It Is Time
It is time. In Super Bowl XLV, with his team clinging to a four point lead over the Steelers entering the fourth quarter, Packers’ assistant coach Kevin Greene implored outside linebacker Clay Matthews, Jr. to make something happen, “IT IS TIME. It is time.” On the next play, Matthews forced a fumble that led to Green Bay’s winning touchdown. For the Buckeyes IT IS TIME. It is time to show they are a Big Ten Champion and playoff team. I’m not just talking about this Saturday’s game against Nebraska. The Buckeyes need to prove it in each of their last four regular season games. Since the College Football Playoff committee placed them tenth in their initial rankings, behind Washington State and Kentucky of all teams, it is obvious the Buckeyes have work to do. IT IS TIME.
Since the debacle at Purdue, there has been a lot of talk and speculation about what, if any, changes Urban Meyer and his staff will make to the personnel or scheme. Judging from the comments made last week by offensive coordinator Ryan Day and defensive coordinator Greg Schiano, I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for big changes. I agree with Meyer when he says it is difficult to make wholesale changes in the middle of the season to the type of offense and defense a team runs. But, that doesn’t mean you ignore what are obvious problem areas, and the Buckeyes have a few of those.
Running the ball for this team has turned into an exercise in futility. Yes, teams have loaded the box and outnumbered the Ohio State blockers. But, that isn’t the case on every failed run play. Sometimes a blocker is either getting whipped by a defensive player, or missing his block completely. This leads to problems in the red zone. Once the field compresses to thirty yards or less (I’m including the ten yards of the end zone in that thirty yards), teams that rely on throwing have a much more difficult time because of the obvious lack of room. The red zone, especially inside the 10-yard line, is bloody nose football. You must be able to run the ball. In the Buckeyes, you see the result if you can’t do that. Meyer said this week he feels the problems have been solved.
I think we’ll get some sort of idea if the Buckeyes have improved their run game this week because Nebraska runs a defensive front similar to Purdue. But, is Nebraska’s defense going to be a real test? Meyer thinks they’re much improved over the early part of the season. Throw out the nine points they gave up to FCS opponent Bethune-Cookman last week, and you’re looking at a defense giving up over 36 points per game. We know Dwayne Haskins will pick apart the Nebraska secondary. He’s done it all season, I see no reason why the Cornhuskers will stop him. They’ve struggled against good quarterbacks, and the Nebraska coaches are on record saying Haskins is the best they’ve faced this season. They know they have to put pressure on him, and although outside linebacker Luke Gifford and defensive end Ben Stille have combined for 11 ½ sacks, the Huskers aren’t known for their pass rush. I look for them to bring a lot of creative blitzes, and try to disrupt Haskins. If the Buckeyes’ offensive line struggles to protect their quarterback, I think that’s a sign that November is going to be a long month. The same can be said for the run game. If the Buckeyes struggle once again to run the football with any consistency, I don’t see them making it through
the rest of the regular season without a loss. Gifford and inside linebacker Mohamed Barry are very active, and have a combined 21 tackles-for-loss. The Buckeyes offensive line will have their hands full with those two. There won’t be any personnel changes along the offensive line this week, but I’m very interested to see if they use Tate Martell in situations. Urban Meyer and his staff simply can’t continue to do the same things we’ve seen over the last month. Part of the solution is for Meyer to get out of the way and let Ryan Day run the offense. But, I think we all know that’s not going to happen. The first half against the Cornhuskers will tell us a lot as to how the rest of the season is going to go for the offense.
Against Purdue the Buckeyes gave up the usual amount of big plays. But, the situation was worsened by very poor tackling; the Buckeyes missed 20 tackles against the Boilermakers. Despite their 2-6 record, Nebraska is more than capable of making the Buckeyes pay if the shoddy play continues. After a slow start, their offense has found itself in the last five games, and has averaged 36 points. True freshman Adrian Martinez is the dual threat kind who is one of two quarterbacks in the country averaging over 225 yards passing, and 50 yards rushing per game. In the seven games he’s started, he’s averaging nearly 300 yards per game in total offense. But, he’s been sacked 15 times, and that tells me he holds the ball too long. I look for Malik Harrison to resume the spy role he’s played a couple of times this year for the Buckeyes, and keep Martinez from
running all over the place. His favorite targets are J.D. Spielman and Stanley Morgan, Jr. Spielman torched the Buckeyes for 200 receiving yards in last year’s game. These two worry me a great deal. OSU has had issues trying to handle one quality receiver; now they are going to have to deal with two. I sincerely hope the strategy of having a safety line up twelve yards from the line of scrimmage, and try to cover the slot receiver has gone away. If it hasn’t, expect the Buckeyes to be chasing Spielman or Morgan up and down the field all afternoon. With any young quarterback you want to pressure him, but I look for Nebraska head coach Scott Frost to try to get the ball out of Martinez’s hand quickly. Also, I expect Greg Schiano to come up with ways to confuse Martinez about the coverages, and make him hesitant when trying to throw. If the Buckeyes can do that, I think they
can make life miserable for him. Running back Devine Ozigbo has rushed for 100 yards four times in their last five games. The Huskers had three players run for over 100 yards in their win over Minnesota two weeks ago. The Buckeye linebackers must be better at getting to the correct gaps, and they must tackle far better as a team if they hope to stop Nebraska from running the ball. Linebackers Pete Werner and Tuf Borland must do a better job of getting off of blocks, and not getting caught in traffic; they struggled with both against Purdue. It wouldn’t shock me to see Baron Browning get more reps in run situations this week. Against Purdue he showed flashes of what he’s capable of doing. Will Greg Schiano move the linebackers away from the line of scrimmage a little more? I think it is obvious he needs to in order to help them flow to the ball better.
The Big Red Machine
After leading a turnaround at UCF that saw them go from one of college football’s worst programs to an undefeated season last year, Scott Frost returned to the school he quarterbacked to a national championship in 1997 with hopes of leading Nebraska back to their glory days. The Huskers were one of the nation’s premier programs for the better part of forty years, but are just 19-19 over the previous three seasons. After an ugly 0-6 start to this season, they’ve now won two straight.
Adrian Martinez is hitting on 66% of his passes for over 1,600 yards with eleven touchdowns, and only six interceptions. He’s rushed for over 400 yards as well. J.D Spielman (53 catches) and Stanley Morgan, Jr. (44 catches) are far and away his favorite targets. No other receiver has more than fourteen catches. Leading rusher Devine Ozigbo averages 7.4 yards per carry. When I look at their stats one thing jumps out at me. They’ve fumbled the ball eighteen times. They’ve only lost seven, but putting the ball on the ground that much catches up to you eventually.
Mohamed Barry is by far their leading tackler with 75. He also has two sacks. Luke Gifford leads the team with 5 ½ sacks. Defensive end Khalil Davis (4 tackles-for-loss, 2 sacks) and outside linebacker Tyrin Ferguson (5 tackles-for-loss, 1 sack) are two others to watch for. Cornerback Dicaprio Bootle has broken up 14 passes.
Kicker Barret Pickering has connected on 7 of 11 field goals, but none from over 40 yards.
What Do I Think?
The Huskers are flying high after two straight wins, and want nothing more than to put one on the Buckeyes after being outscored the last two years by a combined 118-17. This is another Super Bowl for a Buckeye opponent. But, I’m not sure this is the week you want to be playing Urban Meyer’s team. We all know what they did to Michigan State last year after losing to Iowa; they boot stomped Sparty 48-3. That was with a week’s preparation. The Buckeyes have had two weeks to brood over the embarrassment at Purdue, and I’m expecting them to show up in a very bad mood. If they don’t come out at their most surly against the Huskers, that will tell me this team just doesn’t have “it;” that special something championship teams have. They showed it early in the season. Time for them to prove to us all they still do. It is time.
I want to say the Buckeyes defense is going to show marked improvement, and control the Huskers. But, until they actually show me they can do that to a team for an entire game, I’m going with the feeling that Nebraska will gain yards, and put up some points. But, I don’t think they have enough on defense, especially in their secondary, to hold Haskins in check for four quarters. I think the Buckeyes put up between 40 and 50 in this one, and move to 8-1.
Urban Meyer met with reporters this week to speak about the severe headaches he suffers from as a result of the arachnoid cyst in his brain. He underwent surgery for it in 2014, and has dealt with it for the past twenty years. Meyer said with the help of his doctors, the cyst is monitored closely, and managed with medication. “I am fully committed to Ohio State and the football program for as long as I can,” Meyer said. There has been a ton of speculation as to what he will do at the end of the season, and I’m not going to get into all of that now. But, I do think it is a distinct possibility he considers stepping away due to health reasons. The needless garbage Courtney Smith and Brett McMurphy put him through in August, plus the struggles of this team over the last month have taken a toll on him I’m sure.
Meyer said nose tackle Robert Landers is finally healthy after dealing with an arm injury. Damon Arnette, who missed the Purdue game, will play this week. His presence will help the cornerback rotation; they should have much fresher legs in the fourth quarter this week. Cornerback Jeffrey Okudah and H-back C.J. Saunders are fine after both were injured against Purdue. Kicker Sean Nuernberger will be out again this week with a groin and quad strain that has bothered him for the last four weeks. Offensive linemen Branden Bowen and Brady Taylor are close to returning, but still not quite ready to go.
With Austin Mack out with a foot injury for the remainder of the regular season, Terry McLaurin
will move over the X receiver (split end), and join Binjimen Victor. Jaylen Harris was a possibility
to back up Victor, but with the move by McLaurin, Meyer said true freshman Chris Olave will
become part of the regular rotation at the Z position (flanker). McLaurin will still see time at his usual Z as well. Parris Campbell will get some reps on the outside as well as his usual H-back role. The veteran receivers feel Olave has been ready to play since early in August camp. I’m really looking forward to seeing him get regular playing time. Harris has struggled with consistency, but showed improvement during the bye week.
Co-offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson said again that true freshman tight end Jeremy Ruckert needs to play more. He said this same thing a few weeks ago. Wilson is also the tight ends coach, so my question is why isn’t Ruckert playing more? Speaking of more playing time, Meyer said center Josh Myers and guard Wyatt Davis have progressed enough to where they could play this week. Meyer has said things like this a lot, so I’ll believe it when I see it. By the way, whatever happened to Demario McCall?
For those who don’t think the Buckeyes are a Super Bowl for just about every team they play, consider this: their opponents are 1-7 the week following playing the Buckeyes. That speaks letdowns to me.
Dwayne Haskins has been named as a finalist for the Maxwell Award. The award is given to the nation’s most outstanding player by the Maxwell Football Club of Philadelphia.
After the loss to Purdue, just about every writer in the country gave their take on what ailed the Buckeyes, and how to fix it. Pat Forde of Yahoo! Sports said Urban Meyer and his program need a dose of humility. An arrogant sportswriter chastising anyone about humility is hard for me to wrap my head around. Forde was one who relentlessly piled on Meyer in August during the Smith saga. While we’re on the subject of shoddy journalism, where was the wall-to-wall coverage of the Maryland situation concerning the reinstatement of head coach D.J. Durkin in the wake of one of his players dying earlier this year? Durkin was reinstated by the school only to be fired yesterday after public and private outcry. But, my question of where was the wall-to-wall coverage of his reinstatement stands. Here is why you didn’t see that story plastered everywhere: Urban Meyer is a huge name in college football; Durkin is not. Hammering away on a coach like Meyer means people read your articles and watch your reports. Not so much for a coach like Durkin. This is why I always referred to the sports media’s indignation over Courtney Smith’s unfounded claims as “faux outrage.”
No major changes to this week’s depth chart.
The One That Matters
The initial College Football Playoff committee rankings were released this week. As expected Alabama is at the top of the list, followed by Clemson, LSU, and Notre Dame. Michigan is the highest rated Big Ten team at number five. Four SEC teams are in the top 10. You can see the direction this is all heading folks.
The biggest surprise to me is Ohio State being ranked behind Washington State and Kentucky. You read that right…Kentucky. Committee chair Rob Mullens said, “Kentucky has a quality resume.” Sure. They have wins over Central Michigan and FCS school Murray State to go along with wins over Florida and Mississippi State. They struggled to narrow wins over Vanderbilt and Missouri in their last two games. Mullen is impressed they found a way to win over these unranked teams. He actually said that with a straight face. Their lone loss was in OT to Texas A&M. Mullens made a big deal about the win over Mississippi State and narrow loss to Texas A&M because those teams are ranked. Yes, they are…by the committee. Oh by the way, BOTH of those teams have three losses. That’s right, both have three losses, and are still ranked in the top 25 by the committee.
This is all going to work itself out in the coming weeks. Kentucky plays Georgia this week; the Bulldogs are ranked sixth. Alabama plays at LSU. I think the Crimson Tide beats up on Joe Burrow’s Tigers to give them their second loss. Eventually either Georgia or Kentucky will play Alabama in the SEC Championship Game, and come out of that with a second loss. So, as much as I hate to say it, Buckeye fans need to root for the Tide in the coming weeks. They can clean up a lot of the mess the committee is trying to create by having so many SEC schools in the top 10. A loss by Notre Dame, the team I referred to a few weeks ago as “The Monkey Wrench,” will help the Buckeyes as well.
There are seven SEC teams in the top 25, and 5 from the ACC. Twelve of the 25 ranked teams by the committee are from two conferences. It is obvious they are giving far more weight to anything the SEC does compared to other conferences. But, I do not understand their fascination with the ACC. The only difference between the ACC and Pac 12 is Clemson is in the ACC. I think it is a very weak conference overall. Don’t get too wound up about the rankings just yet. There’s still a long way to go. But, one thing that really bothers me is it is still too much of a beauty contest for the committee.
After being released by the Jets, wide receiver Terrelle Pryor has been signed by the Bills. He has 14 catches for 235 yards and two touchdowns this season.
Cornerback Eli Apple was recently traded by the Giants to the Saints. His presence combined with safeties Kurt Coleman and Vonn Bell, along with cornerback Marshawn Lattimore give New Orleans an all-Ohio State secondary. They have a total of seven Buckeyes on their roster.
Gotta say I’m still laughing at how the “experts” felt defensive end Sam Hubbard was no better than a third round pick. All he’s done for the Bengals is get better and better. Currently he has 19 tackles, 4 tackles-for-loss, and 2 sacks. Want a comparison? All-Pro Khalil Mack of the Bears has 20 tackles, 3 tackles-for-loss, and 5 sacks. I’d say Hubbard is having a pretty good rookie season. Also, center Billy Price is expected to return for the Bengals this week.
I have a lot of family in Nebraska who are longtime Husker fans. One of them refers to her favorite team as “the jackwagons” when they’re not playing well. I really hope she’s calling the Huskers that after the game..lol. Enjoy the game everyone.