The Buckeyes, Five Games In

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.

 

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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.

The Buckeyes March On

Ohio State won a big game yesterday, and did so in pretty convincing fashion.

The Buckeyes topped Miami, 36-24, and the game ended with the Buckeyes taking a knee deep in Miami territory.  It was an exciting game throughout, with two long returns for touchdowns by Miami, a blocked field goal by Ohio State, and four interceptions by the Buckeyes.  The Buckeyes defense got pressure on the Miami quarterback, bent but did not break, forced turnovers, and held a Hurricane offense with some potent weapons to one offensive touchdown.  The defensive line played very well — Cameron Heyward, in particular, will never forget his interception and 80-yard rumble down the field — and the linebackers and secondary made some big hits and had no big breakdowns.

On the offensive side of the ball, Terrelle Pryor played a fine game after a somewhat slow start.  Pryor clearly feels more comfortable with the deep ball at this stage in his career, and he made a terrific long throw to DeVier Posey.  But Pryor also made other good throws, like the wheel route touchdown pass to Brandon Saine.  More importantly, and unlike the Miami quarterback, Pryor had no turnovers.  And, of course, the additional dimension Pryor offers is his running ability.  His touchdown jaunt was vintage Pryor, and his runs helped the Buckeyes control time of possession and run out the last 7 minutes of the game.  In short, I think Terrelle Pryor is still a work in progress as a quarterback — but good progress is definitely being made.

The rest of the Buckeyes’ offense played a solid game.  The offensive line did a good job on pass protection, although the running game was a bit fitful.  Brandon Saine made a great catch on the wheel route touchdown, and Boom Herron ran with authority, notched a touchdown run, and had an excellent run after catching a shovel pass.

The special teams report was good and horrible.  The horrible was the two complete breakdowns on the Miami kickoff and punt returns for touchdowns.  The coverage was so bad that Jim Tressel quickly decided not to even kick long to Miami.  It’s humiliating to pooch kick in your own building, but the strategy at least kept Miami from getting other long returns.  On the other hand, Ohio State’s return game also looked good, with two near touchdowns — one apparently foiled when Jaamal Berry was tripped by a teammate — and the Buckeyes field goal kicker was 5 of 6.  From their return work, it looks like Jordan Hall and Berry also have great futures as OSU running backs.  Obviously, though, the kick and punt coverage needs work, and I’m sure it will be the focus of practices in the coming weeks.

All told, it was a good win, and should help to erase the lingering doubts about Ohio State’s ability to show up in big games and the quality of Big Ten football.  Next up is Ohio University.