10 Things We Learned in a Gritty Victory in Camp Randall
By Brandon Castel
MADISON, Wisc. — Every week it seems like this Ohio State team finds a new, different way to win football games.
Against Purdue, it was the backup quarterback who led the Buckeyes down the field for the game-tying touchdown in the final minute of the game. This time, it was Ohio State that allowed Wisconsin to score the game-tying touchdown with just eight seconds on the clock.
It could have been the sucker punch to the gut that brought an undefeated season to its knees, but instead, this group rallied in overtime for another thrilling victory. Here’s a look at the 10 Things We Learned from Ohio State’s 11th win of the season.
1. Braxton Miller is still learning how to use his abilities. One of the biggest questions left unanswered from Saturday’s win over Wisconsin is the play of quarterback Braxton Miller. It’s clear the Badgers put together one of the best gameplans any team has had all season for defending Ohio State’s dynamic Heisman Trophy candidate. They also have one of the better run defenses in the Big Ten, so it makes sense why they were able to slow him down, but Braxton looked more uncomfortable in this game than he has almost all season. He couldn’t run or pass. He seemed to hold the ball too long and looked hesitant to run when there was space in front of him. Then he would run into a wall of Badgers. It just looked like Miller was off his game, but he’s still young. He’s still learning how to use his abilities and how to make defenses pay for playing him certain ways.
2. Buckeyes didn’t put together their best gameplan on offense. I think this was the first time where I really came away underwhelmed with Tom Herman’s ability to make adjustments. Certainly they did on that overtime drive, but why wait until overtime? It looked like Badgers were selling out to stop Braxton on the designed runs and option keepers, so why not get some other guys involved? Where was the reverse to Corey Brown or the quick pass to Nick Vannett over the middle? They couldn’t work in one series for Rod Smith to get the football, just to see if he could give them a spark? I realize Braxton is the best player on the team, and I’m sure they figured it was only a matter of time before he breaks one, but I feel like Wisconsin had so much attention on No. 5, it should have opened up some other things. That’s what Herman gets paid to see, so maybe it just wasn’t there.
3. Carlos Hyde needs the football. I thought this was the most obvious mistake the Buckeyes made on Saturday, and of course, Hyde agreed with me after the game. He was telling position coach Stan Drayton to give him the football, and Drayton should have grabbed Meyer by the collar and demanded he call some plays for No. 34. Hyde was the only consistent thing Ohio State had going on offense against Wisconsin, and it seemed like there were some things open for him all evening long. For Braxton to get 23 carries when he wasn’t running the ball effectively and Hyde to get just 15 – only 13 in regulation – when he was averaging nearly six yards a pop is just not the recipe for success. Even Meyer admitted they need to give him the ball more, but should have known that by now. Hyde does some of his best running on carries 15-25.
4. We need to see more of the short passes and screens to Devin Smith. Where has that been all year? I’m not against running those plays for Corey Brown, but the Buckeyes have got to find ways to get the ball in the hands of No. 15, the fastest player on their offense. Yes, he’s at his best when he’s running by defenders for a long touchdown, but corners are playing off him now because that’s all he was doing. I thought the decision to get him involved in the short passing game was brilliant. I’m still not sure why they went away from it, but I’m sure we will see some of it next week against Michigan.
5. Ryan Shazier is becoming a football player right in front of us. Remember when this kid was just a football player trying to be linebacker? You should, it was like a month ago. It’s absolutely amazing how far Shazier has come during the second half of his sophomore season, and it’s scary to think how much better he might get. He has 110 tackles, 4 sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss this year, and I believe Shazier has only scratched the surface of what he’s capable of. He’s one of the fastest linebackers I have ever seen, but now he’s learning how to play physical. He’s learning how to play under control and how to use leverage to keep ball-carriers in front him. This is a kid who was a stand-up rush end in high school. Now he is playing some of the best linebacker this school has seen in a few years.
6. Zach Boren’s toughness made a huge difference. Don’t, for one second, dismiss the impact Boren’s leadership and toughness have had on Shazier. It’s not a coincidence Shazier has started to play the best football of his life since Boren came over to the defensive side of the ball. Ever since that disastrous performance in Bloomington, those two have found a rhythm we haven’t seen from two OSU linebackers in a while. Yes, they play vastly contrasting styles of football, but the results are the same. They both find a way to be around the football, and it seems like Boren in particular has really solidified a new identity for this OSU defense.
7. Simon is playing grown-ass-man football. A year ago, when the Buckeyes were struggling for their season down the stretch, it seemed like John Simon disappeared. That’s not to say he wasn’t out there giving everything he has, I’m not sure Simon knows any other way. Maybe he was playing hurt – he’s been known to do that – or maybe opposing offenses were game planning to stop him above everything else – they’ve been known to do that as well. Neither of those things have been able to stop Simon this year. Some of that has to be attributed to the return of Nathan Williams on the other side, but Simon has single-handedly taken over 3-4 games this year, and Saturday night may have been his best performance of the year. Not only did he tie the school record with four sacks, but at least two of them came when he was double-teamed. The Badgers tried everything to limit Simon’s ability to impact the game, but it was to no avail.
8. Corey Brown can make some plays. I can only assumed Meyer was trying to motivate Brown when he joked that it was OK for him to make someone miss eventually, but it seems to have worked (like just about everything else Meyer has done at Ohio State). Brown didn’t have to break a bunch of tackles on his 68-yard punt return Saturday, but he certainly used his speed and vision to get out in the open field. Give Sabino, Domicone and Taylor Rice credit for setting up a tunnel for Brown, but he made what turned out to be the play of the game to hit that hole and get to the end zone.
9. The receivers are still a work in progress. It’s hard to say for sure whether the receivers were getting open and Braxton just wasn’t seeing them, or if he was holding the football as long as he did because there simply wasn’t anyone open. Probably a little bit of both, but it’s clear the Badgers felt like they could win the game by playing man coverage against Ohio State’s wide receivers on the outside. It worked, for almost the entire game, especially after Jake Stoneburner dropped what looked like a sure touchdown in the lights. It’s crazy to think he only has 15 catches all season. It’s even crazier to think that is third best on the team. The receivers have come a long way since last season – a really long way – but they still aren’t the gamebreakers this offense needs on a week-to-week basis.
10. Meyer’s plan to win is in full effect. Play good defense? Check. Pack your toughness? Check. Win the special teams battle? Check. Don’t turn the ball over? Check. We finally got to see an Ohio State victory that followed the script of Meyer’s ‘Plan to Win,’ and it doesn’t involve playing dynamic offense, just mistake-free offense. The Buckeyes were about as mistake free as they could have hoped for against Wisconsin, and in the end, it allowed their toughness and defense to carry them to victory in overtime.
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