Tuesday, October 2

Meyer’s gameplan halts Bell, Spartans in his Big Ten debut win

Ohio St went into East Lansing, michigan last Saturday with a specific plan in place - stack the box to stop Big Ten leading rusher Le’Veon Bell, control the clock, and let Braxton Miller make enough plays to get the win. This plan was carried out to perfection in the Buckeyes’ 17-16 victory over Michigan St, giving Urban Meyer his first win in his new conference.

Bell was a complete non-factor in this one, carrying the ball 17 times for 45 yards, failing to pick up a single first down, and recording a longest gain of just 8 yards. The Buckeyes were able to overcome a 3-0 turnover margin and two Braxton injuries by grinding it out on the ground and making the big play when they needed to, that coming on a 63-yard touchdown pass to Devin Smith near the end of the third quarter to put Ohio St up for good.

Game Recap
I said last week that the strategy of limiting Miller’s hits by reducing his number of carries was going to go out the window in this game, and that was evident on the game’s fist play when Braxton took off for a 20-yard gain. He later completed a pass to Philly Brown on what would be his first of a dozen catches on the afternoon before running for another first down, but was hit on the sideline and shaken up on the play. Kenny Guiton was rushed in to the game, with the ball at the Spartan 14-yard line, but didn’t have to do much as Jordan Hall rushed it on the next three plays, the final one a 1-yard touchdown plunge to put the Buckeyes up early.

Knowing that Ohio St intended on keeping Le’Veon Bell in check, Michigan St QB Andrew Maxwell came out throwing, completing 4 of 6 passes on the eight-play drive and hitting Bell out of the backfield three times. The drive stalled at the OSU 17 and Dan Conroy hit his first FG attempt of the game to cut into the lead. The quick 10 points was no omen for things to come, as that would be all of the scoring for the rest of the half.

Miller was back under center for the next Buckeye possession but the Buckeye O was unable to move the ball as Ben Buchanan punted for what would be the first of four consecutive punts between the two teams. Braxton completed 16-yard plays, one each to Philly and Devin Smith on their first drive of the second quarter and had the Buckeyes in business, but was intercepted by Kurtis Drummond in the red zone.

Both teams continued to punt back and forth until Bradley Roby came up with the game’s first big play in quite some time when he blocked Mike Sadler’s fourth punt of the first half to give Ohio St the best field position of the game at the Spartan 35. This was short-lived, however, when Miller turned it over for the second time two plays later on a fumble. With new life, Michigan St put together their best drive since their opening one but Conroy missed a 42-yard attempt at the end of the half to keep the score at 7-3.

After the defenses dominated for 25 straight minutes to close the first half, the third quarter finally saw some action. The Ohio St D continued to suffocate Bell, but Maxwell hooked up with Bennie Fowler for a 35-yard gain to give Conroy his third shot of the day, this one being true from 50 yards to narrow the OSU advantage to one. Brax responded by alternating rushes with completions to Brown but when the drive stalled inside the 10 yard line, Drew Basil was forced to come on to match Conroy’s field goal.

With Ohio St on top 10-6 midway through the third quarter, the next two minutes provided the game’s two most exciting plays which ultimately decided the outcome. After a 17-yard completion and 15-yard Roby facemask penalty, Michigan St was set up at the Buckeye 29. Maxwell swung a pass out to Keith Mumphery, who broke four tackles before carrying a couple more OSU defenders on his back and into the end zone for the Spartans’ first lead of the game. Christian Bryant had the best shot at Mumphery early in the run but went too high and was basically back-body-dropped in an embarrassing attempt. For a guy that has led the team in tackles the past two seasons, he sure misses some big ones.

But the Michigan St lead did not last long, when a minute later Miller found his big-play receiver Devin Smith streaking down the sideline with his defender Johnny Adams several feet behind. Braxton threw a beautiful ball, hitting Smith right in stride before Adams made a diving attempt that Smith easily broke away from then cruised to the house to put Ohio St back on top, 17-13.

After Etienne Sabino’s sack on Maxwell forced another MSU punt to begin the fourth quarter, Miller had the Buckeyes on the move again before a scary play that had the entire city of Columbus holding their breath. On third-and-six in Spartan territory, Braxton had a good run to pick up the first and then some when he planted his right foot to seemingly make another move but the rest of his entire body kept moving forward. His knee bent backward and he just dropped the ball before going down in pain. Ohio St caught a break when the refs somehow called that he was down before he lost the ball. The play was overturned and possession given to Michigan St, but Kurtis Drummond, who picked up the loose ball, had plenty of room to run before the play was blown dead. Meanwhile, Miller limped to the bench as the Buckeye faithful nervously watched on.

Ohio St seemingly stopped the Spartans on 4th and 1 to get the ball back but Travis Howard, who was on the opposite side of the field of where the play went, was called for defensive holding to keep the drive alive. A Nathan Williams sack forced another long Conroy field goal, but he was successful in bringing the lead back to a single point.

Thankfully, Miller was good to go, re-entering when the OSU offense came back onto the field. He wasn’t able to direct the team to a first down, however, and Michigan St immediately got the ball back with 6 minutes left to play and only needing another FG to take the lead. The Buckeye defense, which came into the game ranked last in the Big Ten, was up to the challenge when they forced a quick punt as well.

Now with a second chance to run out the clock and leave that crappy state with a victory, Miller was not to be denied. His first down runs of 14 and 6 yards set the stage for a 3rd and 4 at midfield with 2:06 to go and Michigan St having just used its final time out. With everyone in the stadium, including the 11 Spartan defenders, expecting Miller to take off, Carlos Hyde got the carry and went up the middle for a gain of five. Three Braxton kneel downs closed the game for a thrilling 17-16 Buckeye victory.

Game Ball
As I mentioned at the beginning of this piece, this game came down to a carefully executed, perfectly-designed gameplan. So the GB goes to the man with the plan - Urban Meyer. Meyer joins Carol Widdoes and Earl Bruce as only the third Buckeye coach to begin his career in Columbus with a perfect 5-0 mark. Things have been bumpy early on and are only going to get tougher for Urban (starting this weekend when Nebraska comes to town) but he can’t be too displeased with an undefeated start.
Game balls to date: Meyer, Hankins, Miller, Howard, Roby

Big Ten
The other big time game in the conference this weekend went down in Lincoln, where Taylor Martinez rallied Nebraska from a 17-point deficit to beat Wisconsin, 30-27. Montee Ball played through an injury and scored three touchdowns, but Martinez stole the show in leading the Huskers to four straight scoring drives in the second half.

Elsewhere, Penn St routed Illinois and suddenly looks like a formidable opponent, Mark Weisman continued to roll along in rushing for 177 yards to give Iowa the Floyd of Rosedale Bronze Pig Trophy while handing Minnesota their first loss of the season, and Northwestern set a school record with 704 yards of total offense while dismantling Indiana.

Ohio St will be in the conference’s biggest showdown again next week when they welcome Nebraska to The Shoe, while Northwestern will take their undefeated record to Happy Valley in a game that suddenly looks much more interesting than it did a few weeks ago.

Hall doubtful for Nebraska
Ohio St just can’t seem to get healthy, especially at running back. Jordan Hall left the Michigan St game after hurting his right knee, and it is now being reported that he has a partial tear of his PCL. "You just hate to see that because it's a kid who has worked his tail off, one of the hardest-working guys we had in the offseason," Meyer said. "We'll just evaluate that. I'd say doubtful, unless something happens."

Hall missed the first two games of the season after a freak accident over the summer, and was replaced in the lineup by Carlos Hyde. Hyde did a solid job, but was injured himself in the second game of the season. Hall returned just in time to spell the injured Hyde, and Michigan St was the first game where they were both dressed. Meyer was looking forward to giving both guys an opportunity, possibly even lining them both up in the backfield at the same time, but with Hall likely out again those plans will have to wait.

Up Next: vs. #21 Nebraska (4-0, 1-0), 8:00, ABC
The Huskers will make their first trip to Columbus since 1956 in this primetime Big Ten showdown. Both teams have a little extra incentive in this one, with Nebraska coach Bo Pelini coming back to The Horseshoe for the first time since graduating from The University in 1990, while the Buckeyes will be thinking revenge after allowing Nebraska to score the final 28 points of last year’s contest to overcome a 21-point deficit, the largest comeback in school history.

For the second week in a row, the focus of Ohio St’s defense will be the rushing attack, as the Huskers come in boasting three guys with at least 270 rushing yards and a 6.0 average per attempt. This will be different from Michigan St, however, with dual-threat QB Taylor Martinez being one of those three. The Buckeyes won’t be able to stack the box like they did against the Spartans and will have to lay off some of those blitz-happy coverages in fear of Martinez’s ability to run the option.

In years past, the goal was to always make Martinez throw the ball to beat you, and while that still may be the case somewhat, his improvement as a passer since last season has been astronomical. Taylor is completing nearly 70% of his passes this season while throwing 11 touchdowns compared to only one pick. Kenny Bell (22 yards per catch, 4 TDs) is Martinez’s #1 target.

Ohio St will be in another dogfight this week, and I think it will come down to which play-making quarterback will make the least mistakes. My money’s on Braxton getting over those three turnovers last week and the Ohio St defense forcing Martinez into some errors.
Prediction: Ohio St 23 Nebraska 21


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