So Far, So Good
Three games. That’s the sample size we have to judge the Buckeyes right now. Three of twelve games; one-fourth of the season. So, after a comfortable opening-season win, and two absolute blowouts, what do we know about them? They’re good. VERY good. Good enough to make people take notice. Good enough to stop the talk of Oklahoma being better. Good enough to be considered by many as one of the four best teams in the country. Before the season began I said the key word for this team is potential. They have a ton of it. So far they’ve exceeded expectations, and shown us the sky appears to be the limit for this team. But, the question is why? Here are a couple of things that have jumped out at me about the 2019 Buckeyes.
Although he is not pleased with his performance against Indiana, I think it is safe to say Justin Fields has lived up to the hype surrounding him. One of the things that most impresses me is his accuracy. He’s REALLY accurate. So far he’s hitting on a Haskins-like 70% of his throws. But, the best part of his passing stats so far is the zero in the interception column. I don’t think any of us expected that. I figured he’d make a bad read, and hit a linebacker in the chest with a pass. That hasn’t happened, and that leads me to the next thing that has impressed me about him. His reads in the passing game improved greatly from week one to week two. You could see him going through his progressions more quickly. He also began to do a great job of throwing the ball away instead of holding it too long, and is showing the ability to keep a play alive with his eyes up field looking for a receiver. Ryan Day said he is lightyears ahead of where he’d thought he’d be. You can certainly see Day’s influences on him; Fields is going to get better and better.
The run game is meaner. This offensive line has developed an attitude. Left guard Jonah Jackson is putting defenders on the ground. Center Josh Myers, and right guard Wyatt Davis are beginning to pound people. If you’re going to be effective running the ball, your guards need to be people movers; Jackson and Davis are just that. But, there’s more to this attitude than the offensive line. In his last two games, J.K. Dobbins has rushed for 334 yards, and averaged well over eight yards per carry. He’s running much harder than he did the opening week. The junior is getting through the hole much quicker, not playing around at the line of scrimmage, and is delivering a blow to would be tacklers. The emergence of Master Teague III has helped the attitude of the run game as well. I’m sorry to say I told you so about him, but…I told you so!..lol I’ve been talking about how much I like his running style since I saw him in the 2018 spring game. Talk about a guy who runs downhill with an attitude. I felt going into the season he’d be a very good compliment to Dobbins. He is proving to be just that having rushed for 215 yards on just 29 carries, including his first career 100-yard game against the Hoosiers on Saturday. The Buckeyes are averaging over six yards per carry. The better you run the ball, the more you control the game.
The makeover of the defense. Coming in to the season I think most Buckeye fans felt the defense would be improved, because it couldn’t possibly be worse than last year. But, I think we were all holding our breath waiting to see if there was going to be the same among of big plays, and missed tackles. I think we can breathe now. This defense looks to be for real. They’re aggressive, and sure of what they’re doing. They’re flying to the ball, and delivering a blow once they get there. Much like the offensive line, this defense has developed an attitude. We knew the defensive line was going to be good. Chase Young has five sacks in three games, and is constantly disrupting the opposing offense. Although Jonathan Cooper has not yet played, the Buckeyes are getting production at his defensive end spot from a group of young players. Tyreke Smith, Tyler Friday, Javontae Jean-Baptiste, and true freshman Zach Harrison each have a sack. Smith is getting better and better, but missed the second half against Indiana with an injury. Nose tackle Davon Hamilton looks much faster, and has been outstanding so far. The
improvement of the back seven is immeasurable. Outside linebacker Pete Werner, everyone’s favorite whipping boy last year, has been seemingly everywhere so far. He’s showing why co-defensive coordinator Greg Mattison spoke so highly of him during August practice. Baron Browning has been splitting time in the middle with Tuf Borland. The former five-star recruit finally looks confident in what he is doing, and improves each week. Cornerbacks Damon Arnette, Jeff Okudah, and Shaun Wade look like different players from last year. Wade has really been flashing his talent and versatility. We haven’t seen much of Brendan White at the bullet position so far. I’m guessing this is because the defensive coaches don’t want to show too much of it right now, and I also believe it is because Werner has played so well to this point. I like the versatility of this defense. You really notice it when they put an extra linebacker on the field in some short yardage situations. But, instead of giving a traditional 4-4 look, they position Malik Harrison as a stand-up defensive end, so it looks more like a 5-3. This defense has given up just ten points in their last two games. The only touchdown scored on them came on a trick play (I’ll refrain from calling it a junk play, but that’s what it was). They are giving up only 253 yards per game. Opponents are converting just 23% on third down, averaging 1.7 yards per carry, and less than 6 yards per pass attempt. They had eleven interceptions last year, but have three already in 2019. This is a championship defense that will keep improving.
Before the season began I wrote the Buckeyes are the best team in the Big Ten. My opinion certainly hasn’t changed, but the margin I think they have over the other conference teams has grown considerably. The only thing that can derail the Buckeyes right now is the Buckeyes themselves. That’s nothing different from the last few years. But, for some reason I really believe Ryan Day will guard against any Iowa/Purdue debacles.
The Indiana game was the 29th time (by my count) in school history two Buckeyes have rushed for over 100 yards in a game. J.K. Dobbins ran for 193, while Master Teague III had 106 on just 10 carries.
I don’t think there is any question Chris Olave is turning into an elite receiver. He’s averaging nearly 20 yards for each of his ten catches, and is becoming the Buckeyes main deep threat. It looks like Binjimen Victor has finally turned into the type of receiver we’d hoped he’d be for the last few years. He’s catching everything thrown his way. This group as a whole is improving, and that only helps Justin Fields all the more.
When Jeremy Ruckert caught four passes in the opener against FAU many thought it signaled the offense was going to rely much more on the tight end than in recent years. Well, after three games, Ruckert still has four catches. As a matter of fact, no other tight end has a catch. The Buckeyes have utilized a rotation of four tight ends so far; great to see Jake Hausmann finally work his way into more playing time.
Justin Hilliard saw his first playing time of the season after suffering an achilles injury in the spring. The fifth-year senior is a very valuable member of the special teams unit. Another special teams mainstay, who is a fifth-year senior as well, saw the first playing time of his career on offense. Kevin Woidke entered the game at left guard late in the fourth quarter for five plays. The two-time Academic All-Big Ten has appeared in 27 games over the past few years as a member of the field goal and extra point teams. Woidke is a former walk-on who was put on scholarship in the spring, and is a high school teammate of former Buckeye Dre’Mont Jones at St.Ignatius.
One thing I’ve found interesting is the emergence of Cam Brown as the fourth cornerback. He replaced both Okudah and Arnette at times during the Indiana game. Most of the talk in the preseason about the number four guy centered on Sevyn Banks, but Brown has obviously passed him on the depth chart. Brown is a sophomore from St.Louis who played in five games in 2018 before a leg injury ended his season.
If I’m unhappy about one thing with the Buckeyes it is their kickoff returns. As a team, they average just under 21 yards per return. They have too much speed and talent to be struggling in this area.
Former Buckeye quarterback Cornelius Greene will be inducted into the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame. He played in the Rose Bowl each of his four seasons (1973-76), and was the starter for the final three (he appeared as a kick returner in his first appearance). The Washington, D.C. native was the game’s MVP when he led OSU to a 42-21 win over the surfer boys from USC in the 1974 game. Greene was 31-3-1 as a starter in his Buckeye career, and was the Big Ten’s MVP in 1975. For those who do not know, I spent a very, very long time as a tv news cameraman, and shot interviews with a lot of quite important people. But, few of them matched my excitement when I got to shoot one with Greene at the spring game a few years back (also did one with Tom Klaban that day). I grew up watching Greene, and those great Buckeye teams. It was always such a thrill for me whenever I got to meet one of them.
Three former Buckeyes caught touchdown passes Sunday. Parris Campbell got the first of his career in the Colts’ win over the Titans. Terry McLaurin caught his second of the season for the Redskins in their loss to the Cowboys. In that same game, Devin Smith hauled in his first TD catch since 2015 for the Cowboys. It is so great to see Smith battle all the way back from a couple of knee injuries.
The Road Ahead
The Buckeyes play Miami (Ohio) this week. I can’t even pretend the RedHawks are a threat. They’re not. It would take a catastrophically bad performance for the Buckeyes to lose. Miami head coach Chuck Martin said none of his players were recruited by Ohio State. He likened the matchup to a pick-up game at recess where the Buckeyes got the first 85 choices. In a game like this where you’re opponent is vastly overmatched, you really need to guard against complacency, because that can lead to sloppy play. The Buckeyes need to look sharp, put the RedHawks away early, and avoid injuries, because things get more difficult beginning with their next game.
That next game is a road trip to Nebraska for a night game. Things haven’t exactly gone as planned for the Cornhuskers so far this year, but you know their players, coaches, and especially the fans are going to treat this as their Super Bowl. Quarterback Adrian Martinez is very athletic, and will give the OSU defense its first real test of the season. This is most definitely a trap game. But, I don’t think the Huskers are nearly good enough on defense to stop, or even slow the Buckeyes for four quarters. The following week sees Michigan State coming to The Shoe for another night game. The Spartans have an outstanding defense; one of the best in the country, but their offense is abysmal. You’d think that wouldn’t be the case when you have a senior quarterback, Brian Lewerke, who has started 28 games, but that’s not the case. In their last five games against Power 5 opponents, the Spartans have scored just three touchdowns in 67 drives. They’re dangerous because of that defense, and they’ll be jacked up to play the Buckeyes. After that there is a much-needed week off before going to Northwestern for a Friday night game. The week off will allow them to catch their breath, heal some injuries, and correct any concerns.
I found that doing two blogs per week during the season was a bit too much. I felt like all I did with my free time was write. So, I’ve decided to put one out every now and then. It will be much more fun for me, and certainly more manageable. I can’t believe we’re already into the fourth week of high school football. Enjoy the weekend everyone.