Tuesday, October 18

Reason to cheer again

At the beginning of the 2011 calendar year, Ohio St was celebrating a thrilling Sugar Bowl victory. In the 10 months following, fans of the scarlet and gray have not had a whole lot to cheer about. We’ve witnessed scandals, departures, suspensions, embarrassing losses, historic collapses, and Joe Bauserman. But for three hours in Champaign, Illinois last Saturday, we were able to forget all of that and root our Buckeyes on to victory on the strength of one of the most impressive defensive performances in recent memory.

A less-than-100% Braxton Miller did not do a whole lot, but he didn’t have to, as Ohio St became only the second team in the past decade to win a game while completing just one pass. Braxton made that one completion count, however, hitting Jake Stoneburner for a TD. Boom Herron returned from his five-game and one-game suspensions in tremendous fashion, gashing the Illini D for 114 yards and a touchdown. But the real story was the defense, which forced three turnovers (leading to 14 Buckeye points) and did a fantastic job bottling up one of the most explosive offenses in the nation.

Game Recap
Luke Fickell told the press last week that he didn’t want to rush Dan Herron back, that Herron wouldn’t start, and he wasn’t sure how much he was going to play. He must have changed his mind, as #1 was in the backfield on the game’s first play, and was a major factor in taking the Bucks into field goal range on their first possession. Jordan Hall and Miller ran it a few times as well, and Drew Basil knocked in a 43-yarder through the powerful wind to give OSU a quick lead. I’m still far from 100% sold on Basil, but he’s come a long way (seven consecutive makes, I believe) from his poor start.

I said last week that in order to win this game Ohio St would have to keep Nathan Scheelhaase in the pocket and limit the big plays from WR A.J. Jenkins. That’s precisely what they did, particularly in the first quarter, holding Scheelhaase to only 6 yards rushing and blanketing Jenkins to 1 catch for 2 yards. Illinois moved the ball a little better in the second frame, reaching OSU territory twice, but the Buckeye D held tough and forced punts on each of the Illini’s five first-half possessions.

Meanwhile, the Ohio St offense also sputtered, as Braxton didn’t throw a pass until midway through the 2nd quarter and finished the half 0/2. Boom and Hall basically split the carries and ran fairly well, but couldn’t consistently keep a drive going after that first series and the Bucks went to the break nursing a 3-0 lead.

The game took its first big turn as soon as the teams came out of the tunnel. On the second play of the half, Scheelhaase was picked off by Bradley Roby, who had a great return and set the Bucks up at the 12-yard line. On the next play, Boom bounced off the left side and found pay dirt, giving OSU a 10-point advantage. Jenkins caught a couple balls on the ensuing possession, again setting up Illinois across the 50, but couldn’t break one loose. A John Simon sack pushed them out of FG range and the Illini were again forced to punt. With the ball back, Braxton broke a 35-yard run, the longest by either team in the game, but when the OSU drive stalled at the Illinois 30 Fickell decided to punt rather than give Basil a shot at a 48-yarder into the gusty wind.

Just as the INT on the second play of the third quarter put the Buckeyes in control, the second play of the fourth just about sealed it for them. After another Jenkins grab, Tyler Moeller caught him from behind and jarred the ball loose. Storm Klein recovered and Ohio St again found themselves deep in Illinois territory after a turnover. The similarities to the start of the third quarter continued as the Bucks wasted no time capitalizing when Stoneburner caught his sixth touchdown of the year on the team’s only completion of the day to put OSU up 17-0.

The Buckeye D let up a little with a comfortable lead, and Scheelhaase took advantage, driving 80 yards and making it a 10-point contest with a TD pass to Evan Wilson. OSU quickly went three-and-out and gave the ball right back to Illinois with about four minutes left to play. The defense was not about to be on the losing end of another epic comeback, and Travis Howard picked off Scheelhaase’s next pass to clinch the Ohio St victory.

Game Ball
Because of some poor performances this year, I have an excess of game balls to go around, so I’ll give out a couple here as there were several players deserving of the honor. First, let’s talk Bradley Roby. The freshman was originally slated as the nickel back coming out of camp, but the early suspension to Travis Howard thrust him into the starting role. He went through some growing pains in the first few games, but has really come on as of late. Facing A.J. Jenkins was the biggest test the youngster has faced, and he passed with flying colors. Sure, Jenkins had eight grabs, but you can’t expect to completely shut out a talent like Jenkins. The key is to keep him from making the big, game-changing plays, and that’s just what Roby did, holding him to only 80 yards on those eight catches. Roby also added a few tackles, pass break ups, and that huge interception and return that set up Ohio St’s first touchdown. I also like how Roby didn’t shy away from the spotlight of going up against Jenkins, as he was talking shit during the week, saying A.J. was “nothing special” and “just a product of the system.” I like when guys talk a little smack, as long as they back it up as Roby did.

While there wasn’t very much offense in this contest, one player on that side of the ball certainly stood out - Dan Herron. Boom was forced to watch the season’s first six games at home, and you know the All-Conference performer was dying to be out there. He announced his presence loud and clear on Saturday, rushing the ball 23 times for 114 yards and a touchdown while picking up 5.0 yards per carry, all game highs. Even with DeVier Posey being out and the mess that has been the QB situation this year, you gotta think that we don’t blow that Nebraska game and probably beat Michigan St with this guy in the lineup. It’s going to be fun to watch him and this team down the stretch.
Game balls to date: Miller (2), Roby (2), Herron, Simon

Big Ten
They say it takes a big man to admit when he’s wrong, but I’m more of a fan of gloating when I’m right. And boy, was I right about michigan. That school up north finally faced a good defense when they played Michigan St last week, and they were completely shut down, losing 28-14. can’t-tie looked worse than ever throwing the ball, completing 9/24 passes for 123 yards, 1 TD, and 1 INT. If you watched this game, you saw can’t-tie miss open receiver after open receiver, and miss them badly. The Spartans also did an excellent job keeping him from beating them with his legs, holding can’t-tie to a mere 42 yards on 18 carries, only good for 2.3 ypc. brady hoake’s allegedly “bad ass” defense was dominated on the ground, letting Edwin Baker and company run for over 200 yards. Finally, we see bitchigan for who they really are.

The rest of the conference saw Northwestern blow their third 4th quarter lead in as many weeks as they fell to Iowa 41-31; Penn St win another nail-bitter against an awful team, beating Purdue 23-18; and Wisconsin continue to roll as they pounded Indiana, 59-7. The Badgers still have some tough foes on their schedule (starting this week in East Lansing, and don’t forget the Buckeyes!) but still appear to me destined for an unbeaten regular season. Regardless of Michigan St’s outcome with Wisconsin this week, their trip to Lincoln, Nebraska in two weeks will most likely decide the Legends Division, and who earns the right to get beat by Wisconsin again in the inaugural Big Ten Championship.

Not Hyde-ing your emotions
Carlos Hyde was not happy about only getting three carries in this game, and he wasn’t afraid to let people know. He was visibly frustrated on the sidelines, then tweeted after the game something along the lines of “if I’m not gonna play, why am I even on the team.” I don’t have the direct quote because he promptly took the tweet down after posting it, but it’s message was pretty clear. He later tweeted that he was joking, but that was obviously not the case. I totally see where he was coming from, as he has been very productive this season, but with Boom returning and playing with a run-first quarterback, there are not a lot of carries to go around. I would like to see more of a share between him and Hall to spell Herron, however, as opposed to the 12-3 carry edge that Hall had over Hyde in this contest. It will be interesting to see how the coaches find ways to get everyone involved as we move forward.

I can’t think of a clever pun/alliteration for the title of this section
I just feel the need to talk more about this defensive performance, because it was something special. There were times where I swore I saw A.J. Hawk and Mike Doss roaming around out there. This high-powered Illini offense came into the game averaging nearly 450 yards and 38 points, and this Buckeye unit shut them down to the tune of 285 yards and 7 points, while forcing three turnovers. I already gushed over Bradley Roby, but there were three others on the defensive side of the ball that got strong consideration for the game ball - DE John Simon, DT Jonathan Hankins, and DB Tyler Moeller.

Simon has been disrupting quarterbacks all season long. The numbers don’t show it, but it’s crazy how many times he is in the backfield chasing the QB out of the pocket and either setting up a sack for a teammate or forcing the QB to throw it away. This game was no different, as he had Scheelhaase running for his life on several plays, including one time where he got to him and recorded a sack. Big Jon Hankins lived across the line of scrimmage in this one, blowing up plays left and right. Moeller had his best game since his injury at the beginning of the 2010 season, constantly being around the ball and forcing a fumble. It didn’t seem like there was a play in this game where one of these four guys (including Roby) wasn’t involved.

Up Next: 10/29 vs. Wisconsin (6-0, 2-0), 8:00, ABC
The Buckeyes head into the bye week on a high note, but it likely won’t last long, as their next opponent is the powerhouse Badgers. Wisconsin has looked pretty much invincible this year, but will face their toughest test this week while Ohio St sits at home and rests while Wisconsin travels to East Lansing to face Michigan St. Hopefully the Spartan defense will bang these guys around a bit, but I’m not holding my breath. Wisconsin is lead by their two-headed monster at running back, Montee Ball and James White, plus Heisman hopeful QB Russell Wilson. As good as OSU’s defense has looked this season, I just don’t see them stopping this Badger attack as many times as will be necessary to win this game.
Prediction: Ohio St 17 Wisconsin 33


1 comment:

Andy said...

We definitely needed that one - looks like you had a little more fun writing it up than in some recent weeks.

Herron made a huge difference, no question. I didn't know that about Hyde. That guy should watch the film and take some notes on how much more effective you can be running the ball when you don't always run directly at the nearest defender.

I think it's time to get sold on Basil. He's been making tough kicks during his streak. I think maybe he's up to 8 now?

michigan does indeed suck - I love how they always come into the MSU game on a roll, lose, then tank the rest of the season. That last offensive play of theirs was high comedy.