Tuesday, October 4

Anemic offense, poor play-calling dooms Buckeyes in Big Ten opener

I took this past Saturday’s 10-7 loss to Michigan St better than any I’ve taken in a long time, probably dating back to 2001. While this was a good thing for the family and friends that had to deal with me the rest of the weekend and any breakables within my immediate grasp, this reaction does not sit well with me. The fact that I was not irate about an Ohio St loss can only mean one thing - I expected it. It felt just like a Browns game for me. Sure, I was really into the game while it was going on and cheering my ass off, and was not at all pleased with the outcome, but when it was all said and done it kind of had that Browns “eh, what did you expect?” feel to it. That feeling has not happened in Columbus in over a decade, and it’s sad to think that way now.

When I think about it, my hopes shouldn’t have been as high to begin with. While I wasn’t thinking National Championship, I thought a 9- or 10-win season and possible Big Ten title was not out of the question. Clearly it was, and an unbiased, outside observer probably would have noticed that. Take the top RB, top WR, and second-best OL out of any team’s lineup due to suspensions, and you’re going to have some hiccups. Add this on top of a defensive that graduated eight starters and your QB and head coach leaving the team, and things could get ugly, which they have in Columbus.

It’s not just that Ohio St has lost two of its first five games; it’s the way they lost them. I didn’t think it could get any worse than the Miami loss, but this was close. The defense played great - they shoulder none of this blame. Michigan St’s offense has been underperforming this year, but they are still loaded with talent, and the Bucks held them to only ten points. The offense on the other hand, I don’t know if I can even think of a word bad enough to describe it. Braxton Miller was 5/10 for 56 yards and an INT, and the team collectively ran 39 times for 35 yards. That includes five sacks in there, but regardless, less than one yard per carry is not going to cut it. I don’t necessarily blame the running backs for this ineptitude, I put the majority of it on the offensive line and the play-calling. For all the credit I gave the O-line last week, they deserve just as many demerits for this game. There was nowhere for the backs to run all game. It also didn’t help that Michigan St was putting nine guys in the box every single play, because they knew OSU was not going to put the ball in the air. I supported playing Braxton for this game (and I still do going forward), but if the coaching staff believes that he is that bad/not ready that they won’t even pretend to let him look like he’s going to throw, then he shouldn’t be in the game. This game is just as frustrating to write about as it was to watch, so let’s blow through this recap real quick.

Game Recap
Ohio St’s offensive woes began immediately, going three-and-out on their first two possessions. MSU capitalized quickly when Kirk Cousins threw a TD strike to his favorite target, B.J. Cunningham. I knew that Cunningham was pretty good, but does it shock anyone else that this guy is the Spartans’ all-time leading receiver? A school that boasts such greats like Andre Rison, Charles Rogers, and Plaxico Burress? It surprised me to hear this. I was also surprised to know that when Cunningham caught that touchdown seven minutes into this game, that it was over. On the last play of the first quarter, Chris Fields caught a 12-yard pass for OSU’s first first down of the game, so there’s that.

The second quarter was more of the same, with both teams doing a lot of punting. The big play came about midway through the frame after a Fields 33-yard completion. Miller tossed what was probably his best ball of the game between two MSU defenders to Devin Smith inside the 10-yard line. It appeared Smith came down with it, until Spartan DB Darqueze Dennard stood up with the ball. (Seriously though, Darqueze?) After seeing the replay, Smith jumped up and had the ball in his hands, but on his way down Dennard snuck a hand in there and pulled the ball out, keeping control of it as the two players hit the turf. At the time, I thought that Ohio St maybe had just lost their only scoring opportunity. Other than a meaningless last-second score, I was right. Big Jonathan Hankins forced and recovered a fumble late in the half, but of course the Buckeye offense did nothing with the opportunity.

The third quarter was about as exciting as a vacation to Delaware, the most interesting play coming when Michigan St missed a 51-yard FG.

After MSU connected on a 50-yarder in the 4th to go up 10-0, Joe Bauserman entered the game. I’ve said that I just wanted to see Ohio St go with Braxton and stick with him, but I understand this move. It was most likely their best chance to get a quick score to get back in the game. The only problem I’ll have is if the coaches want to stick with Bauserman because his stats (7/14, 87 yards, 1 TD) were better than Miller’s. This only happened because the Buckeyes finally opened the playbook up a little bit at this point and Michigan St was playing a softer defense. On the last of five Bauserman-led drives, Joe hit Evan Spencer for a 33-yard score, at least keeping the Bucks from being shut out for the first time since 1993. Michigan St recovered the onside kick, ending the game at 10-7.

Game Ball
I typically don’t give game balls for losing efforts, but the way this season is looking if I don’t start then we’re going to end the year with only a few given out. Also, as I mentioned earlier, the defense really didn’t play bad. In fact, they were pretty good for the most part. One bright spot in particular was DB Bradley Roby. Roby has had his struggles early in this season, but he showed some great progress against Michigan St. He made several plays defensively, making a few tackles, breaking up some passes, and intercepting a pass. It wasn’t the best GB performance we’ll see, but hey, I didn’t have much to work with here.
Game balls to date: Roby, Miller, Simon

Big Ten
Last week was the first of intra-conference matchups, and it didn’t quite live up to the hype. The big game was in Madison where Wisconsin welcomed Nebraska to the Big Ten. And by welcomed, I mean slaughtered. Wisconsin rolled the Huskers 48-17, and looked damn good doing it. Taking a peek at the Badgers’ remaining schedule, I don’t see any way they lose. Their toughest game looks to be what would most likely be a rematch with Nebraska in the inaugural Big Ten Championship, and unless something drastically changes, we just saw what the outcome of that should be.

In addition to the Ohio St game, Penn St’s 16-10 win over Indiana set offensive football back about 20 years. Purdue was embarrassed at home by Notre Dame, and michigan stomped Minnesota, 58-0. Can’t say much negative about a 58-point win, other than it was Minnesota. I’m still a believer that this team won’t win more than seven or eight games. The most exciting clash this weekend came in Champaign, IL, where the Illini won a thrilling 38-35 victory over Northwestern. Wildcat QB Dan Persa returned for the first time since tearing his ACL late last season, but was forced to leave a big lead in the second half with another injury. Illinois used that momentum to rattle off 21 unanswered points, only to see Northwestern score to regain the lead with under two minutes to go. Nathan Scheelhaase responded by marching Illinois right down the field and running in the game-winner himself.

Yet Another Blow
After being reinstated for less than 48 hours, RB Boom Herron and WR DeVier Posey were again suspended indefinitely for a separate incident. After sitting out the first five games along with OT Mike Adams and DL Solomon Thomas for the tattoo scandal, Herron and Posey, as well as starting RG Marcus Hall, are being suspended for receiving too much money for too little work in their summer jobs. Seriously, guys? Just when it looks like this lifeless team might get a little spark by their two best players rejoining the team, they go right back out. What a fucking mess. To add even more insult to injury, an incredibly thin receiving corps, already missing Posey and Corey Brown, lost Verlon Reed for the season with a torn knee ligament. It doesn’t matter who’s under center - who the hell are they going to throw to?

UR-BAN MEY-ER! (clap, clap, clap clap clap!)
Don’t get me wrong, I am by no means blaming Ohio St’s poor start solely on interim head coach Luke Fickell. He inherited a mess of a program; I wouldn’t expect anyone to succeed in this situation. That being said, Fickell hasn’t exactly showed me that he’s head coach-quality (at least certainly not Ohio St head coach-quality). Let’s be honest, he was a lame-duck coach to begin with as soon as he took this job last summer. Ohio St is going to try to entice a big-name guy to come in next year, and at the top of everyone’s list is former Utah and Florida head man Urban Meyer. Meyer is currently doing play-by-play for ESPN, and he’d be back to coaching next week if broadcast partner Chris Spielman has anything to say about it (doesn’t it seem like there’s a ton of tension between those two?). If not Meyer, OSU alum and current Big Ten coaches Bo Pelini and Mark Dantonio (the man who just beat us and former OSU coach) look to be the top choices. I would love to see Fickell return to his old gig as defensive coordinator, where he was fantastic, but that rarely seems to happen after a guy has been interim head coach.

Up Next: @ #14 Nebraska (4-1, 0-1 Big Ten), 8:00, ABC
The offense has one of the worst performances in recent memory, WR Verlon Reed goes out for the year, and Boom and Posey get suspended again. There is no conceivable way things could get worse, right? Wrong, as the Buckeyes head to Memorial Stadium, where 14th-ranked Nebraska will host their first-ever Big Ten game, under the lights, after being pissed off because of the Wisconsin loss. This is my fourth season writing Ohio St game recaps for this blog and my third predicting the following week’s score, and for only the second time (USC in 2009 being the other) I will have to pick against the Buckeyes. Thankfully, this is a night game and it’s my alma mater's Homecoming weekend, so hopefully I won’t remember this game anyway.
Prediction: Ohio St 10 Nebraska 38


1 comment:

Andy said...

Regarding the suspended players: I think I'm going to write a two-part series on that; one where I argue indignantly that players are getting a free education and how dare they do that, and one where I argue passionately that the players are pawns in the universities' multi-million dollar deals and should be compensated.

Wait, both of those have already been written 89 thousand times? Never mind.

Can't remember the last time I saw a Buckeye club fail to move the ball like that. Absolutely no passing threat.

We had two really legit shots at recovering that onsider.

I wouldn't give up on OSU just yet - I suspect they'll pull out at least one surprising win in a game they're not expected to win this season.

I'm fine with um continuing to win - it'll be that much better when Nebraska, Wisconsin, and yes, Ohio State, get their hands on them.