After five games, Ohio State is undefeated and ranks second in the polls. If you had asked most Buckeye fans before the beginning of the season whether they would accept a 5-0 record and a pretty convincing win over Miami at this point in the campaign, virtually all would have said, “yes.” Nevertheless, having watched the five victories, there is some unrest in Buckeye Nation. You will hear people say that the win over Illinois was not as definitive as it should have been, that the running game is not up to par, that the special teams have been hair-raising at times, and that Ohio State coaches were too conservative in their play-calling on the road in Champaign. If your standard is perfection — and that is the case for many Ohio State faithful — you are not going to be satisfied no matter how many games are put in the win column.
What do I think? I think Ohio State has a solid defense that is too banged up in the secondary for much comfort. The injuries to the defensive backs are going to make it especially important for the OSU defensive line to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks and force hurried throws. With the talent and depth on the defensive line, that assignment should be doable. The team also looks strong against the run, and the tackling has been pretty good. It is an opportunistic, athletic defense that has forced a lot of turnovers and made some big, game-turning plays. Based on what we have seen so far, this appears to be a defense that should match up pretty well against the remaining teams on the conference schedule.
On offense, Terrelle Pryor has been wonderful, but his recent injury has left him gimped up and left the coaches wondering how to proceed. Pryor’s pocket mobility, strength, and great running skills are huge parts of his game. I expect Coach Tressel has suggested that his star quarterback be content with playing a more conventional game until he gets closer to 100 percent physically. That means dropback passes, looking for quick routes from the receivers and running backs, and throwing the ball out of bounds if the coverage is good. It also means heavy reliance on the running backs to carry the ball and move the chains. I think Boom Herron will be the Buckeyes’ bread-and-butter back during this “rehabilitation” period because he clearly runs with more pop than Brandon Saine. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see Jordan Hall and Jaamal Berry, both of whom have looked elusive and explosive in limited action, get more carries.
The special teams were better against Illinois than they were against Miami, but that isn’t saying a whole lot. They remain an area of concern, and the concern applies to all facets of the special teams, from punting to kickoffs to field goal attempt blocking to kick coverage. Improvement in this area is crucial because a special teams breakdown can allow an otherwise overmatched team to stay in the game.
I’m not one of those fans who expect perfection. I’m more interested in seeing continuing improvement, and that is what I will be watching for in the next few games.