Seven In A Row, And Counting

Yesterday, on a cold and blustery day in Columbus, the Ohio State Buckeyes pulverized the Michigan Wolverines, 37-7.  The win in The Game was the seventh in a row for Ohio State over its archrivals.

Buckeye bagpipers at French Field House

At Ohio Stadium it was a festive atmosphere from start to finish.  A troupe of bagpipers walked among the tailgaters at the French Field House lot playing Carmen Ohio.  Brutus rode by, hanging out of the window of a pickup truck and pumping up the raucous crowd.  Inside the Horseshoe the 105,000 fans also had their game faces on, heckling and booing the Michigan band, cheerleaders, fans, and anyone else who dared to wear maize and blue.

When the game finally began, Ohio State started slowly.  Michigan, on the other hand, moved the ball.  Then the Ohio State defense forced a crucial turnover, Ohio State finally broke through to score 10 points, and when Michigan answered with its one touchdown Jordan Hall broke Michigan’s back with a return for a touchdown on the ensuing kickoff.  After that it was no contest.  The Buckeyes methodically ground up the Wolverines, forcing two more turnovers and pounding Michigan on the ground.  The only thing that kept the game even remotely close was the absurd refereeing, which punished college kids for making the “O” sign and negated Boom Herron’s brilliant 99-yard touchdown run with the worst downfield holding call in college football history.

The team and band sing Carmen Ohio after the win

Although Michigan has struggled this year, this nevertheless was an impressive win for the Buckeyes.  The offense did not play its best game, yet still Terrelle Pryor, Boom Herron, Dane Sanzenbacher, DeVier Posey, and their teammates scored 30 offensive points — and could easily have scored more if Coach Tressel had not called off the dogs in the fourth quarter.  The defense, on the other hand, played one of its best games.  It held the high-powered Michigan offense to its lowest point total of the season and pretty much shut down the Wolverines after they scored their lone touchdown.  The Buckeyes clearly wanted to contain Denard Robinson, and for the most part they succeeded.  When Robinson went out with an injury, every Buckeyes fan breathed a sigh of relief.  Although Tate Forcier is a decent quarterback, he is a much easier player to defend.

At the end, as we listened to the team sing Carmen Ohio and looked at the scoreboard memorializing a decisive victory over the Wolverines, it was a sweet moment.  Beating Michigan never gets old.

Passing A Character Test

Sometimes things just don’t go your way on the football field.  Your normally sure-handed receivers drop catchable balls that could break the game open.  You rack up penalties and the other team doesn’t.  An off-target pass gets batted into the air and intercepted rather than falling to the ground.  You’re playing in enemy territory, on the opponent’s Senior Night, before a bunch of screaming fans, against a determined opponent that is hoping to salvage a disappointing season with a win.

When you are faced with such adversity, a football game can become a test of character.  Many teams fold under the pressure and experience the bitterness of defeat.  Good teams find a way to dig deep, overcome such obstacles, and win.

So it was with Ohio State last night.  The Buckeyes entered the fourth quarter tied with Iowa after some tough, hard-nosed football and lots of missed opportunities.  After an errant Terrelle Pryor pass caromed into the hands of a Hawkeye defender, Iowa got a quick score to lead 17-10, with only 12:10 to go in the game.  The Hawkeyes and their home town fans were fired up, and the Buckeyes had their backs to the wall.

Yet Ohio State found a way to answer.  It took the ensuing kickoff, marched down the field, and Devin Barclay kicked a 48-yard field goal to pull the Buckeyes within four.  Then the defense came up big, forcing a three-and-out by the Hawkeyes.  Ohio State got the ball back on their own 24 and again moved the ball downfield with a mix of runs and passes.  On third-and-ten at the 50, Terrelle Pryor threw a perfect strike to a wide-open DeVier Posey in the end zone — and Posey inexplicably dropped it.  Many teams would have given up at that point, but not the Buckeyes.  Pryor made a great, game-saving run on fourth-and-ten, and Ohio State was back in business.  A short pass, a run for first down, and a great Dane Sanzenbacher catch later, the Buckeyes were two yards away from the promised land.  Two gritty runs by Boom Herron got the TD, the Buckeyes’ defense stuffed Iowa again, and the Buckeyes ran out the clock for a crucial road win.

Many Ohio State fans think the team should win every game by 30 points — but that’s just not the way big-time college football works.  Iowa clearly is one of the best teams in the conference, and when you play at Kinnick Stadium you can’t expect a blowout — you just play for a victory.  Ohio State got that victory, and the Buckeyes now stand at 10-1 overall and 6-1 and tied for the lead with Wisconsin and Michigan State in the Big Ten with one game to go.  That sounds pretty good to me.

Let The Big Ten Begin

The Ohio State Buckeyes did what they had to do yesterday.  On a beautiful fall day, they pounded the Eastern Michigan University Eagles, 73-20, to complete an undefeated September.  Now the Big Ten season begins, and the Buckeyes will be required to leave the friendly confines of Ohio Stadium.  The first test will come next Saturday, when Ohio State will play at Illinois.

A few random thoughts from the EMU game:

Obviously, the Buckeyes played well offensively.  You know your team has had a good day when it racks up 73 points, 30 first downs, and more than 600 yards in total offense.  Eastern Michigan looked totally overmatched, physically, against the Ohio State offense, but players still have to execute.  Quarterbacks have to throw the ball with accuracy, receivers have to catch, and so forth.  Even against an outgunned opponent like EMU, putting 73 points on the board is a notable accomplishment.  Regardless of the quality of the opponent, Terrelle Pryor will always remember this game, where he threw for four touchdowns, ran for another, and caught a pass for yet another.  Dane Sanzenbacher, who caught four touchdown passes, isn’t going to squawk that they all came against the EMU Eagles, either.

I like the Buckeyes’ use of a hurry-up offense.  I think Ohio State has lots of offensive weapons, and playing at a quick tempo when you have the other team on their heels is just good strategy.  It also makes it easier to run trick plays, like the Jordan Hall pass to Terrelle Pryor.  Finally, it causes the offense to play with special aggressiveness and is good preparation for games where the Buckeyes will need to run the two-minute drill.

My only concern about the offense was the lack, again, of a consistent ground game by the OSU running backs.  Although the Buckeyes had more than 340 yards rushing, they still struggled to get consistent push against EMU when the first team was on the field, and much of the yardage that was gained was on Terrelle Pryor scrambles.  As the weather gets colder, Ohio State will want Boom Herron, Brandon Saine, Jordan Hall, and Jaamal Berry to shoulder more of the load and show that they can get the tough yards when the game is on the line.

Defensively, Ohio State stopped the run and was able to get consistent pressure on the passer.  However, EMU exposed some weaknesses in the OSU secondary, where a number of players are banged up.  The Eagles’ quarterback, Alex Gillett, played a fine game and made some unbelievably good throws under pressure.  He also gashed the middle of the Buckeye defense with big throws to the tight end.  I’m glad some of these issues were exposed in this contest, when the outcome was not in doubt, rather than later in the season during the closing minutes of a big game.  My guess is that the Ohio State coaches will work on the linebacker drops and hope that the dinged-up members of the secondary get healthy.

Finally, there were no special teams mishaps and no significant injuries.  The latter point may be the most important point of all.

A Good Start

The cheerleaders and team rush the field to start the 2010 season

Richard, Cath, Brittany and I went to the Ohio State-Marshall game tonight.  We sat in Section 28A, Row 32 of a packed Horseshoe on a hot and muggy evening and watched as the Buckeyes rolled, 45-7.  It was a convincing win, and it was one of those games where there were many more positives than negatives — but still some kinks to work on.

Terrelle Pryor threw the ball a lot and threw the ball well.  Although there were a few plays where he seemed locked in on one receiver, for the most part he appeared to see the field and went through his check-offs when primary receivers were covered.  His protection was excellent, he spread the ball around to lots of different receivers — including making liberal use of the tight end and his running backs — and threw some balls with great touch.  The long touchdown pass to Dane Sanzenbacher was one of Pryor’s fine throws, but there were many others where he floated the ball over the hands of defenders.

TBDBITL welcomes Marshall to the 'Shoe

The running game does not seem to be as ready for prime time as the passing game.  Brandon Saine broke some nice long runs, as did some of the other backs, but the Buckeyes weren’t very consistent.  At the same time, the run play-calling seemed pretty vanilla and was largely between the tackles.  Ohio State may have been saving some of the flourishes for the Miami game, which is up next.

On defense, the Buckeyes looked good, but not dominating.  The front seven controlled the line of scrimmage early on, and when Marshall fell well behind they pretty much resorted to a spread passing offense to try to get back in the game.  When that happened the defensive line got some pressure, but frankly not quite as much as I expected.  Brian Rolle’s interception return for a touchdown was an excellent athletic play, and the Buckeyes made some big hits to force fumbles and drops.  I got the sense that the Ohio State coaches also were holding back a bit on defense.  Other than the Tyler Moeller sprint blitz, the Buckeyes didn’t appear to use any of their blitz packages.

Ohio State’s special teams, which typically are a strength, were the weakest link for the team in this game.  Marshall had one long kickoff return, there was a blocked field goal and a partially blocked extra point, and the Thundering Herd returned a blocked field goal for their only score.  Ohio State’s punting was average, and most of the kickoffs did not reach the end zone.  The special teams coaches will have things to work on between now and next Saturday when the Hurricanes come to town.

Richard, Cath, and Brit tailgating

For all of that, it was fun to tailgate again (thanks, KW!), fun to see old friends, fun to don the Buckeye regalia once more, and fun to sit in the Horseshoe, eat a hot dog, and watch the Buckeyes play.  The Best Damn Band In The Land performed up to their customary level, and the alumni band made its appearance and assisted in the now traditional performance of a quadruple Script Ohio.

The college football season is here, and it is off to a good start!