Survive and Advance
Get used to it. This is what it is going to be until the defense can perform well for an entire game and not just a half, and the blocking for the run game improves. Survive and advance. The Buckeyes haven’t looked pretty at times this season, but because of what happened to a few other undefeated teams Saturday, the alternative to survive and advance isn’t pretty either. Our favorite college football team is still undefeated after a 30-14 win over Minnesota, and that’s what’s most important.
For the second straight week Dwayne Haskins threw for over 400 yards. He finished 33 of 44 for 412 yards and three touchdowns. The Buckeyes have had three 400 yard performances in their history; Haskins has two of those. As I expected, he picked apart the Gopher secondary by taking what they gave him. There were a lot of short throws, but when the opportunity arose to throw it down the field, he was his usual effective self. K.J. Hill had a career day with nine catches for 187 yards and two touchdowns, including a nifty one-handed grab for a score. But, the run game struggled again, and is becoming more than just a slight concern. Mike Weber and J.K. Dobbins managed just 86 yards on 32 carries. I don’t mind the Buckeyes being a pass heavy offense, because Haskins has an exceptional arm, and they have playmakers at receiver. But, they need to develop the ability to run the ball when they have to. Twice they had first and goal, but had to settle for field goals largely because of their inability to run.
Once again the defense struggled in the first half. But, unlike the Indiana game where they had to deal with the athleticism of Hoosier quarterback Peyton Ramsey, the Buckeyes allowed a true freshman to pick them apart at times. Gopher quarterback Zack Annexstad went 8 of 12 for 110 yards. The Buckeyes struggled to even come close to covering Tyler Johnson, who had six catches for 90 yards. Most of that came on the same slant pattern he ran as the slot receiver. The most disturbing thing to me was the way the Minnesota offensive line, who had struggled mightily all season, controlled the line of scrimmage. Sacks were hard to come by for OSU because the Gopher coaches had Annexstad getting the ball out of his hand quickly on shorter throws. Minnesota’s success running the ball allowed them to stay out of 2nd/3rd and long. It is a lot easier to protect your young quarterback when you’re throwing on 3rd and 6 compared to 3rd and 10. Mohammed Ibrahim rushed for 105 yards on 14 carriers in the half. That’s 7.5 yards per carry. He entered the game with just 258 yards in three games. Buckeye linebacker Pete Werner felt the problem was too many players not getting to their gaps. The second half was certainly better, but I still think the Gopher offensive line shoved around the Buckeyes front seven. They completely dominated the Buckeyes during a 13-play drive, which took over six minutes off the clock in the third quarter. Fortunately the drive ended with a missed field goal. They shutout the Gophers in the second half thanks to that missed field goal and one other. Annexstad was only 5 for 11 in the half and was intercepted. One positive is the OSU defense created three turnovers.
The defense was missing two starters (Bosa has been out so long I don’t count him in this number), and lost two more during the game (Robert Landers and Damon Arnette). Co-defensive coordinator Alex Grinch feels that’s not an excuse, “We’re running out of time in terms of being young. Is it a work in progress? I think it always is, but it’s time now for us to get our feet underneath us and perform better.” I couldn’t agree more. Why are there still gap issues in the seventh game of the season? Why is the field safety still struggling? Isaiah Pryor had an interception, but had so many problems he was replaced by Shaun Wade in some situations. Wade is better in coverage and was able to limit Johnson. That position was a big concern for Urban Meyer coming out of spring practice and he was certainly justified in his thinking. He said Pryor has made progress and played ok. At least there seemed to be a change in the way the cornerbacks are covering receivers deep. On Kendall Sheffield’s interception in the first quarter, he immediately opened his hips to the inside, and located the quarterback at the snap. He was able to stay with the receiver and track the ball all the way to an easy interception. I like that technique so much better than having a cornerback play with his back to the quarterback and never turning to locate the ball. I’ve seen few who can play that technique well, and Ohio State doesn’t seem to have anyone who can really do it.
What I Liked
This one is easy. I loved the receivers. I think position coach Brian Hartline is making a huge difference in this group. Yes, they have an elite arm accurately delivering the ball. But, this group is now showing the reliable hands, and ability to make catches on less-than-perfect throws. Terry McLaurin’s TD catch came on a ball which was underthrown. K.J. Hill made a one-handed catch on one of his touchdown’s because he could only get one hand on the ball. Time and again this group is making the difficult catch. This has been sorely missing in the last few seasons.
K.J. Hill’s nine catches gives him 114 for his career. That’s good enough for 13th place on the school’s all-time receiving list. Parris Campbell’s eight catches gives him 96 for his career, good for a tie for 20th on the all-time Buckeye list.
What I Didn’t Like
The offensive line and run blocking was awful, and got worse as the game progressed. Usually reliable right tackle Isaiah Prince gave up two sacks, and was called for three penalties. When one of your two best lineman struggle, you know it’s a bad day. I thought right guard Demitrius Knox was another who had an awful day. As a group they gave up three sacks, and there were nine tackles-for-loss. I think Minnesota’s Carter Coughlin is an elite pass rusher, but giving up two sacks to him is inexcusable for an offensive line which has pass blocked as well as this one has all season. Malcolm Pridgeon and Michael Jordan still were graded as Champions by the coaches.
I’m no longer accepting the reason OSU can’t run the ball is because teams are loading up around the line of scrimmage, and outnumbering the amount of OSU blockers. I watched Michigan put nine and ten players within five yards of the line of scrimmage against Wisconsin Saturday night, and the Badgers still managed to run the ball effectively. Unfortunately Wisconsin Hornibrook-ed (I’ll explain later) themselves into a hole and had to go away from their run game. The Wisconsin linemen made good first contact, maintained good technique, drove their feet, and stayed with their blocks. Time and time again we see a Buckeye at the point of attack, not staying with their block. In each successive game this season they have averaged fewer yards per carry as a team. This Buckeye offensive line is huge and athletic. There is no excuse for what is going on other than poor technique.
Once again the Buckeyes made enough plays, and just had more talent than their opponent. Meyer said they need to fix a few things. I’d say so. But, I’m not convinced the problems at field safety and gap control are going to improve. They’ve plagued the team for seven games, and at this point I’ll be surprised if there is considerable improvement. I think the offensive line issues can be fixed because they’ve shown they can get it done run blocking.
They also need to get guys healthy because the injuries are beginning to mount. They have Purdue on the road Saturday night; the Buckeyes have opened as a fourteen point favorite. One more week of survive and advance before a week off will allow them to work on correcting mistakes, and getting guys healthy for the stretch run. Meyer said, “This is a big one before the bye week.”
Random Stuff From An Ugly Win
I’m beyond frustrated with Urban Meyer’s insistence on lining up in a tight formation in short yardage, and hammering the ball into the middle. This offense makes the opposing defense have to defend the entire field. Spread the formation in short yardage, and make the defense guess what you may do. After J.K. Dobbins was stuffed on a fourth and short in the second quarter, the Buckeyes actually threw the ball when faced with a third and short on their next series. Haskins hit Rashod Berry for nine yards over the middle, albeit for another tight formation. This needs to be done more often. Meyer is reminding me of Earle Bruce with his obsession of running the ball no matter what. I know he wants balance. I like balance, but I’m also a believer in taking what the defense gives you. From the end of spring practice to the beginning of August camp, we heard talk from all involved about special short yardage and red zone packages being worked on for Tate Martell. Where are they? If Meyer is going to insist on running the ball in short yardage, could the result be any worse than what we’ve seen lately with Martell in the game? One last thing: where have the bubble screens disappeared to? After being so successful with them all season and killing Penn State with them, they’ve disappeared from the offense the last two weeks.
According to Meyer there were about ten passes which were RPO’s (Run Pass Option). He feels Haskins is making good decisions on whether to throw or hand off.
The tight ends became part of the offense again. Luke Farrell and Rashod Berry combined for four catches. That matched their season total entering the game. Farrell graded as a Champion, and Meyer said Berry was close.
Left tackle Thayer Munford left the game with an ankle injury. Meyer said he’s sore and probably for Saturday’s game. Meyer was pleased with the job Josh Alabi did in place of Munford. Malik Harrison and Jonathan Cooper will be back this week. Nose tackle Robert Landers will probably play, but cornerback Damon Arnette is questionable.
I’ve said all season defensive end Jonathan Cooper is not spectacular, but he certainly is solid. It was certainly obvious he wasn’t on the field Saturday. Cooper missed the Minnesota game with an injury, and his replacement, Jashon Cornell, did not make much of an impact, if any. He was pushed around by a true freshman offensive tackle making his first start. At one point, the coaches switched sides with Cornell and Chase Young. Linebacker Malik Harrison missed the game as well. His replacement, Justin Hilliard, had more success than Cornell, but had the had the usual issues with gap control that has plagued the linebacker group for most of the season. Hilliard had five tackles, and batted down two passes. Meyer said he played “pretty good-not great.” One of those came on a third down inside the Buckeye 10-yard line with his team clinging to a 20-14 lead late in the third quarter. Minnesota receiver Rashod Bateman appeared wide open at the goal line on another of those endless slants they were successful with. But, Hilliard got his hand into the passing lane to bat the ball away. A very big play from a guy who has battled injuries most of his OSU career. Gopher kicker Emmit Carpenter promptly missed a 32-yard field goal. The Buckeyes proceeded to drive down and get a field goal of their own to make it a two-score game.
Speaking of field goals. I can’t tell you how impressed I am with the leg strength of placekicker Blake Haubeil. Normally the kickoff specialist, Haubeil filled in for injured Sean Nuernberger, and hit all of his extra point and field goal attempts. Two of the field goals were chip shots of 21 and 27 yards. But, it was the 47-yarder he drilled that got my attention. I really believe Meyer needs to take a serious look at Haubeil being the long range kicker on field goals. It is very evident he has a much stronger leg than Nuernberger.
During his usual Monday press conference Meyer spoke of the improvement he’s seeing in the younger players like Chris Olave and Josh Proctor on special teams. He said right guard Wyatt Davis is close to playing time.
K.J. Hill was named as the team’s Offensive Player of the Game. Jordan Fuller took defensive honors for his twelve tackle performance, and Haubeil for special teams.
Meyer thinks Nick Bosa is flying to Philadelphia tomorrow to be re-evaluated. I don’t want to read too much into this, but considering he’s being looked at by his doctor over two weeks before originally scheduled, I’m of the opinion Bosa wants to play again this season. Let’s hope. The guy is the best football player in the country and changes the way offenses do things.
Not So Murky Water
While the Buckeyes win over Minnesota may not have been the prettiest, it was far better than the fate of a few highly ranked teams. Notre Dame struggled greatly at home with Pitt, who is awful. The Irish managed to mount a fourth quarter comeback and pull out a 19-14 win.
I’m not sure who was exposed more on Saturday, Georgia or WVU. The Bulldogs went to LSU, who is led by he’s-still-a-Buckeye-as-far-as-I’m-concerned Joe Burrow, and got dumped 36-16. It was the first real challenge for Georgia, and they failed miserably. But, at least they lost to a good team. WVU went to 2-3 Iowa State and was sent home a 30-14 loser. Georgia still has a chance at the College Football Playoff because they’re in the SEC. But, WVU needs to run the table, hope Notre Dame loses, and the committee takes pity on the Big XII.
Washington’s playoff hopes are done after their OT loss to Oregon. It was their second loss of the season. Michigan State scored in the final seconds to hand Penn State their second consecutive home loss.
Michigan showed us what we all knew anyway: Wisconsin was vastly overrated. The Big Ten West is now a very interesting race. After looking at the remaining schedules of the teams involved, I still think Wisconsin will be the one playing the Buckeyes in the Big Ten Championship.
So, feeling a bit better about the Buckeyes performance Saturday? Struggling and winning sure beats the alternative. WVU and Georgia couldn’t handle playing in a tough environment. The Buckeyes have done it twice. I’ll be very surprised if they committee doesn’t heavily consider that.
Why Analytics Is Dumb
Former Browns’ GM Sashi Brown ruined that franchise by using analytics to determine who to draft. Analytics told him to trade away a chance to take Joey Bosa in favor of moving down and drafting a receiver, who is no longer in the league. It also told him to trade away a chance to take Malik Hooker in favor of moving down to draft Jabrill Peppers. I still have nightmares over those two moves.
The people at Pro Football Focus use a lot of analytics to rate players at all kinds of different positions in both the NFL and college. They’re very dedicated, and take what they do quite serious. But, last week they came out with one that made me seriously question their methods. They had Dwayne Haskins as the third rated quarterback in the Big Ten. Take a second and let that one sink in. Third. Why? Well, they said most of his completions are short throws, so much of his yardage is coming after the catch. Alright, I don’t disagree with that, but it does not take into account how Haskins consistently places the ball where his receivers can make something happen after the catch. A very underrated ability in a quarterback.
Would you like to know which two Big Ten quarterbacks they had rated ahead of Haskins? You’d better sit down for this one. Wisconsin’s Alex Hornibrook and Shea Patterson of Michigan. I’ll hang on here a minute until you stop laughing………….ok, yeah I know. If you watched those two try to throw the football Saturday night, you know why those rankings are completely laughable. Hornibrook was awful, and Patterson tends to be scatter-armed (besides holding the ball too long). Neither compare to Haskins; it’s not even close.
I’ve said this many times before and I’ll keep saying it to those who think analytics is the way to go: turn on the film and watch a guy play instead of sifting through a bunch of computer-generated stats.
Terrelle Pryor had 5 catches for 57 yards and a TD, and Darron Lee had 8 tackles and an interception in the Jets 42-34 win over the Colts. Malik Hooker had an interception for the Colts.
Jeff Heuerman had 3 catches for 23 yards for the Broncos in their loss to the Rams. That gives him 11 catches for the season. Zeke Elliott rushed for 106 yards and a touchdown as the Cowboys hammered the Jaguars 40-7.
Enjoy the week everyone.