, they script plays between series rather than between plays. Herman has a lot of freedom to do what he wants.

Someone asked if Braxton is comfortable pitching on the option, and Meyer said he is better going to his right, but he can go either way.

Walk-on Craig Cataline is a great story. He was in the Navy and has joined the team as a walk-on. Meyer said he loves him. He gives a championship effort all the time and is valuable. Tough as nails, committed and goes 100 mile per hour all the time. The players love him, and he is one guy who will go after John Simon.

Asked if the pass rush needs to improve, he said Miami was doing a good job of getting the ball out quickly. The RedHawks had an “A” game plan as far as he is concerned. They wanted to avoid Johnathan Hankins in the middle so they went away from him. Part of the reason there wasn’t more pressure on the passer was they chose to drop eight into coverage a lot. The defense got more aggressive as they went and were playing with a lead.

Central Florida will bring a physical challenge on defense. They have massive tackles. Ohio State will try to wear them out with the no-huddle, hurry-up offense.

UCF is talented and will run power plays right at the defense.

Miller has some ball security issues to take care of, but he is much better than last year in that department. He missed a few reads on the zone/inverted veer, but they will work on it.

Devin Smith might have been limited in his development because he was splitting time between football and track. That was a deal worked out while he was being recruited and Meyer didn’t want to take it away. It is difficult to balance the two. They will re-evaluate that in the spring.

He felt good about how the quarterbacks reacted to things against Miami.

ASSISTANTS ADDED:

Tight ends/fullbacks coach Tim Hinton

Zach Boren is really excited about getting to carry the ball and score a touchdown last week. It took him some time to get into the flow. He had a dropped pass early but came back from it. There is lots to improve upon.

He agreed with Meyer that the coaching staff meshed well for a first game.

The struggles on the goal line are about mentality as much as anything. Meyer has worked hard to sell people about the physical aspect of the offense, and they want to follow through.

The off-tackle power play has been run at Ohio State for 30-40 years (longer, probably), but it was not executed well on Saturday.

When things were not going well on Saturday, Meyer acted like a guy who has been there before. He didn’t panic or go around yelling and screaming. He really knows what he is doing in terms of the scheme.

The offense was close to getting it on some early plays, but usually it won’t work unless all 11 guys do their jobs and execute. The structure of what they were doing was always fine. Calls were solid. Defense was similar to what they expected to see. They had to get some jitters out.

The offense can be explosive, and when they grabbed momentum, they kept ahold of it. All kinds of different things can create momentum. You could write books about that, but whatever it is you can sense when it is happening. Smith’s touchdown grab was a catalyst, then Miller added the touchdown run in the third quarter to get it going again.

UCF is not overly complicated on defense. They know their defense well and are very sound and fundamental in what they do within it. They want to keep the ball inside and in front of them. Of course, there will probably be some wrinkles, too, an they have a new coordinator.

The OSU tight ends were good against Miami. That included Jake Stoneburner playing attached to the line of scrimmage more than expected. Jeff Heuerman had a good day blocking.

Defensive line coach Mike Vrabel

The opener was a good day for Nathan Williams to gain confidence in his knee. They needed him at the Leo position with Miami going with so many empty sets on offense. He was sore after the game, but that’s OK.

They were surprised not to have Mike Bennett as he was expecting to play but injured his groin in warmups. They have the bodies to make due, but they are young so the key is how they handle it mentally.

Freshman Noah Spence, Tommy Schutt and Adolphus Washington showed well. Schutt is physical and can handle double teams. Washington shows flashes but gets lost sometimes.

Asked how his friend Luke Fickell handled being head coach on an interim basis last year, Vrabel said he did as well as he could given the situation. A lot goes into that job.

Williams got a double minus on a play in the first quarter where he missed a sack because he also dropped an assignment by letting the running back go uncovered in the flat.

They’ll have to play sound against the run on early downs against UCF to earn the right to rush the passer.

He has not had time to stop and reflect on his impending induction into the OSU Athletics Hall of Fame on Saturday, but it is an exciting time. The list is impressive because it includes all Buckeye sports, and he is proud to make it. One of his kids will stand in for him when they recognize him during halftime of the game. Everything since his career ended feels like a blur since he played every year until last year, when he jumped right into coaching.

He appreciated how the defensive stayed in the game against Miami despite all the passing. He could tell because Hankins was still pushing the pocket and working hard even though he wasn’t being threatened.

What they saw on film of UCF did not resemble what they did last season, but they will load up guys with film of both so they can be familiar with it. Some of them like being able to take the video with them on iPads while others like to go to the room and watch it the old fashioned way.

Players sayeth:

Braxton Miller said the offense needs to come out faster and with more urgency this week.

He didn’t realize how many times he ran the ball last week, but he was fine with it. He will do whatever the coaches ask. He didn’t feel sore after the game. He felt good.

He was not thinking about the possibility of winning a Big Ten division title. They are more worried about the next game on the schedule.

UCF has good athletes and will cover the receivers well. The Buckeyes need to conquer what UCF may do.

He was asked before they switched the type of football they use, but this one gets slippery sometimes. He’s cool with it anyway.

The play in which he just flipped the ball into the air while being pressured and was called for intentional grounding was a mistake and something to learn from.

He can improve throwing the ball. He was going too fast through his reads sometimes last week. He needs to stay calm.

Miller shrugged off a question about being an early season Heisman candidate.

Evan Spencer said he as a wide receiver has a good connection with Miller the quarterback. If Braxton tips his shoulder, it means to go deep. He can also tell when Miller is going to pull the ball down and run.

He joked that Devin Smith told him he figured last year was Spencer’s year for the one-handed catch and this year is Smith’s. They don’t think about when they are going to use only one hand. It just happens naturally.

Tuesday’s practice was not fun. The weather was sticky and there was a lot of stuff to correct from the game.

He could tell the defense was getting tired in the game, but that doesn’t affect how the offense approaches it. They try to stay focused and keep doing things well and with a fast tempo.

Travis Howard said he sees good athletes on the UCF squad, including an All-America caliber return man (Rannell Hall).

The Buckeyes know they have to be excellent on special teams.

They expect a lot of runs as well as short passes from the Knights.

Ohio State Football Week 2: Who Says You Can’t Go Home?

What we learned last week: Maybe Thomas Wolfe was wrong and Bon Jovi was right. Urban Meyer found out you can indeed go home again, at least for one week.

I could not help but get the feeling his first game back on a college sideline as a head coach – at Ohio Stadium, where he was a graduate assistant 25 years ago for the favorite team of his childhood – went just about perfectly overall because there were plenty of things the Buckeyes could have done better.

Sure, they put 56 points on the board and eclipsed 500 total yards.

The stud quarterback showed he really can be a great fit in the spread option offense, and a couple of potential playmakers showed up on the outside even as a bullish running back proved there really is something to the idea this is a power offense at its heart.

A bunch of those highly touted freshmen got into the act, too, including two who managed quarterback sacks in the second half.

All in all, a feeling of fun buzzed through the stadium after the team had a chance to get warmed up.

There were some anxious moments early, but just as the clouds that covered central Ohio all morning lightened for a while after noon, the crowd perked up as the offense gained traction.

Yes, there was lots to like, but there were plenty of teachable moments, too. That’s where the coaches had to feel good. An easy win might have made it hard to get the players’ attention this week in the film room, but really this was not that despite the lopsided final score.

The veteran secondary showed some of the same leaks it did a year ago, although the team as a whole seemed to tackle better.

The pass rush was still not great (aside from Johnny Simon) unless the coaching staff dialed up a blitz.

On the flip side, the offensive line ran some nice interference for the skill players to break off some big gains, but it was far from a dominant group in run blocking. Hyde had to make a fair amount of his yards on his own, even inside, and Miller found far more room on the edge and beyond.

Pass protection was also somewhat iffy, although that appeared to be the fault of the quarterback at times as Miller looked both better than last year but far from a finished product himself. He still wobbled a few passes and held the ball too long without sensing the pocket contracting around him until it was too late.

Big plays masked problems with consistency, and that is both good and bad.

On one hand, the space created by formations gave some players chances to make things happen they might not have otherwise had even if not everyone else did their job, so the potential of the offense was clear to see.

Those very same successes could turn into fool’s gold, but the frustration Meyer showed with the downside of the day figures to go a long way toward preventing that.

Guessing how a group of 18-to-22-year-olds will react to anything can be a dangerous exercise, but it seems to me the frustration felt in the first quarter was enough to get the attention of the squad and to motivate it to put in the time to skip straight to the good times in future contests.

Along those lines, the miscues on defense might be more important as teachable moments because I think it might have been easier for the players on that side of the ball to relax if they knew too much success too early this season.

There was lots of talk throughout the offseason about how the 2011 Ohio State defense fell far short of expectations, but sometimes it almost sounded like being effective at stopping people is a birthright of the Buckeyes.

Could a game-one whitewash have convinced them they are back and robbed them of some of their motivation? It’s hard to say with any certainty, but one can bet it will not be hard to get the attention of a few players during film sessions this week after multiple mistakes led to big gains through the air.

I don’t know how many games they are going to win this season, but the RedHawks provided just enough resistance to get Ohio State’s attention without doing enough damage to mess with young players’ confidence.

They did not get in the way of the fun as the rockstar coach returned to his roots a triumphant winner.

What we can expect to learn this week: A few things, starting with the psyche of this team. Will they be able to come back with the same emotion in week two, or will the fact it is no longer the opening game and the Knights don’t have much of a national reputation conspire to take the Buckeyes out of their game?

There’s no shame in letting an offense like Miami move the ball at times, but the expectations remain high for the Silver Bullets and they should be attentive when the new plans for stopping Central Florida are installed.

The Knights probably don’t have a pair as exceptional as quarterback Zac Dysert and receiver Nick Harwell of Miami, but they will bring a balanced attack to Ohio Stadium on Saturday.

UCF was 5-7 last season, but the advanced stats say they played well enough to win as many as nine games and be considered a top-60 squad in the country. The program is just one year removed from an 11-win, Conference USA championship season, so head coach George O’Leary has players who know what it’s like to win.

We learned last season blowing out Akron in a season opener is not necessarily a harbinger of things to come, but the Knights have reason to bring plenty of confidence with them on their second trip to Ohio in as many weeks.

Big Ten thoughts: Dennis Green could sum up the weekend in the Big Ten for me with two exceptions.

The two developments that took me by surprise were the development of Taylor Martinez and lack thereof along the Michigan State offensive line.

Yes, Rex Burkhead is a key cog in the Nebraska attack, but Martinez could make the Cornhusker offense truly dynamic if he becomes a consistent passer. I was not sold on his ability to do that, but he made it work for at least one week.

The Spartans want to be an old-fashioned, smash-mouth running team, but they weren’t last year. They really need to be this year considering the passing game was decimated by graduation, but only Le’Veon Bell held up his end of the bargain on opening night. The line struggled in pass protection, and it felt like Bell had to make a lot of things happen on his own as MSU squeaked one out at home against a rebuilt Boise State squad. Painfully predictable playcalling didn’t help matters, either, but that’s life under Mark Dantonio.

As for the rest of the league’s contenders, well, Michigan and Wisconsin did nothing to hide the fact they have major flaws despite their surprisingly high preseason rankings.

The Wolverines were up against a stellar foe, of course, but they were dominated both ways on the line of scrimmage, where Rich Rodriguez recruited very poorly and the player who was by far the best on each unit last year is gone. Brady Hoke recognized this deficiency one he arrived in Ann Arbor, as evidenced by the way he attacked it in recruiting immediately.

Wisconsin still has Monteé Ball and a powerful offensive line, but the offense is likely to be more pedestrian with a drop-back quarterback and asking the defense to improve enough to make up for the difference in explosiveness from last year is a very tall order. The Badger stop troops have been in decline for two seasons, and the unit was never really elite to begin with. Giving up a pair of explosive pass plays for touchdowns while protecting big lead in the fourth quarter means the red flags stay up for at least another week.

DVR Directions: If you get the Pac-12 Network, you can record or check out Ohio State’s next opponent, California, as it plays host to Southern Utah at 3 p.m. Eastern.