The Buckeyes Dodge A Rocket

Ohio State stayed undefeated today, beating a game Toledo Rockets squad 27-22.  By winning, the Buckeyes kept alive a 90-year-old streak against other Ohio teams — and woe betide the OSU head coach who sees that streak end on his watch — but they also gave their coaches lots to talk about in getting the team ready for the first road game of the year, next week against Miami.

Offensively, the big concern is the offensive line.  Ohio State never got much of a push against the Rockets front four, and that does not bode well for upcoming games against teams like Nebraska, Michigan State, and Wisconsin.  Quarterback Joe Bauserman had an up-and-down game, and running back Rod Smith made the crucial blunder of putting the ball on the ground when the Buckeyes were on the verge of running out the clock and putting the game away.  Fortunately for Smith, the Ohio State defense kept Toledo out of the end zone — but the fact that Smith has now fumbled twice in clutch situations is going to affect how many carries he gets going forward.  There were some flashes of promise on offense, but for the most part the Buckeyes looked like a team that is still getting used to new players at the skill positions.

Defensively, the concerns are tackling and depth.  Fortunately, stud defensive lineman John Simon battled back from cramps that took him out of the game and returned to make some key plays as the game entered crunch time in the fourth quarter.  The defense rose up and stopped Toledo when it counted, but they also missed tackles that let Toledo turn short-yardage plays into big gainers.  The back-ups got some playing time and played respectably, but my sense is that the team lacks real quality depth in several positions on the defensive side of the ball.

On special teams, a blocked punt on what looked like a blown blocking assignment and a Buckeyes’ punt return for a touchdown about canceled each other out.  The significant issue is whether Drew Basil will develop into a reliable field goal kicker.  He missed another attempt today, and if I were coaching his accuracy in the two games to date would not give me lots of confidence to send him in for big kick with the game on the line.

The bottom line is that many of us expected Toledo to be more of a test, and they were.  Give the Rockets credit — they weren’t intimidated, they played hard, and they took advantage of the OSU mistakes.  I think this is a win that will look a lot better at the end of the season than it does right now.

The Toledo Test

Tomorrow the Toledo Rockets land in Ohio Stadium for a noon game.  They are expected to give the Buckeyes a much tougher test than did the Akron Zips.

Toledo has a strong record of knocking off teams from the power conferences.  Big Ten fans will remember that Toledo has beaten Michigan, Penn State, Minnesota, and Purdue in recent years, and the Rockets also have toppled Colorado, Kansas, and Cincinnati.  The Rockets have a quick, multi-faceted offense that can put points on the board.  Their quarterbacks, Austin Dantin and Terrance Owens, both provide a pass or run option.  They have a solid running back in Adonis Thomas, and a corps of receivers led by Eric Page, who caught 99 passes last year — 99! — and Bernard Reedy, who had two touchdown catches last week.  Tomorrow’s game will be a challenge for the Buckeyes’ defense.

Toledo’s defense features several good players, but it is hard to know how good the Rockets are on the defensive side of the ball.  Toledo gave up 22 points last week when they pounded New Hampshire, 58-22, but two of the opponent’s scores came when the game was out of reach.  The Buckeyes offensive unit no doubt will present much tougher matchups and more physical play.  On the other hand, many of the Ohio State offensive players are young and inexperienced, and haven’t yet been asked to come through at crunch time.  If Toledo could get a lead, the game could be very interesting.

Tomorrow Ohio State will need to focus on the job at hand and avoid looking ahead to next week’s road test against the Miami Hurricanes.  Of course, Toledo also will need to avoid looking ahead — next week they play Boise State, ranked no. 4 in the country.