It wasn’t even close to the collapse we saw against Iowa last year after an emotional comeback win against Penn State. But, the Buckeyes most certainly looked like they had a hangover in their 49-26 win over Indiana. Players and coaches alike cited not just the game itself against Penn State, but the time the game was played and when they returned to Columbus. From elevenwarriors.com: “I think when you come home from a game that’s so late, you come in at 5 in the morning, with the emotions running so high, you just don’t sleep very well for a little while, and that takes its toll throughout the week with practice and some of the recovery. These are college kids that still have to go to class. These are not NFL guys that get to sleep in after a Monday Night Football game. So that takes a little time, and so I think that kind of leads to letdowns sometimes,” said offensive coordinator Ryan Day. Wide receiver Johnnie Dixon agrees, “It wasn’t the best practices we had, and I think that’s just because the away night games are such a struggle, because you finish the game late, you get back late, you still have to be up the next day for practice, so I think it pays a toll on guys’ bodies.” They still dominated time of possession, outgained the Hoosiers by over 200 yards, and held them to only 3 of 14 on third down. But, something was definitely missing. After a big win over Michigan, it is easy to get a team ready for the Big Ten Championship. Big Game, great atmosphere, quality opponent. But, when you get a win over a team like Penn State in an epic tussle, it’s a little harder to get ready for an Indiana. Yes, the Hoosiers were 4-1 entering Saturday, but were not considered a serious threat. The most important thing is the Buckeyes are still undefeated.
Dwayne Haskins picked apart the Hoosier secondary for a near-school record 455 yards. He was just three yards shy of tying Art Schlichter’s mark. Haskins finished the day 33 of 44 with 6 touchdowns and two interceptions. The 33 completions ties J.T. Barrett’s school single game record. Just like Penn State, and TCU before them, the Hoosiers worked to take away Ohio State’s run game while trying to pressure Haskins with blitzes in most passing situations. It was obvious he was better prepared and more comfortable handling the defensive pressure this week than last. On a play when left guard Malcolm Pridgeon pulled to his right and got his feet tangled with center Michael Jordan, Haskins recognized the blitzing Indiana player to his right had a clear path to him. He calmly took a step to his left to give himself more time and allow Pridgeon to recover and get back into the play, and then delivered a strike to Johnnie Dixon for a touchdown. You wanted to see improvement in that area and Haskins certainly showed it.
I’d love to see the rushing numbers be better, but when you have linebackers and at times a safety flying into the gaps as soon as they see the hint of a run, I can’t really fault the offensive line. But, Meyer said while pass protection has been good, the problems running the ball aren’t always because of teams loading up to stop the run. He feels the coaches and players must do better in executing the run game. J.K. Dobbins did rush for 82 yards, but needed 26 carries to do it. Mike Weber carried 13 times for 70 yards. I’m very disappointed at the lack of play action passes especially after they scored on one in the second quarter. When Haskins faked to Mike Weber, all three Indiana linebackers came forward. But, that type of play seemed to disappear after that success. Another play that disappeared was the bubble screen. Because of the blocking skills of the OSU receivers and the elusiveness of Parris Campbell and K.J. Hill, bubble screens have been very effective all season. Since Urban Meyer returned to the sideline, I’ve been thinking the play calling has changed and there is a lack of tempo to the offense. I’ve been unsure if this is true or is it nitpicking on my part until I saw former OSU great Beanie Wells say the same thing on Twitter after the game. Ryan Day is a master play caller. He takes advantage of what the defense gives him, and will disguise what the offense is doing by running the same basic play from multiple formations. Meyer needs to be the game manager he said he was going to become and allow Day to do his thing.
Well, this brings us to the defense. It was really a tale of two halves. Indiana quarterback Peyton Ramsey dinked and dunked, and occasionally threw deep as the Hoosiers ran up 317 yards of offense and 20 points in the first half. The Buckeye defensive line couldn’t get any pressure on Ramsey and the consequence was him being able to hit all of those “free access” plays as Meyer likes to call the myriad of quick outs, slants, and drags the Hoosiers love to run. But, in the second half the Ohio State defense asserted itself. Defensive coordinator Greg Schiano said adjustments were not made, it was more a matter of properly executing the defensive game plan. The pass rush came to life, got three sacks, and harassed Ramsey into either bad throws or throwing the ball away. He entered the game connecting on 71% of his passes, but completed just over 50% Saturday. In all, the Buckeyes broke up eleven passes; linebacker Pete Werner was credited with three of those. While the cornerbacks most certainly still have their issues (more on that soon), the Buckeyes gave up just 83 yards passing in the second half after surrendering 239 in the first. Other than one touchdown drive of 58 yards, the OSU defense completely shut down the Hoosier offense in the second half. Other than a 45-yard run by Stevie Scott on their first drive, the Hoosiers had no success running the ball at all. There are still issues for sure, but we see what this defense is capable of.
What I Liked
Two things. First, the way Haskins handled the pressure Indiana tried to bring while passing. It wasn’t on Penn State’s level, but they still blitzed and got people in his face. He did not turn into the skittish, scatter-armed quarterback we saw the week before. I thought he did an excellent job of adjusting the blocking at the line of scrimmage, quickly finding an open receiver, and delivering strike after strike.
Secondly, I liked the way the defense bounced back in the second half. The first half was awful and there are some things which need addressed. But, in the second half the defense took away everything the Hoosiers had been successful with earlier. I still want to see more of a rush from Jonathan Cooper, but it was encouraging to see true freshman Tyreke Smith get consistent pressure and force a fumble. Cooper, by the way, was solid as usual, and was graded a Champion by the coaches.
What I Didn’t Like
Put simply, things must get better in pass coverage. Entering the game Indiana had just two receivers with catches of over 30 yards. Now they have five. Is the cornerback trio of Damon Arnette, Kendall Sheffield, and Jeffrey Okudah capable of consistently playing man-to-man? They’re capable of providing blanket coverage at times, but too often they are beaten, or called for holding or interference. I do not like the technique of playing with their backs to the ball and will never understand the theory behind it. Denzel Ward could do it, but these three are better if they look back and locate the ball as we saw in the second half. Shaun Wade has been the nickel cornerback covering the slot receiver for most of the season, but is it time to put him on the outside and see what he can do? After Jahsen Wint, who started at field safety in place of Isaiah Pryor (had to sit out the first half because of last week’s targeting penalty), struggled in the first half, he was benched and replaced by Wade. Despite having only a few weeks of practice at the position, Greg Schiano was pleased with Wade’s performance. Amir Riep took over at that position for the last series of the first half. Pryor returned in the second half and played well, but things must get better and more consistent in the secondary. After the game, Greg Schiano said the coaches were exploring their options even before the Indiana game. One of those options may be what we saw briefly in the second half. With Indiana in an obvious passing situation, the Buckeyes had three safeties on the field. Pryor and Riep were lined up deep on the hash marks, with Fuller more shallow in the middle of the field in one-on-one coverage with the running back. Pryor is steadily improving, but that cornerback trio worries me.
Random Stuff From A Hangover
Everyone loves to criticize the linebackers, but I think they’ve played well the last two weeks. Tuf Borland had a sack and forced fumble, and was named the team’s Defensive Player of the Game. I’m not convinced he’s completely himself yet in coming back from that Achilles injury, but he’s improving and is making things happen when he’s around the ball. This was the second straight week he forced a fumble. Pete Werner had four tackles, a sack, a tackle for a loss, and three pass breakups. He’s looking faster, and more comfortable and sure of himself. Malik Harrison had five tackles (team leader), a pass breakup, and an interception of a Ramsey pass on a Hoosier two-point attempt. Baron Browning continues to see spot duty and replaces Borland in most passing situations. He’s another who is looking much more sure of himself than early in the season.
Harrison was injured on that interception return and did not return to the game. Justin Hilliard filled in well in his absence. Jonathan Cooper was injured on the play as well, and did not return. No word yet on their status for this week.
One thing I did find odd were the times the Buckeyes used a linebacker to cover an outside receiver. There were at least three times where Indiana shifted their formation, and instead of bumping the cornerback covering the slot receiver to the outside and the linebacker taking over at the slot, the linebacker took the outside guy in man-to-man coverage. It isn’t surprising Harrison and Werner struggled. That’s not their fault. It’s a bad matchup for any linebacker.
Parris Campbell had the best receiving day of his Buckeye career with nine catches for 142 yards and two touchdowns. His first TD came off of the same “mesh” concept he scored on last year against the Hoosiers. The second TD, a 71-yarder to start the second half, was the result of a blown coverage. Campbell went in motion to put three receivers to the right. When the ball was snapped the linebacker to that side blitzed, while both IU defensive backs went with the other two receivers on inside routes. Haskins made an easy throw to a wide open Campbell, who streaked down the sideline for a touchdown that gave the Buckeyes more breathing room.
I don’t think there is any question the receivers are better this year under new position coach Brian Hartline. Yes, the ball is being delivered by a much better passer, but this group is making plays and showing the kind of improvement we haven’t seen in a few years. Campbell and Binjimen Victor are the best examples of this. Both are tracking the ball better and displaying much improved hands. Could you imagine Victor making a catch like he did Saturday last year?
I thought nose tackle Davon Hamilton had a strong day and is getting better and better at his nose tackle position. More than once he was quick off the ball and drove the offensive lineman trying to block him backwards to disrupt a play.
A couple of times Indiana had success with delayed blitzes. On one of those occasions, the blitzing Hoosier hit Haskins as he threw. The ball fluttered and was easily intercepted. Look for more teams to try delayed blitzes.
Tight ends coach and co-offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson had said he wanted to see true freshman tight end Jeremy Ruckert get more playing time. Ruckert appeared to be on the field more, but the tight end is now an afterthought at best in the Buckeye passing game. Luke Farrell caught his first pass in three weeks against Indiana, and I don’t recall Rashod Berry being a target even once.
I know Meyer hoped Haskins would break the school passing record, but I would rather have seen Tate Martell on the team’s final possession. After not playing against Penn State, I think he and the team would have benefitted from him getting some game action.
Haskins has been named as CBS Sports’ National Player of the Week, and the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week. It’s the third straight week he’s won the Big Ten honor and his fourth of the season.
Are we expecting too much from this team? Do we expect them to put every opponent away by the middle of the second quarter? They won comfortably against a 4-1 team and all but shut down their offense in the second half, but there is still a lot of grumbling from people. As I’ve stated, there are issues on defense, but there are a lot of positives about this team. One of those positives is Dwayne Haskins. He is turning into one of the frontrunners for the Heisman and has a stable of dangerous playmakers at his disposal. We’ve not seen an Ohio State quarterback sling it like this and continually put the ball into tight windows.
I expected a comfortable win and that’s what the Buckeyes got. But, let’s give the Hoosiers some credit. They came with a good game plan and executed it well in the first half. Just like Indiana, every team on Ohio State’s schedule is going to give the Buckeyes their best shot. Buckeye fans had better get used to it. Not every game is going to be a blow out even if on paper it looks like it should be.
I don’t think the Buckeyes are a national championship team yet, but they have they certainly have the potential.
Denzel Ward had an interception and blocked a field goal in the Browns 12-9 overtime win over the Ravens. Carlos Hyde finished with 63 yards rushing.
Defensive end Sam Hubbard returned a fumble 19 yards for the game-clinching touchdown for the Bengals in their win over the Dolphins. Jerome Baker had 7 tackles and 2 sacks for the Dolphins.
In his return to the Panthers, Curtis Samuel caught two passes for 37 yards including a touchdown on a catch-and-run that saw him break three tackles on his way to the end zone. It was his first game back after undergoing a minor heart procedure. The Panthers beat the Giants 33-31.
Terrelle Pryor had a 20-yard touchdown catch for the Jets as they defeated the Broncos. Nick Vannett had three catches for the Seahawks in their loss to the Rams.
Defensive tackle Michael Bennett had four tackles for the Falcons in their loss to the Steelers. Bennett was signed by the team just this past week.
Minnesota rows into the Shoe this Saturday. I’ll explain the whole rowing thing later this week. I’m not into gimmicks. I’m sure those who know me are shocked by that.