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.
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)
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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
- Ohio State (4)
- Michigan (same) – Offense runs wild against a bad MAC team, gets little passing but doesn’t need it. Shades of Rich Rodriguez era?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Purdue (same) – Everything worked in a 59-0 pasting of overmatched Southeast Missouri
- 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
- 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!