Weatherwise, it was a great day for college football in Columbus yesterday. The rains had moved through, the air was cool, and most of the game between Ohio State and Wisconsin was played in bright sunshine. Although the conditions seemingly were perfect for offensive football, my friends and I, and the more than 100,000 other fans at Ohio Stadium, were treated to a defensive clinic by both teams — and a single, electrifying 97-yard kickoff return that put the game away — as the Buckeyes won, 31-13.
The Ohio State defense was spectacular, scoring two touchdowns on interception returns, pressuring and hitting the Wisconsin quarterback all game long, and keeping Wisconsin’s big back in check. In the third quarter, the Ohio State offense did not even touch the ball until less than two minutes remained because the defense scored one of its touchdowns and, after Wisconsin answered with a field goal, Ray Small took the kickoff right up the middle, untouched, for another score. Although the defense must have been exhausted from being on the field the entire quarter, it remained stout. As a result of the defense and special teams scores, and some bad offensive play by the Buckeyes, all of the normally dispositive statistics were one-sided in Wisconsin’s favor. The Badgers had the ball for more than 42 minutes of the 60-minute game (!), and their offensive production was about twice that of the Buckeyes.
The Buckeyes offense, on the other hand, produced one touchdown on a good drive and a field goal on another decent drive, but was otherwise anemic. At the end of the game, when Ohio State had an 18-point leave, Coach Tressel no doubt threw away part of the playbook because he did not want to risk a momentum-changing interception, and the offense consisted of unsuccessful runs up the middle. Until the very end of the first half, however, the Badgers defense held the Buckeyes to an irritating series of three-and-outs and picked off a bad Terrelle Pryor pass to help produce Wisconsin’s only touchdown.
Some other thoughts on the game:
Terrelle Pryor obviously struggled with his passing and made some poor throws. His interception occurred when he locked in on a receiver, and he made some other ill-advised throws and still other throws that were well off-target. Curiously, his one deep throw, for the Buckeyes’ lone offensive touchdown, was a well-thrown ball. Perhaps he should go downfield more often? In any case, on the basis of yesterday’s game, it is hard to argue that Pryor has made any significant strides in the passing department. Some day soon Ohio State is going to need for him to step up and actually have a game where throws accurately, consistently, and wisely.
On the ground, Ohio State ran one really good play, a kind of counter where Pryor and the line ran right and he then handed the ball to Brandon Saine heading left, and Pryor had a good run on a scramble to start off the Buckeyes’ end-of-the-first-half drive. Other than that, the play was pretty uninspired, and the Buckeyes’ offensive line made the Badgers look like the fabled Seven Blocks of Granite. It was hard to watch yesterday’s game and get many positive vibes from the offense — although, in fairness, it was reported that many of the offensive lineman were suffering from the flu last week. Whatever the reason, Ohio State’s offensive line got no push and seemed to be manhandled by the Wisconsin front.
Defensively, it is hard to give the Buckeyes’ defensive line too much praise. Using what appeared to be an eight-man rotation, the OSU defensive front consistently pressured and hit the Wisconsin quarterback and did a good job against the run. Giving up 360 or so yards to a team that has the ball for more than 42 minutes and runs more than twice as many offensive plays is a pretty good effort, particularly when some of that came against an obvious prevent-type defense. Wisconsin is no offensive juggernaut, but there is no doubt that the Ohio State defensive line is good. The Buckeyes also delivered some bone-jarring hits, and the two interception returns featured pretty broken field running by Ohio State defensive backs.
What does it all mean? Ohio State stayed undefeated in the Big Ten and knocked off an undefeated team on a day when the Ohio State offense played poorly. Soon, however, Ohio State’s offense is going to need to move the ball against good defenses, and that is when we will see what this team is really made of.