Turn out the lights: Final thoughts on Ohio State football 2013

This is admittedly a couple of weeks late, but you know time doesn’t stop anymore for the end of football season. Of course I like to let things breathe a little before picking them apart anyway…

Ohio Stadium from the north tunnel after the 2013 season finale.
Ohio Stadium from the north tunnel after the 2013 season finale.

What we learned this season: The 2013 Ohio State football team did not have enough mature talent to compete for a national championship.

That really is the long and the short of it. There might be enough good players on the roster to compete with the best of the best if the recruiting rankings are correct (and they usually are), but not enough of those youngsters contributed this season.

Interestingly enough, one could say the same thing about Michigan, which would show the stark difference in the state of the programs Urban Meyer and Brady Hoke respectively took over considering the respective 2013 records, but maybe that’s a topic for another day. It’s also worth pointing out both teams forced at least a couple of youngsters into the fire with widely divergent degrees of success (i.e., the OSU defensive line and the UM offensive line).

But anyway, this conclusion is not meant as an indictment of the coaching staff but merely a statement of fact.

The state of the talent in the Ohio State program was on display in the Orange Bowl. The Narrative had a great night in South Florida because the team from The South certainly looked faster and more agile in a number of ways than Ohio State. There have been debates about how the scheme might have played into the appearance, but I’m not sure it matters how it happened to look that way nearly as much as the fact that it did.

Was the team speed the same but Clemson merely “played faster”? Maybe. If so, the onus is still on Meyer and his staff to get the Buckeyes to reach that level.

After the last two games of the season — and really the Michigan game as well — I’d say Meyer not only has to continue to upgrade the talent level on the field but also make this group mentally tougher.

The defense, which arguably played about to expectations in the Orange Bowl by allowing only 40 points to an elite offense, never played with confidence this season, especially in the last three games. There wasn’t much it could take away from an opponent, and it gave off a helpless vibe for about 12 straight quarters to end the campaign.

The defense is also where I’m looking when I talk about “mature talent.” Seven of the players who started the Orange Bowl on defense for Ohio State are Meyer signees, though three verbally committed before Meyer was hired. That means they were all sophomores or freshmen, so their lack of consistency probably shouldn’t come as a surprise.

Meyer wasn’t spewing coach-speak when he said the group needed leadership this season. There was no galvanizing force like Zach Boren or John Simon after Christian Bryant went down, and players seemed to drift in and out of assignments all season.

The best player on the defense was a Jim Tressel signee — Ryan Shazier — but his tendency to get out of control at times exacerbated the overall lack of consistency the defense had. He made more big plays than he gave up, to be sure, but having no one to cover up for them made his mistakes more glaring.

On the other side of the ball, Braxton Miller by any measure had a spectacular season, and he deserved all the accolades he received. But while he put the team in position to play for a Big Ten title and BCS bowl victory, he also had a major role in preventing either of those things from going the way Ohio State fans hoped.

Maybe this is part of getting older, but I continue to be amazed at the role consistency plays in every day success, how mistakes seem to so often undo much greater numbers of correct actions. That was true of Miller’s predecessor and is true of him.

It also speaks to the expectations at Ohio State, especially for super talented players, that near perfection is only nearly good enough.

For as much as Miller improved this season, he still has a ways to go. On the bright side, I would say he has already done most of the things he needs to do — now he just needs to do them more.

The lack of quality opponents while going 24-0 ultimately probably hurt Ohio State not only from a perception standpoint but also from a development one as well. Of course going undefeated in 2012 gave Meyer a nice feather in his cap and continued the program’s momentum into the offseason, but did the 2013 team ever really learn how to win? I would say probably not. It was more talented than the 2012 version but not tested enough to become mentally tough.

What we can expect to learn next year: Oh, lots.

It will start with Miller, who not only needs to improve for his own draft stock but also to overcome the losses that will occur in front of him. While the offensive line almost certainly won’t be as good as it was the past two seasons, there seem to be pieces in place for it to avoid being a liability.

The devastating brute strength of the front and nasty running ability of Carlos Hyde provided the Buckeyes with some easy outs this season when they walked up to the line of scrimmage, and that is not likely to be the case against in 2014. That will put a greater onus on Miller to get more consistent with his reads and deliveries in the passing game, and he could use a couple of young receivers to step up and help him there. He’ll have Devin Smith, who has had a good career so far but tended to disappear too often, and a bunch of youngsters who were highly sought after on the recruiting trail but haven’t been seen on a college field in any significant capacity yet.

The running back room is still overflowing with qualified candidates to replace Hyde, and I happen to think Stan Drayton does a very nice job with that group.

H-back Dontre Wilson also figures to be an X-factor in 2014. Offensive coordinator Tom Herman admitted prior to the Orange Bowl they did not get as much out of Wilson’s freshman season as they envisioned before the year, but that was in part because they didn’t need as much as they expected to thanks to the running ability of Miller and Hyde behind the offensive line.

The line’s job gets easier with Wilson to threaten the perimeter, and it should ease some of the burden on Miller to run the ball.

For as solid as Philly Brown was as a receiver, he was not a playmaker. The only guy with that ability on the perimeter was Smith, and he didn’t exhibit it often enough.

If they can’t reestablish the line of scrimmage as consistently, the Buckeyes will need to exert themselves on the perimeter more in 2014.

While the offensive line, Hyde and Shazier certainly will be missed, new blood at wide receiver, in the secondary and perhaps at linebacker (where competition could spur the returning players) could offset some of what is collectively lost. Will it be enough for another top 10 season? That question begins being answered this spring.

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