Tag Archives: NCAA football

A Buckeye who was nearly a Wildcat weighs in on CFB union issue

Michael Bennett, a senior defensive lineman for Ohio State who seems to have a good shot at being a captain for the Buckeyes this fall, was asked yesterday about his thoughts on the movement at Northwestern to create a union for college football players.

“I don’t know the full reason behind their union. I don’t agree necessarily with football players being unionized. We don’t necessarily see the money, but we are getting a lot of benefit out of our scholarships. It just kind of seems silly to want to be unionized because we get a lot of stuff that people don’t get. Yeah, we don’t get the same opportunities, but we can get set up for life after football if we really want to. So it’s all about taking advantage of what you do  get. I don’t think the union is necessarily a great idea. Everyone wants to get more money all the time, but I mean we’re getting a good amount.”

Bennett was a four-star line prospect as a senior at Centerville High School near Dayton four years ago who had Northwestern as a finalist when he chose Ohio State. One of his former high school teammates, Ifeadi Odenigbo, is a current member of the Wildcats, but there was no indication last night if the pair have discussed this issue amongst themselves

Before talk turned to football, Bennett was asked if he was in favor of an addition stipend for players, but he did not sound too fired up about that issue, either.

“Yeah, it would be nice to get a little bit more, especially… I mean the cost of living is going up and I don’t think our stipend is going up, so I’d say a little bit more money is always nice but I’m not really in the business of trying to force people to do that.” 

Of course this is just one man’s perspective, but I found it interesting nonetheless.

Saban still Ohio State’s worst secondary coach statistically

In case you were wondering, Nick Saban is still the worst secondary coach in Ohio State history – at least statistically.

The 2013 Buckeyes came close to setting a record for most passing yards allowed per game at 268.0 but fell short of the mark of 273.1 yielded in 1981.

Ohio State lines up to try to stop Purdue one last time

Saban was Ohio State secondary coach that season as well as in 1980, when the Buckeyes allowed a school-record 621 yards passing in a game to David Wilson of Illinois. The only other 500-yard passing game by an Ohio State opponent also happened under Saban’s watch in ’81 at Purdue via quarterback Scott Campbell.

Head coach Earle Bruce fired Saban (along with defensive coordinator Dennis Fryzel and line coach Steve Szabo) after the ’81 campaign, but the Kent State graduate recovered nicely, as you may have heard.

He got his revenge on Ohio State in 1998 when as head coach at Michigan State he led an upset of what for my money is the best Buckeye team of the past 25 years at least. Oh yeah, then he won a total of four national championships at LSU and Alabama. Saban also was head coach at Toledo and served four seasons as defensive coordinator of the Browns before becoming the big boss of the Spartans.

As for his time in Columbus, Saban told the American Football Coaches Association convention last month the most memorable victory of his career was the Buckeyes’ 14-9 upset of No. 7 Michigan in 1981. Saban’s secondary was key in that victory as safety Todd Bell’s late interception prevented the Wolverines from adding to a 9-7 lead in the fourth quarter. Art Schlichter then engineered the game-winning touchdown drive for the Buckeyes.

Herbstreit, Smith, Galloway debate college athletes’ compensation

You should definitely read the whole back-and-forth between former Ohio State players and current ESPN analysts Kirk Herbstreit, Robert Smith and Joey Galloway, but the part that I want to highlight comes from Herbstreit. 

He seems to agree with my contention one of the NCAA’s biggest problems is perception, something it does little to help with its consistently tone-deaf responses to the debate about how major college athletes are compensated.

“It’s just bizarre to me that I don’t think we’re doing a good enough job of selling the student-athlete experience,” Herbstreit continued. “When you’re at Ohio State, it’s not just playing football and going to school. There are so many opportunities that you have that you don’t understand when you’re an 18- to 22-year-old kid and you’re going to these events and you meet people who are in the business community. Urban just committed an entire offseason to introduce athletes to business leaders in Columbus. You’re not going to get that if any of your sons or daughters went to Ohio State. I don’t know what an education costs if you’re there for four or five years, and you throw everything in, travel, all the stuff that you’re afforded.

“I just feel like people assume everybody is a Joey Galloway or a Robert Smith and they make it in the first round and make millions of dollars. 95 percent are me. They don’t play a down in the NFL and use this degree that I got from Ohio State to try to make something out of myself, and I just think we focus too much on the, ‘Wow, the athlete is being taken advantage of,’ when he’s not being taken advantage of. Maybe Braxton Miller is being taken advantage of, but everybody else on that roster is not being taken advantage of, so I just disagree completely with this notion of paying student-athletes. I just disagree with it.”

At the end he lapses into the overly simplistic “paying student-athletes” phrase that often trips people up in these discussions (because they are paid, so the debate should be if they get enough), but overall he hits the themes that people miss for the most part: While the system certainly could be better and needs some adjustments, it is already a pretty good deal for the players. That includes the rather large portion of the roster that never become standouts or even play, arguably players who get more out of their scholarships and college experience than they really pay back.

Some of the things being discussed could end up making things worse for many while only improving it for a few – and I would argue most of those who would see that improvement are already made whole when they reach the NFL, thanks in no small part to their college experience.

Here’s the full story, including responses from Smith and Galloway as well as debate about the Ed O’Bannon case, profiting off likenesses and more: Scout.com: ESPN Buckeyes Debate Paying Players.

Advanced stats favored Northwestern slightly over Ohio State

You probably have already gathered that Ohio State’s 40-30 victory at Northwestern on Saturday night was closer than the final score, but a look at advanced statistics from Football Outsiders should remove any doubt.

The story they tell for this game is of one team (Northwestern) that gained a slightly greater advantage passing than the other (Ohio State) did rushing  but lost more than anything because of the difference in ability to cash in on turnovers. Continue reading

For NCAA, True Reform Trumps TNT

I thought the USA Today piece about potential changes in – or abandoning of – the NCAA model that could be coming down the pike was excellent in a lot of ways, but the No. 1 reason is that it acknowledged the possibility major problems would endure regardless of who was in charge.

That is the main thing people miss when they start squawking about the NCAA.

“Change, ah say, change!”

Yes, reform is needed in many areas, but talk of burning the whole thing down is counter productive and borders on blindly stupid.

Perhaps the greatest truism in our society is this: We hate whoever is in charge and we know we would do a better job if we had the chance.

The United States of America was formed out of a desire to get out from under a monarchy, and that spirit lives on in us more than two centuries later.

The first time I noticed this was when I was about 12 and there was a revolution in my 4-H club. A change in leadership occurred but few of those inconvenient things we had to do to maintain a functioning club went away even though someone new – popularly chosen to run things – was telling us we had to do them. In the end, everyone’s hogs, cattle, arts and crafts still made it to the county fair, we all got our sale checks and the end-of-the-year potluck went on like usual. Then falls sports started so we (parents included or maybe specifically, as with 4-H) could all be put out by some different set of rules and regulations that were evil but nonetheless necessary in most cases.

The greatest enemy of the NCAA’s effectiveness (let alone efficiency) and therefore its popularity is without a doubt bureaucracy. It is not stupidity or greed, though some who don’t understand capitalism or most real alternatives elite athletes have today might see it that way.

I fail to see how any new organization with more than about a dozen schools would avoid similar bureaucratic problems because the bottom line is this – the NCAA is its members. That would not change if a different title were on the marquee of the new group’s headquarters. There would still be lots of mouths to feed, egos to stroke and agendas to serve.

As stated in the USA Today story, most people are generally happy with how the NCAA runs the lower level championships, and I’ll presume the same is true of Division I nonrevenue championships such was wrestling, volleyball, soccer, etc. The challenges of such undertakings should not be underestimated.

Yes, the Division I-FBS schools operate in much different circumstances than the rest, but that is not because of some NCAA mandate.

Do you know why Ohio State spends more than $30 million on the football team? Because it wants to, the same reason it also spends a pretty (though admittedly much smaller) penny on all the other sports, too.

Furthermore, the current NCAA model already treats the revenue sports differently in multiple ways. Football and basketball both have some of their own recruiting and practice rules. They’re also the only sports that require full-ride scholarships.

That specialized rules already exist would seem to be a pretty good indicator more can be made, perhaps some lifting restrictions on athletes’ ability to receive money for endorsements? What about compensation for their likenesses? Maybe a reasonable side job to make a little extra coin? Everything does not have to be one-size-fits-all.

Passing any or all of those new practices could alleviate some of the inconveniences in what is actually a really good deal for just about everyone involved in intercollegiate athletics, from the highly paid administrators and coaches to the anonymous athletes who receive far more in value of their education, training and life experiences than they receive via thousands of dollars in scholarship money. Let’s not forget the local economies in college towns across the country, either. I like these reforms (suggested by Andy Staples of Sports Illustrated, among others) because most of the new money they would generate and/or redistribute would go to the high-profile athletes who have big enough names to actually profit from them, and they represent the relatively few who lose much of anything in the system as it stands now (Although football and basketball players still get big paydays at an earlier age than most or all of their baseball or hockey counterparts, but I digress…).

Might a smaller working group be more manageable? More agile in dealing with problems that arise? Sure, that’s possible, but I don’t believe the current one is beyond becoming more responsive even if real change will not be easy. Neither would starting over.

And while the smaller schools and the big boys might have different sets of problems, they still have a lot of similar interests as well.

Ohio State Football Coaches Clinic: Mike Vrabel talks leverage

Previously I posted remarks from Urban Meyer as well as assistants Kerry Coombs and Tom Herman.

Here is what Mike Vrabel had to say about how they teach leverage and preventing big plays:

OSU defines explosive plays as runs of 15 yards or more and passes of 20 yards or more. Vrabel showed an internal study that found they have averaged allowing 15 explosive runs per season in the past 12 years, then noted the 2011 team that finished 6-7 gave up 25. In contrast, the 2009 team that won the Rose Bowl only allowed nine. (NOTE: They count bubble screens and the like as runs.)

They stress five things in teaching players how to play defense: effort, leverage, tackle, retrace and pursuit.

Effort is covered by the of-repeated mantra from Meyer about going hard for 4-6 seconds every play. The don’t coach effort – they demand it. Meyer runs a high-energy program. They want to get guys out of their comfort zone and don’t mind keeping guys on edge.

For part of this section, he put Ohio State’s goal line stand at Wisconsin last season on the big screen to emphasize that really only effort was going to make that happen. The offense is going to scheme up something to cover gaps and get a yard, so someone has to whip somebody’s ass and make a play. The Montee Ball fumble was made possible by guys up front winning their battles so someone could meet him at the pile and knock the ball away.

Leverage is the most important concept. They only need one leverage guy, though. One person turns the play back in and everyone else should be running to the ball.

Every day they do a leverage drill with four parts – string out, “hat and hands”, “rip and run” and angle tackle. Stringing out the play and angle tackling are self-explanatory. “Hat and hands” is what they call delivering a two-handed blow to the blocker and controlling him to establish position. “Rip and run” is what happens when they brush by a blocker either in pursuit or to get to an outside point to turn a play back in if no one has leverage. (So engage the blocker to maintain leverage abut rip and run to get it back if lost.)

Defensive backs, linebackers and linemen all practice all of these drills, and coaches should see them expressed in games or that means they aren’t being done correctly.

Of course then tackling was a big emphasis. He put up a chart showing a 12-year study that revealed they have averaged 9.7 missed tackles per game in that span. The number in 2002 was 8.2. In 2011, it was 12.5.

They break tackles down into three categories: in the box, angle and open field. Obviously, angle are the easiest and open field are the hardest. That is why the offense – especially now – wants to create open field opportunities.

OSU coaches expect leverage and effort. They coach up tackling by emphasizing keeping the ball on the outside shoulder, breaking down 3-4 yards from impact (too soon gives the ball carrier too much time to change direction), coming to balance in a football position and getting a guy on the ground.

In the open field, they don’t care about blowing a guy up. That’s not the time to do it. Just get him down. They also tell guys, “Don’t go off the diving board,” meaning keep proper football position – reverse arch the back, feet shoulder width apart, head and chest up, shoulders pinched.

Retrace is for dealing with things like screens. It’s how they teach players to recover after getting pressure. For defensive linemen, they work on planting the feet, pointing playside and driving down the line of scrimmage while keeping low hips.

Pursuit is simple – run with great effort to the ball, having confidence everyone is doing their job. That means someone has established leverage and everyone else just has to clean up.

 

Bye Bye Bielema, Hello Hazell

Two coaching moves in the Big Ten this week are interesting particularly from a standpoint of program ceilings.

Before this season I had already begun to think Wisconsin’s program had peaked. The 7-5 record certainly did not change my mind despite the blowout of a wishy-washy Nebraska team in the Big Ten championship game.

I never really felt Bret Bielema was a good game day coach, but he obviously did a good job of running a program overall. I think a lot of the success on the field had to do with the fact he knew what type of guys to recruit for Wisconsin and where to find them. A lot of credit for that no doubt goes to Barry Alvarez as he laid down the blueprint and left plenty of players behind to help him get off to a good start. (Bielema’s soft landing also benefitted from missing Ohio State in 2006.)

Like any program, Wisconsin has a ceiling. That ceiling is lower than Ohio State and Michigan. Bielema probably knows that. Perhaps that’s even why he is headed to Arkansas now. My first reaction was you’ve got to get out while the getting is good.

Considering the role Michigan’s disastrous hire of Rich Rodriquez (and before that the barely noticed nationally decline in the latter years of Lloyd Carr’s tenure masked by a misleading 2006 season) and sanctions at Ohio State played in the Badgers’ rise these past three years, there is little chance he will replicate his first seven years in the next seven.

Carr’s national recruiting push opened the door for other Big Ten teams to build relationships with a lot of quality programs and players in Ohio, and Rodriquez’s bizarre ideas about what types of players he could win with in the Big Ten only made it easier to upgrade the roster.

Will he have the Razorbacks consistently contending for division titles in the SEC? I doubt it, but only time will tell. Bringing in a well-known coach with a tendency toward power football has its appeal, and Bielema cashing in now certainly makes all the sense in the world. (I kind of feel like he owes Wisconsin AD Alvarez more loyalty than that after the opportunity Alvarez afforded him in the first place, but that’s debatable.)

I think he has the right type of personality to recruit in the South, and he’s already experienced as far as going after talent in Florida. Success in those areas will of course have as much to do with his staff as anything, and it remains to be seen who he will hire.

Though Bielema made his early mark as a defensive coordinator, his Wisconsin defenses were never particularly scary.

The offenses were, but the man who schemed them up had already left for Pitt last year and took several of Bielema’s top assistants with him. The work Paul Chryst did in Madison (his hometown) rarely got the attention it deserved, but he did an excellent job playing to the strengths of his personnel while still mixing things up. As quarterbacks coach he also got a surprising amount of productivity out of a string of nondescript talents (prior to the tremendous Russell Wilson), something key to keeping the running game from getting swarmed.

The bottom line is that while Bielema put together an impressive winning percentage, it is rather hollow. He was 14-17 against the other top six teams in the league, and that includes a 3-2 mark against rival Iowa and 2-1 record against Nebraska. Despite talk he posed a threat to Ohio State, he was 1-5 against the Buckeyes. He went 3-2 against Michigan, again benefitting from the dip of that program, and was a game below .500 against both MSU and PSU.

In regards to his ability to coach on Saturdays, it’s interesting to note he lost to the two worst teams Ohio State and Michigan produced during his tenure, sub-.500 squads of 2011 and 2008, respectively.

Bielema was 2-4 in bowls, including an 0-2 mark in the Rose Bowl, and couldn’t really hope to get a signature out-of-conference win in the regular season because of Wisconsin’s pitiful scheduling habits.

Now, that is not to say the Badgers are better off without him. People tend to forget that before Alvarez came along, Wisconsin was mostly a doormat for about 30 years. Sometimes you have to know who you are and be satisfied with what you have.

Bielema’s replacement probably won’t have as good a seven years as Bielema just finished, but I doubt Bielema would have either if he’d stayed in Madison.

If they can find a better game manager who is as good at identifying and attracting players for his system, maybe the Badgers will be better. They might also be worse.

Meanwhile, Darrell Hazell’s widely reported jump to the Big Ten is intriguing in a number of ways as well.

A former Jim Tressel assistant at Ohio State, Hazell has great knowledge of the Big Ten. With roots in the east at Rutgers (among other places), he could be uniquely qualified to function in the new Big Ten after Maryland and Rutgers join the league, too.

That could turn out to be especially important at a place like Purdue, which I think along with Indiana is the hardest place to win in the league.

The fact is Hoosier State just does not produce a lot of players, and that situation is exacerbated by the fact there are two programs there to fight over them. Of course the proximity of Notre Dame, Ohio State and Michigan just to name three is another issue.

If there is any benefit to expansion, it’s the added money and exposure from the Big Ten Network. Hazell might be coming along at just the right time to take advantage of those things and lift up a program that has one Big Ten title in the past four decades.

This is easy for me to say because it’s someone else’s career and opportunities can be fleeting, but I am inclined to think Hazell would have been better off waiting for a job with a higher ceiling, but I guess there’s no reason he can’t follow Bielema’s lead if his star ever shines as brightly.

Ohio State Football: When The Music’s Over

Nowhere to turn but The Doors this week as we take a look back at the end of a 12-game run of perfection for the Ohio State football team. It was quite a ride, but we can’t help but wonder what’s next. 

What we learned last week: How a true 180 feels.

Could anything have been more different than the way things turned out this year for Ohio State?

From a loss at Michigan with a flailing defense to a win at Ohio Stadium with a stop unit rejuvenated, led in part by a linebacker who used to be a fullback, not to mention a Michigan fan.

From a helpless, free-falling November of 2011 to the capstone of a perfect season including a pair of close wins instead of three one-score losses.

Ohio State lines up to run out the clock against Michigan, Nov. 24, 2012

Urban Meyer wants to make sure this team’s accomplishments are recorded because they sure don’t write books like this. I don’t think this screenplay could get produced because no one would buy it.

I think this season also turned out to teach that enjoying the ride is still possible.

Oh sure, there are regrets. Some wonder what might have been, and there was some campaigning for No. 1 votes in the AP poll.

There were threads on our BuckeyeSports.com message board decrying the play calling and the crowd noise and the missed tackles, just like always.

But there were still 100,000-plus in Ohio Stadium eight times this fall. They still cheered as lustily when the Buckeyes put together an improbable comeback in the last minute then dominated overtime against Purdue. They still reveled under the lights as the offense ran wild against Nebraska, and they still danced and sang with the band and the players after a close win at Michigan State.

They still rushed the field after a win over Michigan, too.

It still looked, sounded and felt like a regular Ohio State football season all along the way, and that was good to see.

I was beginning to wonder if the BCS – with its slightly more tangible presentation of a true race for a national championship compared to the completely poll-driven decision process that preceded it – had ruined some of that.

Had the long run of success in the Big Ten and over Michigan spoiled fans? Maybe so. Some players last year and this year admitted it might have made them complacent, too.

That’s somewhat understandable. It is human nature, after all.

So it was good to see the joy and passion back for all. A rejuvenated coach, team and fan base all soaking in the simple joy of a win just for winning’s sake.

The stakes return next season, but the memories of this one will linger forever.

 

What we can expect to learn next week (and beyond): That was quite a season of Ohio State football. It lasted only 12 games, but there was plenty of drama. Wonder what they’ll do for an encore…

After one of the weirdest periods in OSU football history, the Buckeyes needed a mental reset.

Turns out they might have found the master of psychology in his field. Of course, Urban Meyer had to fix himself before he could go to work on his home state’s favorite team.

So 2012 turned out to be a test period for all sorts of things. A new offense, a new workout regime, a new mental approach and a new man – in more ways than one – at the helm.

Nobody could have dreamed it would turn out so well, and the twists and turns were even more unpredictable.

Who knows the next time Ohio State will get as many things to break its way as did this season – it had been at least 10 years, right? – but then again maybe not as many will be necessary next season when the schedule is weaker and the methods are more familiar.

The 1998 Buckeyes, for instance, really only would have needed one break in one particular game to go down as one of the great teams in school history. (And the loss to Michigan State that season actually required quite a string of unfortunate events to happen anyway.)

Maybe the same could be said of 1969 or several of Woody Hayes’ great teams in the early ‘70s.

The 2002 and ’12 Buckeyes brought a lot of their problems on themselves, but they persevered through determination and perhaps even some providence.

How next season unfolds will begin to be told with winter workouts, but there’s no deadline for the 2013 Buckeyes to be great. It might be more tense with more on the line, or it might be carefree if they grow and cut back on mistakes and lapses in focus. Only time will tell.

They seem to have a coach who knows how to make magic more likely, but even Urban Meyer concedes there is only so much anyone can do other than hope for the best.

It will be a long offseason. Good thing they left on such a high note.

Stocks are high with this program now, and it will be interesting to see how they handle prosperity.

They haven’t won anything tangible yet, so that shouldn’t be too hard a sell.

They completed their payback tour with wins over everyone in the conference that beat them last season, but there is unfinished business to attend to.

It goes beyond the Big Ten, but they’ll have to get through it again first. The path they just traversed was winding and treacherous, but the next one will be even longer even if it runs the risk of being more boring at times.

Much of what makes a great coach is his psychological approach, and that will be tested in building and keeping together the 2013 team.

How will he teach it to remain hungry, to be sure cupcakes don’t spoil the appetite?

They showed plenty of flaws that need to be worked on, of course, so maybe that won’t become a concern until next season actually starts.

Maybe I shouldn’t get ahead of myself, but then again I guess that’s sort of my point.

After twelve wild wins there are going to be a full 12 more months before this team can say it accomplished more than its predecessor. Then there will still be one more step, and the hardest one of all.

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Ohio State Football Week 7: Championship Chase

This week our inspiration comes from Sam Spence, who has put together many spectacular tracks for NFL Films over the years. 

What we learned last week: The Buckeyes really do have their sights set on a national championship, and they just might be able to pull it off.

I think I saw the first fan mention this on our www.BuckeyeSports.com message board within an hour of the NCAA handing down its 2012 postseason ban to Ohio State, but now we’ve heard a player confirm the Buckeyes’ intentions to run the table and take home the program’s fifth Associated Press national championship this season.

“Oh yeah, that’s definitely a goal for our team,” cornerback Bradley Roby said Saturday night. “We want to win every single game. We’re taking it one play at a time, one game at a time. We definitely want to go undefeated, and hopefully that’s something in the future.”

Bradley Roby talks to reporters after Ohio State’s defeat of Nebraska

There are many obstacles to overcome, of course, but the Buckeyes are within shouting distance after moving up to No. 8 this week.

Winning is one thing, but winning with flare is another. I wonder if some voters treated the Buckeyes – perhaps understandably so – as afterthoughts in their balloting before the season and in the first month. They seem to be taking notice now, and that comes as no surprise given the way the Buckeyes have won, including dropping 63 points on Nebraska last week.

They have some clear problems on defense, but people love offense. Those scoreboard fireworks also give voters who might not see a snap of a game a more tangible way to envision what happened, too, although major offensive numbers are becoming par for the course in college football lately.

Do I think this is going to happen? It’s still unlikely, but anything is possible.

The rest of the schedule lines up favorably as Michigan is the only other Big Ten team currently ranked in the AP Top 25 (and the Wolverines barely qualify as they cling to the last spot). Ohio State doesn’t play a plucky Northwestern team that can’t play defense but has a dangerous offense, but there are trips to Wisconsin and Penn State.

Those are not easy places to play, but Ohio State has more raw ability on its roster than either squad so winning should be a matter of finding favorable matchups and executing the game plan.

I thought before the season Illinois could be dangerous as a sandwich game between those two road trips, but the Fighting Illini have looked awful pretty much all season.

Beating Michigan will be no cakewalk, but the emotion of that game should be through the roof as the Buckeyes look for payback from their only loss to the Wolverines in the past decade and welcome back the 2002 national championship team for a 10-year reunion.

There might even be a boost from an appearance by Jim Tressel, the former coach who recruited many of the current Buckeyes and has been invited back as part of the festivities for his most accomplished team.

Can you imagine what Ohio Stadium would be like with an undefeated Ohio State squad playing host to both its bitter rival and its most beloved team of the past two or three decades on Thanksgiving weekend?

It could be epic, but there is much for them to do between now and then.

This pie-in-the-sky scenario involves receiving plenty of outside help, too, as the Buckeyes are nowhere near controlling their own destiny.

Top-ranked Alabama looks to be head and shoulders above the field so far this season, and the other six undefeated teams ranked ahead of them would in all likelihood need to lose, too, because Ohio State’s schedule won’t be considered tougher than any of them have faced.

Some of those teams will take care of each other as fifth-ranked West Virginia and No. 6 Kansas State play each other Oct. 20, the same day No. 4 Florida hosts No. 3 South Carolina. The Gators also play Georgia and at Florida State while the Gamecocks’ second-toughest remaining regular season game is this weekend in Baton Rouge against LSU.

I’m still not sure how legitimate Notre Dame is, but the seventh-ranked Fighting Irish still has lose-able games against USC, Stanford and Oklahoma.

That leaves the Crimson Tide, who will have to down in all likelihood the winner of the Florida-South Carolina game in the SEC championship, and No. 2 Oregon. The high-flying Ducks have the easiest remaining schedule of the top seven but must also contend with USC and Stanford before facing someone in the Pac-12 title game.

 

What we can expect to learn this week: If the Buckeyes can keep their focus and continue to iron out the mistakes.

The trips to Happy Valley and Madison could be daunting, but Ohio State gets a couple of tuneups first from the state of Indiana’s Big Ten representatives.

First up is Indiana, a squad that enters this week’s contest with its customary bottom-dwelling defense but an offense with the potential to do damage under second-year head coach Kevin Wilson despite the loss of potential star quarterback Tre Roberson.

No one in the Big Ten has thrown for more yards than the Hoosiers so far this season, and their 304.8 yards per game through the air are 19th in the nation. They like to pick those yards up with short passes and a variety of screens, something that has bothered the Buckeyes this season as defensive coordinator Luke Fickell and co-defensive coordinator Everett Withers work to meld their defensive philosophies.

Indiana’s most dangerous weapon is sophomore wide receiver Shane Wynn, a Cleveland Glenville product once thought to be a future Buckeye, and they have a trio of interesting running backs in Stephen Houston, D’Angelo Roberts and Tevin Coleman.

On the flip side, they haven’t shown the ability to stop the pass or the run, so Meyer and offensive coordinator Tom Herman can likely pick their poison as they continue to evolve their version of the spread offense.

This one would be an easy one for the Buckeyes to overlook, but one also wonders about the mental state of the Hoosiers after a second-half collapse last week against Michigan State. Will that give them confidence that Wilson’s program is gaining a foothold, or did they shoot all their bullets at the Spartans?

We’ll find out Saturday night in Bloomington.

Overheard at Ohio State: Nebraska Week

Cleaning out the reporter’s notebook after another week on the Ohio State football beat… 

Urbanisms

Asked what he said to Braxton Miller after carrying the team offensively but committing three turnovers last week, Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer replied, “I love you to death, but protect the ball.”

Nobody is perfect, but he is playing hard and he’s only a sophomore. On his interception, he should have thrown the ball to the flat. He jammed his knee on the second fumble, and that looked bad because it was right in front of Meyer, but he needs to hang onto the ball.

Meyer knows Miller’s high school coach, Jay Minton, very well and spent a good bit of time with him in January getting to know more about Braxton, who has spent a lot of his life getting away with things he shouldn’t do on the field because of his athleticism. He is perhaps more humble than anyone else Meyer has seen.

Meyer’s philosophy is to coach a team really hard after a win. They might be fragile when coming off a loss, but Tuesday’s practice was supposed to be one of the toughest of the year.

Nebraska has a dynamic quarterback in Taylor Martinez and a very good defense that brings some unique looks. The defensive line plays two gaps a man and the backfield engages in pattern reading, kind of like a matchup zone in basketball. That makes it hard to run some of the Buckeyes’ base passes, so they have to do some different things.

He thought the count of times they had the OSU DBs in press coverage against Michigan State was 26 (MSU ran 64 plays). That is much more than previous weeks. Meyer felt good about how the defense played other than one play.

He has a good relationship with Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini, who was on the team in 1987 when Meyer was an OSU grad assistant. They coached against each other when Pelini was defensive coordinator at LSU and Meyer was head coach at Florida. He was a real tough guy as a player and that is reflected in his personality today as a coach.

Meyer loved the reaction of the offense when it got the ball back with a chance to run the clock out in East Lansing. They were excited after seeing MSU would have to punt.

The offensive line still has only five guys they can rely on (he wants eight), but those five are doing very well. Reid Fragel, the former tight end, has really become an Ohio State offensive lineman the last two games. That is a powerful statement, Meyer said.

Zach Smith is doing a good job as wide receivers coach. His guy, Devin Smith, caught a touchdown pass to win the game last weekend, obviously. He has been coaching hard and now has developed a big-play guy in Smith and a reliable option in Corey “Philly” Brown, who is putting up numbers. The young guys are coming along, and Meyer pointed out Smith also runs the punt block team. “We finally got a frickin’ punt here,” Meyer said.

Serious injury is a concern for Miller after he went out of the last game a couple of times. He recalled the plight of Oregon when Dennis Dixon blew out his knee late in the season and the Ducks lost the rest of their games. He observed that Dixon originally committed to him at Utah before opting for Oregon. Kenny Guiton was cool and ready to go when Miller got hurt. He was already getting warmed up before the coach called for him. Guiton isn’t as talented as Miller, but the is very functional.

He wasn’t sure who would mimic Martinez on the scout team, but the defense has experience against a quarterback like him from facing Miller in the spring and preseason.

The Buckeyes came together last week in facing MSU, and he was very fired up about that.

The linebackers played better, including Ryan Shazier, a sophomore who is one of his favorite guys. Meyer didn’t realize how little Shazier played last year at first. He is someone Meyer will listen to because he talks like a man.

Regarding the video issue with Michigan State, Meyer said he asked a member of the video staff about it and it had been taken care of last Tuesday. He also said he believed the Big Ten had been made aware of the video going around of a Michigan State offensive lineman trying to poke Johnathan Hankins in the eyes.

Meyer joked he would tell Brown it is OK if he breaks a tackle at some point after catching a screen pass. That is part of the spread offense, a chance to make something happen in a one-on-one situation. They need guys who can do that. They’re an “on schedule offense” right now. They can’t rely on big plays, and they aren’t good enough to overcome being behind the chains so they can’t take a lot of big shots down the field.

The team wasn’t very close when he got here, for whatever reason, but they are now. This staff pushed the envelope and they came together over the weekend. You’re more likely to see things like that when you win against a good team on the road. Zach Boren showed his manhood with his leadership. Only six or seven of the 20-some teams he has been part of as a coach came together, so it is not a given.

This is not a great team, but it has a chance to do something special.

He regretted how vehemently he went after an official who called a personal foul on Carlos Hyde after the Buckeye running back hit an MSU punt returner above the shoulders after he fielded punt. Meyer thought the flag was for kick catch interference but saw later it was a proper call for unnecessary roughness.

Nebraska has a dynamic offense that will turn a mistake into an 80-yard gain, not eight.

Offensive line coach Ed Warinner was happy for his guys to get the player of the week recognition on offense. It validates the hard work they have put in since January. They have played hard and shown lots of improvement, but there are still things to clean up as they move forward. They understand what they want to do offensively, and that’s be physical. It was nice to finish out the game the way they did.

He was confident they would be able to run it out when they took the field and smiled to himself about it on the sideline. A lot of guys were competing in that last four minutes, including the quarterback, tight ends and running back.

The growth of the team speaks volumes for the development the staff is working on in all phases of the game. He can see confidence developing in the wide receiver and the offensive line, two position groups that got a lot of criticism in the offseason.

They are building momentum now.

Fragel works hard and is starting to play well. It’s tougher on the line than at tight end. He had to grind it out against MSU star end William Gholston, and that will be the case again against Nebraska’s ends.

That was like a 12-round boxing match for the team. There were a lot of plays that could have gone either way.

There was a lot of success here followed by a tough year and then a change in doing business. That is hard to deal with. He’s a grown man and he has been through it before, but that’s not the case for the players. They bought in quickly, maybe faster than he expected.

Warinner knows the Nebraska coordinators well from his days as a coordinator at Kansas.

They are very sound and physical. The defensive tackles will knock the guards back and the linebackers play downhill. Then they play varying coverages in the backfield. That is what Bo Pelini is known for.

He is sure the offensive line knows it has been picked on over the years here. There is a scab that is healing now. They won’t be pushed around anymore. The line wants to be able to carry the team instead of having to rely so much on the quarterback. It’s good for them to gain confidence.

Defensive line coach Mike Vrabel remembers the team being ready to go at the start of the Nebraska game last year but being deflated when Miller went out with an ankle injury. He suggested that reaction might have been a result of youth. Then they got steamrolled as no one could make a play to halt the Husker momentum.

Nathan Williams is getting better as he gets farther and farther from major knee surgery, but they are still managing his health. He has done a hell of a job for them. He puts the team first. He cares about his teammates and it shows. The coach also said it is important Williams is able to practice. He can’t just get by with gaining experience in games, as Williams said he was pretty much doing the first couple of weeks.

Hankins is getting comfortable and starting to recognize plays so he can react to them. He conditioning is good, not great.

Someone asked about things that go on in piles during a football game, and Vrabel said it is pretty much anything goes as long as a ball is involved. There is no place in the game for cheap shots, chop blocks or eye-pokes in the game. He tells guys nothing is worth a 15-yard penalty.

Nebraska has a patient offense. They are really comfortable doing what they do. They will pound and pound until they break through, but they can also go over the top.

OSU had a good understanding of what Michigan State was going to do on offense, and the Buckeyes got a lift from the offense scoring right away.

Martinez’s speed makes it imperative everyone has their “fit” in the running game (that means gap covered).

Mike Bennett is coming along healthwise and adds depth for them. The other young guys are still developing.

Quarterback Braxton Miller knew something was wrong with Gholston when he was lying on top of him after a play because he wasn’t saying anything. The referee told him to lie still and not move until they could figure out what was up. Miller is glad he could get back up.

He feels better throwing the deep ball thanks to continuing to practice it.

He was mad at himself for not being able to go back in the game at Nebraska last year. He remembers they had a good game plan.

He wasn’t that sore after the game. You take big hits in the Big Ten.

He hasn’t felt like he has been overused.

He expects a crazy atmosphere at Ohio Stadium under the lights Saturday night.

Wide receiver Devin Smith said he loves making big plays, especially for his teammates. He is more than just a deep threat, though. He can make guys miss if he gets the chance.

He enjoyed the crowd last year at night against Wisconsin but expects it to be bigger this year.

Linebacker Ryan Shazier said they got lazy at times against Nebraska last year. They were lackadaisical. Remembering how that game went does provide motivation, as was the case last week with Michigan State.

He expects the stadium to be jumping Saturday with everybody into it.

The linebackers felt like they were a weak point for the defense but they have improved. They got stronger against MSU. Coach Luke Fickell has been tough on them, telling then they can be great but they weren’t showing it.