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.

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.