Tag Archives: Michigan State football

Ohio State Football Week 6: Straight, No Chaser

This week we turn to Thelonious Monk for inspiration as we examine what most impacted Ohio State’s 17-16 win at Michigan State last week and look ahead to the Buckeyes’ visit from Nebraska. 

What we learned last week: The importance of dancing with the one you brought.

Ohio State’s surprisingly strong defensive performance was a result of two things: The Buckeyes playing better, and the Spartans frequent gear shifting.

Michigan State offensive coordinator Dan Roushar put far too much of the game in the lap of his unproven quarterback considering the score never got away from the home team and the Spartans’ identity is supposed to be built on being physical.

True, the Green and White offensive line is not an overpowering unit by any means, but Andrew Maxwell is five starts into his career and has not exactly lit the world on fire. Yet he threw 42 passes and the Big Ten’s leading rusher carried 17 times. Involving tailback Le’Veon Bell in the passing game was a nice wrinkle in the first half, but that is really not his forte at 244 pounds.

The Ohio State University Marching Band performs “Script Ohio” at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, Mich.

Protecting Maxwell and giving Bell every chance to soften up the Buckeyes and see how long they could hold their gaps and make their fits seems like the logical approach given how the Buckeyes pursued and tackled the past couple of weeks.

Instead, the Spartans bounced from power to spread sets, throwing the ball around with some success but never getting much of a rhythm. They scored one touchdown on a drive that consisted of three plays, one doubled in length by an Ohio State penalty and another that would have been a minimal gain if not for multiple Buckeyes forgetting how to tackle simultaneously.

One Ohio State defender said after the game he felt pregame studies left the Buckeyes prepared for Michigan State was going to do out of each formation it put out there, and that was certainly believable from observing how the game unfolded.

Meanwhile, the Buckeye offense had its share of fits and starts as well. A surprisingly easy 75-yard touchdown drive started off the game and then the sledding became much harder against a head-hunting Spartan defense, but head coach Urban Meyer and offensive coordinator Tom Herman stayed the course.

There were times the Buckeyes looked, aside from formation, no different from the past decade as they kept the ball on the ground and probed for weaknesses in the Michigan State defense.

A plethora of screens to Corey “Philly” Brown did provide some constraint and incremental gains, but this was still largely the blood-and-guts offense Meyer promised the day he was hired. Even those screens can be looked upon as runs, safe passes designed to keep the defense honest and widen the creases just enough to squeeze out a few more yards here and there to keep the chains moving (The Buckeyes had 21 first downs, including 14 on the ground).

Then came the big strike. Ohio State’s commitment to run confirmed, Michigan State remained staunchly set on stopping it, and that assured the Spartan cornerbacks would continue to work without a net.

Finally, the Buckeyes went deep and everything went according to plan. Devin Smith ran past the best Michigan State cornerback, Johnny Adams, and Braxton Miller hit him in the hands in stride with a perfect pass. Smith fought off Adams’ last protestations and galloped into the end zone, stunning the Spartans and their crowd.

It felt a little like Terrelle Pryor’s bomb to DeVier Posey at Penn State in 2009, but this was different. That play was made possible by a bust in coverage. This was no mistake. The Spartans got what they wanted, but so did Ohio State. May the better man win, and Smith did with an assist from Miller.

And as the Buckeyes dialed up more pressure late, the Spartans wilted on both sides of the ball, unable to protect Maxwell when they had to throw and unable to stop Miller and Carlos Hyde when everyone in the stadium knew they would be running.

Just like they drew it up.

What we can expect to learn this week: How the Buckeyes tackle on the edge and in space.

Yes, I realize those have become ubiquitous terms in college football these days, but that is right where Nebraska will attack Ohio State. It’s where the Cornhuskers gashed the Buckeyes a year ago, too.

Coordinator Tim Beck’s unique option-based attack is an appropriate next challenge for the Ohio State defense after it mostly shut down the basic MSU attack. Think of it like moving from algebra to trigonometry.

Although how much remains to be seen, Taylor Martinez has improved both as a passer and a decision maker. He can stress defenses in numerous ways, and there will be no ganging up on the Huskers in any one area of the field.

With two talented running backs and an emerging receiver corps to go along with the dynamic quarterback, this is going to be by far the best offense Ohio State has faced this season. The line offers a different look, too, with a lot of cut blocking and movement up front.

On the flip side, Ohio State should bring some confidence back with it to Ohio Stadium on offense. The line handled a very good Michigan State front seven for most of the day, and Miller continued to prove he can handle just about anything thrown at him. Another week for Hyde to get re-acclimated to the offense should help, too, but it remains to be seen how available Jordan Hall will be.

The Blackshirts rose up when it matter last week against Wisconsin, but the Badgers have struggled on offense all year. This Nebraska defense remains a vulnerable unit until it proves otherwise.

Of course, that could come this week. Who knows in this league, where no one seems prepared to grab the reins.

Except maybe Ohio State after that big road win last week, or Nebraska if it can do the same this Saturday in Columbus.

Big Ten thoughts: One of the league’s unbeaten pretenders fell by the wayside, and let’s be honest, it was the one we probably should have expected to fold first.

I’m still not sure what to make of Iowa after a throttling of Minnesota, but good for the Hawkeyes to reclaim the Floyd of Rosedale, the coolest trophy in sports.

Wisconsin’s spiral continues as the Badgers are officially without a quarterback to rely on and Montee Ball continues to struggle behind an ineffective offensive line.

As I wrote on Twitter yesterday, this weekend might signal the beginning of the end for the programs that have topped the conference the past two seasons. Both Michigan State and Wisconsin benefitted significantly from the state of Michigan football the past seven or eight years, but Brady Hoke looks intent on closing off the recruiting loopholes the Wolverines provided them in the Midwest when Lloyd Carr was busier chasing national recruits and Rich Rodriguez was recruiting MAC players. Whether or not Bret Beilema can rebuild his staff to be as good as it was before Paul Chryst left to become head coach at Pitt remains to be seen, too.

Overheard at Ohio State: Michigan State Week

Urbanisms

Ohio State’s head coach said Michigan State presents a big challenge and has one of the best defenses he has seen recently. It is a well-thought-out scheme.

Spartan Stadium with the MSU campus showing its colors in the background

Offensively, the Spartans make no secret of what they want to do. They are waiting for their quarterback to come along.

Regarding the blocked punt the Buckeyes allowed against UAB, they were supposed to block two guys on that side but didn’t. (I think this meant two of the three rushers to the left of the center, but I’m not sure.) It was the first rep there for a freshman (likely referring to Joshua Perry).

That was tough to take after the game started with a wide receiver running free down the sideline open but Braxton Miller couldn’t hit him because one of the guards missed a block and he was under pressure right away.

On the pooch kick to start the third quarter, someone (Jake Stoneburner) should have called a fair catch but didn’t. They also ran into the punter at one point, so it was just a bad day for special teams. Six or seven freshmen are on some of those units, and that is probably too many.

The defense needs to get off the field and the offense needs to sustain drives, essentially, for the team to get better. That is obvious, he admitted, and he added that he felt better after watching the film. It wasn’t as bad as it had seemed live.

Then he had a short video of just some of the things they did right put together and shown to the team. He referred to this as “graduate level” football. He described a play where Miller looked off a safety in cover two long enough for a wide receiver (pretty sure it was Corey Brown) to get free on a smash route (three WRs with someone running a curl and another guy in the seem as Brown splits them with a corner route) for a big gain. He also liked seeing Reid Fragel get to the second level on a block after starting in a combo double team (This was Miller’s spinning TD run, I believe, but he didn’t specify either play).

He is frustrated he hasn’t seen more of those things, but right now they are just a workmanlike team that has to win by making plays when necessary.

Someone asked him for ways Mark Dantonio resembles his former boss, Nick Saban, and Meyer said they are both committed to stopping the run while playing a pro-style offense but Saban is more complicated in pass defense.

With MSU committed to stopping the run, Ohio State has to be efficient in how it attacks. They can’t be beating their head against a wall, like last year when they were going in reverse at some points.

He is working on a package including Carlos Hyde and Jordan Hall on the field together. He had just drawn something up on the big board before coming in to meet the press.

Michigan State has very good cornerbacks who will walk up on receivers and tell the other nine guys to worry about stopping something else.

The OSU offensive line is not what he expects at a place like this, but it is getting better. There have been a lot of changes there, of course, and he understands the reality of the situation even though it still frustrates him. He plans to lead the Big Ten and the country in total offense once everything is in place.

They can really make strides if the guy who has been the least effective among the starters – Fragel – continues to come on as he did last week against UAB.

Meyer clarified that he does not demand perfection, but he does expect players to aim for perfection. The team is making mistakes now, which is going to happen, but they aren’t doing it at the speed he wants.

He suggested the Ohio State defense right now is built to face the MSU power offense more so than it is to face the spread offenses they have been facing so far this season much of the time (Even when they were expecting more power looks, they were spread out by teams like Cal and UAB).

He hopes the team does have different feelings preparing for a Big Ten team as opposed to the first four opponents. Going on the road can be overrated sometimes, but not this week against a good opponent.

Devin Smith was not great against UAB, but he is their down-the-field guy.

Miller’s fundamentals are much improved. He stares down his receivers less, will look away from where he is intending to throw it. Meyer confirmed he called a bunch of audibles Saturday.

Winning their division of the Big Ten was talked about at the first team meeting of the week, so they are focused on that now (I would be interested to know if that in and of itself resonates with these guys whose whole lives as football fans has come in the BCS era where titles were just a means to getting to a better bowl game or the national championship…).

MSU tailback Le’Veon Bell reminds him of a more athletic Ron Dayne (the Wisconsin running back who piled up a bunch of empty yards as a young player in blowouts and later set the NCAA rushing record). Bell times his blocks well, and his athleticism is proven by the fact they have him returning punts at 244 pounds.

Ohio State’s problems on special teams are not scheme-related. Perhaps immaturity is an issue. They are trying hard for sure.

Improving the team’s tackling is an on-going process, but it was better last week.

Defensively, they want to get more pressure out of the scheme but have to match it to their personnel. The bend-but-don’t break style has been painful to watch, but it didn’t allow any touchdowns last week.

He believes in putting the corners in more stressful situations (man coverage), but that also entails putting linebackers in man and that is not necessarily a good idea for this team at this point in time.

Doran Grant played very well at cornerback last week and could remain in the starting lineup even if Bradley Roby returns from a shoulder injury. Travis Howard, the other starter, is also dinged up with his own shoulder problem. The best two will play.

The sky is the limit for defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins because of his athleticism for his size and what a quality person he is. Mike Vrabel is working hard with him and he could turn out to be one of the best in the country.

In his typically blunt fashion, Meyer said he told Rod Smith in January he probably wouldn’t be able to survive in this program and they would let him transfer if he wanted to. He wanted to stay, though, and his family got involved in a positive way. Meyer said Smith’s father is a great guy. Smith still didn’t really impress him in the spring or summer, but something clicked around the start of the season. Now Meyer calls him a good guy and says he loves him. They put the two-tight end set with Miller under center against UAB for Smith because he had earned playing time. He is a talented guy, and his family is fantastic.

The defensive strategy came up again and he said he doesn’t want to have a bend-but-don’t break defense here forever but they are dealing with the various circumstances of the moment, including injuries and attrition on the defensive line. Also sometimes earlier this season it made sense to play it safe because giving up big plays was the only way they could lose to an inferior opponent (paraphrasing here).

He thought this team would be further along by now, but he was aware of the shortcomings on the roster. They should be a hell of a football team by the end of the year, maybe sooner. The are young and have looked awful at times, but they are coaching them through it and he remains confident it will all work out.

 

Wide receivers coach Zach Smith said his guys are ready for the challenge they will get from the MSU secondary. Smith has been progression, but Corey Brown has drawn more attention in coverage. Jake Stoneburner has played well, and Evan Spencer continues to develop.

Smith is awesome to coach because he is very competitive and hard on himself. He will get better but needs to maintain his focus. He is obviously capable of great things.

Mike Thomas will continue to get playing time and they feel good about his progress.

The coach could feel a different intensity with the Big Ten season starting, but it was hard to explain.

Wide receivers need to block the perimeter better in this offense than most places. It is essential for this offense to go. Stoneburner is an athletic, big-bodied guy who has done a good job.

They want to get everyone involved but have to react to what the defense takes away on a given day. Ohio State is a match-up offense that way.

With Devin Smith being the X-receiver, they have to have confidence he is going to win in coverage consistently. He is improved and they feel good about him.

 

Co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach Everett Withers acknowledged the kids and coaches are excited about the start of Big Ten play. They can play for things that matter a little more and know their opponents a little better.

He thought they tackled better against UAB.

The Spartan offense fits the OSU defense better, but they will go sideline-to-sideline sometimes, too.

Ohio State is still developing its ID on defense. What do they hang their had on? That remains to be determined, but it’s good they have been able to keep winning even as that process goes on.

This week will tell them a lot about how good they are.

Christian Bryant has matured on and off the field. Those are things that can’t be separated. You have to be good off before being good on. He was happy to see the junior safety in the facility looking for the game plan earlier that day. He didn’t see what Bryant did to get a personal foul on film and Bryant said he didn’t remember saying anything to draw the flag. It didn’t seem to bother Withers much.

They want to make sure Bell is going sideways, not downhill at them. He is a very patient runner who is built for their type of offense.

Ohio State is not having point-of-attack tackle problems. He calls them “in traffic” and “out of traffic”. The latter are harder to make because they occur in space, so some misses are to be expected.

Asked about pressing with the corners more, he said they have been spread out by all the teams they have faced so far and that makes it more dangerous because you can’t just do it at some positions and not others. He likes it, but it’s tough. They have three corners who can cover, but others have to do it, too.

Mixing in the zone read makes it less desirable to play man because then you need another man to account for the quarterback.

They will do more man if they get the formations that allow it. Michigan State runs a lot of those formations.

The staff has blended well and they are mostly running things the kids have run before. He would like to be more aggressive and dictate to the offense more but it’s hard to disguise blitzes when you’re spread out.

They haven’t gotten as much production as they need from the Star position. it’s been adequate, not at the level typical of OSU. They hope to solidify that moving forward. Orhian Johnson brought them some good things there (He was at deep safety last week with Corey Brown at Star).

 

Quarterback Braxton Miller said last year’s game against Michigan State is kind of a blur for him. He watched a few clips of it and noticed how skinny he was then compared to now. He has put on 25 pounds or so and feels more developed physically.

MSU is good at disguising coverages.

Asked about making checks at the line, he said this will be a different type of game (compared to last week when he audibled a lot), so they will see what happens. He feels good about things. He can get them into better situations now.

OSU has great receivers so they should have some chances to make plays against MSU’s pressing corners.

 

Wide receiver Jake Stoneburner said UAB coverages were eliminating him in the passing game last week, and he is fine with that.

Practice was physical on Wednesday, but Meyer didn’t seem much different from normal.

They pumped in loud music to help them learn to concentrate and communicate the offense via hand signals. It was louder in there than it will be in any stadium, particularly considering the length of time it was continuously loud.

Being able to win the division does add more incentive for them despite the bowl ban.

MSU has athletic linebackers so they can shift from base to nickel defense without changing personnel. He does look forward to possibly getting some favorable matchups with them.

Watching only the four scoring drives from the UAB film was nice because no one got chewed out, like they were expecting. They finished early, too. He figures Meyer wanted to show them how good they can be when they do things how they are supposed to.

Wide receiver Corey “Philly” Brown agreed the noise was much worse than they will face in any stadium.

He said MSU plays a shadow man press so they don’t put their hands on the receivers but rather mirror where they go. He called Devin Smith “a blazer” and said it will be exciting to see Carlos Hyde and Jordan Hall together in the backfield for the first time.