One Small Step
Winning by five points at home over a two-win team after a week off isn’t really something you get excited about if you’re an Ohio State fan. It certainly won’t impress the College Football Playoff committee. There is still a long way to go, and with two teams ranked ahead of the Buckeyes losing on Saturday, our favorite team needs to continue to survive and advance. We saw improvement in some areas in OSU’s win over Nebraska, but it was more like one small step rather than a giant leap.
In the days leading up to their game with the Cornhuskers, Urban Meyer said he felt problems in the run game had been corrected. After they rushed for 229 yards and averaged 5.7 yards per carry, I’d say Meyer is right. The pad levels of the offensive line still looked a little high very early, but once they got rolling they controlled the line of scrimmage in a way we had not seen since early in the season. They wore the Husker front seven down as the second half progressed, and really shoved them around in the fourth quarter. Mohamed Barry and Luke Gifford entered the game combining for 21 tackles-for-loss and 7 ½ sacks for Nebraska, but were held to none in each category. We saw new wrinkles and formations along with different personnel combinations. Back-up guard Wyatt Davis was inserted as a tight end in the goal line offense in the third quarter. Davis did a good job of sealing the outside of the hole on J.K. Dobbins’ go-ahead touchdown. That touchdown play began with another new wrinkle. The Buckeyes went to an inverted wishbone formation with tight ends Jeremy Ruckert and Luke Farrell on each side of Dwayne Haskins, and Dobbins directly behind him. The jet sweep (which is actually a forward pass) with Parris Campbell was successful more often than not, and thanks to some outstanding blocking on the outside by Isaiah Prince, Ruckert and Farrell, he scored untouched in the third quarter (more on this concept later). Demario McCall was finally involved in the offense again. He gives them a different type of element to use out of the backfield.
Dwayne Haskins threw for 252 yards and two touchdowns. He was only 18 of 32, and I didn’t think he had his normal pinpoint accuracy. The interception he threw in the end zone in the third quarter was an uncharacteristically bad read. His body language was not good at times, and he seemed frustrated. The passing game issues were not all on Haskins. There were times he put the ball where it needed to be, but his receiver could not make the play. I didn’t think the receiving corps had their best day either. Was it a bad performance by the passing game? Most certainly not, but I think they’re capable of playing far batter. Haskins didn’t throw for 400 yards on Saturday because he didn’t have to. I like the balance we saw in the Buckeyes’ offense this week.
I was hoping for more from the defense, but there were still some improvements. Nebraska managed just two plays of over 30 yards. That’s an improvement for sure, but there were still plenty of plays of over 10 or 20 yards. Regardless, I think there was some improvement. I was very concerned about how the Buckeyes were going to handle receivers J.D. Spielman and Stanley Morgan, Jr. The pair combined for thirteen catches, but I never felt they were running free time and again. I thought Damon Arnette in particular did a very good job against them. Husker running back Devine Ozibgo rushed for 87 yards, but was held far below his season average of 7.4 yards per carry. The linebackers were far more active, and were not getting caught up in traffic. Malik Harrison had thirteen tackles, while Tuf Borland had eight. Pete Werner was in position numerous times to make a play, but far too often missed the tackle. He missed so many I lost count. His back-up, Dante Booker, replaced him for a time in
the first half, and missed a few as well. Considering the improvement of Baron Browning, it may be time to consider a move to the outside for him. I’m disappointed with the pass rush. The defensive line needs to put more pressure on opposing quarterbacks when the Buckeyes only rush four, and don’t blitz. Dre’mont Jones had the only sack, but it was only the outstanding feet of Husker quarterback Adrian Martinez that kept the Buckeyes from having more. A few times he was able to escape, but was brought down just beyond the line of scrimmage. More of a rush from the defensive line will help the linebackers and secondary in coverage.
The biggest disappointment about the defense for me was their inability to handle Nebraska’s zone read plays. Time and again the Huskers gashed OSU for gains with this concept. For a time in the first quarter it looked like defensive coordinator Greg Schiano had adjusted to what the Huskers were doing, but that didn’t last long. Give Nebraska head coach Scott Frost and his staff credit for staying one step ahead of the Buckeyes on this one, and to Martinez for continually making the correct read.
What I Liked
This one is easy: the run game. It was great to see the offensive line moving a team backwards consistently, and opening holes for the backs. Urban Meyer and his staff decided to get away from the run/pass options (RPO’s) the line was having so much trouble blocking, and go to straight run calls. Running backs coach Tony Alford wanted to see J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber run more north and south, and be more physical. Dobbins ran for 163 yards and three touchdowns, while Weber had 91 on just nine carries. But, most of all they looked like their old selves.
I like the way offensive coordinator Ryan Day used the jet sweep action with Parris Campbell often. He was used as a decoy many times, and the handoff went to one of the backs. But, Campbell was given enough carries that anytime the Buckeyes ran that same backfield action, it was freezing Nebraska’s defense. This was the case on his third quarter touchdown when the defensive tackle and linebackers were frozen not knowing if Campbell or Dobbins was getting the ball. Haskins flipped the ball to Campbell and faked to Dobbins. The hesitation by the linebackers meant they couldn’t get to the outside to help. Look for Day to come up with play action passes off of this concept. The same can be said for the inverted wishbone they used on the goal line. I think you’ll see those tight ends used as receivers off of play action at some point.
The three touchdowns on four trips to the red zone had a lot to do with their ability to run the ball again.
What I Didn’t Like
Turnovers. Specifically the amount of fumbles. Haskins, Weber, and K.J. Hill each had two. A missed assignment by a tight end was responsible for one of Haskins’ because he missed a blitzing Nebraska defensive player who blindsided Haskins and caused a fumble. That one really hurt because the Buckeyes were leading 16-7, and driving for another score. The Huskers turned that one into points and, after Hill fumbled on the first play after the kickoff, turned that one into points as well. Those fumbles changed the momentum, allowed the Huskers to stay in the game, and led to an outcome that was a lot closer than it should have been. “I’m very upset with the turnovers. That would have been a different game,” Meyer said.
Weber said after the game he is not happy with his fumbles, and intends to make corrections in practice this week.
I’m happy the Buckeyes won, and showed improvement in areas, especially the run game. But, they are still far from being a championship team. I was extremely disappointed with the way they reacted after the first fumble. The defense that had been playing with fire and intensity came onto the field flat with no emotion. In those situations the crowd needs to get on its feet and make some noise. Create an atmosphere the team can feed off of. Too often when things are not going right, the fans are sitting on their hands waiting for something to happen. Ohio Stadium is as quiet as a tomb at times. 100,00 Buckeye fans can make a lot of noise and make life miserable for a true freshman quarterback trying to communicate with his team. The Buckeyes needed to be batter at times on Saturday, but so did the fans.
A step forward is still a step forward even if it is a small one. To be honest I think there are some things which will not improve greatly. Some of the problems with the defense are not going to go away, but I hope they can be minimized. If the offense can put everything together over the next three weeks, and the defense can improve problem areas, the Buckeyes are going to be a difficult team to deal with. It may look a bit like Big XII football with a lot of points and not a lot of defense, but if that’s how they need to win, then so be it.
Random Stuff From A Corn Husking
When Jordan Fuller was ejected in the first half for targeting (more on that in a minute), I thought the defense was in deep trouble. Fuller is one of their best players, and had been in on his share of tackles to that point. Instead of going with Amir Riep, who has seen time with the first team defense here and there, the Buckeyes turned to special teams ace Brendan White. He didn’t just
hold the fort, he excelled and finished the game with thirteen tackles, including two tackles-for-loss. He took good angles to the ball carrier, and delivered a blow when he got there. I don’t know if he made the right reads every play, but if he was making any mistakes, they were aggressive ones. Those are the kind you can live with. The Buckeyes have struggled at the field safety all season. Isaiah Pryor, who was injured and did not play, has not had a good season there. Shaun Wade started in his place, and was ok. But, I think it is time for Meyer and his defensive staff to consider moving White over to that position. He’s earned it. Meyer is all about getting his best players on the field. Quite obviously White was one of the best Buckeyes on Saturday. Meyer didn’t exactly name him a starter, but did say he was going to play.
I’m beyond sick of the targeting rule in college football. Jordan Fuller did everything to deliver a blow in the correct way. He led with his shoulder, and his aiming point was away from the head of the Nebraska receiver. But, when the receiver juggled the ball and began to fall backwards, it put his head in direct line with Fuller’s shoulder. The result was yet another ridiculous ejection of a defensive player. It is an awful rule. Don’t talk to me about the intent of it; it’s awful because it does not differentiate between a player launching himself with his helmet, and a hit that is incidental contact. It is the most poorly interpreted and unevenly called rule in the history of sports. I hate it. In case I’m not being clear, let me say that again. I HATE THE RULE!!
Co-offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson said Jeremy Ruckert needs to play more, and that finally happened Saturday. He was on the field for ten plays with the first team offense, and as I mentioned earlier, had a hand in Parris Campbell’s TD run. True freshman receiver Chris Olave saw his share of time with the first team offense because of the injury to Austin Mack. He also made an outstanding tackle on a punt while filling in for the injured Jeffrey Okudah as a gunner. Cornerback Sevyn Banks made his season debut, and became the 21st true freshman to play for the Buckeyes this year.
The Buckeyes rotated a lot of defensive linemen, but the one who stood out was Haskell Garrett. He batted down a pass, and showed off his athleticism by making a tackle on a bubble screen. Don’t be surprised of you see more of him against Michigan State this week.
I know Chase Young is a work in progress, and the sky is the limit for him. But, I’d still like to see him be more of a force as a pass rusher. He had one official quarterback hurry, and harassed Martinez often, but he’s not quite become the terror yet I thought he’d be. His best play against the Huskers may have been in the fourth quarter when Nebraska had a third and goal while trailing by nine. They ran the zone read they’d had so much success with. Young stayed outside, and forced Martinez to hand off to Ozigbo up the middle. Young jumped to the inside, grabbed the ball carrier from behind, and slowed him until Brendan White and Pete Werner could help bring him down short of the goal line. The Huskers had to settle for a field goal. To me that was a very underrated play in the outcome of the game.
Speaking of plays that figured in the outcome of the game. Nebraska’s final touchdown was a blatant and obvious pick play. No idea how this was missed, but it was. Anyone who says the Buckeyes have gotten the benefit of the doubt with Big Ten officiating this year obviously has not watched their games.
After reading some of the comments from the Nebraska players, they seemed to think they had the game won at 21-16. That tells me they are a team still learning what it takes to win against better teams.
Punter Drue Chrisman had an outstanding day averaging nearly 48 yards per punt, and putting two inside the twenty. His booming kicks allowed only one return for minus two yards (thanks to that tackle by Olave).
Keandre Jones’ blocked punt for a safety changed the momentum of the game and seemed to send the Buckeyes on their way. The aforementioned fumbles changed that, but that did not diminish the importance of Jones’ play. The Buckeyes overloaded one side of the Nebraska line, and created confusion in their blocking scheme. Jones came through untouched and nearly took the ball off of the punter’s foot.
Brendan White was named as the player of the game for defense. Jones was named for special teams, and the entire offensive line for offense.
I don’t mind the black uniforms as a once-a-year thing, but it was nearly impossible to see the numbers in the bright sunlight.
Just a month after a running back commitment flipped to a different school, the Buckeyes were able to flip one for themselves. Marcus Crowley from Jacksonville, FL had been pledged to Miami, but has decided to join the Buckeyes 2019 recruiting class. At 6’1” and 200 pounds, he’s a physical runner who most think will top out at around 220 pounds in college. He’s rated as just a 3-star recruit, and is ranked as the 573rd prospect nationally. But, besides Miami, he’d been offered by Penn State and Georgia as well. Obviously he’s rated way too low by the recruiting experts. His commitment gives the Buckeyes a much needed second running back in this recruiting class.
In the postgame press conference, a reporter asked Urban Meyer about his plans to promote domestic violence awareness in November. There’s always one who continually tries to keep a controversy going. Nice job jackass. I don’t have much use for 95% of sports media. I’ve spent a lot of time around them, and know firsthand what they’re like.
Michael Thomas caught 12 passes for a team record 211 yards and a touchdown for the Saints in their win over the Rams. I still can’t believe former Browns GM Sashi Brown’s analytics showed him Corey Coleman was the better receiver to draft in 2016. Coleman is now out of football, while Thomas is on his way to being an all-pro. As a side note, watching Saints quarterback Drew Brees throw a football is almost a surreal experience. I’ve never seen anyone, and that includes Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, who can throw the ball with that kind of accuracy time and time again.
The Saints’ all-Buckeye secondary of Eli Apple, Marshawn Lattimore, Vonn Bell, and Kurt Coleman combined for 16 tackles against the Rams.
Linebacker Jerome Baker had five tackles and interception that he returned for a touchdown for the Dolphins as they beat the Jets. Darron Lee had five tackles for the Jets.
Curtis Samuel had just one carry for the Panthers, but made the most of it with a spectacular 33-yard touchdown run. He also caught two passes for 25 yards and another score in their win over the Bucs.
Tight end Jeff Heuermann caught 10 passes for 83 yards and a touchdown as the Broncos lost to the Texans. Fellow tight end Nick Vannett had 6 catches for 52 yards and a score in the Seahawks’ loss to the Chargers.
Denzel Ward injured his hip and did not return to the Browns’ game against the Chiefs. No word yet on his status, but what I’m hearing isn’t good.
Best line of the week comes from former Jets head coach Rex Ryan on ESPN speaking on Joey Bosa’s foot injury. He said, “Does Joey Bosa need his dad’s permission to play? Because we know the Bosas. If the injury says 1-to-12 weeks, they’re going to take it the full 12 weeks.” WOW!! I love that!
Is there an NFL highlights show where everyone isn’t talking at once? These shows are nearly impossible to watch.
The Buckeyes open as a 3 ½ point favorite over Michigan State. I’m sure Sparty is still stinging from the 48-3 whipping the Buckeyes put on them last year. It’s another noon kickoff on Saturday. Enjoy the week.