Tag Archives: Penn State football

Ohio State Football Week 10: Something Like That

I have often thought of a Tim McGraw song when picturing how Urban Meyer views Braxton Miller, and Saturday was another reminder of why as the scintillating sophomore did some more things “a heart don’t forget”…

What we learned last week: Players trump momentum, and it doesn’t hurt to be lucky sometimes, either.

We already should have known these things, of course, but sports has a way of providing us with reminders on a regular basis.

Braxton Miller struggled early in the game last Saturday night at Penn State. There is no denying it. He looked uncomfortable in the pocket, and he had a hard time finding running room as the Nittany Lions smartly sold out to stop the powerful Ohio State rushing attack.

The Buckeyes’ quarterback also flirted with disaster on more than one occasion as a pair of throws were nearly intercepted and returned for touchdowns by Penn State defensive backs.

Miller also cost his team six points when he missed a wide open Philly Brown on a vertical route in the first quarter, but as they often have this season, eventually Miller’s “dids” overcame his “wouldas” and his “couldas,” and the Buckeyes never looked back.

It’s funny how that happens to the freakiest of athletes more than anyone else, isn’t it?

With a few tweaks from Urban Meyer and Tom Herman, Miller suddenly found some room to run, and he did not waste it.

He also got some help from Carlos Hyde, a running back who has already proven he is a difference maker with his size and speed, and Rod Smith, one who is reputed to be able to do the same thing and gave more glimpses he really is in Happy Valley.

Add it all up and a good half of defense went up in smoke for the Nittany Lions, who looked as helpless against Miller in the third quarter as they did dominant in the first and for most of the second.

When he gets locked in, he is just about impossible to stop. Nobody has as much magic in his feet as Miller, and he’s dangerous as a passer despite his inconsistency.

It really is a marvel to watch him grow up on this stage, to see how much he can accomplish on instincts and a sense of what he’s being taught by a new set of coaches. Dare to imagine how he’ll look by the start of next season after he has had more time to digest it all? I’m sure you probably already have, but feel free to do it again.

Of course, it wasn’t only Miller whose ability could change a game. Saturday night was another affirmation that Ohio State has better players than the rest of the Big Ten at this point in time.

Even with injuries biting a few positions, the Buckeyes have a lot of guys that can play. Not enough to be considered national title contenders yet, but enough to continue to carry the conference as we wait to see what the ceiling of Brady Hoke’s Michigan program is going to be.

What we can expect to learn this week: I hate to go back to this well, but the question is how the Buckeyes handle prosperity because at the end of the day, they still only have so much to play for.

Last week, I wrote that the biggest factor was going to be Ohio State’s mood. It has been that way all year as the Buckeyes have lost focus at times and made mistakes that cost them in the points column.

Some of the letdowns were understandable even though they are never acceptable. Human nature tells us getting fired up to face Indiana isn’t automatic. The same could be said for all of the nonconference games, truth be told, because none were brand names. Even Cal’s best recent success came when the current players weren’t very old.

But then going to Penn State was another matter. Not that the Buckeyes view Penn State much differently than any other conference foe, but the Nittany Lions seemed to be developing a bit of swagger while winning five in a row. They looked sharp on film dispatching Iowa a week earlier (though the Hawkeyes had a hand in that, to be sure), and the game was at a place that has caused opponents fits in the past. Beaver Stadium was also one that the Buckeyes could look at and be confident they could win because they had done it on their past two visits, but actually being there can be energizing if handled correctly, something the few veterans on this squad have seen first hand.

And so history repeated itself, and talent won out. Ohio State’s very good offensive line outplayed Penn State’s very good front seven. Matt McGloin made some plays, but not enough for his team when the game was still in doubt. Miller made them, too, and he got help from his buddies in the backfield. They also managed to provide enough of a run threat to create opportunities in the passing game, and they hit one of those when they needed it late. Jake Stoneburner’s 72-yard touchdown catch was another example of superior skill, too, as he simply won a one-on-one battle with a safety.

So where does it leave Ohio State now? The Buckeyes seem primed for another letdown with an emotional win in the rearview, a weak opponent front and center and a week off around the corner prior to two matchups that should get everyone’s blood pumping again. While I’ve said clunkers are inevitable, I still think this team has tended to turn in too many uneven efforts.

Winning out would be a great source of pride, but it probably wouldn’t result in much more than that.

And this week’s opponent is a terribly disappointing squad from Illinois, another that has given the Buckeyes plenty of fits in the past few years but that looks awful so far this season.

Before the season, this looked like a trap game, but I’m not sure the Fighting Illini are good enough to spring it, so how will the Buckeyes react? Will they smell blood and finally put a team away early, or will they mess around and wait for someone else to do the job until things really start to get dicey?

Eventually, this team needs to iron out some of its mental issues. Motivation is a constant struggle with the age group, but by next year they will need to bring a more consistent effort to the park every week because style points will matter, maybe more than going undefeated in and of itself. And the schedule might not be so kind, depending on how things develop in Ann Arbor and Madison.

The need for Miller to share the burden of moving the ball is real, too, as is avoiding big plays in the secondary.

But for now this particular ride continues, and the chance to go 10-0 is less than a week away.

Overheard at Ohio State Football: Penn State Week

Cleaning out the reporter’s notebook after another week on the Ohio State football beat. This week the surprising health of Braxton Miller and the Penn State program given recent hits both took dominated conversation. 

URBANISMS

Ohio State’s head coach noted the football team is 8-0 despite doing a pretty poor job of meeting his four points in the plan to win.

They weren’t great on defense against Purdue, but they were better. The offense continues to sputter at times, and the kicking game has had a lot of breakdowns that have hurt. They also lost the turnover battle.

He noted that looking at the list of champions from week to week is an obvious sign of the inconsistency of the team. This week it was all defensive players after none made it the week before when the offense carried the team at Indiana.

(For updates to personnel, see here and here. Latter link also includes weekly champions from Purdue. Also check out the BuckeyeSports.com story archive for other things by our staff.)

Meyer recalled coaching against current Penn State quarterback Matt McGloin in the Outback Bowl. He is much improved from then (when he threw five interceptions), and the guys around him are better. The defense is good as always there.

He called PSU tackle Jordan Hill and linebacker Mike Mauti great players. He recruited Mauti very hard when he was at Florida, but Mauti was a legacy recruit for the Nittany Lions.

Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller is a real competitor. They have to coach him to get out of bounds a little more when he has the opportunity, but he is trying to make plays when things aren’t going well. They want to limit his hits, but they have to use him to move the ball often.

This is still a group of Buckeyes (mostly) that lost seven games last season and was reeling when he took over, so they are sure to appreciate the wins they get now.

The roster continues to be very thin with only about 60 guys really available, and some of them are not doing much to be contributors.

Asked to assess his coaching staff’s performance so far this season, he said they are doing pretty well at dealing with everything that comes with the transition and leading a team. He wouldn’t give them an A+. They have to get the team healthy, develop it and go recruit some more guys. He wants to enhance what is in place.

Some guys, such as the defensive linemen, are playing too many snaps, but they haven’t developed as much depth as he wants to prevent that from happening.

Asked if his season passed before his eyes when he saw Miller go down, Meyer replied, “Sure.” Then the first question was if Miller was OK. Then attention turned to adjusting for what Kenny Guiton can do.

The plans change with Guiton in the game, but he has been fairly successful.

They will use noise at practice to prepare for the environment at Beaver Stadium, which his assistants told him is the loudest place in the Big Ten. Being a no-huddle offense helps them deal with that, but they’ll have to get rid of some motions and shifts because they won’t be able to hear.

Beaver Stadium at Penn State

Someone asked if night games are crazier because fans have more time to “fuel up” and he grinned and said he wanted to give a politically correct answer.

He was previously known to have met with Bill Belichick to talk strategy, but he had no contact with Bill O’Brien at that time. He was there to talk defense. Josh McDaniels was the offensive coordinator at that time, anyway.

Meyer has great admiration for Penn State and always has. It’s a strong school academically, and don’t forget the Lions were undefeated for a good while last season. That means they have very good football players.

Penn State got off to a poor start this season, but they are still Penn State right now because the sanctions haven’t started to really kick in yet. This is a well-coached team of good players. John Cooper told Meyer it will be a very good draft day for Penn State, meaning there are plenty of NFL-caliber players in Happy Valley.

He could have a long discussion about how to motivate 18-year-olds, but that is part of his job. Self-motivated players at that age are very rare. He likes to think this staff is great at pulling guys out of a spiral if it comes to that. Guiton is a poster child for that. He really turned things around since December. Meyer made sure he watched himself on the final drive during the team’s meal Sunday.

Someone asked if we could see more of Guiton in the game even with Miller healthy, and he said he wasn’t sure. He joked that Kenny could throw it harder next time and later dismissed the idea of using Kenny as a runner because that’s not a strength of his.

Devan Bogard is out for the year, but Meyer loves him. If he could recruit 100 of him, life would be good.

He is putting a lot of pressure on guys who aren’t playing in games, pushing them harder in practice.

They can’t coach Miller to be much different as far as running because they aren’t an efficient enough team for him to just be a dropback passer.

The biggest thing now is they need some guys to step up, not just show up at the games to sing the fight song afterward.

Good news: backup offensive linemen Chase Farris and Taylor Decker have had a good couple of weeks of practice and are closer to being able to help.

Chris Fields has been “active” at wide receiver for two weeks, including last week when he caught the game-tying touchdown and had another long catch that set up a touchdown run.

That gives them another receiver to count on, but they are still slim at linebacker.

Offensive coordinator Tom Herman said he carries with him a lucky rock his daughter gave him, but he knows the success of the final drive led by Guiton when the team was facing dire straits was a product or hard work and practice.

He agreed with Meyer that the playcalling won’t change as a result of Miller going out of the game last week. They have to do what they can do to win.

Regarding game planning, he said they are 0-8 in terms of planning for what they see from a defense. There is some stuff that they do that is designed to be independent of the type of defense they see, too. Oh, and that stuff usually involves Miller.

Penn State is playing really well on defense. Hill is very good. This will be the best defense Ohio State has seen this season. He’s read the environment is tough as well.

Ohio State’s offensive players are a bit fragile from the struggles of last season, so the staff has to be part psychologist, too. He could see them gaining more confidence with the success they had last Saturday without Miller.

After beating Purdue, he told the offense congratulations on the win but they played badly. That includes him not coaching well enough. He said some guys were called out individually, too, but didn’t name those guys. The whole world knows the offense was bad against Purdue, so it’s up to the coaching staff to figure out why and fix it.

In going back over the conversation with Meyer about what to call on the two-point conversion play, Herman said he has to pick his battles against the head coach. Herman wanted to run the tight end throwback, but Meyer was on the sideline hearing from the offensive linemen about wanting to ram the ball in. Herman was steadfast in his belief the pass was a better option, and he won the debate. He said that’s why he likes being in the booth. The sterile environment helps him stick with the plan as opposed to getting washed away in the emotion of the moment. It’s important to remember why they made those plans and to keep faith in them.

Co-defensive coordinator Everett Withers agreed the defense has been running on fumes, and some guys need to step up. They have the guys, now they’ll find out if any of them can play. Sometimes guys are different on the playing field as opposed to the practice field (in a good way).

Safeties Christian Bryant and C.J. Barnett probably had their best week of practice last week. He had challenged them after their play against Indiana the week before.

The staff felt like it had a good handle on what Purdue would do offensively. They had practiced against the first play of the game, but someone froze and didn’t make the play, leading to an 83-yard touchdown.

Withers hopes having success on defense last week will breed some confidence. The rest of the game, he thinks we saw them play more confidently thanks to preparation.

Barnett is experienced. He has played in some big games, and he understands the scheme. They can make adjustments on the sideline with him because he gets it. Mentally he needed some time to get back into it when he faced Indiana in his first game back from an ankle injury.

McGloin will be the most efficient passer they have seen. He knows where to go with the ball. He will hit his third read, which isn’t something they have seen much this year. He can move around to avoid the rush. Withers agreed being coached by a guy like O’Brien would be a boost.

He was able to stay above the emotion of the game last week because all the while they were mounting the comeback, the coaches were preparing for overtime. They felt the momentum swing with the conversion of the two-pointer. That gave them a feeling they would win at that point. He was excited for the kids. They stayed calm and played through adversity.

The coaches have gotten some guys to step up who hadn’t performed previously. That’s part of the program, where there is constant pressure to be the best in everything. That helps some guys. You can see it daily.

Quarterback Braxton Miller said he knew he was OK last Saturday night when he had passed all of the medical tests at the hospital.

Asked if his neck was sore, he said, “Just a little bit,” but declared himself “just about full-go.”

He wasn’t sure what had happened to him when he went down. He felt dizzy, and they took him to the hospital because of the uncertainty.

He isn’t worried about getting hurt again and figures he will be the same guy now as before he went down.

That was the first time he has landed on his head, shoulder and neck all at once like that, so he was nervous about it at first.

He called the hit the type that makes you flinch when you see it, but he’s not feeling it anymore.

He asked the nurse for updates while he was at the hospital, but she said she didn’t have any because she was busy tending to him.

Wide receiver Jake Stoneburner said the Nittany Lions have a typical Penn State defense with really good linebacker and a physical, tough defensive line.

Asked about how to deal with a terrible offseason like Penn State did, Stoneburner said the key is just forgetting it. That is easier to do once the season starts. He is impressed with them. They’ll be a great program again. Bill O’Brien is doing a great job, and the players have risen to the occasion.

Miller seems just fine, the same old Braxton. He was sore on Sunday and Monday but got most of that out through running and practice.

He remembers Beaver Stadium as a huge place with a crazy crowd, although it wasn’t in full force the last time they were there in ’09. He’s heard it can be louder.

Stoneburner has been scared by a hit before when he ended up cross-eyed, but it goes away.

Someone asked about the offense seeing a lot of defenses it wasn’t expecting, he said it’s crazy how they have an answer for everything anyway. They can put a whole new game plan in very quickly during a game, and it is always based off of stuff they repped at some point earlier in the season even if they didn’t work on it that week.

Wide receiver Chris Fields said the band started playing the “Buckeye Swag” song. They players like to just act silly and have fun when it comes on.

He got a confidence boost from his performance last week’s success. Receivers coach Zach Smith said to keep working hard, and Smith definitely feels like he is doing more to earn the trust of the staff.

He got a lot of texts and tweets Saturday after the game-tying TD catch.

Penn State is really physical, and the Buckeyes will have to bring their A game.

They pumped a lot of loud noise into practice, and the speakers are so loud nothing could be any more intense. He hasn’t been to Penn State before. They try to feed off the energy of the visiting crowd when they go on the road.

He loves road games and beating teams in their place.

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Ohio State Football Week 9: Learning To Live Again

You probably thought I was going to go with some kind of dramatic, over-the-top reference to the exciting finish of the Buckeyes’ win over Purdue, right? Well, I thought of that then decided to go a different direction. Can’t go wrong with a Garth Brooks song, anyway…

What we learned last week: Never say never? I don’t know…

I often say to myself I don’t know where to begin when I sit down to write one of these, but I’m truly feeling that way this week. Perhaps this time it’s for real.

It’s just that I have never seen anything like what happened at Ohio Stadium last Saturday. I am not afraid to admit I was one of those who had written the obituary for Ohio State undefeated football season of 2012. I hadn’t seen enough from the available parts to think they had a comeback in them.

I’m not the only one who felt that way because quite honestly the odds were against them.

After the game, Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman didn’t say he doubted the Buckeyes’ ability to come from behind, but he intimated he realized how difficult it was going to be. It was interesting to see his response, with him being a new guy on the block.

Obviously the rest of us have seen a lot of these stories unfold over the years, and aside from 2002, they tended to have an unhappy ending. Herman was coming at it from a different perspective, one I couldn’t pretend to fully understand without asking him more about it. But working with those guys every day, he’s going to have a different perspective on what those guys can do. And yet he probably didn’t know they could drive 61 yards in 47 seconds either until it happened.

Herman strikes me as a pragmatic person, so he certainly would have been acknowledging, at least subconsciously, the odds all along we’re not with him regardless of how much hope he might have had as he called the plays in the waning seconds.

So maybe the lesson is just to remember this whole season is about re-adjusting expectations on a personal if not program level.

This 2012 season is all about a fresh start. Parts of it we have seen before, but much of it is new. And even some of the familiar with things are going to be re-imagined.

Last year we saw them get over the hump of the fourth-quarter collapse. At least that’s what we thought after they beat Wisconsin. They suffered the letdown of the giving up a lead late, but they changed the narrative by coming up with their own late score.

Of course, even with that exciting new twist to the season, they couldn’t finish. The bullets they fired against Wisconsin were their last. The 2011 Buckeyes were really never the same after that.

I suppose that makes a fitting bridge from the Jim Tressel era to the present day. I hate to make too many Tressel comparisons, but we are just going to have to get a few more of those out-of-the-way. That was obviously a significant time in the program’s history, so it’s inevitably going to keep coming back, at least for a while.

And for whatever reason – maybe there wasn’t one – those teams just had a hard time with certain things. Maybe they used up all their mojo early on, but then again there were almost as many bad breaks in the 2001 season as there were good in 2002, so I guess you just never know.

These Buckeyes are still learning to live again, and in some ways it may be killing them. There’s no doubt that right or wrong, them mindset is being re-programmed. Some have already left, and many are not the same players they were before.

I think instead of slow and steady wins the race, the message now is to go out and take what is theirs. That is going to fit better with some players than others.

Sometimes you’re just not good enough, and that’s why even Urban Meyer teams lose games. He is an interesting guy to follow because he seems to have a constant struggle between his pragmatic side and his passionate side. Both mean well, but they can’t always have their way. Ideally, they’ll work together to keep him aggressive but sane and he’ll be able to pass that on accordingly, but who knows.

I imagine we all know what it’s like to ache for the best in life while realizing there are steps that must be taken to reach them. There are going to be plenty of small victories along the way that must be celebrated in their own right, ultimate goals be damned.

Expectations are key for excellence, but understanding is necessary for sanity.

Games like last Saturday’s will drive you crazy, but they are often necessary to achieve true excellence.

That is where the Buckeyes stand 3/4 of the way through Meyer’s first season.

What can we expect to learn this week: Who is the best banned Big Ten team? Doesn’t get much more simple than that.

This Ohio State team is in the odd situation of being able to win all its game but not play for all the marbles, and that is not an entirely bad thing. They get 12 games to work out the kinks in a new system but still have the chance to make their own bit of history depending how these last four games pan out. Given their schedule and the state of the Big Ten, the Buckeyes might have been left of the penultimate BCS title game anyway. Anything can happen in one game, but I’m not sure this team is really ready to take on the nation’s best this season, either.

Nothing is usual about this season, and this Saturday’s game at Penn State might be the strangest of them all.

Two proud programs will get together with nothing but pride for which to play despite their respective records and the good vibes from new coaches.

What Bill O’Brien has done within any Nitany Lions in the past month or so cannot be ignored. I definitely did not think they had it in them, but they are playing well on both sides of the ball. This is a big showcase for two old programs going in new directions, and it should tell us a lot about both.

O’Brien’s time in the NFL seems to have taught him a few things about matching up with a team’s weaknesses, something that might not bode well for an Ohio State defense that still has plenty of those.

Purdue is a strange team that seems to be worse than the sum of its parts. Penn State may be just the opposite. The Lions have a senior quarterback playing better than he ever has, a patchwork backfield that’s still been productive, a better-than-expected offensive line and a wide receiving corps that has produced a new star. Defensively, they are familiar in that they play tough up front, but I’m not sure the secondary has been tested yet. That may or may not change this week given the state of the aphid State passing game.

Whatever happens, it’s another and new experience for these young Buckeyes, another chance for this coaching staff to get to know its players better. That figures to be valuable but now and even more so in the future, not to mention fun to watch.

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