Coming into the season they had it all figured out. The “experts” that is. The season was all mapped out. Alabama and Clemson would blow through the season untouched, and head into the College Football Playoff as the top two teams. Georgia would be chosen as well, along with Oklahoma. Oh my was the media salivating at the prospect of Jalen Hurts leading his new team, Oklahoma, in a playoff matchup against his old team, Alabama. Michigan, who, of course, was going to win the Big Ten would make a push for the playoffs. Penn State’s name was thrown around as a playoff possibility as well as Wisconsin. Notre Dame got the usual amount of support. Washington was mentioned, and even Michigan State. There wasn’t a lot of talk about the Buckeyes. They had a new head coach. New quarterback. Their defense was awful last year, so they really wouldn’t improve that much. They were replacing four starters on the offensive line, and they lost three very talented receivers. Most had the Buckeyes rated outside of the top ten. But, in the last six weeks the Buckeyes haven’t just crashed the season-long playoff party the media was planning for those four teams they anointed, they’ve stolen the host’s drink, eaten all of the hors d’oeuvres, and have everyone thinking they just may be the prettiest girl in the room. I know from firsthand experience how the media gets when this happens. They don’t like it one bit. But, the Buckeyes have been so good in all phases of the game, the guys eating all of the free food in the press box (and complaining about it) are actually enjoying this.
I began noticing the attention increasing after the Indiana game. It picked up a bit more after the Buckeyes scored 42 points in the second quarter against Miami (Ohio). But, it exploded in the hours after they destroyed Nebraska. The game against the Huskers was supposed to be a trap game. In Lincoln, at night, and against a team hungry to prove they’ve arrived with the elite in the Big Ten. Ryan Day’s team didn’t just avoid the trap, they jammed it down over the Huskers, and slammed it shut on them. Fox’s Joel Klatt had been on the Buckeyes bandwagon for a few weeks, so it was no surprise he put them first on his ballot. But, the shocker; the one that really made me realize just how impressed the media is with the Buckeyes is when ESPN’s noted SEC shill Paul Finebaum, the “Mouth for the South” himself, said he’d put the Buckeyes number one. I’m quite sure Finebaum’s fellow fans of Dixie football spit out their grits, and choked on their Budweiser. The Buckeyes number one??!! Over an SEC team??!!! I could just hear the callers to his radio show, “But Pawwwwwlllllll, they ain’t done played nobodyyyyyyyyy!!!!!” Finebaum is one thing, but are you ready for this? EVEN MARK MAY LIKES THIS OHIO STATE TEAM! Yeah….THAT Mark May.
I just love when people question who the Buckeyes have played. When they obliterated Cincinnati, who was coming off a win over UCLA, we were told the win was not that big of a deal because UCLA sucks. Well, last Friday the Bearcats knocked off UCF, who has been THE Group of 5 program over the last few seasons. Instead of extolling the goodness of each Buckeye opponent’s schedule, I’ll just tell you this: according to Jeff Sagarin’s ratings (his computer ratings are very well respected and been around forever) the Buckeyes have the best strength of schedule out of the remaining undefeated teams in the country. Better than Clemson. Better than Alabama. Better than Oklahoma, and most certainly better than Georgia. But, they ain’t played nobody. The Buckeyes have crashed the party, and made people sit up and take notice.
How Did We Get Here?
A few weeks ago I wrote about three areas of the Buckeyes that I felt are largely responsible for the team’s success to that point. The play of Justin Fields, the much more physical play of the run game, and a completely revamped defense. My feelings on those three have not changed. I still think these are the biggest reasons our favorite college football team is considered the most complete in the country, but I’m going to add one more to that list. I’ll get to that in a bit.
If you had told Buckeye fans before the season that Justin Fields would throw just one interception in the team’s first six games, I think we’d have all be very happy with that. Ryan Day said there would be growing pains in those first six games for his young quarterback. While there have been a few here and there, overall Fields has far exceeded expectations. Yes, like a lot of young quarterbacks he tends to hold the ball too long, and I’d like to see him throw the ball away more often rather than take a sack. But, a sack is better than forcing the ball into coverage, and risking a turnover. He just may be the best dual threat quarterback in the country. He’s completing nearly 70% of his passes, and has thrown for almost 1,300 yards. However, it is the threat of him running that really puts pressure on a defense. We saw this on the Buckeyes’ first touchdown against Michigan State when the play made it look like a Fields run to the right. Two Spartan defenders began to move towards him. This allowed Binjimen Victor to be wide open along the sideline, and Fields hit him with an easy throw Once Michigan State’s defense had a reason to worry about Fields using his legs, things opened up for the Buckeye offense. Opposing defenses are going to begin trying to do things to confuse Fields, because of Ryan Day I don’t doubt for a second he will continue to improve.
I can think of no better example of the improvement in the run game than Saturday’s performance against Michigan State compared to last year’s matchup with Spartans. A year ago the Buckeyes rushed for 120 yards, but averaged just 2.7 yards per carry. Saturday night the Buckeyes ran for 323 yards and averaged 6.6 yards per carry. This came against a team who had given up just 279 yards in their first five games. That’s not an average; that’s 279 total rushing yards given up to their first five opponents. If there was any doubt about Ohio State’s ability to run the ball, they were emphatically put to rest against the Spartans. Guards Noah Jackson and Wyatt Davis, along with center Josh Myers are road graders. One analyst called Davis the best guard in the country through the first six weeks of the season. A Nebraska linebacker observed this offensive line is much more hungry than last year’s. J.K. Dobbins is almost daring defenders to try to tackle him; more often than not he’s the one delivering a blow. He’s already rushed for over 800 yards, and is currently second in the nation in that category. Master Teague III has steadily improved, and has shown to be the perfect compliment to Dobbins. The redshirt freshman has over 400 yards on just 66 carries. Last year the Buckeyes rushed for 2,400 yards as a team. They’re already over 1,700. This is a very physical run game that wears down defenses.
When you talk about the improvement of the defense it is difficult to figure out where to begin. The linebacker play has been off the charts, but so has the play of the secondary. The defensive line was the strength of this unit last year, but they’ve improved as well. A few weeks ago I mentioned how much faster nose tackle Davon Hamilton looks. He’s become an absolute disruption along the line of scrimmage. 3-tecnique tackle Jashon Cornell has been more than solid, and was one of the defensive players of the game against Michigan State when he had four tackles and a sack. There is depth behind those two with almost no drop-off to Robert Landers, Haskell Garrett, and Tommy Togiai. There isn’t much to say about defensive end Chase Young that hasn’t already been said. He’s a beast who has to be accounted for every play. Jonathan Copper finally returned to the lineup against Nebraska. This allows the Buckeyes to have much-needed depth. Tyreke Smith came back against Michigan State after missing a few games. If he regains the form he was beginning to show before the injury, you’ll see a lot more of him in passing situations. He has the makings of an elite pass rusher. True freshman Zach Harrison has gotten better and better; he has 1 ½ sacks so far and will no doubt add to that total by the end of the season. At linebacker Malik Harrison is second on the team in tackles, and is continuing his outstanding play from last year. But, it is the guys who are third and fourth on the team in tackles who look like different players. Pete Werner and Baron Browning seem like they’re everywhere. Werner is just lighting up ball carriers. Browning is playing almost an equal amount of snaps with Tuf Borland. Last year the Buckeyes had eleven interceptions for the season. They
already have eight in 2019. But, it isn’t just the interception numbers that show how well secondary coach Jeff Hafley’s pattern match coverage scheme is working. Cornerbacks Jeff Okudah, Damon Arnette, and Shaun Wade are COVERING receivers, and batting away passes. More often than not opposing receivers are just not open. Safety Jordan Fuller is one of the very best in the country, and was named as the Lott IMPACT Trophy player of the week for his performance against the Spartans. The defensive backs are playing with supreme confidence right now. This defense is making life miserable for opposing quarterbacks. They harassed Nebraska’s Adrian Martinez into one mistake after another, and frustrated Brian Lewerke of Michigan State last week. I don’t look for this to change because Lewerke is better than any quarterback remaining on the Buckeyes’ schedule.
So, what is that one more thing I’m adding to this list of why the Buckeyes are so successful? It is the ability to make quick in-game adjustments by Ryan Day and his staff. Miami (Ohio) created some issues with the Buckeye pass coverage early in the game. Adjustments were made, and you didn’t see anymore wide open receivers. Michigan State did a lot of things to confuse the OSU blocking schemes in the first quarter. Adjustments were made, and the offensive staff figured out how to attack the Spartans. Don’t underestimate how important this trait is in a coaching staff. Not all are able to do this. Day has done an excellent job assembling his staff.
Cam Brown filled in for Damon Arnette at cornerback for the second half against Michigan State. The great thing is the defense didn’t seem to miss a beat. Brown had two tackles and a pass breakup.
After being named as the offensive player of the game for his performance against Nebraska, right tackle Josh Alabi struggled the first two series against the Spartans, and was replaced by Branden Bowen. Alabi had started the Nebraska game because of an injury to Bowen. The coaches have indicated both will play over the second half of the season.
With his seven catches Saturday night K.J. Hill moved into second on the Buckeyes’ all-time receptions list. He needs 21 more to surpass David Boston. Hill has 27 catches so far this year. Also moving up an all-time list is J.K. Dobbins. He now sits seventh on the OSU career rushing list with 3,282 yards. He could possibly move into second place by the end of the season.
The Buckeyes haven’t used the Rushmen package we’d gotten used to seeing the last few seasons. But, Saturday night they unveiled something new. They used a 3-man line with Zach Harrison lined up at nose tackle, and flanked by Tyreke Smith and Chase Young as the ends. They also had Baron Browning at an outside linebacker spot, and blitzed both he and Malik Harrison off the edge. The Buckeye coaches believes this allows them to utilize their fastest players in a pass rush. Another wrinkle to this look is the insertion of Brendan White as a fifth defensive back. I fully expect him to be used as a blitzer in this alignment at some point.
Pro Football Focus released their ranking of all 130 FBS quarterbacks through the first six games of the seasons. Justin Fields was fourth on the list. Now, before you get all riled up, realize he is the only first year starter in the top five. Who is first? Ohio’s own Joe Burrow, who is letting all of those Dixie football fans know we produce pretty good football players up here also.
Sam Dunn, who writes for 12UP.com, put out an article recently where he writes about college football being better off without Urban Meyer. He goes into the usual stuff about what a scumbag he thinks Meyer is, and how his intensity took its toll on him. He even mentions things that went on at Florida when Meyer was there. Here is my problem with this whole line of thinking. When Meyer was at Florida, he could do no wrong in the media. It didn’t matter what happened in that program, it was barely a blip on the media’s radar. So, save these kind of bullshit articles. It’s simply piling on to what went on in August of last year.
Did any of you watch the Michigan-Iowa game? My goodness that game set Big Ten football back 40 years at least. I was hoping Iowa could win their division so the Buckeyes could get a crack at them in the conference championship. But, I don’t think they’ll lay a glove on Wisconsin.
A friendly word of advice: stop worrying about where the Buckeyes are ranked in the polls. They’re irrelevant. The only rankings that matter are the ones put out by the College Football Playoff committee. Those will be out in early November. All the Buckeyes need to do is keep winning. If they continue to do that I think you’ll be very happy where the committee places them.
The Road Ahead
We all know the Buckeyes have a week off. That means no Buckeye football this weekend, BUT this break comes at a great time. The Buckeyes can take a step back and evaluate areas where improvement is needed, and heal some injuries. After this break they go on the road to Northwestern for a Friday night game on the 18th. I won’t go into a long rant here, so I’ll just say, why? Why does the Big Ten put its biggest star, which is located in a high school football-crazy state, on a Friday night? Dumb. Ok, back to Northwestern. The Buckeyes will hammer them. The Wildcats are just a shell of the team that played in the Big Ten Championship game last season. They have really struggled on offense since losing their starting quarterback the opening game of the season. After Northwestern is a date with a Wisconsin team who will probably be undefeated. Yes, the Badgers are good on defense. Yes, Jonathan Taylor might be the country’s best running back. Yes, the Badgers are huge along their offensive line. Yes, they’re playing a team in the Buckeyes like nothing else they’ve seen this year, and they have to do it on the road. It may be a dogfight for a while, but the Buckeyes will send the Badgers back to Cheeseland with an L. Unless something drastic happens I see these two teams meeting in Indianapolis in early December for the conference championship. I already have my tickets.
This is week seven of the high school football season. It seems to fly by faster each year. November will be here soon enough, and we all know what that means: all of the college basketball junkies try to hijack every radio sports talk show so they can blather on about those oh so important early season matchups of teams who will both go to the NCAA tournament. Can you tell I’m not looking forward to college basketball season? Enjoy your weekend everyone.