Tuesday, September 11

Imperfect Buckeyes move to perfect 2-0

It’s not often that your team starts the season with two victories by the combined score of 87-26, and your head coach is this displeased. “We're not where I thought we'd be,” said Urban Meyer after Ohio St’s 31-16 win over Central Florida last Saturday. "I don't want to say we're not a good team. But we're not. We're just mushing around out there. And we've got to be much better than we are."

My sentiments exactly. For the second consecutive week, Ohio St had no pass rush, the secondary looked lost, and Braxton Miller could not throw the ball downfield to save his life. To add to the negatives this week, OSU was also flagged 10 times, resulting in 79 penalty yards. But also just like last week, the defense was bailed out by Travis Howard and the fact they weren’t playing a top-tier offense, Brax absolutely killed it with his legs, the penalties didn’t come at crucial times and didn’t seem to hurt, and the Buckeyes still cruised to an easy victory. As Andy texted me after the game when he could tell my concern, “We’re 2-0, I’m drinking beer, and we’re not michigan fans.” Good point my friend, it could be worse.

Game Recap
The Ohio St defense forced a quick three-and-out to open the game, and Miller didn’t waste time getting the Buckeyes on the scoreboard. Two completions to Philly Brown set up Brax’s 37-yard touchdown run for the early lead. After another UCF three-and-out, OSU moved the ball near midfield and Meyer faced his first decision of the game with a 4th and 1. It turns out it really wasn’t even a decision, as Meyer wasted no time keeping his offense on the field, but they were forced to come off when Miller was stuffed well short of the first-down marker. I couldn’t help but think that Hyde not scoring that TD from the one at the end of the half last week affected the choice to let Miller keep it on this play.

Storm Johnson, filling in for injured UCF starting RB Latavius Murray, showed a lot of quickness picking up a few first downs after the Knights took over, but QB Blake Bortles missed his man in the endzone on third down and they settled for a FG. At the end of 1, the Bucks held a 7-3 lead.

A methodic OSU drive began the 2nd, the biggest play coming on a Philly end-around that picked up 19. Drew Basil continued to be perfect this year, knocking one in from 24 yards out and putting the Bucks back up by seven. Johnson continued to impress on the next Knight series, picking up 20 yards on a reception and 48 on a run, setting up a short Bortles-to-Justin Tukes touchdown to tie the game at 10.

With Carlos Hyde, who was injured on the previous series, in the locker room, Zach Boren was receiving the carries for the Buckeyes and responded by fumbling in Central Florida territory for the first turnover of the game. That was quickly matched, however, when Travis Howard picked off Bortles at midfield and set Ohio St up with a short field with just over three minutes left in the half. With Brown and Devin Smith catches moving OSU even closer, Miller was not about to leave points on the board at the end of the half for the second week in a row. Brax took one off the edge for a 20-yard gain then followed that up with a draw up the middle for a six-yard score. The teams headed to the locker room with UCF making like the New Kids and hanging tough, but trailing 17-10.

Just like the week prior against Miami (OH), Ohio St was determined to come out in the third quarter and put this game away. This time it just took a little longer than 17 seconds. Braxton did most of the work of the 12-play, 76-yard drive on the ground, but capped it off by hitting Jake Stoneburner for the score. Five plays later, after an Etienne Sabino INT gave the ball right back to Miller, he was back using his legs and scoring his third rushing touchdown of the game to take away any doubt. A week after setting the school record for QB rushing yards in a game, that run had Brax back in the record books when he became the first OSU quarterback to rush for three TDs since Art Schlichter in 1978.

Bortles led a good drive by completing passes to five different receivers and responded with a touchdown of his own, but it was too little, too late, especially after Ohio St blocked the PAT attempt. The scoreless 4th quarter was relatively boring, but was more cause for concern for the Buckeyes as they turned the ball over twice more. Miller threw an awful interception and Rod Smith put the ball on the ground as well. With Hyde’s knee and Jordan Hall’s foot still in question, guys like Zach Boren and Rod Smith are going to have to step up and stop fumbling the football. But miscues aside, Ohio St leaves The Horseshoe with another victory, 31-16.

Game Ball
For the second consecutive week, Braxton Miller’s legs were definitely GB worthy, but his arm was far from it. I’ll go more in depth about Brax’s performance thus far in a bit, but for now I’m giving the game ball to CB Travis Howard. Just like I said about Bradley Roby last week, it seemed like Howard was just about the only one who decided to show up on defense in this game. Roby disappeared this week, and John Simon and his fellow linemen still cannot put pressure on the QB to save their lives. Save for a poor pass interference in the first quarter, Howard played a remarkable game. Unfortunately, he left in the 4th quarter with an injury and is listed as week-to-week.
Game balls to date: Howard, Roby

Big Ten
Yet again, it was far from a banner week for the conference Ohio St calls home. In fact, it was downright pitiful. Two of the conference’s heavyweights, Wisconsin and Nebraska, were shocked on the road as Oregon St shut down Montee Ball and got some help from the referees on an admitted blown onside kick call to down the Badgers, 10-7 and UCLA used 300 yards and 4 TDs from quarterback Brett Hundley to outlast the Huskers, 36-30.

It doesn’t get much better from there. Penn St’s kicker missed four field goals and had an extra point blocked in a heartbreaking 17-16 loss to Virginia, Iowa got beat by in-state rival Iowa St at home (for the first time in 10 years) 9-6, and Illinois was slaughtered in the dessert by Arizona St, 45-14. One of the Big Ten’s wins came in a very unimpressive performance by that school up north as they just scraped by Air Force.

Other than Northwestern beating Vanderbilt, the team that looked the best might have been in a losing effort as Purdue lost in the closing seconds in South Bend to a very good Notre Dame team. The conference’s most impressive team thus far, Michigan St, had a tune-up (a 41-7 pasting of Central Michigan) before they welcome the Irish to East Lansing this weekend in one of the most anticipated non-conference games of the year. The way the Big Ten is playing, it looks like ND and Ohio St (both of whom they get at home) could be the only roadblocks to an undefeated season for the Spartans.

can’t-tie 2.0?
For the past year and a half, I have been comparing Braxton Miller to Terrelle Pryor. It seemed to fit. Watching this Central Florida game the other day, I came to a very disturbing realization. Miller looks a lot less like TP, and more like (I can’t believe I’m even going to say this)…denard robinson. Whoa, whoa, hang on and put your pitchforks down for a second and hear me out before you burn me at the stake. I know that you have heard me continuously bash can’t-tie over and over on this blog for the last 2+ years, and as much as I hate the guy I never said he couldn’t run. He’s actually one of the best runners in the nation - he just can’t throw (or tie his shoes) worth a lick. My comparison here isn’t because Miller throws up those awful punts like can’t-tie does, and I would still take Miller’s arm over robinson’s any day, my point is just that while Braxton will probably be the best runner on the field in every game this year (that’s right, even against Wisconsin) right now I just have no confidence in his passing ability.

Now, Miller is still only 19 years old and has plenty of time to get better as a passer, but as of right now it seems to me that he doesn’t have it. The coaching staff obviously agrees, as they don’t even let him attempt to throw the ball downfield. They give him a lot of safe, easy passes, which has worked out very successfully so far. The problem is the defenses know this and are starting to creep up and up in the box. The few times that Ohio St has tried to burn opponents on this and actually go deep, Miller has been utterly awful.

The other problem is, although he is a phenomenal runner, we just can’t have our star player getting hit 27 times a game without even dropping back to pass. I know Hyde and Hall were both out, but 27 carries for Miller is way too much, and Meyer even came out and admitted that after the game. Hyde has already been ruled out for this week’s contest against Cal, but there is more optimism surrounding Hall’s availability. Monday was the date set by doctors to clear him to play, but the coaches want to see how he handles being hit in practice this week before they announce him eligible. The Buckeyes still have two weeks to get guys healthy and for Miller to get more consistent with his deep balls before their first true test against Michigan St.

Motown Philly
There was big talk in the off-season about what players Urban Meyer would use in what roles in his new offense. The X-factor position that is key in Meyer’s system and made famous by Percy Harvin in Florida looked to be going to Jordan Hall. Then Hall tore a tendon in his foot, and OSU has been searching for a replacement ever since. I think it’s safe to say they now found him in Philly Brown. While Brown’s stats of 6 catches for 48 yards and 2 carries for 33 yards against UCF aren’t mind-blowing, they are certainly a step in the right direction. Brown was used in the slot on quick screen and slant passes, in the backfield on rushes, and out wide. With Hall possibly returning to action this week, Meyer may have two options to move around and try to confuse defenses with. The more weapons for Miller the better.

No Huddle
After watching conservative offenses being run under John Cooper and Jim Tressel (I obviously never saw a Woody Hayes-coached game, but I can’t imagine he ran much no-huddle either), wow is Urban Meyer’s offense fun to watch. Ohio St very rarely huddled in this game, and while the fast-paced action is designed to keep the defense off-balanced and guessing, it is also awfully entertaining. I love Meyer’s aggressiveness to go for it on 4th downs as well - the less we see of Ben Buchanan the better in my opinion.

The one thing I didn’t quite get though was the double clap. Before each play, once Miller had everyone lined up where he wanted them, he would clap twice, and then center Corey Lindsey would snap the ball. Shouldn’t this have been a tell for the defense every time? I was baffled that UCF was not jumping the snap on every single play.

New Rules
NCAA football made two relatively significant rule changes for this season, and I am not a fan. First, if a players’ helmet comes off during the play, they must immediately stop playing on that play and sit out the following play. I don't like this rule in general, but I can see the first part of the rule, as obviously attempting to make a tackle without a helmet could be dangerous. The second part is just stupid and doesn’t make any sense. What does the next play have to do with anything?

The other rule change is on kickoffs, as touchbacks will now come out to the 25-yard line. This rule is meant to deter players from taking the ball out of the endzone and therefore limiting the amount of injuries on kick returns. Dumb. Kick returns are an exciting part of the game, let’s not get rid of them completely. I also don’t like it considering Basil could kick a touchback every single time if he wanted to.

Both of these changes are designed for players’ safety, and I get that, but it gets to the point where you’re just trying to do too much and it’s taking away from the game. These kids know football is a dangerous game, if they didn’t want to risk injury, they wouldn’t play and could just stay in the back seat.

I never thought I’d miss Spielman in the booth
I’ll admit, I did my share of complaining about former and future Buckeye legends Chris Spielman and Urban Meyer announcing the ESPN2 noon games last year, but I would have given anything to listen to them last week. Instead we were treated to Joey Galloway and Beth Mullins. At first, I was excited to see Galloway and almost ready to look past the fact that I was going to have to listen to a girl talk about football for the next three and a half hours. Then I realized Galloway sucked, and was actually heavily anti-OSU in this broadcast. Maybe he wanted to make sure he wasn’t being a homer, but he took it way too far. And Beth Mullins, dear lord. I think I speak for everyone when I say I’d like to take the broad out of broadcasters.

Up Next: vs. California (1-1), 12:00, ABC
While Cal comes in with a bigger name and from a bigger conference than Central Florida, I expect things to get easier for the Buckeyes this week. Cal lost their opener to Nevada and needed a big 4th quarter to get past the FCS’ Southern Utah Thunderbirds, so that should tell you all you need to know. QB Zach Maynard has a strong arm and will be throwing A LOT in this game, but the Bears don’t boast much else. Things to watch here will be Jordan Hall’s availability and if he can't go how freshman Bri’onte Dunn does with his first crack as the feature back, and if the Buckeyes can finally get some pressure on the quarterback. I’d also like to see the secondary improve as a whole unit, and not just have one guy playing really well and covering up for a lot of mistakes.
Prediction: Ohio St 40 Cal 14


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