Tuesday, September 25

Buckeyes continue to struggle, win

Ohio St completed their non-conference schedule this past Saturday with a win against UAB, 29-15. It hasn’t been a particularly pretty start to the season for the Buckeyes, but the bottom line is they head into Big Ten play with a perfect 4-0 record. If I’m Urban Meyer, I obviously continue to work on the things that have slowed OSU down in these first four games (missed tackles, broken coverage, weak pass rush, inability to throw downfield, to name a few) but you basically treat this as two different seasons. Yes, we have not looked great so far, but we’re undefeated. Let’s put the past behind us and get ready for stiffer competition in conference play.

While Ohio St only beat a 37-point underdog by two touchdowns, this actually may have been their best performance of the season, which goes to show how ugly things have been at times this year. They came out for each half sleep-walking, combining for four first downs in the 1st and 3rd quarters, but looked like a totally different team in the 2nd and 4th, outscoring UAB 29-9.

While missed tackles continued to be a trouble spot en route to giving up over 400 yards to the Blazers, the defense seemed to be in “bend-but-don’t-break” mode and overall looked pretty good to me. They only gave up nine points, six of which wouldn’t have happened against most NCAA teams, coming on field goals of 47 and 54 yards. They also continued to do a much better job of getting after the quarterback for the second straight week after that was a huge problem in the first two games.

Braxton Miller had his most pedestrian stats of the year (12/20 for 143 yards and 0 TDs, 11 carries for 62 yards with 2 TD) but I thought looked at his best. He was very accurate throwing that 12-15 yard pass that is his bread and butter, and best of all he didn’t miss any wide-open opportunities or throw any poor interceptions. And as I talked about last week, his rushing numbers could be as high as he wanted them to be every week - Meyer is just trying to limit the amount of hits he takes, so don’t be alarmed by the low number there. As evidenced by the two touchdowns and the two-point conversion among others, he’s still as effective as anyone in the nation running the ball. Don’t expect Meyer to hold him back this week against Michigan St - he’s going to be running as much as he needs to to give Ohio St a shot to win.

Game Recap
UAB utilizes a two-quarterback system, and gave the start to the veteran who has played the majority of the early season, Jonathan Perry. Perry picked up a few first downs, including a conversion on third down where he side-stepped John Simon and completed a pass after it looked like the All-American had an easy sack. But the drive stalled with a turnover on downs in OSU territory.

Ohio St quickly went three-and-out, and Ben Buchanan came on to begin what would be a very busy day for him. It didn’t start well as his kick was blocked by Nick Adams. There must have been some miscommunication with the Bucks, as Zach Boren was left to block two guys. He did the right thing by taking the inside guy, but Adams was left untouched on the outside and easily got to Buchanan. He was then able to recover and scoop the ball himself before heading into the endzone for a quick Blazer lead. The Buckeyes were able to salvage something by blocking the point-after.

OSU was looking to establish a Jordan Hall-led running game early, but after he picked up two first downs a Miller incompletion forced Buchanan back onto the field. Perry was back out for Birmingham and again gained several yards before the Buckeye D tightened up and forced a punt themselves. With Ohio St facing a third-and-nine on the last play of the quarter, Miller rolled out to his right and just overthrew Philly Brown on what was almost a huge play. This was a very difficult throw to make and Brax just missed him, so I don’t lump this into the category of his bad overthrows to open receivers.

Freshman Austin Brown came out for the second quarter at the helm for UAB, and continued to play the rest of the game. He completed four passes on the drive and gave his kicker an opportunity at a long field goal attempt. Ohio St has been bailed out in previous games with opposing kickers missing kicks, but not in this one as Ty Long looked like an All-American. His first kick from 47 put UAB up 9-0.

The Buckeyes got the ball for the first time in the second quarter, trailing by two scores, and looked like a completely different team than they did in the first. Hall had a nice 14-yard run to start the drive, Braxton finally ran the ball for the first time with 9:00 remaining and picked up a first down, and Rod Smith came in in the red zone and broke off an awfully pretty run to get the Bucks to the goal line. Smith finished the job on the next play with a 1-yard plunge to put OSU on the board.

Jackie Williams had a nice return for UAB setting them up in good field position, and after a first down Long was ready to come out for another deep FG. This one was from an almost-unprecedented (for college) 54 yards out, but he nailed it again to give the Blazers a 12-7 lead. Miller went right back to work once he got the ball back, going 4/4 passing then running it in for a 12-yard score on the quick series to give Ohio St its first lead. The run was typical Brax, as he just made the defenders look like little boys. Maybe Meyer read my Cal recap last week questioning where freshman Mike Thomas was, as Thomas got his first catch of the season on this drive.

With less than two minutes to play in the half, UAB was not content to go to half with a two-point deficit and Brown came out throwing. They probably should have been a little more conservative, as TE Kennard Backman quickly fumbled and the Buckeyes were right back in business. Braxton again wasted no time, rushing for 19 yards then hitting Brown for 11 more to set up Zach Boren’s 1-yard score. After a slow start, Ohio St headed to the locker room with a 21-12 advantage.

After a dominating second quarter giving Ohio St all the momentum and getting the ball to start the 3rd, I’m expecting us to steamroll in the second half. Not so fast, my friend. UAB opens with an on-side kick and there isn’t a Buckeye in sight as Birmingham easily recovers. Luckily the defense bails us out by forcing a three-and-out and beginning a boring and scoreless third quarter. The Buckeye offense went back into zombie mode as they only garnered two first downs and punted another three times.

Their best play came on Buchanan’s final punt of the quarter, when long snapper Bryce Hane beat everyone down the field and downed the ball he snapped himself at the UAB 4-yard line. Antonio Brown was up for the challenge, however, as he led a 16-play, 80-yard drive. Travis Howard picked off Brown during the series but the play was called back due to an offsides penalty on Ohio St. As they did all game though, the Buckeye D held near the red zone and the Blazers had to settle for another Long field goal (this one was actually short, that just happens to be the kicker’s name) to begin the 4th quarter and cut the lead to six.

Another Ohio St three-and-out gave UAB the ball back with a shot to regain the lead. After Orhian Johnson broke up a pass on third down, the Buckeyes were seemingly on the verge of getting the ball right back when Christian Bryant was called for a bullshit taunting penalty to keep the drive alive. UAB receiver Patrick Hearn gave Bryant a little shove, which prompted Bryant to talk shit, as he does on every play. He wasn’t even in the guy’s face, he was just barking at him from a few yards away and was inexplicably penalized. Brown went right back to Hearn on the next play for 24 yards and the Blazers were suddenly in business. Again, the defense stood up to the challenge and Ty Long was back on the field to attempt another 47 yarder. He actually missed this one, giving the ball back to Braxton with a chance to put the game away.

Miller responded wonderfully, moving the Bucks effortlessly down the field. On third-and-goal from the one, Brax kept it himself on a draw for his second rushing TD of the contest. OSU went for two to make it a two-touchdown game, and again it was Miller on a designed run. He went outside this time, and was one-on-one with a UAB defender. Miller dropped the dude with a TP-like stiff arm, slowed down so he could stare down the defender on the ground, then walked into the endzone. So bad ass.

Doran Grant, who played a fine game in place of the injured Bradley Roby, intercepted Antonio Brown two plays later to put the final touches on the victory. But Ohio St wasn’t done, as Miller threw deep to his playmaker Devin Smith with a few minutes remaining. The ball was just a tad underthrown but Smith made a good adjustment and should have caught it but was unable to. I mentioned how Braxton looked good throwing the midrange passes and wasn’t terrible throwing deep, but he’s still not putting it quite where it needs to be on those long throws. He’s usually rolling out when he does it, and I think he needs to try and set his feet more before launching it. UAB got the ball back but didn’t do anything before the time expired, giving the Buckeyes a 29-15 victory.

Game Ball
Although it was still not quite what we’ve come to expect from an Ohio St defense, the Buckeye D turned in its finest performance of the season against UAB, and the biggest (and I mean BIGgest) reason was Jonathon Hankins. Big Jon Hanks recorded 10 tackles in this one and had a hand in almost every play made around the line of scrimmage. John Simon and Nathan Williams looked good as well and these three were putting constant pressure on the Blazer QBs all day. Ryan Shazier and Christian Bryant were in just about every tackle like usual, while Doran Grant played well in his first carrer start, so if they can get everyone healthy I think this defense might be getting over their slow start and are finally coming together. There were still too many missed tackles though, which will surely need to be repaired before trying to bring down Le’Veon Bell next week.
Game balls to date: Hankins, Miller, Howard, Roby

Big Ten
This is starting to sound like a broken record, but it was another week to forget for the Big Ten. In the conference’s headliner, Manti Te’o and the Notre Dame defense forced five can’t-tie turnovers and kept michigan out of the endzone en route to a 13-6 victory. Remember when this team was preseason #8? Hahaha.

The BT also found themselves on the receiving end of two embarrassing home upsets as Central Michigan topped Iowa on a last-second filed goal and Louisiana Tech thrashed Illinois, 52-24. As has been the case all year, even most of the conference’s wins came in unimpressive performances. Montee Ball was injured as Wisconsin struggled with UTEP and Michigan St was trailing at halftime before pulling away from Eastern Michigan.

As the teams get ready to do battle with each other, Ohio St finds themselves as one of only three unbeatens, along with surprises Minnesota and Northwestern. The first week of league play could go a long way in deciding who plays in Indianapolis at the season’s end, as the top four teams go head-to-head. In addition to the Buckeyes traveling to East Lansing to face the Spartans, Wisconsin will head to Nebraska for a primetime showdown.

Injury Update
CB Bradley Roby and S C.J. Barnett did not dress for the contest with UAB. Maybe it has to do with a Fantasy Football thing or something, but it seems I know about every injury to every player in the NFL during the week, yet I heard nothing about these two significant injuries to the Buckeyes. I had to get in touch with some insiders this week, but right now it seems that both defensive backs along with DL Michael Bennett and RB Carlos Hyde are all expected to play this week against Michigan St. This would be a huge lift for a seemingly already improving defense. Jordan Hall has run well in Hyde’s absence but the return of Carlos would allow Meyer to do more things with Hall and move him around a bit more.

Can you hear me now?
I’ve seen nine games in The Horseshoe in my lifetime, and if you haven’t had the pleasure, let me tell you - it gets loud. Real loud. For some reason that has just not been the case this season, and I can’t really figure out why. UCF coach George O’Leary even went as far as calling out Ohio St fans saying that they’ve been quiet. I agree, George, and that hasn’t been more obvious then in the UAB game. It’s time for that to change, Buckeye fans. I’ll do my part on November 3 when I’m there, but until then, it’s up to you guys.

Up Next: @Michigan St (3-1), 3:30 ABC
If Ohio St had played the way the did in any of it's first four games this year in Spartan Standium instead of at home against the likes of Miami (OH), UCF, Cal, and UAB, they would not be undefeated right now. That certainly does not suggest that the Spartans haven’t had their problems as well, as they were easily disposed of by Notre Dame and limped to a win over hapless Eastern Michigan after a 2-0 start.

The game plan for Michigan St is simple - get the ball to Le’Veon Bell. Bell’s 600+ rushing yards this season is tops in the Big Ten and third in the nation, and looks to be the only real threat on this Spartan offense. First-year starting QB Andrew Maxwell has had his problems, and has not been helped out one bit by his receivers who consistently drop passes and run wrong routes. B.J. Cunningham and Keshawn Martin aren’t walking through that door, so OSU will definitely be looking to stack the box and make Maxwell beat them. DE William Gholston anchors a dominating Spartan defense allowing a miniscule 11 points per game. Expect Gholston to be lining up all over the field and Braxton Miller to be constantly running away from him.

Last season Michigan St broke a seven-game losing streak to the Buckeyes by winning 10-7 in one of the most boring and hard to watch games of the year. Both teams have had their issues this season but both are still front-runners to finish with the best record in their half of the Big Ten. I expect a close, hard-fought game with both teams looking better than they have so far this year, but for Braxton Miller’s running ability to be the difference and Ohio St to prevail.
Prediction: Ohio St 27 Michigan St 21


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