Tag Archives: Joe Bauserman

One Way Out

Inspiration this week comes from The Allman Brothers Band, who remind us sometimes there are not as many options as there seem to be… 

What we learned last week: The Ohio State coaching staff must get a handle on the quarterback situation soon or the season could be lost. That is the No. 1 question this team faces as it is one quarter of the way into the 2011 season.

There are plenty of other issues – every team has issues – that could be problematic as the weather gets colder, but none of them held back the Buckeyes like the passing game Saturday night in Miami.

The receivers are young – more so without Philly Brown – but they will grow up (and eventually get back DeVier Posey). Same with the secondary, although I think it remains to be seen if they have been starting the right guy between Orhian Johnson and Christian Bryant. Ditto the No. 2 cornerback spot between Bradley Roby and Dominic Clarke. Of those four, only Johnson has played long enough for me to conclude his time probably should be up. Bryant brings a lot to the table in terms of both talent and football savvy. Johnson plays high, which hurts him when he’s isolated in coverage or run support, and does not seem to process what is going on in front of him very quickly.

The defensive line needs another playmaker to step up with Nathan Williams out, but there is plenty to work with there. It will be interesting to see if the staff goes back to its preferred 4-3 Under and gives J.T. Moore another shot at Leo defensive end with Colorado coming to town or continues to go with the big look up front with John Simon on the weakside and Adam Bellamy among the first teamers. Perhaps freshman Michael Bennett’s emergence alters their thinking here as well.

Linebacker may be an ongoing issue for some time. Teams are free to target Andrew Sweat with their schemes as long as Storm Klein and Etienne Sabino remain inconsistent. Klein is a junior but relatively green after missing a lot of time last season and this past spring with injuries, so one wonders how much reps can do for him as the season wears on (perhaps he is still scratching the surface), but Sabino seems like a player who will never live up to the hype built up around him by his five-star status and early positive returns as a freshman reserve. He just can’t seem to figure out how to let it go and play without overthinking things.

The trouble at linebacker is they are pretty much left to sink or swim with those guys after the departure of Jonathan Newsome and Dorian Bell in the offseason. The only move I could see being made is to bench Klein and move Sweat to the middle with Ryan Shazier entering the lineup at Will ‘backer. Shazier is a bit light, but the true freshman looks like he has a knack for making things happen. He jarred a ball free with his helmet in one of his few plays on the field at Miami. Perhaps Klein could move to Sabino’s spot at Sam to make room for Shazier, too, but I’m not sure how much experience Klein has there. SLB is a much different position than the other two linebacker spots.

So I guess that brings us back to the quarterbacks…

As I wrote yesterday, the coaching staff seems to be saying one thing and doing another in this area. They have not been shy in talking about their willingness to give Braxton Miller opportunities to play a significant role on this team, but the reticence to actually do so has hurt the freshman and the team so far.

This is not an issue of steady game manager vs. exciting but inconsistent playmaker. Joe Bauserman cannot make plays against good defenses without making mistakes. After four-plus years, it’s fair to conclude that will not change. He showed enough of a glimmer of hope during fall camp that he could do a decent job, but it’s clear practice and games are much different things as he has regressed.

What we can expect to learn this week: If the staff is ready to commit to Miller. 

A team can hang around in a lot of games without getting much at quarterback, but it must get something from him to sustain and finish drives. That seems to be where Bauserman is at his worst because it often requires making a decision to put a ball into a small area, and he has been unwilling to do that. It’s not hard to conclude that is because he knows the quickest way to lose his job is to turn the ball over. The problem is he has overcompensated to the point that he can’t make necessary decisions at difficult times. I don’t believe a middle ground exists for him.

Of course, Miller committed two turnovers Saturday night it’s not hard to chalk both up to inexperience. He had Jake Stoneburner open over the middle on his interception but waited a second too long to let the ball go, letting a linebacker get back in time to deflect the ball. I don’t think he was fooled. He just didn’t throw the ball soon enough. On his fumble, he simply didn’t protect the ball. Ball security is easily fixable.

Not that either quarterback has an easy task in leading this group as it is currently constituted, though.

Much has been made of the similarities to 2008 when Terrelle Pryor took over for Todd Boeckman in week four, but there are some significant differences in personnel.

This offensive line, which had a nice bounce back against the Hurricanes, is more talented and more effective than the 2008 group, but for all the depth of the 2011 backfield, none of these running backs are the total package that was Beanie Wells. Because of his injury issues, Wells is under appreciated even among Ohio State fans. He was a big back, but his speed separates him from anyone else in recent memory. He was a greater home run threat than anyone Ohio State has now, and that is significant. Big-play ability trumps consistency in many cases, as Ohio State has proven over the years because the Buckeyes have rarely been consistent offensively but they have put enough points on the board to win anyway.

The other difference is at wide receiver. Brian Robiskie and Brian Hartline were not “wow” athletes, but they were savvy veterans who contributed to a national championship run with a Heisman-winning quarterback earlier in their careers. They knew what they were doing, and they showed NFL teams enough to merit being drafting and remaining in the league to this day (Hartline is a starter). They could help a young quarterback – and they could go down the field and make big plays, which is pretty much all the passing game consisted of in 2008.

The players on the roster now can do that, but do they know how to get open? Do they know where to be on a regular basis? That can hurt the development of quarterbacks both young and old.

It’s easy for me to gamble with someone else’s chips, but I’m not sure going with Miller at this point is really much of risk. I believe he has a solid enough mental makeup to handle the inevitable mistakes, and he’s much more of a big-play threat as he has the better arm and the better feet than Bauserman, who is a solid scrambler but lacks Miller’s game-breaking speed.

Neither quarterback is set up for a big year because it’s hard to see them getting a lot of help any time soon, but there are more options with Miller, especially as long as Bauserman refuses to even attempt the difficult throws one would think a veteran would be better equipped to detect than a young rookie.

All-Buckeye Beater Nominations: Running back Lamar Miller, wide receiver Allen Hurms, defensive lineman Micanor Regis, linebacker Sean Spence and the entire Miami offensive line will get consideration for best performances of the season against the Buckeyes.

Miller and his blockers were as good as advertised, and Hurms made two early touchdown catches.

Regis gummed things up inside all night, and Spence was a tackling machine while also deflecting a pass that ended up being intercepted.

We’re leaving Jacory Harris off this list because he did as much damage to his cause as he helped it, particularly considering his late near-pick-6 that went through the hands of Christian Bryant.

DVR Directions: Ohio State’s first 3:30 p.m. game of the season means you have a choice of what to warm up with at noon, but this is one of the worst days in memory in terms of Big Ten matchups.

I recommend recording Central Michigan at Michigan State (ESPNU) to watch again later for scouting purposes and keeping an eye on the Big Ten Network, where Brady Hoke’s former team, San Diego State, could give his current team, Michigan, a bigger challenge than some might expect.

Cus Words Big Ten Poll (Previous week’s ranking) 

  1. Nebraska (same) – Blackshirt defense again gave up more than 400 total yards, but the explosive offense made that matter little against Washington. Taylor Martinez was not exactly sharp, but he contributed to a 309-yard day for Cornhuskers’ option running game.
  2. Wisconsin (same) – The Badgers kept rolling with an easy 35-7 win that saw them pile up 621 total yards. Defense should be encouraged by continued re-emergence of linebacker Chris Borland (11 tackles, two for loss).
  3. Michigan State (same) – Spartans outgained Notre Dame 358-275 but were hardly in a 31-13 loss in South Bend. Turnovers, special teams, complete lack of running game doomed Dantonio’s crew, which turns in a couple of baffling losses every year.
  4. Illinois (7) – Good feelings abound in Champaign after the Fighting Illini beat a ranked team for the first time since knocking off No. 1 Ohio State in 2007. The offense sputtered but the defense rose to the challenge in a 17-14 win over No. 17 Arizona State
  5. Ohio State (4)
  6. Michigan (same) – Offense runs wild against a bad MAC team, gets little passing but doesn’t need it. Shades of Rich Rodriguez era?
  7. Iowa (8) – Hawkeyes flip script with huge fourth-quarter comeback the defense was able to preserve. A re-coming out party for James Vandenberg? Junior QB threw for 399 yards, three touchdowns.
  8. Northwestern (5) – Wildcats gave up 381 yards rushing to Army but might have been able to overcome struggles to stop Black Knights’ triple option attack in 21-14 loss. Missing quarterback Dan Persa finally caught up with the NU offense.
  9. Penn State (same) – Practically improbable win over fired up Temple team a testament to will more than skill. Major issues for Nittany Lions to deal with on both sides of the ball, starting at quarterback.
  10. Purdue (same) – Everything worked in a 59-0 pasting of overmatched Southeast Missouri
  11. Minnesota (same) – Nice to see the Golden Gophers get the first win of the Jerry Kill era after a trying week for the head coach and the program
  12. Indiana (same) – A win is a win is a win, right?

Coming next week: With the start of conference play, we pick all the Big Ten games! 

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Thoughts on the Ohio State fall jersey scrimmage

Thanks to the generous allotment of practice time open to the media during Luke Fickell’s first fall camp, the Ohio State jersey scrimmage Saturday did not yield as much new information as they often do. The day at Ohio Stadium was interesting, nonetheless.

It served as further affirmation Joe Bauserman is on track to be the starting quarterback, although neither Fickell nor Bollman would confirm as much after the scrimmage was over.

Bauserman took most of the first-team snaps and generally looked pretty good. Throughout camp, particularly in the past week, he has shown a calmer pocket presence and a willingness to hang in and find checkdowns and outlet receivers. He always had a good arm, but it’s been less erratic during this camp (not that he hasn’t still had his moments). He threw a pretty deep ball to Devin Smith that resulted in a 55-yard gain, and the first play I saw (the thing started a bit early and reporters were held outside for a few minutes) was a crisp crossing route to Philly Brown, who caught it in stride and ended up picking up 30 yards. Brown was again the intended receiver when Bauserman was picked off in the end zone late in the scrimmage, a throw that was so far behind Brown there might have been a miscommunication.

I’m still wary of Bauserman being entrusted with the keys to the offense for a full game, but he has certainly looked like a new man this month.

Braxton Miller continued his slow and steady development. I think he has the most important part of playing quarterback for this staff under control: Don’t throw the ball up for grabs. He is careful with the ball, but he’s holding it too long at times. That’s certainly better than turning it over, but he needs to evolve into a playmaker before it is his time to run the show. It should also be noted that he seemed more comfortable when he was live. Then he can use his feet to create time and space to get the ball to someone or tuck it and run. He had a couple of jaw-dropping cuts today where it looked as if offensive coordinator Jim Bollman hit the juke button in a video game. Miller changed directions in a split second and skipped to his right and out of harm’s way almost effortlessly en route to an 8-yard gain. He is looking to pass when he scrambles, though. He has a good sense of where people are and how he can find them when everything looks like it is going crazy around him. He showed that on his second touchdown pass as he scrambled to his left and found Evan Spencer over the middle about 10 yards down field. Smith broke a tackle and found his way into the end zone from there.

I had a suspicion he would look better in a game situation than in the average practice, and I was right.

Miller is still learning to tame that deep ball, but he can make every throw. He might have been a bit fortunate on his 58-yard touchdown pass to Chris Fields, who was running in step with Christian Bryant. The pass ended up being to Fields’ back shoulder and he pulled it in after Bryant took a swipe. Then the receiver spun to the inside and outran both Bryant and the safety who had drifted over.

That play also showed Fields’ has, well, field sense. He doesn’t look like he is blessed in any particular way athletically, but he is shifty with good feet and has a knack for finding daylight. He has come on this fall and looks ticketed for the No. 3 receiver role at the start of the season.

Receiver in general has been a bright spot this fall, although the good feelings are no doubt amplified by how bad they looked in the spring. That means we won’t know exactly what the Buckeyes have there until they start lining up across from some people with different-colored jerseys.

No matter what unit was on the field, the quarterbacks seemed to have a hard time finding people open. I thought the defense was fairly passive, and I would not be surprised to find out there was an intent to play a lot of coverage (as opposed to bringing a lot of pressure) to give the quarterbacks a mental workout. Sometimes it is easier to throw against pressure because the blitzer will lead you to where the open man should be.

Nonetheless, Ohio State looks like it has at least a pair and a spare at cornerback and safety. Travis Howard has been impressive throughout the offseason (on and off the field) and Bradley Roby seems ticketed for the other starting spot at cornerback with Dominic Clarke the next man up. After that, freshman Doran Grant has seen some time with the second unit and might have passed up Florida State transfer Dionte Allen.

At safety, Orhian Johnson is holding off Bryant while C.J. Barnett settles back into the starting role he held for the first two games last season before suffering a knee injury.

Andrew Sweat had an active day at linebacker. He came free in the backfield on a couple of occasions, one a rare blitz and the other when he smelled out a run and shot a gap. Storm Klein acquitted himself well at MLB, and Etienne Sabino held the edge as the SLB before leaving late with an injury. That opened the door for impressive freshman Ryan Shazier to see a few snaps with the starters, and he responded with a sack.

With Jaamal Berry nursing an injury on the sideline, Jordan Hall and Carlos Hyde took many of the first-team reps. We found out for certain Hall is not a short-yardage back as he found the sledding awfully tough up the gut and off-tackle early on. Hyde also was stuffed early on consecutive tries to gain a yard for the second team, but that might not come as much of a surprise given the depth of the defensive line and lack thereof on offense.

Among the third-teamers, we saw something for the first time today: converted defensive lineman David Durham cracking someone as a lead blocker on an iso play that had Rod Smith gaining five yards.

Pass rush and protection was somewhat hard to get a read on. More than a couple of plays were blown dead when defenders surrounded one of the quarterbacks, but it was hard to tell if a sack really would have taken place in a game. Johnny Simon got loose around the outside a couple of times, but overall the first team seemed to provide an adequate amount of time to throw most of the time, which could be a good thing or a bad thing depending on your point of view.

Part of all the coverage led to the outlets getting a lot of balls thrown their way, and no one was a bigger beneficiary than freshman tight end Jeff Heuerman, who continues to impress with his athleticism and ability to catch the ball. Jake Stoneburner was able to find some open spots underneath, too, and Nick Vannett for the first time showed out a little bit with a couple of grabs.

Overall, I would say the offense is still a work in progress. There are a lot of new pieces trying to figure out how they work together. I like the talent, but chemistry is not going to happen overnight and they must learn to execute together consistently.

Schematically there was nothing too crazy going on. Your typical mix of one- and two-back sets with a lot of time on the field for the fullbacks.

Defensively, they were back to almost all 4-3 under with Nathan Williams’ return as the No. 1 weakside end and the continue emergence of his understudy, J.T. Moore. We also saw a little bit of the 3-3-5 that has Williams play even more like a linebacker (they call it “Viper”).

While the offense carried that day, that does not necessarily mean it is ready for prime time (or high noon, for that matter). I think the coaches intended to give them a chance to have some success and move the ball, and they did just that for the most part.

Bauserman and Miller have risen to the top in the quarterback battle but neither is ready to be a focal point, running back still looks wide open (in a good way), the line is thin, tight end is not and wide receivers are coming along.

Defensively, the line goes eight deep, linebacker looks to be in capable hands but new position coach Mike Vrabel still seems to want more people to step up in the second unit, cornerback appears promising and safety is sound.

Drew Basil missed on field goal wide right but otherwise was on the money in the most extensive look we have gotten from him this fall.

There’s plenty of work left to do between now and the start of the season, but the talent is in place if some kids can continue to grow up.

Ohio State Football Post-Spring Review: The Quarterbacks

For one reason or another, it seems reasonable to conclude Jim Tressel took longer looks at young quarterbacks Taylor Graham and Braxton Miller this spring because he already knows plenty about veterans Joe Bauserman and Kenny Guiton.

Only Tressel knows for sure if that is good news or bad news for Bauserman and Guiton, but I’m leaning toward the latter.

They might know more of the plays, but that won’t take them very far if they can’t execute them at a higher rate than the guys who are still learning, and that’s what I saw during the three spring scrimmages and a couple of open practices.

They weren’t so much bad as I don’t think they set the bar very high, a big negative considering both of the young guys most likely have more overall talent than the two older ones.

Graham and Miller both have strong arms with the edge in velocity probably going to Miller. Both have some inconsistencies in their delivery, and I have to think that’s a much bigger negative for Graham than Miller because Graham doesn’t bring anything else to the table.

Graham was sacked five times Saturday and is the one of the four who can’t keep plays alive with his feet. I think that will hurt him a lot when Tressel makes a decision about who will start. Bauserman and Guiton can avoid rushers and will pick up the occasional first down on a scramble while Miller can do those things but also has the same ability to take one to the house as Terrelle Pryor.

Tressel seems to view that attribute with increasing importance from year to year, but the most important thing he looks for is the guy who knows what to do with the ball most often. And the No. 1 thing his quarterbacks must avoid is putting the ball up for grabs.

Despite their experience, neither Bauserman or Guiton stand out in that area, and that’s why the door is so wide open for Graham and Miller.

None of the four are ready to be the focal point of an offense. Tressel will not do much searching for small chunks of yardage through the air, as he did in the latter part of Troy Smith’s career and at times last season as Pryor matured.

If you can’t form a unit that will regularly march down the field in 3-6 yard bursts, you need one capable of breaking off at least a half dozen big plays per game. Both is ideal, of course, but you must decide which one you want to be if that’s not an option.

I believe if the mental side of things is close to equal, Tressel will go with the player most likely to do something great when the chips are down. That’s what worked most of the time during Pryor’s freshman year. The 2008 offensive line wasn’t very good and Pryor could not consistently execute short throws, so basically all of the team’s success consisted of Pryor or Beanie Wells breaking three tackles and outrunning everyone or Pryor hitting Brian Hartline or Brian Robiskie with deep balls against one-on-one coverage when the defense was worried about Wells. There was no in between, and that was by necessity.

This year the offensive line should be much better, enough to offset the difference between Wells’ considerable talent and that of the backs on hand (although there is a lot to like there) and create more opportunities for big plays down the field (I’m not sure if the receivers this year have proven they will catch the ball enough to make a controlled passing game go, either, but I am certain they have a few guys who can take the top off of the defense).

Fans get frustrated when teams spin their wheels, but the fact is you don’t have to win every play. You just can’t lose too many plays. If you have a good defense, a stalemate is OK for your offense as long as you’re not giving up the ball or giving up ground.

Being able to overpower everyone in your path is preferable, and Tressel had offenses that could do that in 2006 and 2010, but he is completely comfortable playing the counter-punching style we saw more often during his first decade on the sidelines in Columbus.

If you’re going to play rope-a-dope, having one-punch knockout power is essential because you never know how many opportunities you’re going to get to put points on the board.

So how do we interpret the results of the battle between the younger pair?

Teammates say Graham has a lot of football smarts, but is that enough to overcome his deficiencies? I’d say no as long as Miller can reach some undefined baseline of knowledge himself, and he appeared to make positive strides in that department this month.

In poker terms, Miller has the most outs on any given play. He’s most capable of getting the ball to more places on the field, whether that’s with the velocity to nail a throw from one hashmark to the opposite sideline or the fleetness of foot to leave a linebacker grasping for air when he has him dead to rights.

I look for that to be the ultimate difference.