What better than some Toby Keith to usher in November and recognize Ohio State’s return to the Big Ten championship race with a thrilling win against would-be bully Wisconsin?
What we learned last week: Sometimes it doesn’t hurt to be too young to know any better.
Wisconsin’s late rally nearly undid a full game’s worth of good work for a Buckeye team that has endured more than a season’s worth of anguish already. As I wrote in the cover story for this week’s Buckeye Sports Bulletin, there was too much familiar about watching Jared Abbrederis haul in that pass from Russell Wilson and score the go-ahead touchdown.
I was on the sideline by that time, and I knew the feelings of despair and confused anger that were being expressed all around me. I saw and felt the same thing the last two times Ohio State played a ranked team at home under the lights, the only difference from the collapses against Penn State and USC being the lead once looked much safer against the Badgers.
I hit the stadium floor just before Braxton Miller took a snap from center and ran around end for a 44-yard touchdown that seemed to lift the lid off the stadium. There were not only cheers but sighs of relief, a feeling finally one of these ones would go the way of the home team. It was just after the defense turned back yet another Wisconsin short-yardage run, and the two plays taken together made it seem like a clear picture of the night was taking shape. Ohio State had exorcised a demon in last year’s loss to the Badgers, gotten over the marquee night game hump, proved it had regained the toughness Wisconsin stripped away in 2010 and, oh yeah, there was another athletic guy with a bright future leading at the helm of the offense.
Then the ghosts returned. A quick Wisconsin touchdown drive and a predictable (and perhaps understandable) three-and-out followed by a rarely seen deep zone breakdown. Suddenly all was wrong again. Many of the old stereotypes about the Buckeyes of the past six or seven years began to re-establish themselves. No backbone. No mental toughness. Not good enough to get it done against similarly matched teams. Those stories literally were already being written by the time Jordan Hall took that kickoff back near midfield and the newest young field general trotted onto the field.
Who knows if Braxton Miller knew he was going to lead a comeback for the ages when he winked at head coach Luke Fickell to reassure him. Who knows how often those types of things go on but we don’t hear about them because they don’t make for a good story if the deep passes are intercepted.
What was Miller really thinking?
It doesn’t really matter. It might be better if it was nothing in particular. Sometimes young and carefree is the best way to be. That worked out on this night, and now the future looks bright.
As for the opponent, I still think Wisconsin is a good team, but the Buckeyes really got after them, especially on defense. Ohio State took away Wisconsin’s will to run the ball, which is no small feat, and they made Wilson look uncomfortable in the pocket all night. I think he’s a better player than he showed at the Horseshoe, and that is a credit to Ohio State defensive coordinator Jim Heacock and the game his front seven turned in. They kept Wilson in the pocket and made him hurry a lot of throws. His poise was disappointing until the end.
Ohio State’s offensive line did just what it should have against the Badgers: Dominate. That was the name of the game, and Boom Herron continued to make a case for most improved Buckeye I have ever seen.
What we can expect to learn this week: Truth be told, there may not be a team in the Big Ten that can teach us less than Indiana. The Hoosiers are pretty awful. They have questions at quarterback as they attempt to install a new hurry-up offense, and the old problems on defense are as real as ever. There are a couple of intriguing running backs, and the wide receivers aren’t bad, but new head coach Kevin Wilson has a lot of work to do.
I’d say this provides a good mental test for the still-young Buckeyes after an emotional win, but they should be able to win even with a C- effort.
I suppose a reintroduction to some principles of stopping a spread offense can’t hurt with a somewhat improved Michigan team still out there to be dealt with at the end of the month, but that might be stretching it somewhat.
Indiana can move the ball a bit, as evidenced by the way the Hoosiers gashed what we now know to be a somewhat suspect Wisconsin front seven, but there is not much to be scared of other than complacency.
Every snap this young group can get is valuable, of course, and it will be interesting to see if they try to throw the ball a little more just to get Miller more reps in that department. Sometimes these snoozers are the games in which the Ohio State offense comes closest to letting it all hang out. They used this same Hoosier program to work out some kinks in the passing game last year, so perhaps that bears watching this time around.
All-Buckeye Beater Nominees: Well the obvious choice is Wisconsin linebacker Mike Taylor, who notched an astounding 22 tackles, including 2.5 for loss, and broke up a pass.
I’m still debating what to do with Wilson, who looked mediocre to poor for most of the game before rallying his team to two late touchdowns, but I will definitely look back at the night Abbrederis produced (six catches, 113 yards, two touchdowns) when I sit down to pick the best of the Buckeyes’ competition this season.
That’s a surprisingly short list, to be sure, but that’s what happens when a vaunted offensive line is so thoroughly dealt with and a defense proves it is lacking playmakers. The Badgers’ second best defensive player, Chris Borland, had 13 tackles but often looked to be on the wrong end of lead blocks from his opposite No. 44, fullback Zach Boren.
DVR Directions: Now that November is upon us, I recommend you kick up a notch your studies of Michigan. I know I will. As such, set the DVR to record the Wolverines’ trip to Iowa (Noon, ESPN) because it takes place as the same time the Buckeyes will tangle with the Hoosiers.
At 3:30, check out next week’s Ohio State opponent, Purdue, as the Boilermakers head to Madison to take on Wisconsin. Then make sure you have a nice spot to watch the clash between Alabama and LSU in prime time.
Big Ten Picks: Anyone who would pick Iowa to win any time soon has to be nuts, so Michigan is the default pick in Iowa City this weekend. The Hawkeyes have some legitimate problems going on with the rebuilding process, but there is no excuse for losing at Minnesota, who will feel Michigan State’s wrath this week in East Lansing.
Northwestern has been somewhat enigmatic this year, but the Wildcats look poorly matched with resurgent Nebraska. The Cornhuskers figure to enjoy getting to look at another spread offense for a change of pace.
I’m having a bit of a hard time getting a read on Purdue as well. There seems to be some potential there at the skill positions and on defense, but Danny Hope’s squad can’t put it together. Don’t look for that to change this week in Madison. The Badgers get back on the winning track.
Record last week: 4-1. Season record: 16-6
Cus Words Big Ten Power Poll
Umm, do I have to rank them this week? So far it’s looking like everyone has decided to let the Big Ten title game sort out who is best and not bother to prove it during the regular season. OK, here goes…
- Michigan State
- Ohio State
- Penn State