Ohio State vs. Cal Game Thoughts
Things I Think I Saw/ Things I Thought I’d See
By Ken Pryor
Parental duties, obligations and preferences took me away from watching the Buckeyes live this weekend. My son, Jonathan, had a game at 1:30 p.m. and, quite frankly, there was no way I was going to miss it. So I was resigned to watching the game via the Buckeye way-back machine aka DVR.
Having now watched the game, I must say I’m darn glad I did skip watching it live, as I know my blood pressure may have caused my people to force me into one of those Urban Meyer family contracts.
Undoubtedly, some things would have been broken, bent or destroyed after watching this performance from the Buckeyes. Here are some of the things I think I saw, along with some things I didn’t see that I thought I would.
OHIO STATE OFFENSE
I shudder at the thought of what the Ohio State run game would look like right now minus Braxton Miller’s contributions. Last week I lamented Miller having 27 carries. This week vs. California, Miller had only 12 carries, but he still gave the Buckeyes 75 yards on the ground, including an electrifying 55-yard jaunt for a score.
On the way to the end zone, he made one defender look downright inept – freezing him in his tracks with a nice stutter step before taking off down the sideline. Unfortunately, the question rings increasingly louder “who the hell else is going to run the ball for Ohio State with similar productivity while Carlos Hyde is out?”
It is clear to me Corey Brown is no running back. He had great seal blocks in front of him on the first drive but he kept stringing himself out for a no gain. Two separate receivers had their defenders locked, giving him two lanes from which to choose. He selected neither one. He did the same thing later in the game. He looks for lanes while running east to west. Problem is, the lanes are there, but he never selects one.
Right now, I’m not seeing much from Jordan Hall in the run game that makes me think he is a bell cow or a workhorse. He is a good slot receiver/return guy, but, in my mind he is not a running back. Sure, he had 17 carries for 87 yards, averaging 5 yards a pop, but still color me uninspired by his runs.
While Devin Smith had two drops in the game, the kid is proving to be a big time receiver. His 5 catches for 145 yards and 2 touchdowns is nice production by any standard, and that should include Urban Meyer’s standards. A receiver who averages 30 yards per reception in a game is more than doing his part in the offensive production department. Smith also seems to have a real penchant for the big play. Whether it be a miracle hail mary, a one-handed circus catch, or a game winner where he has navigated himself free of the defense to win the game, the Stark County product has really set himself apart from the rest of the receiving corps. In fact, I think he is setting himself up for national attention.
Jake Stoneburner is quietly going about his work as well. Two more touchdowns are added to his ledger after the Cal game giving him three for the season in as many games. Chris Spielman made mention that Stoneburner had been challenged by the coaches to play better. I’ve never been invited to an Ohio State coaches meeting, so I’m not sure what he’s doing or not doing, but Stoneburner is one of the bright spots in this offense, in my humble opinion.
The Ohio State offensive unit as a whole tends to go up and down. They will march up and down the field for a couple quarters, then give you a dismal portion like they did in the 3rd quarter when they amassed a whopping 21 yards of offense toward the end of the period.
All in all, it’s hard to gripe with 35 points produced this game and they actually produced two of those scores when they were called upon to answer a Cal score or just plain win the game. Also the offense is averaging more than 40 points per game on the season.
OHIO STATE DEFENSE
The unit that once was thought to be the strength of this Buckeye team is rapidly showing itself to be the glaring weakness. The tackling on this team is downright awful at times. I don’t know if Buckeye defenders are trying to hard (i.e. pressing), or if they are just too concerned with making the big hit, or maybe they are poorly coached or just plain hard-headed and undisciplined.
During the course of a game, we get Christian Bryant for several plays making textbook tackles where he is seen breaking down, hitting, wrapping and driving through the ball-carrier with his hips. Then we’ll see the same Christian Bryant look foolish as he ducks his head going after the ball-carrier’s legs only to look up and see the man has leaped his sorry attempt at a tackle and headed downfield for a score.
If you don’t believe me, check the game tape at around the 8:24 mark of the 4th quarter. Keep your eyes on Cal running back Brandon Bigelow as he scampers 55 yards for his second touchdown of the day.
But the foolishness was not reserved solely for Bryant. Witness Bigelow’s 81 yard touchdown run where the entire OSU defense got a helping of fool’s pie. Some defenders took poor angles, while others sauntered to the ball-carrier, waiting on somebody else to finish the job. Ryan Shazier had a chance to really finish him, but instead of wrapping him for the certain tackle, he threw a forearm shiver at Bigelow’s thigh. Bigelow ran away from Nathan Williams, then ran over Orhian Johnson, then ran through Shazier’s forearm, then proceeded to leave the rest of the onlookers in the dust.
It’s hard understand what gives with this defense. I do believe the players are good and I feel like the coaches are very solid, but I cannot decipher what’s going on in the pass defense area. Are the Buckeyes guessing wrong in their coverage selections? Are the DBs just not good enough? I don’t know the answer to this question. What I do know is it seems like whatever the defensive coaches call, the opposing offense seems to have the correct play dialed up to defeat the defensive call. Ohio State’s secondary seems to always be in “chase mode.”
Meanwhile, the defensive line seems hell-bent on getting a rush, which could make them susceptible to misdirection and play-action rollout. I’m seeing a lot of rollouts vs. Ohio State’s defense this season, as offensive coordinators try to buy time for their quarterbacks with moving pockets or just plain getting rid of the ball quickly with shorter routes which also can negate any pass rush.
In fairness to this defense, they did generate some pressure against California. However, only one of those was generated with a four-man rush. The rest were the result of blitzing. The whole idea on which we were sold about the defensive line was based upon their being able to generate significant pass rush without having to sacrifice other defenders in coverage by sending them on blitz packages.
There has been gnashing of the teeth among Ohio State fans centering around the Buckeyes only rushing three defenders in some passing situations. Personally, I am convinced OSU rushes three defenders in order to keep more men in coverage. This secondary is no great shakes. Blitzing only forces them to lose a man in an already susceptible coverage unit and I certainly don’t trust any of these defensive backs in man coverage other than Brad Roby. Dropping eight in coverage is the lesser of two evils in my mind.
Speaking of Bradley Roby…that kid is a stone cold stud. He is on another level from anyone else in the defensive secondary. His tackling is strong, his cover skills are sublime, and his speed is superb. He is the real defensive standout thus far this season.
Ryan Shazier was absent in my mind this year until this game. There is still work to do on his part, but he strikes me as mean defender. When Shazier approaches an offensive player, he is coming with bad intentions. I expected much more this season, however.
Back to the defensive line for a moment…we heard about all this depth, but I ain’t seeing it. Where is it? The entire defense needs to be ramped up. They’ve got to get in the film room and look at tackling, angles of pursuit, finishing tackles, defeating blockers, etc.
This Ohio State defense in no way, shape or form resembles any of the previous Buckeye units to which fans have become accustomed. It may be back to the basics for these guys. The saving grace is the entire Big Ten conference appears to be very average this year. They won’t be facing any offenses that strike terror that’s for certain.
OHIO STATE SPECIAL TEAMS
The defensive woes seem to carry over to the specials. Tackling is still not what it needs to be and lanes are not being filled properly. It’s only a matter of time before Ohio State faces an opponent with worthy athletes who can/will exploit their coverage deficiencies.
And missing extra point…I don’t even know what to say to this other than shake my head in dismay. Extra points are only one point, which may seem like very little, but little becomes much when your defense is liable to let teams back in the game in the twinkling of an eye. Extra points simply cannot be missed. They just can’t. It is that simple.
Extra Points to Ponder
1. The great laureate Maya Angelou once said “when a person tells/shows you who they are, believe them.” Urban Meyer has been trying to tell us all spring and summer that this team is not great…not by any stretch. Now that fall is here, I’m starting to believe him.
2. Chris Spielman and Sean McDonough sound silly defending the Cal player for his personal foul penalty against Etienne Sabino. The play was over yet Adcock for Cal made a beeline to Sabino and led with his head making helmet-to helmet-contact away from the ball. Chris, please don’t go the route of Kirk Herbstreit excusing everything Buckeye opponents do while damning everything the Bucks themselves do. If Buckeye opponents are in the wrong, it’s OK to say so.