Tag Archives: Purdue

2014 Big Ten football picks

I think this will be one of the better Big Tens we’ve seen in the past decade or so, but I’m not sure there is an elite team in the league. There should be depth, and that could set things up for a strong 2015, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Ohio State is rebuilding on defense, but that unit could hardly be worse than it was when the ’13 season concluded, so it’s hard to count that as a negative. Michigan State’s offense was a sore spot early last season but finished on a high and returns almost everyone of consequence. They’ll have some new faces on the offensive line, but that unit wasn’t great anyway so they can probably get by with an average front again this season all things considered. Teams may play them differently now that Connor Cook is a known commodity, though. How he responds to that will tell a large part of the tale this season. Recent conference history is littered with quarterbacks who looked good early in their career but plateaued. Big Ten logo

Michigan State is, pardon the pun, green in some spots on defense, and it is unlikely the Spartans will be as tough there regardless of how good coaches Mark Dantonio and Pat Narduzzi have proven to be on that side of the ball. The same can be said of Ohio State’s offensive line, though, so it all could be a wash when the teams play Nov. 8. Continue reading

Big Ten West spring football review

After a bit of a delay for some NFL draft coverage, we have finally wrapped up our spring review for Big Ten football at BuckeyeSports.com. Big Ten logo

Earlier we took a look at the East. Now comes the West, which should have an interesting race.

Iowa and Minnesota both showed great improvement last season while Nebraska and Wisconsin have questions but remain contenders.  Continue reading

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.

Maybe this is why Purdue has struggled on offense

At 1-6 on the year, Purdue football is clearly not having a successful inaugural season under head coach Darrell Hazell. 

I’m among those who thought hiring Hazell, who was the epitome of class when dealing with the media as an Ohio State assistant who regularly turned out NFL-quality receivers for six seasons in Columbus, was a good move by the Boilermaker brass, and that could still turn out to be the case. It’s early yet in his tenure, and I’m sure there was a lot to work on after the dysfunctional Danny Hope era.

But the offense has been, to put it mildly, a disaster this season, and perhaps this is why:

The offense seems to be missing something.
The offense seems to be missing something.

Yeah, I guess using only 10 guys is a good way to get to 90th in the nation in passing yards and 118th or worse in pretty much every  other major statistical category.

How does this happen? That’s a good question. There are plenty of options to fill out that last spot. While Wisconsin would probably go with another tackle, Purdue could list a third receiver or a second tight end – maybe even a fullback since Hazell seems to want to move toward more of a pro-style attack. 

Did they forget about fullbacks after all those years of pass-happy spread offenses under the Joe Tiller? There are a few guys listed on the roster as fullbacks, so that can’t be it.

Is this depth chart is a simple protest from a spread offense loyalist in the sports information department, or are they just waiting for the next donation check from Mike Alstott to clear? 

Of course there are plenty of other things for Hazell to worry about when it comes to restoring the Purdue program, but hopefully we can get to the bottom of this sooner or later.

A Last Look at the Big Ten Bowls

Earlier, I took an overview of the Big Ten and what it needs to bounce back from a very poor 2012 football season. I take a lot more from the regular season than the bowls, but another sub-.500 record in the postseason certainly doesn’t help the cause of the league.

As far as the games themselves, I’m not sure we learned a whole lot.

  • The 2013 Capital One Bowl was really a quintessential 2012 Nebraska performance as the Cornhuskers gained 443 yards of offense but allowed 146 more than that. They put up 31 points (including an interception returned for a touchdown) but lost by two touchdowns. In short, the offense and defense were both spectacular, one good and one bad. I’d say personnel is the main explanation on both sides – Taylor Martinez progressed significantly (but still has more room to improve even more as a senior) and Nader Abdallah stepped up in the wake of I-back Rex Burkhead’s injury-plagued senior campaign. Aside from Burkhead (whom they’ve shown they can live without), the only real weapons they lose are a pair of talented tight ends, so the offense should continue to hum. Defensively, a bunch of seniors are walking out the door, but I’m not sure that is a bad thing. The talent has steadily dropped on that unit for three consecutive years, and the production has followed. Some new blood could be good, although I would rate Will Compton, Baker Steinkuhler and Eric Martin as players who will be missed. I also think the season and the game demonstrated the double-edged sword that is the multifaceted Bo Pelini (and coordinator John Papuchis) defense. A two-gap defensive line and pattern reading secondary gives the scheme a lot of flexibility, but it also leaves a lot of potential seams that can burst in the case of bad communication. To make matters worse, I don’t think Nebraska had enough guys with the talent to erase mistakes.
  • Michigan’s defensive numbers were largely a mirage. I like their young linebackers a lot, but the defensive line needs a serious upgrade. The secondary was better than it had been two years ago, but that doesn’t say much. The gaudy numbers they had as a secondary in the regular season were mostly a result of the weakness of Big Ten passing games and the weakness of the Michigan defense of line. Teams were plenty happy to run on the Wolverines until they were stopped. I thought Al Borges bounced back with a better game plan against South Carolina and he did, although it could have used some more Denard Robinson. Devin Gardner has a lot of talent, but he is still raw. Michigan has a playmaking wide receiver in Jeremy Gallon, but it remains to be seen if anyone else will step up to join him. Who knows if they will find a playmaker in the backfield, but the offensive line could be a major liability. It will definitely be young. Getting Taylor Lewan back could be a good start, but he’s not actually as productive as his accolades would indicate. That’s probably why the Michigan coaching staff barely gave him any chances to match up one-on-one with Jadeveon Clowney, who only played about half his team’s snaps anyway.
  • I suppose we learned Michigan State does not have unending confidence in Andrew Maxwell, but I guess that shouldn’t be a shock after the season he had. Of course he was made a captain before the season started. Are young quarterback in the expected to struggle, but I think the larger issue was with play calling that did not help them out. Of course, it’s hard to call plays when you can’t block anybody. The Spartans just have to get better up front if they want to be good enough to be an upper-echelon team. They should continue to be very good on defense next year even with the loss of William Gholston early to the pros. Depth is very good on the defensive line for MSU.
  • Northwestern sucked it up and got it done, actually riding a hot start to a postseason victory for a change. The Wildcats’ woeful secondary feasted on Mississippi State for four interceptions and showed some playmaking ability with six tackles for loss, including three sacks. Kain Colter and Venric Mark are wonderful skill players around whom to build an offense, but the offensive line started three seniors who will be missed. The quarterback rotation seems to need some bugs worked out, but a win is a win, especially considering the program’s postseason history.
  • Minnesota showed that it at least belonged in a bowl (for what that’s worth these days) but giving Texas Tech everything it wanted, but the Gophers couldn’t hang onto a late lead and lost on a last-second field goal. Only seven seniors started for the Gophers, who might have something in freshman quarterback Philip Nelson and sophomore running back Donnell Kirkwood. Leading tackler in the game Brock Vereen is due back at safety next year, as is defensive end Rashede Hageman (six tackles, one sack).
  • Purdue was kind enough to leave no doubt it made the right move in letting go Danny Hope. My only other thought on that game was that it will be refreshing to evaluate their 2013 roster with the impression any apparent talents won’t be wasted like they were under the Hope regime, which was plagued by injuries and undisciplined play. There are some dangerous skill guys on the roster if they all come back to play for new head coach Darrell Hazell, a former Ohio State assistant.
  • Rare is the Rose Bowl that feels like an afterthought, but it was hard to take much from Wisconsin’s loss to Stanford. Kudos to the Badgers for hanging tough after falling behind 14-0, but the Cardinal did not exactly lower the boom. Both teams were very conservative, owing to the total of 37 passes thrown and 34 points scored (not that I don’t love a good slugfest and the many varieties of running plays each team came out with). The game did serve as further validation to me of the improvement of the Wisconsin front seven, a group I was not high on at all entering the season but that turned in a really nice campaign. Most of it should be back, so that is a good building block for the new coaching staff in Madison. Nine seniors started on offense or defense for the Badgers, so they will be young and/or unproven at a lot of places in 2013.

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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 Week 8: Stop Breaking Down Blues

This week the column takes its title from a Robert Johnson standard that The Rolling Stones (among others) do a great version of. I think it sums up the feelings of Ohio State fans, players and coaches alike as the Buckeye offense roars and the defense struggles.

What we learned last week: Postseason bans don’t do much to dampen expectations at a place like Ohio State.

Sometimes waiting an extra day to write this column pays off in a little extra perspective. Sometimes it might suffer from that, too, but I’ll take the good with the bad.

In this case, the first inclination is to look at the last image of Ohio State’s 52-49 victory over Indiana and hold that up as the representation of the entire night. I’m not quite sure that’s wise, though.

To be sure, this is no great defense Ohio State is fielding in its 100th season in the Big Ten. “Inconsistent at best” is probably the kindest way I could accurately describe it at this point in time.

However, things might not be as dire as some are making them out to be.

I just think in general this team is still working out some of the mental issues that came with the NCAA-related strife of the end of 2010 through last season.

Many of these guys have been through a lot, and those who haven’t are too young to know what they don’t know.

The schizophrenia of this team is mind-boggling at times, but maybe it shouldn’t be. My theory now is that these guys are just showing the signs of any team that falls behind early in a game.

Rallying takes more energy than holding steady or running in the lead. At least that is the conventional wisdom, so let’s take it as fact for the sake of this discussion.

The thing about falling behind is it is stressful. Having stress is more energy-consuming than not because it necessarily means we have more to think about than when we aren’t worrying. And so as a consequence of this stress there is a never-ending desire to exhale. That is where rallying becomes difficult. It is not only an energy drain but also a distraction.

I think the core of this Ohio State team has just been trying to catch up so long it can’t ever get an even keel. Then throw the added stress of having to learn a new system and to adjust to the new psychology of a different coaching staff, and perhaps there just isn’t enough energy to go around.

And so you get what we had there last week.

One of the most easily forgotten parts of sports is the role of human nature. Why do you suppose that is? Shouldn’t it be the first thing we consider when we analyze our games? After all, that’s the stuff that draws us to them in the first place. The raw, honest emotion and the unpredictability of an event without a script. Nothing brings out human nature more freely than that, so why fight the result? But we all do, myself included.

Did the Ohio State defense let up with a big lead last Saturday night? You bet it did. Is that a big surprise? I suppose not.

Is it a bad sign for the future? That remains to be seen. Perhaps it turns out to be a positive. Maybe it’s a wakeup call and such a thing won’t happen again.

Maybe this wounded pride will provide motivation to work harder later this season and yield better results against better opponents.

Or maybe it will go in one ear and out the other, another potential lesson flittering away with the ashes of a disastrous finish to last season when the defense never could seem to get a good grasp on anyone as injuries took their toll down the stretch.

Seeing the same mistakes repeat themselves is striking. I think there are problems with the scheme, but I think they can be worked out. I think there are players who probably should be replaced sooner or later, even if that means next year is the soonest it could happen in some cases.

Such is life in college football, where there are not trade-deadline deals to bolster a roster but sometimes a 19-year-old has the light go on in November. Suddenly things that did not make sense in the heat of August click with the falling of the leaves. Sometimes they don’t.

I guess we’ll have to watch next week to see, either way.

What we can expect to learn this week: Maybe nothing more than what’s next.

Ohio State has defensive deficiencies that aren’t going to be worked out in one week’s time, but the Buckeyes can start the road back to respectability without hesitation if they tighten up their effort and focus.

And as far as troublesome schemes, Purdue practically provides a mulligan for the Buckeyes this week following the Hoosiers’ success with their spread offense.

The Boilermakers bring a better scoring unit (and Indiana’s wasn’t bad) to the Horseshoe this weekend, and they will play a similar style to the one that has been giving Ohio State fits for much of the season. Actually, to be more accurate, Purdue brings better skill players while the scheme might be a bit inferior to that of hurry-up spread guru Kevin Wilson at Indiana. That is really probably splitting hairs, though.

Purdue was also just decimated on defense by a previously struggling Wisconsin team, so there should be another good chance for the Ohio State offense to continue to evolve.

One would think the motivation that was lacking last week is built in this week. That the Buckeyes would have a hard time getting fired up to face Indiana after back-to-back revenge games was practically guaranteed.

By contrast, they play host this week to a team that has tormented them twice in the last three years and therefore could be cruising for a bruising.

There is so much to deal with in a year of transition that expecting all holes that pop up to be filled is probably unrealistic. That’s why teams don’t win national championships in the first year of a new coaching staff.

That said, I think those calling for Luke Fickell’s head on a (pizza) platter are being irrational. The scheme needs some tweaking, but the bigger problems are in execution, experience and talent on hand.

Some of the older players aren’t executing, and some of them don’t have the talent necessary to make an elite defense. Others have the ability but not the knowledge, at least not yet. Again, this is life in college football, and Ohio State is operating on a shorter leash than a lot of teams that fancy themselves top-10 squads thanks to scholarship reductions and attrition from the coaching change.

There seems to be some problems connecting the styles of defense each coach prefers, and that has not helped matters.

They seem to want more than anything to install a system that depends on individuals making reads and winning battles. That is great if it happens, but it can be a pretty big disaster if not.

Then what do you do? Well applying pressure via scheme is not so easy as pressing a button with a controller. It still has to involve players playing off each other, a cohesive plan for a cohesive unit.

And somewhere in there, Fickell and company seem to be getting lost.

They certainly could still find their way, be it now or with the benefit of an offseason to reevaluate things.

I do think he needs to learn to let it go a little more, to trust his guys, be they old or young.

With nothing really to lose this season, one would think that wouldn’t be tough to do, but then again I guess we already learned about expectations, now and forever.

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Ohio State-Purdue final thoughts

I re-watched the Buckeyes’ loss to the Boilermakers so you didn’t have to! 

 

Braxton Miller is going to be so good if he can just get his footwork and mechanics right and throw the ball with consistent accuracy. He has all the intangibles and the talent. He’s young and seems to drift at times, but there is a lot to grasp that he just needs to make second nature with muscle memory. I had him down for nine negative plays where he missed a throw, missed an open man, held the ball too long and took a sack, etc., but 11 pluses where he did something above average or better. When he’s just “ballin” as Troy Smith called it, he is fun to watch.

Both tight ends continued to do good things as blockers even though Miller missed Stoneburner open a couple of times. T.Y. Williams was surprisingly solid blocking and hauling in a couple of passes.

In Andrew Norwell, Jack Mewhort and Corey Linsley, Ohio State has three really good college guards. Norwell will slide out to left tackle next season, but it will be really interesting to see what they do with the other tackle spot. I think Mewhort can handle it, but he’s best inside. I’m not sure how Antonio Underwood, who has generally been projected as an inside player, could have looked less ready to play before he was pulled. I had him down for six negative plays and no positives. Purdue did a good job of getting its best defensive lineman, Kawann Short, lined up against him regularly.

I don’t think Boom Herron was fully healthy. He didn’t have quite the same explosion, but he was solid. I liked what Hall brought from an all-around standpoint, both in terms of drifting to an open spot on a pair of touchdown catches and making his own holes a few times in the Wildcat. He even converted a couple of short-yardage situations when it looked like he would be stopped, so it’s harder to ask why Carlos Hyde wasn’t in at those times. (More on that later)

Going wide is a great way to exploit Etienne Sabino and Storm Klein. They just don’t get out there on screens and swing passes or zone read stuff. It also seems to neutralize Tyler Moeller’s playmaking ability. Moeller has grown into a solid edge defender and force guy, but he’s better blitzing and in pursuit than having to take on plays at the point of attack. I think he’s been a good soldier this year, but I’m not convinced they’ve maxed out what he can do.

Obviously Ryan Shazier brings a lot to the table. It’s a moot point now with Andrew Sweat out, but you can see why they would be wary of adding another guy who might make some mistakes to the mix before they had to. Hopefully he will make more plays than he gives up. He does have a good knack for the game, it seems.

Bradley Roby had a tough time in the first half making plays in the open field on some of the short stuff in front of him, and he lost leverage on a toss play, but he bounced back to turn in some nice plays in the second half. That included one fantastic play where he beat a blocker and made a tackle with one arm on a bubble screen. He also came up with two clutch plays on the Boilermakers’ first drive of the game. He continues to be Ohio State’s best corner. Travis Howard’s biggest impact came in overtime when he had a chance to bring down Robert Marve short of a first down and just kind of threw his body at him instead of hitting him and wrapping up. Shazier was also in pursuit there and seemed like he could have done more.

Christian Bryant continues his ups and downs, but C.J. Barnett seems to have regressed a bit from a strong start to the season. He hasn’t tackled as well lately. He might be overcompensating when things start to go badly with other players.

Johnny Simon had a pretty quiet day. I guess he is human.

Johnathan Hankins could be a huge loss, but Michael Bennett is going to be a very, very good player. He can make plays outside his frame already, and he plays with good leverage and violent hands.

Meanwhile, Garrett Goebel had a couple of bad moments early but overall had another fine day. He’s getting better at sorting through traffic and making something happen as opposed to just taking up blockers.

Random Observations:

  • Purdue’s touchdown drive midway through the second quarter was really a killer. The defense started with a pair of good plays then gave up an easy short throw to convert a third down. They got help from Purdue with a holding penalty then gave it back with a personal foul, and they gave up a 15-yard pass after getting a big first down tackle for loss when the Boilermakers pulled out a reverse that turned into a disaster. At that point, OSU pretty much just caved in mentally as the next three plays were all big gainers that featured multiple Buckeyes grasping for air or sliding off tackles. Multiple good chances to stop a team that had come out red hot on the early downs but didn’t have as much to show for it yet as it should.
  • The ball that bounced off C.J. Barnett’s chest was big, too. Could have been shades of Illinois when they really took control after an early turnover in the third quarter. Even if they had recovered TerBush’s fumble caused by Shazier on the same drive they could have picked up about 25 yards of field position.
  • On the touchdown drive in the fourth quarter we saw a zone-read mini bootleg pass to Devin Smith for a first down. That’s a play I don’t understand why we don’t see more given the current state of the passing game. I should also point out Miller actually throws pretty decently rolling to his left, all things considered.
  • As far as the running back situation, I find it odd that they so often run the “Dave” or power play for Carlos Hyde because he does not seem to have a good feel for that. Better to get his feet moving and let him feel for a hole. I don’t think the team really runs that play all that well, either, so it’s a double-whammy for him. I don’t have a problem with the rotation as it is as long as everyone is healthy. Hall and Herron bring some intangibles that are really necessary, and honestly, their uncanny ability to make people miss is essential as long as people are going to load the box. They have a better chance to make yards in those situations.
  • Overall, I think the game plan could have been salvaged with a few tweaks, such as a couple of basic screen passes or bubbles when they had eight in the box. They tried to go over the top and Miller just could not execute, whether that was a case of his rawness, the wind or something else. They also tried to bring back the fake Dave rollout tight end throwback pass that worked for a touchdown at Nebraska, but it was covered and Miller ended up being sacked. That was in overtime.
  • On the flip side, I’m not sure why they seem to fall into a defensive playcalling black hole at that stadium. Most of the things that hurt them on the last trip to West Lafayette – quick passes, bubble and jailbreak screens, draws and zone read runs – had them flummoxed again. They were on their heels all day, and playing to prevent the big play, which made it all the more unfortunate they missed so many tackles and chances at turnovers. I think Purdue does have a nice set of skill players and competent quarterbacks, but it’s fair to expect more from Ohio State defensively despite its youth.
  • Of course the most elementary of special teams plays made a major difference in a pivotal game in this post-Tressel season.
  • Props to the play by play man for the Edwin Moses hurdle reference on Miller’s fourth quarter touchdown pass. Think he knows Moses and Miller both come from the Dayton area?

Overheard at Ohio State Football: Purdue Week

Cleaning out my reporter’s notebook after another week of game preparations in Columbus… 

 

FICKELLISMS

The Ohio State head coach said the Buckeyes got back on track in the second half against Indiana by being physical offensively and finally making a big play on defense.

Turnovers are big these days because of the rise of offenses like Indiana that excel at biting off little chunks of yardage at a time.

He thinks his team has been decent at protecting the ball so far this year but the defense does not have enough takeaways.

Someone asked a dumb meaningless question about the team’s identity and he gave a fitting answer that meant nothing. It ended with the idea they are still growing as a team but Ohio State has had an identity for more than 100 years before this team was assembled.

Asked about the team’s struggles on the road, he said they need to make sure these players understand the challenge of every week no matter where the game is played.

He remembers from the 2009 upset by Purdue that Ohio State committed five turnovers, dropped a punt and gave up a touchdown on a screen pass. Also, Purdue played well. The team will be reminded they are 2-2 in the last 10 years (2-5 in last 11). That will be pounded into their heads. The lesson of the near-loss in 2002 will come up as well.

They know the passing game needs to improve for them to accomplish all their goals for this season. They ran so well against Indiana it made sense to keep running. The defense also needs to play better on third down.

He said sometimes young players are prone to slow starts in games because they have a harder time adjusting if something happens they did not see in preparation during the week. They have to come over and have the coaches show them on the board or explain it to them before they get what is happening. That is not true of Christian Bryant, though, because he is just a natural football player.

He said a couple of kickoffs out of bounds the past two weeks by Drew Basil are the result of a lack of concentration.

No biggie with Braxton Miller taking a big hit at the end of the Indiana game. It’s going to happen. He liked that Miller did not flinch about it, he made a good throw. He is used to taking shots from high school and has a good way of rolling with the punches. You cringe when you see him get nailed, but it’s part of the deal if the quarterback is going to run.

He stresses turnovers because it’s a topic that the whole team has to deal with – offense, defense and special team, then he referenced how it makes a difference with the way offense has evolved lately. He also mentioned the 2006 team was young and used turnovers to mask some things (plus that offense never put the defense in a bad position until the last two games of the year).

The receivers are still coming along, but it takes a while for them to get going in Ohio State’s system because they are very demanding. There is a lot to learn. That also helps them when it comes to draft time, though. It’s different than some places where they throw you on the field and say to find an open area.

Seeing Boom Herron excited for Carlos Hyde running in the last touchdown of the game against Indiana is what being on a team is all about. They are part of something bigger than themselves.

He sees Purdue as a pretty balanced offense if you count screens and bubble plays as runs, which he does. That’s different than last year when they were more run-oriented.

There is no one specific thing causing the defense to struggle in the fourth quarter at times, but the unit needs to keep working on putting bad things behind it quickly. That’s been an issue all year. They have very high standards and go into shock when one thing doesn’t go their way.

PLAYERS SAYETH:

Senior running back Boom Herron said Zach Boren (who was sitting next to him at the time) is a great blocker who opens a lot of holes for him. Boren in turn said it is fun to block for Herron.

Herron said Hyde seems happy after having a big game against Indiana. It is good to have two good backs available for a team. He has been working hard in practice.

Herron’s ankle felt good at practice and he figures he will be fine this weekend. He first hurt himself against Wisconsin. He said Jordan Hall looked good at practice, too.

He is a different person on the field, crazy and talkative and fired up, than in front of reporters.

He has seen Miller come out of his shell a little bit since the start of the year. Most players speak more the older they get.

Junior fullback Zach Boren said a lot of people also change when they get out on the field. They get fired up and go nuts.

Miller is a mellow guy. They used to have a hard time hearing him make the play call in the huddle, but now he sounds more confident. He doubts Miller will ever be a hoot-and-hollar guy, but that’s OK.

He remembers feeling awful leaving Purdue in ’09 after the Buckeyes were upset there. The Boilermakers took it to them and got a lot of pressure on the quarterback.

Their biggest focus this week is on starting fast. They have to be there ready to go. Purdue is a good home team.

The team liked seeing Miller bounce back from the big hit he took late last week.

Purdue does not have another individual standout like Ryan Kerrigan, but their defense is strong overall. They are aggressive and like to attack. They also have a big defensive line.

He loves that Herron runs north and south.

Boren never heard that he was considered as an option as the third tailback at the beginning of the year when Herron and Hall were suspended and Jaamal Berry was hurt. He’ll do whatever the coaches ask, but he doesn’t think fans would be happy with what they saw if he was back there.

The team is having a lot of fun now that they are are winning. It has been fun watching the growth.

Sophomore guard Jack Mewhort said he has refined his technique pulling on the “power” play (“Dave”), working to stay tighter to the line when he goes, and he has gotten better.

Antonio Underwood, who worked as the starting right tackle with J.B. Shugarts nursing a knee injury, is a good athlete. He is intense and physical and he keeps his feet moving when he is blocking. He does a good job keeping his composure. Mewhort and Marcus Hall also saw some time at right tackle. They have a lot of guys who can play multiple positions up front.

He joked he calls center Mike Brewster, “The Professor” because he knows everything about the line calls and the offense.

He was not at the Purdue game in ’09 because he was redshirting, but he can tell it sticks with the coaches and the older guys who were there.

Spirits are high with the team on a winning streak now. The Big Ten championship game is becoming a more tangible goal as they get closer to it. Guys are excited about playing for that.

Miller is always calm and never shows any ups and downs. He always has a smile and stays composed. He is confident but not cocky.

Mewhort doesn’t have any favorite plays, but he likes when they call trick plays. He also gets excited when they are on the goal line or in short yardage situations and they can mash people.

Moving to right guard from left guard was weird at first but now feels fine.

ASSISTANTS ADDED:

Assistant defensive coordinator and safeties coach Paul Haynes said they always look back at a game and find things they could do better. They made some defensive calls that could have been better, but the players played hard. Indiana’s offense was tough to prepare for.

Purdue is somewhat similar to Indiana in that it does some spread and will run the quarterback. They will throw it more and have some playmakers on the outside though.

Christian Bryant had some nervous days last year when the doctors could not figure out what medicine to use to treat the foot infection he was suffering from, but eventually they did. He was thankful to be able to return to the playing field. He is still a young kid learning to play a second position. Star was more natural to him. He is picking up safety, which requires more eye control. He’s allowed to be more aggressive at star, and things are happening more right in front of him. He is an instinctive football player kind of like Jermale Hines.

He spends more time paying attention to his guys during practice, but he sees Miller as a natural born leader. The guys seem to rally around him on offense and listen to him. He walks around practice like a guy with leadership qualities.

Tyler Moeller has settled into his role at Star this year.

They have not changed their approach in recruiting. They are always looking for guys who appreciate Ohio State for what it is as an institution and a program, who want to be Buckeyes. They are up front with guys about the uncertain future. It’s not harder this year than it has been in the past. Guys who might go elsewhere this year could have made the same decision in another year.

Wide receivers coach Stan Drayton has a chain with a link that represents each receiver in his room, and the guy who does the most to represent what it means to work hard and sacrifice for each other gets to wear the chain at the end of the week.

They knew going in the wide receivers would be growing all season. The team is playing to its strength this season, and that is running the ball, so the receivers need to know they have to be ready for their opportunities when they arrive. They are still learning, and so is the quarterback, which is a factor.

He finds it satisfying to turn on the tape and find two of his freshmen receivers running down the field to block for Hyde on a long run.

The receivers have handled not getting the ball a lot better than he might have expected they would. They still want to have balance to protect the running game.

Receivers have at times been able to get on top of the coverage, but there have been other times they have not been able to get open. So they are a threat, but they are still developing.

He hasn’t found it as difficult to recruit this year as you might think. Ohio State is still Ohio State. The program has absorbed problems in the past without seeing a dip in recruiting. They are combing their backyard this year for the right kids.

Asked about a play inside the 10-yard line when Miller was sacked by an unblocked blitzer, he said Miller saw it and reacted correctly but the hot receiver did not, so the quarterback had to eat it. The receiver did not adjust fast enough to a look that was different than they saw on film during the week.

DeVier Posey has grown up here around some other high draft picks, and he knows what he is doing. He’s going to be on fire when he hits the field next week for his first game of the season against Penn State. He has definitely been missed. His preparation has been tremendous with the way he studies film and gets ready. It is unbelievable how he has handled his situation. It has been extremely hard on him. Football is still an escape for him, where his comfort zone exists.

He smiled when asked about Chris Fields being called for holding a few times. He said it’s an aggressive mistake he has to learn from. They keep encouraging him. It’s a mindset to get the job done without grabbing.

Big Ten Division Overview: What should be the East

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We might also call this the Division Formed To Accommodate Ohio State (DFTAOS), but I’m still working on proper titles for the new divisions. At any rate, here’s how I judge the teams on talent/experience/etc. without consideration of the schedule just yet:

Waning minutes of Wisconsin's last trip to Ohio Stadium
  1. Wisconsin
  2. Ohio State
  3. Penn State
  4. Purdue
  5. Illinois
  6. Indiana

As with the other division, I am pretty torn at the top. Ohio State and Wisconsin both have holes to fill but seem to be the most talented on paper in a division that should never have been allowed to take this form (but that’s for another time).

The Buckeyes have been outrecruiting the rest of the conference for years, but Wisconsin has done a nice job finding players who fit its specific needs as well as grabbing diamonds in the rough from recruiting hotbeds such as Ohio and Florida.

How crazy a year is it at the top in the Big Ten?

The favorites in this division might both be quarterback by players who have never taken a snap for their respective schools before this season. That means two drastically different things for Ohio State and Wisconsin, however. While the Buckeyes might turn to a youngster such as Braxton Miller or Taylor Graham if less-talented veterans Joe Bauserman and Kenny Guiton don’t impress in preseason practice, Badger fans are hoping N.C. State transfer Russell Wilson will give them reason to jump around all afternoon and into the night. He’s a great talent, but his time to work with his new teammates will be limited before the bullets start flying – and there will be a particular set of silver ones hoping to unleash hell in Columbus one evening in October.

Of course, both quarterback situations could turn out to be mediocre and both offenses might still be pretty good because both look like they could have stellar lines and deep backfields.

What either team gets out of its wide receivers is a question mark heading into the season, particularly with OSU senior DeVier Posey suspended for the first five games. Badger senior Nick Toon is the only other player from either unit to bring much name recognition into this campaign.

Defensively, there will be many new faces, but I am giving the nod to Ohio State at all three levels of the defense.

The OSU line got pushed around in Madison last season, but 3/4ths of Badgers’ defensive front wasn’t all that intimidating for the majority of the year. Without stud J.J. Watt this year, I am having a hard time anticipating this Wisconsin group being better. Ohio State lost an all-conference performer itself in the form of Cameron Heyward, but there is hope sophomore Johnathan Hankins can become a true force this year after brief flashes during his sophomore season, and Nathan Williams and Johnny Simon both look ready to break out in their second seasons as starters.

Linebacker is a push. Andrew Sweat of Ohio State should be one of the best in the conference, as is the case with Wisconsin’s Mike Taylor. Then we have both units figuring to depend heavily on getting big plays from players who missed most of last season with upper body injuries. Can Badger Chris Borland (shoulder) and Buckeye Tyler Moeller (pectoral) hold up this season? They will be crucial.

Both teams like to play bend-but-don’t-break in the secondary, but I’m giving the early nod to Ohio State based on the standout play of its new cornerbacks in spring ball (This is of course an example of some of the limitations of previewing an entire conference while specializing on one team, but this is all pretty much for fun anyway, right?).

Ultimately, I gave Wisconsin the overall nod in the preseason rankings because it’s probably better to rely on a new veteran quarterback than a new young one.

Moving on: Penn State could be a darkhorse here. The Nittany Lions have two quarterbacks with experience back, but they might end up confirming one of John Cooper’s favorite sayings: A coach who thinks he has two quarterbacks often has none.

The more talented of the pair looks to me like Rob Bolden, but can he beat out Matt McGloin? We shall see. Signal-caller figures to be the key to success there because there is a lot to like about new starter Silas Redd at tailback and there are several receivers with the potential to be productive players. The offensive line has some questions but brings back three starters, and contributions from the tight ends should be improved this year with better health and more experience.

Defensively, there were few offseason signs a sub-par front will be better this year, but linebacker could improve thanks to the graduation of a pair of starting stiffs from last season and the potential of a healthy Michael Mauti. The secondary has solid corner D’Anton Lynn and a potential standout in young Malcolm Willis to build around.

I am willing to believe Purdue could be significantly better this year, but I don’t think the Boilermakers can overtake PSU. Head coach Danny Hope’s team has to be due for some better health, right? He says he feels good about all his quarterbacks, but they have to stay out of the training room before they can prove him right.  They should get help from a running game that welcomes back Ralph Bolden. Defensively, Purdue was surprisingly competent last year and despite the loss of super end Ryan Kerrigan has three good-looking players to build around in tackle Kawann Short, linebacker Joe Holland and cornerback Ricardo Allen.

Illinois had a nice comeback last season, and I like young quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, but I’m not convinced the Fighting Illini can overcome the heavy losses they suffered to early entry into the NFL draft, especially on defense.

The future might be bright with Indiana under new head coach Kevin Wilson, but breaking in a new starting quarterback, finding a No. 1 running back who can stay out of trouble and rebuilding what was an awful defense last season is a lot to take care of in one year.

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