Ohio State improved to 4-0 on the season and swept non-conference play for 2012, as a result of Saturday’s 29-15 win over UAB. It was not the beat-em-down we all wanted, but it wasn’t the end of world as we know it, either. It’s possible that the coaching staff went ultra-conservative to save some looks, schemes, personnel packages, and strategies for the conference schedule. I certainly think we’ll see more Braxton Miller runs when the stiffer competition arrives this weekend. At least we should, because we need to unleash the Braxton. Also, we’ll be getting Carlos Hyde back this week, and should Bradley Roby and C.J. Barnett are probable. Michael Bennett is expected back as well, per Urban Meyer’s Monday presser. This is great news, because Bennett is a good pass rusher and he’s great at disrupting an offensive line. It’ll be interesting to see how much he plays and how much rust he shows.
We continue to see interesting defenses. There were times when UAB put 10 men in the box on Saturday. Until Braxton Miller starts completing some deep balls, we are going to see nothing but crowds near the line of scrimmage. Part of that is now his responsibility—he has been given the green light to change plays at the line of scrimmage. If he’s successful with his pre-snap reads, he can check out of a run or short pass play and into a more vertical play, which can lead to big gains. But he’s got to recognize what the defense is doing, and make good throws, of course. I look forward to seeing how he develops over the next several weeks.
Caging the Tiger: I found it interesting that Braxton Miller didn’t have a single rushing play until six minutes into the second quarter. The run gained 14 yards and a first down, eventually leading to Rod Smith’s touchdown. Miller’s second rush came with 1:50 to play in the first half, on a 12-yard touchdown. His third rush was a 19-yarder that led to Zach Boren’s score. He ran the ball only 11 times in the game, including only three times before the half. His carries were well below the optimal mark for a game against “normal” competition, which UAB isn’t. I have no problem with the coaches limiting his carries this past weekend, because he should be healthy for the Sparty game. It’s fun to break down his runs though. Six of his 11 rushes went for more than 10 yards, another went for eight yards, and there was a 1-yard touchdown run as well.
Rejected: Ben Buchanan never had a chance on the first punt. The announcers made mention that the Buckeyes were using a new punt formation. Someone obviously blew an assignment, because Zach Boren was left with two players to block. Boren correctly blocked the inside rusher, but the outside man got to Buchanan while the ball was being dropped from his hands to his foot, which is ridiculously early. Calvin Jones could have taken the ball right off Buchanan’s foot. The scoop and score was a humiliating way for the Buckeyes to yield an early lead, and could not have gone over well with Special Teams Coach Urban Meyer.
Coverage Hell: The Blazers continued this season’s trend of teams stealing yards against Ohio State’s soft coverage shell with quick screens that net 6-8 yards on first down. This gives the opposing offense a huge advantage in down and distance and it helps them continue drives—thus the Buckeye defense is on the field longer that it should be in games. Not only does this wear down the defense in the second half, but it also keeps the OSU offense from finding a rhythm. The roles actually reverse from what Urban Meyer wants, which is a lot of offensive plays at a fast rhythm, wearing the opponent’s defense down. So, why are the Buckeyes playing so far off receivers at the line of scrimmage? Why isn’t Ohio State pressing more? I get why they don’t do it much against a zone-read team, because there’s no one to account for the quarterback in an already-outnumbered scheme. But against UAB that didn’t seem to be a danger. Maybe the coaching staff isn’t comfortable with our defensive backs locked in man-to-man coverage, and certainly man coverage can create problems when facing a mobile quarterback. That’s fine, but there are two aspects to this that make no sense. First, you can press the line of scrimmage and still play zone. Your backs just need to drop quickly. Second, you can show press and have the defense back out of it pre-snap, so the quarterback doesn’t have time to check out of a low-percentage deep pass and into a jailbreak screen.
My hope is that the coaches have felt comfortable enough the team could handle the competition to allow them to stay vanilla throughout the non-conference slate. This would allow them to show new looks starting this weekend that aren’t on film. Oh please let this be the case. If it’s not, it could be a long conference season. Travis Howard playing 12 yards off the ball is not conducive to stopping a slant or a jailbreak screen, and he, the linebackers, and the safeties are all whiffing on far too many tackles for the staff to allow this to continue unabated.
Other random thoughts/observations:
- The ridiculously stupid unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Christian Bryant was bad. Bryant was apparently woofing at a UAB player after a third-down stop and Ohio State was about to get the ball back until the flag flew. The really dumb thing is that when the UAB player retaliated, not with words but with a hand to Bryant’s facemask, there was no offsetting call. Bryant has to be smarter than that, but let’s call it both ways, eh?
- Bryce Haynes is becoming very fun to watch on punts. He made a great play on Saturday to pin UAB inside its own 5-yard line. Unfortunately, the Blazers drove 80 yards for a field goal after that, thanks to the defense allowing a conversion on third-and-17.
- I liked what I saw out of Doran Grant. He hit for the cycle, with a fumble recovery, a sack, and an interception. If he can maintain that level of play, I would be ok with moving him ahead of Travis Howard. Howard is improved from last year, but he still misses too many tackles and takes some bad pursuit angles.
- I’m not sure what’s going on with Devin Smith’s recent case of the dropsies, but the score looks better if he handles the late would-be touchdown pass.
- Jordan Hall is a great addition to the offense. He racked up a career-high 105 yards on just 17 carries Saturday, for 6.2 average yards per carry. He also caught two passes for 21 yards. Hall needs to continue to be an important part of the offense.
- The blocked PAT was semi-redemptive for the Freak Show after the blocked punt allowed, but overall it wasn’t a good day for the special teams. The Buckeyes also ran into the punter on the first series, allowed a long kickoff return, and had no good returns of their own.
- UAB held Ohio State scoreless for an entire quarter. Twice. Think about that and then finish your drink. In fact, finish all of the drinks.