Braxton’s Bad Luck

Ohio State has confirmed that Braxton Miller, its very talented senior quarterback, suffered a season-ending injury yesterday.  The injury to his right shoulder — the same shoulder he injured in the Orange Bowl and that was operated on earlier this year — came when Miller was throwing a pass during a non-contact part of practice.

IMG_3091Miller, who is on track to graduate in December, now expects to redshirt this season.  He announced that he plans to stay at Ohio State, start graduate school, and play again for Ohio State next year, when he hopes to come back from the injury stronger and better than ever.

Two thoughts about Braxton Miller.  First, isn’t it encouraging that a fine athlete like Miller, who has been a two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, has paid attention to his classwork and is prepared to graduate early?  Good for him!  Second, Miller’s injury is why I will never blame a gifted athlete who decides to leave school before their senior year to go pro.  Exceptional modern athletes are a carefully calibrated combination of speed, size, quickness, and strength, and an injury can wreck that careful calibration forever.  I hope that, with the assistance of all of the miracles of modern medicine, Braxton Miller can fully recover from the injury return to the exciting form he showed the last two seasons.

As to much more mundane matters:  quarterback was the one position Ohio State coaches didn’t have to worry about; now they do.  Redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett and redshirt sophomore Cardale Jones are next on the depth chart, and the coaches will have to decide which one starts when the Buckeyes play Navy on August 30 — less than two weeks away.  The upcoming season just got a lot more unpredictable for Buckeye Nation,

Irresistible Force And Immovable Object

Saturday night, the Ohio State Buckeyes will take on the Michigan State Spartans in the Big Ten championship game. It should be a classic matchup in which strength is pitted against strength — and correspondingly, weakness against weakness.

This season, Michigan State’s defense is the immovable object:  the number one defense in the country and third-best scoring defense. You can argue about the weakness of the Big Ten this year, but Michigan State’s gaudy defensive stats would be impressive under any conditions.  The Spartans stop the run, rush the passer, guard receivers like glue, and consistently play tough, disciplined defensive football.  In their signature game against interstate rival Michigan, the Spartans dominated physically, limited the Michigan rushing game to a ridiculous -48 yards on the ground, and beat down Wolverines QB Devin Gardner with sack after sack.  Michigan State held Michigan to 168 yards, offensively, and won convincingly, 29-6.  Against Ohio State, by contrast, Gardner and Michigan put up huge numbers, scored 41 points, and almost won.

The Buckeyes offense, on the other hand, has been the irresistible force.  No one has come close to shutting down the two-headed Ohio State rushing game behind power runner Carlos Hyde and elusive quarterback Braxton Miller.  Ohio State features an experienced offensive line and receivers who can spread the field and present a meaningful deep threat.  All together, it amounts to the third-ranked scoring offense in the land, one that has put up more than 30 points in every game this season.

What will happen when this immovable object confronts the irresistible force?  Which team will win the physical battle at the line of scrimmage and wear down the opponent as the game progresses?  And, when the Spartan offense faces Ohio State’s defense, which team will have the advantage?  Michigan State has struggled on offense, and Ohio State’s defense looked like the Keystone Cops against Michigan.  Their battle also looks to be evenly matched.  Both teams are well coached, and those of us in Buckeye Nation still have a soft spot for Spartans head man Mark Dantonio, who coached the stout Buckeyes defense when Ohio State won the 2003 national championship game.

In any rational world, people would be amped and anticipating what should be a terrific battle.  Unfortunately, the game has been overshadowed by incessant yammering about the BCS and which two teams deserve the nod for the championship game if Ohio State, Florida, and Auburn all win tomorrow.  It’s unfair for both Michigan State and Ohio State, which deserve to be evaluated in their own right on their own, exceptional records.

Commentators may be able to make the ludicrous assumption of a victory against this hard-as-nails Michigan State team, but Ohio State certainly can’t.  I hope Coach Urban Meyer and his staff — and the Buckeye senior leaders — have Ohio State focused relentlessly on this game and the challenges posed by a rugged Spartans squad.

One For The Ages

In a rivalry filled with memorable games, this year’s version of The Game has to be one of the greatest ever.  Back and forth, with the game ending on a thwarted effort by Michigan to get a two-point conversion and spring a stunning upset.  But Ohio State’s defense, which had been gashed repeatedly during the day, finally made a play, Tyvis Powell knocked down the pass, and the Buckeyes hung on to win.

IMG_1829This was the kind of game that makes the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry the greatest rivalry in college sports.  Michigan ran just about every play in their playbook, their much-maligned offensive line held up, and Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner was a warrior who played a virtually flawless game.  He never quit, and neither did the Wolverine coaching staff.  Michigan just kept coming, and coming, and coming.  They gained more than 600 yards — 600 yards! — and were clicking on all cylinders.  I give great credit to the Michigan team, from the head coach on down, for developing a near-perfect game plan and showing what this rivalry is all about.

Fortunately for me and other Pepto-Bismol-guzzling members of Buckeye Nation, the Wolverines had no answer for the Ohio State offense.  For the Buckeyes, the accolades must start with the offensive line.  The Buckeyes front wall pushed the Michigan defensive line around like a precision lawnmowing team, and Carlos Hyde and Braxton Miller took full advantage.  The Buckeyes ran for 393 yards — 393 yards! — and Carlos Hyde rumbled for the most yards ever by an OSU running back against the Wolverines.  I was especially glad to see Carlos Hyde, who has been a monster, bounce back from his fumble to score the winning touchdown.

So, the Buckeyes’ winning streak continues.  The pundits can talk all they want about style points, and we can worry about that porous defense next week.  For tonight, Columbus and Ohio and Buckeye lovers everywhere will breathe a sigh of relief and crack open a cold one.  The Buckeyes won against their great rival, stay in the hunt for a BCS title game spot, and move on to the Big Ten championship game next weekend.  That’s good enough for me.

When Wisconsin Comes To Town

Tomorrow night the Wisconsin Badgers come to town for a night game at Ohio Stadium.  Technically, Ohio State has played four games already, but I think their season really starts tomorrow.

Wisconsin is a perennial power that has been the Big Ten’s representative in the Rose Bowl for the last three seasons.  Last year, the Buckeyes and the Badgers played a bruising game up in Madison that Ohio State won in overtime, 21-14.  It was a defensive struggle in which Wisconsin throttled Ohio State’s high-powered offense and held it to only 236 yards.  That game was a good representation of what Wisconsin always seems to bring to the table.  On offense, the Badgers are known for handing the ball to a gaggle a fine running backs who pound you behind a huge, corn-fed offensive line and mixing that diet of hard-nosed running in with an occasional pass.  On defense, the Badgers will pressure and hit and try to rattle their opponents, physically and mentally.

IMG_1835Wisconsin’s performance this year suggests that tomorrow’s game may be different — or maybe not.  The Badgers’ quarterback, sophomore Joel Stave, has thrown for six touchdowns, including three to fine receiver Jared Abbrederis.  But in last week’s Big Ten opener against Purdue, Wisconsin ran for a mind-boggling 388 yards on their way to pulverizing the Boilermakers, 41-10.  Ohio State’s defense has played against spread offense, quick-throw teams so far this year.  Tomorrow night, they had better be ready for  up-the-gut football with an opponent that would like nothing better than to derail the Buckeyes’ national championship aspirations.

When the Buckeyes are on offense, the big issue will be how quarterback Braxton Miller plays.  After missing two full games and most of a third with an injury — and watching back-up Kenny Guiton break a number of Ohio State offensive records on the way — Miller will be trying to reestablish himself as the premier quarterback and offensive weapon in the Big Ten.  He’ll also be looking to use every arsenal in the multi-faceted Ohio State attack.  With power runner Carlos Hyde back in the backfield after a three-game suspension, along with fellow running backs Jordan Hall and freshman Dontre Wilson and Ezekiel Elliott, Miller has plenty of options in the ground game, and Guiton has shown that Devin Smith, Corey Brown, Chris Fields, and Evan Spencer can catch and run for quick scores.

Tomorrow night’s game will answer a lot of questions about this Buckeye team.  Can their defense handle a team that plays the prototypical Big Ten power game?  How does the Buckeyes offensive speed match up against a big-time opponent that will tackle hard and do whatever it can to force turnovers.  We’ll see tomorrow night, and I’ll be there are the Horseshoe to see it.  I can’t wait!

76-0

Today the Ohio State Buckeyes trounced the Florida A&M Rattlers, 76-0.  The game was expected to be a rout — and it was.  Ohio State had more than 600 yards of offense and only had to punt once.  Florida A&M put up only 80 yards of offense and never got close to the Ohio State goal line.  Ohio State was favored to win by 57 points, and it almost exceeded that line by halftime, when the Buckeyes went into the locker room ahead 55-0.

IMG_1440People here in Columbus complained about the quality of the game.  It wasn’t a much-heralded match-up, to be sure, but it’s not entirely the fault of the OSU Athletic Department.  The Buckeyes had scheduled Vanderbilt, but the Commodores backed out.  So, Ohio State went looking for someone to fill the open date, and the Rattlers agreed to be the sacrificial lambs.  We shouldn’t feel too bad for them, though — they got a nice fee for coming to Ohio Stadium and getting pulverized.

Although games like today’s aren’t competitive, they still can be interesting.  You get to see players you’ve only heard about until now.  Today, freshman running back Ezekiel Elliott had his coming out party, rushing for 162 yards and two touchdowns, and we got to see third-string quarterback Cardale Jones run the offense.  They both look like they may be able to contribute in the future.  Other players who’ve been working hard in practice had their chances, too.  Carlos Hyde came back after a three-game suspension and got some touches, the OSU defense manhandled the Rattlers’ offense, and Braxton Miller got another week of healing as Kenny Guiton put up another OSU offensive record.

Next week, the season starts in earnest as Wisconsin comes to the Horseshoe.  After next Saturday night, we’ll have a better idea of how good this Buckeyes team really is.

The First Test

Tonight the Ohio State Buckeyes face off against the University of California Golden Bears.  It will be the Buckeyes’ first road game and first real test this year.

Ohio State has won its first two games against marginal opponents.  The team had a dominant first quarter but later struggled against Buffalo in game one, then beat an over-matched San Diego State team in week two.  Neither opponent is comparable to those that the Buckeyes will need to beat later in the season if they want to keep their championship hopes alive.

So far this season, at least, Cal hasn’t looked like a particularly good team, either.  The Golden Bears got beat at home by a ranked Northwestern team, then barely squeaked by Portland State.  I’m sure the Cal coaches and players will deny it, but I expect they have been focused on this game as a chance to make a national statement.  For the Buckeyes, it is the first road game of the season, and one that will require them to travel thousands of miles and adjust to a time change.  For a young team, the first road game always raises issues and distractions.

I don’t think the Buckeyes have jelled yet.  You look at the offense and defense and you see weapons, but the parts haven’t meshed fully and the dominance that Buckeyes fans expect really hasn’t been displayed.  Braxton Miller’s injury against San Diego State will further slow the effort to get the offense running in clockwork fashion, and it will take time for the host of new defensive players to get used to their schemes and rotations.  I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed that Miller plays tonight, avoids injury, and shows progress in getting back to the form that made him a preseason Heisman hopeful, and also that the defense brings pressure, forces turnovers, and starts to fully display its apparent talent.

This is the kind of game that makes many people in Buckeye Nation worry — an initial road test, in a faraway place, against a team that has been unimpressive so far this season.  A young team could take a win for granted, and then find itself trapped in tough struggle with the clock winding down in the second half.  I hope the Buckeyes avoid that scenario tonight — and I’m sure that Urban Meyer and his staff are working hard toward that goal.

Great Expectations

Tomorrow the Ohio State Buckeyes kick off their 2013 football season with a home game against the Buffalo Bulls.  In Buckeye Nation, expectations are high.  In fact, “high” really isn’t an accurate description.  Many OSU fans think that this team should go undefeated, crush every opponent, make it to the BCS title game, and win handily — and they’ll be disappointed at any other result.

IMG_3091Most of the pressure will fall on one man:  quarterback Braxton Miller.  Miller is the elusive run-pass threat that college coaches dream about, able to convert a busted play into a huge gain through his speed and scrambling abilities.  The true believers think that another year of seasoning and practice in the passing game will smooth the rough edges off last year’s erratic passing performances and make Miller an unstoppable scoring force.

The fans also believe that the Buckeyes will have a grab bag of game-breaking offensive talent — at running back, tight end, and wide out — and a tough, experienced line.  Add in the standard freshman phenom (this year, its speedster Diontre Wilson) and you get the sense that some Buckeye supporters think the offense should score every time it touches the ball.

If the offense is a potent as fans anticipate, it probably will be a good thing — because the defense is a bit of a question mark.  The defensive line and much of the linebacking crew will be starting for the first time, and while the starters look to be talented, there is no substitute for experience.  When the footing gets treacherous in sloppy, Big Ten weather in October and November, scoring machines can grind to a halt.  That’s when defenses need to show up and win games for teams that hope to be contenders.

Last year the Buckeyes unexpectedly went undefeated, but in the mind of many fans it really didn’t count because the team was ineligible for the Big Ten championship game or any bowl contests.  If the Buckeyes are to make it to the national championship game this year — when they are playing a soft schedule — they’ll need to win every game again.  That’s a tall order by any measure.  I can’t remember the last time a college team did it, and I’m not counting on it happening this year, either.

We’ll start to find out tomorrow.  I’ll be there in the Horseshoe, ready to cheer.  Let’s go, Bucks!