The Offense Rolls, But The Defense . . . .

Ohio State’s 52-34 win over Cal told us several things.

First, it told us that Ohio State has the best back-up quarterback in college football.  Kenny Guiton performed almost flawlessly, throwing for four touchdowns and 276 yards, rushing for 92 yards, and navigating the multi-faceted Buckeyes offense as it steamrolled the Cal defense.  Led by Jordan Hall, with three touchdowns and 168 yards, the ground game amassed 332 yards.  (Somewhere, Woody Hayes is smiling.)  A national TV audience also was introduced to lightning-quick Dontre Wilson, burner Devin Smith, who had a nifty three catches for 149 yards and two TDs, clutch receiver Corey Brown, who made a great end zone grab, and other offensive options.  The Golden Bears simply had no answer for the Buckeye offense, which put up more than 600 yards.

photo-96Second, we know that Urban Meyer has the soul of a riverboat gambler.  From the long bomb to start the Buckeye scoring, to the repeated decisions to go for it on fourth down, Meyer demonstrated a willingness to push his chips onto the table and count on his team to perform — and they did.  There will be fourth downs that the Buckeyes don’t convert, of course, but Coach Meyer has sent a message to the rest of the Big Ten:  don’t expect these team to play conservative offensive football.

Third, it’s clear that the defense needs a lot of work.  Cal has a high-powered offense, and you’re going to give up touchdowns and yards.  But what concerned me was the poor fundamentals, particularly in tackling.  From Bradley Roby’s desultory shove of a receiver who nevertheless tiptoed down the sideline to a score, to countless failures to wrap up, the defense showed it still has a long way to go.  Against a team that matches up better against the Buckeyes’ offense, one of those breakdowns could cost the Buckeyes the game.  From a talent level, the defense seems to have as many weapons as the offense, but the pieces haven’t been put together.  Next week against Florida A&M, I hope to see a tackling clinic.

Finally, we know that Buckeye Nation travels — and how!  From TV shots, it looked like the Cal Stadium was mostly clad in scarlet and gray.  I know that the fans had a blast too.  Thanks to Mr. Nesser, one of the traveling Buckeye Nation faithful, for sending me this photo of The Best Damn Band In The Land performing at the Hearst Greek Theater in Berkeley before the game.

More (Sigh) Black Eyes For The Scarlet And Gray

Today the Ohio State football team, through Head Coach Urban Meyer, announced disciplinary action against four — four! — student athletes.

IMG_1846Running back Carlos Hyde was suspended from football activities pending the outcome of criminal and student code of conduct investigations.  Hyde reportedly was named in a police report relating to an alleged assault of a woman in a Columbus bar.  In the meantime, cornerback Bradley Roby was involved in a disturbance in a bar in Bloomington, Indiana and faces misdemeanor battery charges.  A freshman, Marcus Baugh, won’t be participating in team activities and will have to sit out the first game after being arrested for underage possession of alcohol, and yet another freshman, defensive lineman Tim Gardner, was sent home and will not be part of the 2013 team after being charged by Columbus police with “obstruction of official business.”

I hate to read this kind of news, because it is an embarrassment to the University.  It plays into every stereotype about Ohio State being a football factory.  After dealing with a series of NCAA violations that left the team ineligible for a bowl last year, the Buckeyes had been working hard to refurbish the team’s, and the school’s, reputation.  This news just makes the effort to restore the University’s reputation that much harder.

I recognize that student-athletes are young, and young people often make bad decisions.  That rationale may work for freshmen, but there is no excuse for upperclassmen like Hyde and Roby to be in a bar in the wee hours, putting themselves in a position where bad things predictably could happen.  They are supposed to be leaders, not problems.  Rather than setting good examples, they’ve made Urban Meyer’s job that much more difficult — and have provided more fodder for more crass jokes and snide comments about The Ohio State University.

Hunting For Wolverine

Tomorrow, Ohio State’s season boils down to one game.  Fittingly, the Michigan Wolverines stand between the Buckeyes and a perfect season.

This scenario has played out before.  Michigan has ruined the season for many otherwise perfect Ohio State squads, and Ohio State has wrecked Michigan dreams of unbeaten seasons.  Going into tomorrow’s game, every Ohio State fan knows that Michigan will do whatever it takes to beat the Buckeyes, smash the Buckeyes’ hope for perfection, and start Urban Meyer’s OSU coaching career off with a losing record against Michigan.  Every Michigan fan knows, too, that the Buckeyes want to crush Michigan, get revenge for last year’s loss, and return to the glory days when Jim Tressel led Ohio State to a 9-1 record against the hated Team Up North.

This will be a great matchup between two pretty good teams in the greatest rivalry game in college football.  In Ohio State-Michigan games, the great players have a way of stepping up — Denard Robinson, for example, probably played the best game of his collegiate career when the Wolverines beat the Buckeyes last year — and otherwise obscure players can achieve lasting gridiron glory by making the hard hit and recovering the crucial turnover.  We can expect a tough, hard-hitting game tomorrow, because that’s just the way The Game is always played.

I think the key to the game is the Ohio State defense.  The Buckeye D played its best game of the year last week against Wisconsin, but Wisconsin played a traditional Big Ten offensive game.  Michigan, on the other hand, has a bit more of a spread mentality, and Ohio State has struggled to defend against the spread.  If Ohio State can contain Robinson, in his new role as multi-purpose offensive sparkplug, and pressure Devin Gardner, that will take them a long way toward winning.  Consistent with my view that The Game sees big players rising to the occasion, I’ll be looking for John Simon, Ryan Shazier, and Bradley Roby to make some big plays if the Buckeyes are going to win.

Offensively, the Braxton Miller Show ground to a halt last week.  Wisconsin had a great plan, executed it to perfection, and kept Miller bottled up and off balance.  Michigan will try to do the same — but it remains to be seen if they can bring the same defensive assets to bear that Wisconsin deployed.  I think the answer for the Buckeyes may be Carlos Hyde, who has run with punch in recent weeks.  If the forecast for tomorrow is accurate — and they are expecting temperatures in the 30s, with some wind — being able to run the ball effectively may be the key.  Beanie Wells killed Michigan during his career; Carlos Hyde would like to do the same.

Columbus is stoked for The Game.  Let’s go, Buckeyes!

Anticipation And Expectation In Buckeye Nation

At noon today, the Ohio State Buckeyes kick off their 2013 season in soggy Columbus.  The opponent is the Miami RedHawks, and Buckeye fans are looking for an old-fashioned butt-kicking to try to wash away the sooty taste of last year’s disasters.

In Buckeye Nation, expectation and anticipation is high.  Last year’s distractions and constant NCAA issues are over.  An interim head coach has been replaced by a fiery, demanding taskmaster who has already won two national championships.  Urban Meyer clearly has made some significant attitudinal and cultural changes in the Ohio State program — including a new, interactive pre-game routine between players and students that will debut today — and all signs indicate that the changes are for the better.  From watching Meyer and his staff, you get the impression that they will do whatever it takes (within the boundaries of propriety and NCAA regulations, of course) to win.

The team has some real talent, particularly on the defensive side.  Defensive linemen John Simon, a never-say-quit force of nature, and huge, quick Johnathan Hankins anchor what should be one of the best Buckeye front fours in years.  We’ll be needing them to disrupt opposing offenses, because the linebacking corps is a bit thin and unproven, although Ryan Shazier showed great promise and heart in his freshman year last year.  The defensive backfield features cornerback Bradley Roby and hard-hitting safety Orhian Johnson.  This is a defense that will focus on forcing turnovers, something the Buckeyes didn’t do much of last year, while avoiding the big plays that plagued last year’s unit.

On the offensive side of the ball, a lot rides on the shoulders of sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller.  Miller showed real flashes of brilliance last year — but mostly with his feet, on some stunning runs where it looked like the opposing team was trying to tackle a ghost.  Miller also will have some good running backs in the backfield with him, with Carlos Hyde likely to get a lot of the carries.  The Buckeyes’ air attack, on the other hand, was dismal.  If Ohio State is to take significant steps forward this season, Miller needs to take a quantum leap forward in his passing mechanics and his receivers need to hold on to the ball.  We should start, at least, to get a sense of that today.

It’s officially September, and I’m ready for some football!