A Special Win
Somewhere (most likely his man cave in Youngstown), former Buckeye coach Jim Tressel is smiling. The joke among many media and Buckeye fans is Tressel’s favorite play was the punt. If
that’s true (and some are convinced beyond all that is reasonable it is) he has to smiling from ear to ear after watching OSU punter Drue Chrisman control the second half of the Buckeyes’
game with Michigan State on Saturday. Chrisman, with the help of gunners Terry McLaurin and Jeffrey Okudah, dropped five straight punts inside the Spartans’ seven-yard line, and was responsible for setting up nine of his team’s 26 points. On a day when the offense struggled with consistency, the redshirt sophomore from Lawrenceville, IN quite simply changed the game. The old and revered belief that the kicking game is the most important phase of football certainly held true in what was a “special” win for the Buckeyes.
As we celebrated Veteran’s Day this weekend, we were reminded it has its roots in World War I. It is a war known for trench warfare where gains and losses were measured in feet and inches at times. You could pretty much measure the Buckeyes’ first half offensive output against the stout Michigan State defense in feet and inches as well. They averaged just 0.9 yards per carry rushing the ball, and had just 147 yards of total offense. Their offensive line was just plain getting whipped by MSU’s front seven. J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber couldn’t find any running
room, and Dwayne Haskins had to rely on short throws because they couldn’t protect him long enough to throw the ball down the field. Spartan defensive end Kenny Willikes was torturing Buckeye tackles Isaiah Prince and Thayer Munford; he was nearly unblockable. Left guard Malcolm Pridgeon continues to struggle against good competition. But, as the second quarter wore on Prince and Munford began to better handle Willikes, Haskins took advantage of the extra time to complete passes to the intermediate routes. The run game opened up a bit with the help of jet sweep action, and the Buckeyes were able to move the ball on their final two series of the half; they led 7-3 going to the break.
With the defense (more on them in a minute) and special teams controlling the game, the Buckeye offense was presented with great field position for most of the second half, and an opportunity to blow open the game. While the run game was never spectacular, it was certainly far better in the second half. Offensive coordinator Ryan Day began to attack the perimeter of the Spartan defense, and mix that with inside runs. Mike Weber, who finished the first half with just three yards, ran for a bruising 101 in the second half, and averaged five yards per carry. Weber, a Michigan native, has now rushed for 377 yards in three games against the Spartans. Dropped passes, three penalties, and a very bad snap from center Michael Jordan helped to continually stall the offense. When you play a defense like Michigan State’s, you can’t hurt yourself with penalties and play behind the chains. The Buckeye offense did this too often. While the offensive line managed to open some holes for Weber, they were so-so at best protecting Haskins in the second half. Too often Haskins was not able to step into a throw to an open receiver because a Spartan was in his face, or collapsing the pocket by shoving a Buckeye linemen backwards. However, Prince, Munford, and Demetrius Knox all were graded as Champions by the coaching staff. Really a mixed bag of good, not-so-good, and bad from the offense on Saturday.
The Spartans’ offensive issues were well known entering Saturday’s game. They have struggled to run the ball behind a suspect offensive line. Third-year starting quarterback Brian Lewerke
has struggled to throw with an injured shoulder, and back-up Rocky Lombardi has been hot and cold. Not much changed on Saturday. Throw out back-to-back plodding runs by Lombardi that totaled 59 yards, and you’ll see the Buckeyes held the Spartans to minus 1 yard on the ground. Leading rusher Connor Heyward rushed six times for just one yard. Lewerke struggled to just 11 of 28 passing. There wasn’t any velocity to his throws, and it’s obvious he has a problem. Lombardi looked great leading the Spartans to a field goal late in the half, but looked lost and over-matched until Lewerke entered the game again in the fourth quarter. But, give the Buckeye defense a ton of credit. They have faced other mediocre offenses, and made them look far better than what they were in giving up yards, big plays, and points. That didn’t happen on Saturday. The Buckeye defense did exactly what they should have done to an offense like Michigan State’s: they completely shut them down. Yes, to me giving up just 274 yards and not allowing a touchdown is completely shutting a team down. I may be wrong, but did the Spartans ever get inside the OSU 20-yard line?
What I Liked
The defense. On a day when the offense struggled to do anything in the first half, the defense finally rose up when needed, and allowed almost nothing to the Spartans. Of MSU’s 69 offensive
plays, 43 went for zero or negative yardage. They held the team in the game until the offense could muster points, and even added points of their own when Dre’mont Jones recovered a fumble in the Spartan end zone. Brendan White started at field safety, and he obviously makes a difference. I was so impressed by his speed and aggressiveness in nearly blowing up a Spartan reverse. Defensive lineman Haskell Garrett continues to improve, and is beginning to be more of a force in the middle. We finally got the type of performance we’ve been waiting to see from them, and it came at the perfect time.
What I Didn’t Like
I decided to go with two. The first is the way the offense wasted great field position time and again in the second half. The Buckeyes began drives at their own 41, 49, and midfield only to waste each opportunity. The worst of those missed opportunities came after Jonathan Cooper recovered a Spartan fumble at their 15-yard line immediately after Jones’ recovery for a TD put the Buckeyes up 16-6 very early in the fourth quarter. Instead of scoring a touchdown and putting the Spartans away, a four-yard run by Dobbins was followed by a penalty and an incompletion. OSU had to settle for a Blake Haubeil field goal. In their coming games, they will play offenses much better than Michigan State’s. They simply cannot waste opportunities like they did on Saturday.
The second thing I did not like is the pass rush. Or should I say lack of pass rush. As happy as I am with the overall play of the defense on Saturday, that’s how disappointed I am in the pass rush. The Buckeyes front four simply must put more pressure on opposing quarterbacks. They were credited with six quarterback hurries, but did not have a sack. Chase Young had three of those hurries, but I want to see him getting to the quarterback and either knocking him down or getting a sack. The Buckeyes have a good rush, but not a great one. They need to elevate to great because a disruptive rush does nothing but help your pass coverage, and we all know how much that part of the defense has struggled at times.
It was certainly not pretty. But, let’s remember the Buckeyes went on the road and won against a ranked team. “We know exactly what this would be and it was. That was November football at Michigan State,” Meyer said. If this team is to win against Michigan in two weeks, this is the type of knock-down, drag-out affair it is probably going to be. There are still questions about the offensive line, and the receivers need to be more consistent as a group. But, this was a big win, and barring an unforeseen loss to Maryland, probably positioned themselves for a Rose Bowl bid at worst. This was not the pretty kind of win the College Football Playoff committee seems obsessed with, so the Buckeyes probably will not move up.
Random Stuff From A Special Win
Dwayne Haskins finished 24-39 for 227 yards and a touchdown. While he did miss a few throws,
he continually put the ball into tight windows, or in areas where only his receiver had a chance
to make the catch. But, he was victimized by drops by Johnnie Dixon (twice) and Binjimen Victor.
The Buckeyes are getting to the point where the number of reliable receivers is dropping. Victor has been a disappointment as a replacement for injured Austin Mack, and Dixon is hot and cold. I really like true freshman Chris Olave. He had two catches for 41 yards, and did not look like a freshman when making plays. A healthy C.J. Saunders will help this group; he’s missed the last two weeks. My only criticism of K.J. Hill, their best receiver, is he tends to dance around too much instead of getting up the field when he makes a catch in traffic.
With 63 yards on five catches Terry McLaurin surpassed 1,000 career receiving yards. Hill and Parris Campbell have also reached that milestone. McLaurin continues to be one of the best gunners in the country on punt coverage. He downed a punt at the one-yard line, and batted another back into the field of play before it reached the end zone to pin the Spartans deep in their own territory yet again.
The jet sweep action continues to be successful for the offense. Partly because Parris Campbell was a high school running back. After Haskins flips him the ball, you can see his running back instincts take over. He is patient in waiting for a hole to develop, and when it does he uses his lightning speed to get through it quickly. His second quarter touchdown was a result of him making a Spartan miss in the backfield, and outstanding blocking by tight ends Luke Farrell and Rashod Berry, along with J.K. Dobbins.
You can see why Urban Meyer and co-offensive coordinator/tight ends coach Kevin Wilson say Farrell is going to be a very good player. His overall game has noticeably improved. He’s become a sure-handed receiver, and his blocking is outstanding.
We finally saw Tate Martell used in goal line/short yardage situations, and I’d say the results were very positive. His first play came in the second quarter with the Buckeyes at the Spartan six. Martell ran a well-executed quarterback counter for five yards, and nearly scored. He entered again in the fourth quarter, and looked to be leading the Buckeyes to another score before a fumble on a bad snap ended the drive. With Martell at quarterback the run game seemed to open up more because he is a threat to run, and the defense can’t ignore him, and attack the running back at his first step. This is why the jet sweep action is so successful as well. The uncertainty of who is getting the ball slows the defense. Meyer liked what he saw from the Martell package, and said it will be used more. Why did it take so many weeks for this to be implemented?
We saw the Buckeyes run a few things not seen all season. A reverse, quarterback dive, and option were all used. Regardless if they were successful or not, I’m happy to see different things being explored. It also means opponents have to spend time preparing for these plays. The more they have to prepare for, the better.
Last week I filled out my ballot for nominations for defense and offensive linemen to the Football Writers Association of America All-American team, along with nominations for the Outland Trophy and Nagurski Award. I nominated Dre’mont Jones to all three. Jones proved again on Saturday why he’s worthy of nominations to those awards. He helped jam the middle to stop Michigan State from running the ball, batted away a Spartan pass, hit the arm of Lewerke as he was throwing and created an interception, and recovered a fumble in the end zone for the second time this year.
This week I’ll fill out a ballot to nominate for offensive skill players, and special teams. Nominating Haskins is a no-brainer, but I’ll also be nominating punter Drue Chrisman. I happen to think he’s the best punter in the country. Yes, he shanked his first one for four yards Saturday. But, he came back to put on the best display of punting I’ve ever seen. There are punters with more gaudy averages, but none place the ball as well as Chrisman. I said earlier in the season he’s a weapon, and against the Spartans he showed just how big of one he can be. Incredibly enough Chrisman is not the Big Ten’s Special Teams Player of the Week. You read that correctly. Wow is all I can say.
At his press conference today, Urban Meyer said all three starting linebackers, Tuf Borland, Malik Harrison, and Pete Werner, graded at 90%. Also, Justin Hilliard filled in for the injured Baron Browning on passing downs against Michigan State.
Michigan State has scored a total of just 25 points in their last three meetings with the Buckeyes. They have been kept out of the end zone in each of the last two games.
Terry McLaurin and Mike Weber were named as the Buckeyes’ offensive players of the game. McLaurin along with Drue Chrisman were named for special teams. Dre’mont Jones was named for defense.
Center Michael Jordan struggled with snaps again when faced with dealing with a good nose tackle. This is a real worry heading towards Michigan in two weeks. Meyer said it concerns him as well.
On Sunday former Buckeye William White received the game ball from his son, Brendan. White is battling ALS.
Michael Thomas had eight catches for 70 yards and two touchdowns, and Eli Apple had an interception in the Saints blowout of the Bengals.
Linebacker Darron Lee had eleven tackles for the Jets in their loss to the Bills. Raekwan McMillan had seven tackles for Miami as they lost to the Packers.
Zeke Elliot rushed for 151 yards and a touchdown in the Cowboys’ win over the Eagles. Malcolm Jenkins had seven tackles and forced a fumble for Philadelphia.
Defensive end Tyquan Lewis had three tackles in his debut with the Colts. He had missed the first part of the season with an injury.
A note to Browns fans. Be patient. You can see some of the pieces that have been put into place. They have their franchise quarterback. Nick Chubb is on his way to being a good running back, and Denzel Ward has turned in to a shutdown cornerback as a rookie. More pieces will be added in the off-season. Be patient. Better days are coming.
We’re down to the regional finals in Ohio high school football. It’s really cold outside. Welcome to mid-November in Ohio. Enjoy your week.