It turns out nonverbal communication is big in the Sunshine State: The U, Gator Chomp or Tomahawk Chop? Meyer saw them all | FOX Sports.
The weekly “Cus Words” column returns with a Zeppelin song to kick things off as the Buckeyes look toward facing Miami University in Urban Meyer’s first game as head coach of his home state’s flagship university.
What we learned last week:Change has a way of highlighting all kinds of good and bad things about a situation. It also changes the perception, swinging some things from one category to the other.
The offseason was certainly the most fascinating I have been a part of covering college football as the new Ohio State staff learned what to make of their new faces and put the players through their paces.
I could try to sum up the last eight months in a tidy little package, but I’m not sure that’s possible. Besides, I’m sure you’re as ready to look forward to an actual game sason as I am, so let’s just get on with it, shall we?
What we can expect to learn this week: How someone else constructs a game plan, and how Urban Meyer adjusts to his personnel.
As I wrote last week, the spread offense has arrived at Ohio State in an advanced form, and Buckeye fans should realize that and be grateful.
One thing that often struck me when studying and reading/hearing people talk about various types of spread over the years was that many of the “early adopters” of the offense were pretty much predisposed to think they couldn’t win at the line of scrimmage so there was no point in even trying.
That is definitely not the point of view of Meyer and co-offensive coordinators Tom Herman and Ed Warinner, although I think they are completely against doing anything when outnumbered. When in doubt, they would rather have space to work with than anything else. That’s why they are always in the spread instead of switching back and forth like the old staff here.
Some spreads don’t give you any more to think about at one time than does a double-tight I team, but that is not the case with Meyer.
Jim Tressel, Jim Bollman, et al were very clear they saw the pros and cons of spread and “tight” football, and they had a playbook that had enough stuff in it to give teams a lot to think about and prepare for, but they weren’t very good at balancing those things from week to week. The result was their plans could be read pretty easily.
The way defenses generally align against each look, tight formations can actually produce more big plays, but spreads tend to be able to create more consistent short and medium gains. It’s not always bad to face a loaded box if you have the ability to take advantage of it.
If the I-formation were a person, I would kind of feel bad for it based on the way Tressel and his staff sometimes treated it. I can’t blame anyone who came to the conclusion it was a dinosaur of a formation because they often only used it in prehistoric ways. If they were in the I, it was going to be a power run, an iso handoff, or a drop-back pass. Sprintouts and bootlegs were mysteriously rare, even with athletic quarterbacks such as Troy Smith and Terrelle Pryor.
Other Big Ten teams like Iowa and Penn State were often more creative within the realm of the I-formation and its close cousins because they lived more exclusively in that world.
Ohio State, on the other hand, would flip flop between the I and shotgun sets with three (rarely more) wide receivers in both passing situations and when it wanted to free up some room for the quarterback to run.
I always found that a bit curious because Dick Tressel himself said once that a quarterback can be more dangerous as a runner if he begins the play under center. Why? The defense is generally more mindful of him keeping the ball if he is in the shotgun. They never really used that to their advantage despite that stated opinion.
Their version of the shotgun was not really tricked out, either, but it was a little more versatile than their pro sets.
All in all, the entire deal was just strange because they would show off just about every play anybody involved with football ever dreamed up (not only in practice but also in games), yet there rarely was much cohesion with how everything was used. (I did not intend to go off on a long screed about the past decade at Ohio State, but it doesn’t hurt to relive some parts of it as we look toward the future.)
I’d say pretty much everyone expects an upgrade in the offense with Meyer’s attack in place and Herman calling the plays. Though the I-formation will probably be seen only rarely, if ever, the staff insists there will be no loss of physicality.
The commitment to the shotgun spread (which does nothing more than promise the quarterback won’t be under center and at least three guys won’t be attached to the five offensive linemen) figures to bring with it the opportunity to more easily package plays.
That in and of itself should make the offense a little less predictable, but I also am convinced pretty much every fanbase suffers from the thought that it can tell what is coming from its coaches on a regular basis, so predictability can be a bit overrated at times. (Guess run or pass and you’ve got at least a 50/50 chance of getting it right, yeah?)
Meyer has been susceptible to such claims, too. He had two perfect players for his scheme – Tim Tebow and Percy Harvin – at Florida but fans still mocked him for doing little besides having one of them handle the ball on every play, which I guess tells us a few things.
First, that whole idea about predictability being overrated probably has merit, and even diversified schemes can fall back on safe choices at times.
I have often wondered since Meyer took over here if the unique state of the offensive personnel – several big backs, a quicksilver quarterback and some long-striding wide receivers – could actually serve to force him and his staff to learn more about how their offense works than if he just had a couple of guys to rely on play in and play out.
He clearly wants the latter as he has talked endlessly about looking for another Harvin (of course this is fed by his being asked about it regularly, too) even as he salivates at the possibilities Braxton Miller presents. Meyer also one day acknowledged Harvin-type guys are few and far between, so I wonder how often he’ll ever even have one at all. That would make learning to adjust that much more important.
However it all shakes out, this should be a fascinating year.
Meyer not only brings a new offense but also many new ways to run a program. Regardless of the effectiveness of the old ones – Tressel’s teams almost always got better as the season went on, and I think he really did make an extreme effort to bring in high quality people for his team and staff – Meyer’s ways of cultivating a locker room culture are really interesting. Clearly, they are not for everyone, but I have talked to plenty of people who really respect the ideas he has with treating players like adults while understanding they are kids who make mistakes. It can be a fine line, and there will be those who fail to see the nuances and write him off as playing favorites, but I think overall it’s a good strategy for this day and age.
Tressel was very conscious of dealing with the modern athlete. He commented often about how kids these days are more interested in knowing why they are doing something as opposed to simply following orders. I think that’s a change that has been going on for decades, but he gave the impression he felt things weren’t the same even since he took over at Ohio State. I think ultimately he gambled and lost with who he brought in towards the end, but that’s a discussion for another time.
Meyer is here having gone through his own ups and downs. The scars are there for everyone to see, but now he has a new set of challenges.
Tressel had already reinvented his program a couple of times, as any good coach has to do if he is around for three decades. This is really the first time Meyer has had to do that, and that makes it even more interesting to see how this whole Ohio State experiment works out.
It’s not just a new place. It’s home. It’s where he was forged, where he came from. There are feelings involved that you can’t just find anywhere. He also comes from a scary place not that long ago, something that surely colors his approach to this redux.
When we have talked to him in preparation for this season, he definitely looks like someone ready to get back to football.
I know I am, too.
How about you?
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!
Overheard Miami 2011Every week I clean out my reporter’s notebook to bring you things you may or may not have already seen from coverage of the Buckeyes’ and their next opponent.
FICKELLISMS: (summarizing the head coach’s press conference)
He acknowledged Braxton Miller was dinged up a bit during practice last week but said that was not necessarily the reason Miller never got into the Toledo game. They had a plan that had to be changed (pretty sure this was a result of the third series of the game coming after Toledo took the lead on the blocked punt and two-point conversion). They know he needs game reps because you never know how a player will react to opportunities until he gets them, but he has prepared well and maintained a good attitude. The staff intends to focus on what is best for the team and wants to get him more involved. Fickell said later in the week Miller is full-go and practiced well this week.
Asked about the running game that produced 112 yards on 34 carries against Toledo, he said the Rockets did a good job with twists and other things to keep the OSU’s offensive line off balance. But the Buckeyes need to do a better job.
Finding out the players were still suspended so late in the week last week made it tougher to deal with, but that’s just another bit of adversity they can learn and grow from. They can’t let it affect them.
Joe Bauserman needs to take more shots downfield in the future, but he did a good job doing what they asked of him. He and the offense continue to grow.
Because Miami played its opener against Maryland with a handful of players suspended by the NCAA, the OSU coaches will have to do some guess work in preparation. Playing them last year helps make that a little easier, but the Hurricanes have a new coaching staff and some different personnel.
Jaamal Berry can continue to earn more opportunities at tailback by excelling in non-tailback duties, such as returning and covering kickoffs.
Someone asked a poorly crafted question about criticism of Miller being on the sideline without a headset during the first two games, but Fickell said communication with him has been good. They tell him the play calls so he can visualize the play but don’t want him to wear the headset because he doesn’t need to hear a lot of the mumbo jumbo that goes on between the coaches. Visualization is big with this generation, so it’s better he sees it than hears chatter about it. They think he can learn things better that way.
Miller is learning and the team is learning.
Going on the road for the first time this season brings a different routine than they are used to for the first two games, but they must ignore the distractions and changes. There are no big changes planned from the way the team traveled the past 10 years under Jim Tressel
Special teams are always emphasized, and they will be again this week after a blocked punt led to a Toledo touchdown. They need to work on better fundamentals.
Fickell called Miami quarterback Jacory Harris athletic (he’s not) and said he can spin the ball nicely (that is true) and presents a challenge for his team. He brings a lot of positives to the table.
The head coach is not concerned about sophomore kicker Drew Basil, who is officially 0 for 2 on field goals this season and missed another try that was wiped out by a penalty. Basil had a good preseason and has practiced well. His confidence seems to be fine.
Fickell, 38, was asked about his perception of the Miami program while he was growing up in Columbus and attending Ohio State. He said he probably enjoyed the stories but paid more attention to schools that had both football and wrestling programs. He also mentioned being a GA when the Buckeyes lost to the Hurricanes in the 1999 season opener.
Tyler Moeller had zero tackles last week in part because Toledo’s scheme prevented then from doing as many different things with him as they normally would. The staff will try to come up with a way to plan around that in the future. He’s not worried about Moeller, although he’s sure he gets frustrated when he doesn’t have an impact on the game. He still did little things well last week though.
Miami differs from the MAC teams they saw the first two weeks in that the Hurricanes are bigger up front, faster at wide receiver and deeper overall. He sees the offensive line as a strength of the ‘Canes.
He is looking for the Buckeyes to force more turnovers moving forward and said they have had a few they missed in the first two games.
Going to Miami will be an emotional experience for the Buckeyes from Florida, and that is something they talked about on the recruiting trail, the opportunity to do so.
Running back Carlos Hyde said he saw on film if he would have been more patient he could have had a bigger day against Toledo.
Even with Jordan Hall being reinstated, he feels like there is an ongoing competition for the starting tailback role.
He’s still working on learning to read holes and be patient, and Boom Herron is helping him with that. He figures experience in the system helps develop those things.
He is excited for the game in Miami because his grandmother will be able to attend, but he considers himself more of an Ohio guy because he spent more of his young life here.
He thinks there will be a big impact in Ohio State’s recruiting with the Buckeyes playing down there. If they win, a bunch of young guys will be impressed with a northern team showing out.
Defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins said Nathan Williams practiced with the team today and looked good, but he didn’t want to guess if he would play or not (He had surgery a day later and is out for a few weeks.)
He figures facing the Hurricane’s power-based offense will be a good matchup. They have a good offensive line and play physical. He is pumped up.
He played pretty well against Toledo. His endurance was good. He’s working on hydrating now in preparation for playing in the Florida heat.
The defense came out a little shaky against the Rockets because although they knew what Toledo wanted to do offensively, they were surprised with how well they did it. Toledo had a good game plan.
He looks for a slower pace from Miami than the Rockets’ sometimes-no-huddle approach.
Linebacker Etienna Sabino said it means the world to former high school teammate and fellow Miami native Travis Howard that he will finally get to suit up this season.
Jordan Hall is athletic and can do a lot for the offense and special teams. Teams have to account for him.
He likes facing pro-style offenses like Miami. The Hurricanes have a smash-mouth attack.
He is working on getting tickets from teammates and is expecting a lot of family to be in attendance.
The heat of the Akron game should help them be prepared for the Miami heat.
Growing up he was a fan of Miami, but he felt like he wanted to leave the state of Florida for college. Now he is all Buckeye. He thought it would be weird facing the Canes last year, but it wasn’t.
The special teams have to step up against a group of great return men from Miami. They know they have to be better than they were against the Canes last year, when they returned a kick and a punt for touchdowns.
Tight end Reid Fragel said the boos of Joe Bauserman were disappointing last week, but they fire him up, too. He likes Joe, and he is happy he has been able to avoid turnovers so far. He knows the crowd is always going to be anxious to see the new guy.
Braxton Miller looked good in practice, back to full-go.
He has talked to former Buckeye Jake Ballard a bit lately as Ballard has moved into the regular rotation with the New York Giants. It is nice to see a former Buckeye succeeding at the next level.
The staff has a jersey he can switch to if they need him to play offensive tackle in an emergency. He has learned some basic stuff with the offensive line. He got some reps with basic blitz pickups earlier in practice, but he has only been working at tight end lately.
He could see himself at offensive tackle down the road, but he prefers to stay at tight end for now.
Defensive coordinator Jim Heacock said Miami’s offense is similar to what it was last year schematically. They remain a pro-style offense. They will try to run the ball behind a big, powerful offensive line and get the ball deep to their wide receivers. OSU is familiar with coordinator Jedd Fisch from his time at Minnesota two years ago.
Redshirt freshman JT Moore will start in Williams’ place with true freshman Steve Miller backing him up.
Freshman linebacker Ryan Shazier made a brief appearance on the defensive line last week against Toledo but only as a pass rusher at the end of the game. He hasn’t practiced there. (It seems as though he has a spot in the rarely seen 3-3-5 scheme they call their “dime” package. He’s a rush linebacker in that defense. That’s also how Thaddeus Gibson first broke in, FWIW.)
Johnny Simon can also play Leo (Williams’ spot), in which case they would go to a more traditional 4-3 defensive look. Normally the Leo is a linebacker-type who doesn’t have his hands in the dirt. They have that four-man line in their toolbox for teams like this anyway.
Watching the film from the Toledo game showed a young defense that will fight people. They battled hard even though they made some mistakes. There were some problems with tackling and pursuit angles, but those can be improved. They are fundamental things.
On the bright side, they are a fun group to work with as coaches.
He was happy to see Hankins play more than 60 snaps last week. They need a lot from him this season with so many youngsters behind him, and he never seemed to slow down as the film wore on. He’s a great young man and a good student and it’s been fun watching him blossom.
Asked about forcing more turnovers, he said they have missed some and he feels like they have done a good job disrupting things.
Offensive coordinator Jim Bollman said Jordan Hall will play a major role immediately this week. He’s a great athlete and a great return man. He later said as far as he knows, Hall is the starting tailback, although Fickell was less clear about that at other times during the week.
The decision to hold Braxton Miller out last week was partly a result of his injury and missing practice time and also about the flow of the game. It was a joint decision, but Bollman and Fickell have the final say. There were other players they hoped to get into the game, too, such as backup center Brian Bobek and reserve offensive lineman Ivon Blackman. He mentioned Evan Blankenship, too, but he wasn’t clear if Blankenship would have been on offense or defense.
Miller is full-go this week and they plan for him to play. He brings athleticism to the lineup, plus they always like to get guys PT early to help them develop.
His best memory from the 2003 Fiesta Bowl was celebrating on the field with his family after the game.
He acknowledged they did not play as well as they could have against Toledo but was sure to credit the Rockets for their performance. The main problem for the offensive line was inconsistency. Many times four guys would do their job and one would miss and that would gum up the whole works. He wishes they could just all make the same mistake on the same play and get it out of the way.
Look for Chris Fields to move into the starting lineup, but he needs all of the young guys to step up along with Verlon Reed. That includes Evan Spencer, Devin Smith and T.Y. Williams. He likes how they young guys are progressing and pointed out they were instrumental in blocking downfield on Hyde’s long touchdown run against Toledo.
Hyde has done a good job and continues to improve in all facets of the game.
Corey Linsley will play this week and play a lot up front (I will speculate he is pushing Marcus Hall for time after the right guard appeared to struggle mightily against the Rockets.)
Miami is really good. They are big up front and have quick defensive ends. Their outside linebackers are excellent, but their backfield is young. They have great speed.
Asked if he is surprised by all the attention that goes into whether or not Miller is playing, he said he does get surprised sometimes at how quickly expectations can build, but he didn’t seem to have any real complaints about the situation.
Asked if they still feel like they need two quarterbacks, he said they always feel that way, including last year.
The more things expand and evolve, the more guys can play, but they have to let things develop. (This is not the first time he and Fickell have said something along those lines that made it sound like they are anxious to see Miller grow into a role, perhaps a major role… but we shall see how it goes.)