Tag Archives: Nathan Williams

Ohio State Football Week 11 (Part 1): Gimme Back My Bullets

This week’s column looks to Lynyrd Skynyrd for inspiration as we examine why the Buckeye defense has looked more like its old self the past couple of weeks. Hint: It’s really not that complicated. With Ohio State off this week, we also take a look at the most interesting Big Ten matchup on tap while also keeping an eye on the Buckeyes’ next opponent.

What we learned this week: It’s amazing what better players can do for a defense.

That Ohio State is playing better when the other team has the ball is no coincidence when you look at the players in the lineup.

There is no doubt they were missing Nathan Williams, who was not there for Indiana, and they needed players like Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington to step up.

Perhaps the unit would have rounded into form sooner with the improving play of Etienne Sabino against Michigan State and (a very good) Nebraska offense, but his injury set them back yet again before that debacle in Indiana on Oct. 13.

Zach Boren’s move to linebacker from fullback was necessitated by the broken bone in Sabino’s leg, and the Boren of the 52-22 win over Illinois is a better player than the one of the 52-49 win over the Hooisers three weeks earlier.

Don’t forget CJ Barnett was out of the lineup for a few games and needed a little time to get re-acclimated with the rest of his teammates in the speed of the game, too. That was key as it allowed Orhian Johnson to return to Star, where he has been the most productive player at the position this season.

I hate to sound like an excuse machine for the coaching staff, but sometimes people go a little overboard in looking to blame people when something goes wrong. Often there really are reasonable explanations for why things don’t turn out exactly how they’re expected to.

On top of all that, you’ve got a new staff learning what each member knows, what the players can do within that knowledge and how to put it all together.

I like the potential of the quarters coverage that they went into the season wanting to play, but I can see where it could be a dicey situation, with a variety of people learning it all at once. I like the different options it gives you, and I think it’s just about the best coverage out there – when played correctly – but then I’m a little old school in defensive philosophy. I grew up in an old-fashioned 5-2 set that involved hitting, reading and shedding blocks at every position up front rather than all of mostly anchoring one spot. I get the ups and downs involved. I see that it puts a lot of responsibility on each individual player, and that it leaves the door open for one guy’s mistake to make more of a negative impact on a play, but done right it’s pretty dang hard to beat because when you have so many guys playing two gaps, you’ve got multiple outs all over the field. It can work out to be the equivalent of having extra defenders out there, a reverse of what the offense is trying to do with the zone read and option stuff that hs become so prevalent in the past decade.

To their credit, the coaching staff never seem to panic. They’ve all been through transitions like this before, and surely they had seen some of the similar struggles. They knew it wouldn’t happen overnight no matter how badly everyone wanted it to.

Urban Meyer’s greatest strength as a coach is undoubtedly his passion, but sometimes I think that gets him in a little trouble. And I’m not just talking about his famous bout with burnout, I’m talking about even just with the things he says.

As a member of the media I certainly appreciate his bluntness and honesty with us in terms of a lot of different things he says, but I think sometimes he gets a little ahead of himself. Sometimes we hear him talking about what he wants to see in an ideal situation, but I am pretty confident he’s realistic enough to know he’s going to have to settle for less than perfect on a regular basis, particularly in Year One, whether he likes it or not. That usually comes out through the course of a 30-minute press conference, but sometimes it gets lost in our little soundbite world that we now live because the first thing is often what gets highlighted even if the next sentence hollows it out a little bit and brings it back to the center.

Slowing down that Illinois offense is no great feat in and of itself, but holding any team under 200 total yards is to be commended. It’s more than we probably would have expected to see from this Ohio State unit even against a bad offense prior to this week, so in a world where average is somewhat understandably surprising to see, we should know when the defense turns in a dominant performance.

Meanwhile, the offense putting 50 points on the board without Braxton Miller going absolutely crazy is noteworthy as well. It speaks to the development of a lot of guys around him. The offensive line obviously did a lot of work to make holes for Carlos Hyde, and the junior running back did his best to take advantage.

Meyer sounded a little bit sour after the game, but when you can nitpick a specific part of the passing game after quarterback throws for 220 yards and a touchdown, you must be living okay. Don’t overlook the fact he was complaining about only the drop-back passing game, not the play-action part that was just fine, and quite productive as a matter of fact.

Bottom line: Players are developing and/or getting healthier on both sides of the ball, and that usually makes coaching a lot easier to do.

What we can expect to learn this week: How good is Wisconsin’s defense in space?

The Badgers have stopped a two-year slide in effectiveness of their stop unit this season, but I’m not sure how tested they truly are yet.

Nebraska spent half its win over the Badgers in late September running into itself and shooting itself in the foot and still gained 340 yards and scored 30 points in the conference opener.

Since then, Wisconsin’s defense has played somewhere between well and okay, but the competition still hasn’t been much to be scared of, particularly as far as passing goes.

Purdue has good threats on the outside, but hapless Danny Hope played around with his quarterbacks that afternoon and probably hurt the chances of his team getting into any type of rhythm. As against Ohio State, the Boilermakers picked up almost all of their yards on a handful of big plays. Wisconsin picked off two Minnesota passes, but that was against a true freshman in his first start. Andrew Maxwell, the league’s No. 10-most efficient passer at the moment, threw for 216 yards and two touchdowns without an interception as Michigan State beat the Badgers in overtime two weeks ago. The Badgers slowed down Le’Veon Bell, but most good defenses do because of the poor quality of the MSU offensive line.

And why does this matter? Because Indiana has the best passing game in the Big Ten and plays host to Wisconsin this weekend in what could turn out to be a de facto Big Ten Leaders division title game.

Not only are there high stakes, the noon game is of added interest because the Buckeyes are idle and Wisconsin is their next obstacle to a perfect start under Urban Meyer.

If Indiana can stretch the Badgers out from sideline to sideline, and execute consistently, there should be plenty of opportunities to make things happens. Running back Stephen Houston is a weapon as well on the inside for head coach Kevin Wilson’s Hoosiers.

The Buckeyes have to like their chances against that Wisconsin defense if it has problems dealing with improving Indiana. Although what they want to accomplish with their formations is different, the Buckeyes will be able to provide some of the same problems in space in two weeks in Camp Randall Stadium when they look to improve to 11-0.


Overheard at Ohio State Football: UAB Week


In hindsight, he liked that the Buckeyes’ 35-28 win over California last week was of the come-from-behind variety.

(See BuckeyeSports.com for word on team awards and injuries.)

Jordan Hall looked really rusty, but they are glad to have him back. He told Meyer he saw about 70 yards he left on the field when he went back and watched the film.

Meyer called the penalties committed by the offense very alarming and something he must get fixed as the head coach. They were bad and often ignorant penalties.

Defensively, they have to stop allowing big plays. The offense had too many three-and-outs, and it has not produced as many explosive plays as Meyer wants to see from the running game (aside from Braxton Miller). Continue reading Overheard at Ohio State Football: UAB Week

Second Thoughts: Ohio State vs. Miami

(Observations from watching the Buckeyes and RedHawks a second time.)

One of the side benefits of getting into sportswriting was avoiding math for the most part. That might not be true anymore now that Urban Meyer and Tom Herman are in town.

They stressed several times during the offseason that a major aspect of their offense is getting the right numbers to work against, and they certainly proved it in the season-opening win against Miami University.

Ohio State heads in for its last touchdown of the day against Miami (Sept. 1, 2012)

As Meyer referenced in his postgame remarks, Miami came out with a plan to stop the Ohio State running game from its basic three-wide receiver, shotgun set. While a couple of missed reads by quarterback Braxton Miller on the zone read/inverted veer helped the RedHawks’ rate of success, they certainly had a good idea of what they wanted to do early. I wondered before the game how teams would treat Jake Stoneburner in their assessment of Ohio State personnel groupings, and the answer would seem to be as a tight end because Miami was keeping seven in the box when he was in the slot and Zach Boren was the H-back/tight end along with Carlos Hyde at running back.

That did not make it impossible for Ohio State to move the ball, but it put more of a premium on executing because everything was fitted up pretty well from a defensive perspective. Continue reading Second Thoughts: Ohio State vs. Miami

Overheard at Ohio State Football: Miami Week

Overheard Miami 2011

Every 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.

Players sayeth: 

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.)

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