It’s Hate Week. That makes it awfully difficult to look backward at Ohio State’s 21-14 overtime victory over the Wisconsin Badgers on Saturday. Nevertheless, that’s what this column is for. The Buckeyes are 11-0 and just one step away from an undefeated season in the first year of the Urban Meyer era. Only TTUN stands in our way. How we got to this point is due, in part, to what happened in Madison this past weekend. I, for one, truly underestimated Wisconsin’s ability to tackle in space, and all credit to the way the Badgers played on Saturday. Still, I feel like Ohio State made life tougher on itself than it had to. I’ve been nursing a bad cold since Saturday, so I’m going to get right into the way I saw it.
Never Hyde Carlos: It seemed obvious to me that Wisconsin sold out to stop Braxton Miller. They correctly assumed that we’d use a heavy dose of Miller to move the football. Aside from some early OSU success, the Badgers did a nice job of bottling up Miller’s run lanes and confusing him. Braxton finished with just 48 yards on 23 carries. That includes minus-17 yards on sacks, but even without losing those 17 yards, that’s not a very good day for Miller. Meanwhile, Carlos Hyde rolled up 87 yards on just 15 carries. His 5.8 yards-per-carry average was very good against a solid defense. I noticed a number of times that Miller kept on plays that seemed open for huge rushes if he’d handed to Hyde. This isn’t necessarily new, but given the resources Wisconsin brought to bear to stop Miller, it’s easy to lament what could have been a much more comfortable game had they simply gave it more to Carlos early. Remember, Ohio State went up 14-0 early in the second quarter, and the only reason there weren’t more points on the board is that play calling on third and medium just outside of field goal range was awful.
There were probably one or two other instances, but the only time I can recall Hyde being bottled up is on a late second down play when the entire stadium knew he was getting the ball. Other than that, Hyde was ripping off 4-5 yards easily on every carry. A bigger emphasis on running Hyde earlier in the game may have opened things up for Miller later in the game, and may have helped the Buckeyes build a bigger lead. Also, running Hyde more helps wear down the defense, so he becomes tougher to tackle as the game goes on. Meyer said after the game that Hyde probably should have been more involved in the offense and I strongly agree. It will be interesting to see how the coaching staff approaches the early play calling this weekend, although Michigan’s front line has a different makeup than Wisconsin’s.
Decisions, Decisions: If you’re anything like me, you were scared to death of that last Ohio State punt. In fact, the Buckeyes’ struggles with punt blocks this year had me calling for an intentional safety. Many people would not advocate a safety because the lead was seven points. As it turned out, a weak punt (and some prevent defense—more on this later) put Wisconsin in position to tie the game with just eight seconds left. My thought was to have punter Ben Buchanan run around as long as possible, then step out of the back of the end zone for a safety. This would have allowed Ohio State to free kick and very likely put Wisconsin in mediocre field position. The extra ground to cover would likely have caused the Badgers to run out of time. If you trust your defense enough to punt out of your end zone, trust them to do the job with even more ground to protect.
Hate you so hard, three-man rush: For the last two years we’ve seen a lot of bad things happen on obvious passing downs when Ohio State rushes only three men. After Ben Buchanan punted late, giving the Badgers possession on the Buckeye 41, John Simon started the series by sacking Curt Phillips back to Wisconsin’s 48. This was a huge play and quite frankly should have put the Buckeyes in position to kill the game. At that point, Luke Fickell put his toys away and rushed mostly three the rest of the drive. This didn’t work. Phillips, a quarterback without much game experience, was given a clean pocket the rest of the way. He responded by hitting every pass that wasn’t intentionally into the ground to stop the clock. I find this lack of aggression irresponsible and stupid, and it could have cost Ohio State the game. I would always want to force an inexperienced quarterback to make quick decisions, especially with the game on the line. Ramp up the pressure and you’ll likely see a college quarterback—especially an inexperienced one—to crack. This conservatism is an unwelcome holdover from the Tressel era. The fact is that Ohio State does not have its typical compliment of outstanding linebackers, and thus even dropping eight men into coverage is not a guarantee that someone won’t find holes when the quarterback has a lot of time to find someone.
Other random thoughs/observations…
- Ohio State was more aggressive with its pass rush in the overtime period, and it worked. Phillips was 0-2 passing in the extra quarter.
- I was quite surprised at the success Montee Ball had rushing against Ohio State. Outside gaps that the Buckeyes closed at Penn State were open in Madison. Also, the Wisconsin linemen were able to get to the second level and block linebackers to spring Ball for 10-12 yards instead of 4-5. Finally, Ball was simply running harder than any back we’ve faced all year. Those three things made life difficult against Ball. Still, Ohio State held Wisconsin to just 14 points for the game. If I’d have been told the Badgers would finish with 14 points, I would have expected at least a 17-point win. In regulation.
- We were bailed out again by a college kicker. But it’s easy to play the “woulda coulda” game afterwards, but all year long Ohio State has responded when threatened, so had the Badgers connected there, maybe the entire game plays out differently. Just look at how Ohio State responded at East Lansing and after Wisconsin tied the game. When their backs are against the wall, the Buckeyes have answered this season.
- I thought losing C.J. Barnett for awhile would hurt more than it did. Pittsburgh Brown (and Doran Grant) played well in relief of Barnett and Howard, respectively.
- I thought Ryan Shazier had killed himself when he drilled Ball on that outside run. What a hit. Credit to Ball for not exploding in a shower of sparks.
- Philly Brown has quietly turned into a slippery guy. His punt return for a touchdown was perfect. He started one direction and went straight downhill, then made a nice shoulder fake to make the punter look silly. He’s also starting to make guys miss on those short passes. He may be setting himself up for a great season next year.