I struggle to explain this football team, and I’m sure you all would agree. If you had told me that Braxton Miller would have a career day passing (14/24, 2 TDs, 0 INTs until the final play) and Ohio State would score 34 points, I would have to imagine we would win. Instead, the Buckeyes’ problems late this year were magnified this game. Ohio State, whose identity has been stopping the run (even having a longstanding streak into 2010 preventing 100 yard rushers), was run all over by Denard Robinson and Fitzgerald Toussaint. Robinson (26 carries, 170 yards, 2 TDs) and Toussaint (20 carries, 120 yards) both averaged over 6 yards a carry on Ohio State’s defense. In addition, Denard Robinson, not known as a passer (by any means) was nearly perfect throwing the ball. A 52.3% passer on the season, Robinson was 14/17 with 3 TDs and 0 INTs. If it’s not the worst defensive showing for Ohio State in at least 5 years, then I don’t know what would be. It was the difference in a blown second half lead and a 40-34 loss in Ann Arbor.
This might be the first game this season where I really missed what this team would have looked like if none of the offseason turmoil had happened. Braxton Miller left so many points on the board overthrowing wide open receivers and you have to believe the senior Terrelle Pryor would have found them each and every time. Ohio State may have routed this team in Ann Arbor with last year’s offense (minus those graduating seniors). All else equal, DeVier Posey, in only his second game back for the Buckeyes, reduced Greg Mattison’s secondary to festive windsocks. Braxton Miller connected on two such occasions, leading to season-long touchdown passes to Philly Brown and DeVier Posey in the first half. However, there were so many he failed to connect down field. The killer was missing a streaking DeVier Posey, who torched his cornerback with a double move. Braxton Miller, as he is want to do as a true freshman, overthrew him.
In my preview, I mentioned that Ohio State would have to have the base stuff work if it was going to win because Mattison was going to do his damnedest to make sure it didn’t. Indeed, it didn’t. Dan Herron secured a nice distinction for himself, scoring a touchdown in all four installments of The Game. However, Herron had just 37 yards on 15 carries. It left Braxton Miller with the task of having to be the focal point of the offense if the Buckeyes were going to win. To be fair, it could have played out that way. With that in mind, Mattison’s plan to load the box and bring safeties down hard on run action paid dividends, especially on 3rd and long plays for Ohio State.
Speaking of 3rd and long, how is it that it seems to be almost automatic first down territory against Jim Heacock’s defense? The worst of it was the Wolverines’ first touchdown in the second half. If you recall, once the Wolverines already made it into the red zone, a forced pitch and fumble by Robinson was recovered only after the Wolverines got behind down and distance. It gave way to a 3rd and 12 situation on Ohio State’s 21 yard line. So, what happened? Yes, the three man rush. John Simon, in his WDE role, dropped back into coverage and Ohio State rushed only three. The idea with this is to create just enough pressure, eventually, to force a play that the defense keeps in front of it. Ideally, it’s a “get to 4th down” defensive call. As Ohio State fans have seen far too often this season, it became a first down defense. Denard Robinson had all time to throw the ball, Ohio State’s scarecrow secondary lost sight of Martavious Odoms and he wiggled into the end zone. If you recall, dropping a weakside defensive end into coverage last year meant a zone blitz, with an outside linebacker coming strongside. If I’m exaggerating, so be it, but I don’t recall us ever doing that this year. It’s Jim Heacock at his absolute most passive. If Heacock, the 2007 Frank Broyles National Assistant Coach of the Year award winner, is indeed retiring after this season, he picked a horrible way to go out. And it was his choice too. This is his defense with Fickell operating the interim head coaching position this year. If 3-man rushes with deep zone coverage isn’t working, do something else.
I already mentioned in the first paragraph of this post just the type of statistics the Wolverines had this game. Denard Robinson and Fitzgerald Toussaint ran at will on Ohio State’s defense. Linebacker play was porous, especially Etienne Sabino (and Ryan Shazier, once he started playing on just one leg). Our safeties were atrocious and, collectively, I don’t think I’ve seen worse safety play by two teams in one game. I can quibble that Johnathan Hankins was held at will, and with impunity for Al Borges’ offensive line, but the hand placement for our defensive line was just bad. Our defensive line gave first contact to the opposing offensive line. The few sacks we had were inexplicably coverage sacks. Meanwhile, Travis Howard? Well, Travis Howard.
And still, Ohio State was in a position to win after the Wolverines double DERPed on what would’ve been the game-ending touchdown. With just 1:59 left to play, Ohio State’s offense looked so unprepared it begs the question what exactly people like Nick Siciliano and Jim Bollman do coaching a true freshman quarterback for this type of situation. There was the overthrown pass to a streaking DeVier Posey already mentioned, but the final three plays sum up the Buckeyes’ season nicely. A zone pressure from Mattison ultimately led to a 2 yard sack as Miller seemed reticent to run past the side of the blitz once it had over-pursued. With the clock running and no timeouts left, Braxton Miller checked down to Devin Smith for 6 yards. After wasting 15 seconds, Miller burned 3rd down and spiked the ball. On 4th and 6, Miller scrambled around and threw an interception 14 yards down field to Courtney Avery. I imagine Jim Bollman and Nick Siciliano, upon the conclusion of that play, dropped their head sets, gave a dismissive hand-waking motion and said “Peace, we out.”
At 6-6, there is no doubt this Ohio State’s worst season since 1999. It was also the last time Ohio State finished below .500 in conference and lost three straight games to end November. After concluding a season that will rank as one of the most awful crimes perpetrated in the Buckeye State, Ohio State fans now desperately hope that Urban Meyer is indeed en route to Columbus. May he bring that dream team of assistants we hear rumored to come with him as well.