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.

Not Very Good Right Now

The Ohio State Buckeyes won today because Cal has a pathetic excuse for a field goal kicker.  Period.  Let’s not kid ourselves.  It’s nice to put a W in the record books, but Ohio State almost lost — perhaps they should have lost — to a team that just isn’t very good.

Don’t be swayed by the big plays; for much of the game the Buckeyes  looked clueless on offense.  Cal outgained the Buckeyes and easily won the time of possession battle.  The offensive line isn’t very good right now, and the team seems to be incapable of moving the ball consistently on the ground through a traditional running game.  The defense gave up a huge number of big plays and let a previously unknown, unused tailback make them look slow and stupid.  The D experienced repeated failures at the most fundamental level — tackling. And the team as a whole played an undisciplined game, full of stupid penalties and cheap, embarrassingly chippy behavior.  In short, the game was not a pretty sight for a Buckeyes fan.

Next week Ohio State plays UAB, and then it’s into the Big Ten schedule, starting with an away game at Michigan State.  The Big Ten looks like it isn’t very good this year, but I’m guessing that teams like Michigan State, Nebraska, Wisconsin, and Michigan are better than a Cal team that lost at home to Nevada earlier this year.  If the Buckeyes hope to be competitive, they’d better get focused and get better — pronto.