The Buckeyes March On

Yesterday I joined a group that headed to Ohio Stadium to watch the Ohio State-Indiana game. On a cold and snowy day, we watched the Buckeyes pulverize the outmatched Hoosiers, 56-14. The win keeps the Men of the Scarlet and Gray undefeated and on track to be in a position to achieve their goals: beating Michigan, winning a Big Ten championship, and competing for a national title.

For the true Buckeyes fan, however, every game, no matter how lopsided, involves good points and areas of lingering concern–because true Buckeye fans hold their gridiron team to impossibly high standards. Yesterday was no exception. The good points included 660 yards of total offense, achieving a nice balance with the ground game and the air attack each racking up more than 300 yards, and five touchdown passes for C.J. Stroud. Putting up these kinds of numbers in cold, snowy conditions is an added plus, because if you play football in the Midwest in November, when the really big games occur, you’ve got to be able to move the ball in cold, sloppy weather conditions. And the Buckeyes’ defense played well, harassing the Hoosier offense throughout the game and holding Indiana to two scores (one coming when the game was well out of reach) and well under 300 yards of offense.

So what are the areas of concern? I’m still worried about Ohio State’s ability to convert in short-yardage situations. Ohio State had some failures on third-and-short yesterday, against a team that doesn’t really match up against the Buckeyes in the trenches. Long runs are great and make the rushing game statistics look good, but as the season winds down, being able to pick up the tough yards, get first downs, and keep the ball in the hands of the offense will become increasingly crucial. The key question that we’ll get answered in the very near future is: can Ohio State and its offensive line do that against a team that has a great defensive line and will make the Buckeyes fight for every yard?

With yesterday’s win, the Buckeyes move to 10-0. Next up is Maryland on the road, and looming behind is That Team Up North, which also stands at 10-0, tied with Ohio State at the top of the Big Ten East. This season is feeling a lot like past seasons, where everything is leading up to The Game once again.

Our New Look Buckeyes

The Ohio State Buckeyes played their first game of the new season last night. Watching the game was a different experience, due to the date and time–has Ohio State ever played a football game on a Thursday night before?–and the fact that the team opened the season on the road in the Big Ten, before a packed house of rabid Minnesota Golden Gopher fans, and had to come from behind in the second half to pull out a 45-31 win. But mostly it was a different experience because Ohio State’s starters include a lot of new names, on both offense and defense.

On offense, it’s pretty clear that the Buckeyes have plenty of firepower and weapons galore. They have a new quarterback, C.J. Stroud, who played through some first half jitters and had a bad interception before settling down and making lots of good throws as the Buckeyes pulled away. Give some credit to head coach Ryan Day for continuing to dial up pass plays and give Stroud a chance to show his arm. If Stroud can settle down and throw the ball accurately, he’s likely to put up some big numbers this year, because the Buckeye receiving corps is loaded with talent and speed, starting with veterans Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson. And the Buckeyes have a lot of punch in the backfield, too, with Miyan Williams, who rushed for 125 yards on only 9 carries and had a 71-yeard TD burst, dependable Master Teague, and true freshman TreVeyon Henderson, shown in the photo above, who looks like a star in the making.

The defense is another matter. Ohio State’s D was exposed last year by Alabama, and that was a veteran unit. This year’s defense features loads of new players in the defensive backfield and at the linebacker position, and there were some breakdowns last night–including a long run on a gutsy fourth-and-one play by the Gophers–that will need to be fixed. In fairness to the defense, Minnesota had a lot of veteran players at the offensive skill positions and a huge offensive line, and it can be tougher for a defense with a lot of new players to learn to play together as a team. We’ll call the defense a work in progress for now, but we’ll hope that the progress comes quickly, because Ohio State plays Oregon next weekend and the Ducks will be a handful.

It’s the Friday morning before Labor Day, the Buckeyes already have a conference road win under their collective belts, and members of Buckeye Nation have lots to analyze and criticize. It’s not a bad way to start a three-day weekend.