Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Keep Your Enemies Closer: Week 1

Just a general programming note, but throughout the season this is what the schedule on here should look like (assuming there's time to get everything done each week):

Monday: Michigan game column
Tuesday: Review of Ohio State game
Wednesday: TBD
Thursday: "What To Watch"
Friday: Game preview type thing

Again, that's an extremely tentative schedule but is probably a good bet for what to expect until the end of the season. With that said, I'd like to take Tuesdays from here on out to take a look at the Buckeyes, giving my general impressions of the team, from personnel to play calling to whatever else I find to be interesting or relevant to Michigan. I got the idea from reading The Ozone's rundowns in their "Michigan Monday" feature...here's an example from last season. While their observations aren't always expressed in shining prose, I often found their perspectives useful, and in that vein I think it would be a useful exercise to scout the Buckeyes as the season goes along. So, we'll start with this past Saturday's opener in Columbus against Akron (here's a preview of the Zips from 11W). Just as any considerations of Michigan's hopes gleaned from the Western game shouldn't be leaned upon too heavily, the same applies with OSU's meeting with Akron.

The Offense

It's hard to talk about the Buckeye offense without starting at the quarterback position. As expected, the geriatric Joe Bauserman got the start, and actually played quite a long time before being spelled by Braxton Miller. In fact, Miller didn't come in until the first drive of the second quarter, and then not again until 5 minutes into the third (after which he played the rest of the way). Joe finished with an efficient stat line, going 12/16 on the day with 163 yards and 3 touchdowns, as well as one touchdown on the ground. Miller finished 8/12 with 130 yards and a touchdown of his own to freshman Devin Smith.

The Buckeyes started on their own 26 in drive numero uno and they played it as if nothing had changed and Jim Tressel still walked the sidelines. On four out of five plays to start the drive, OSU went with running plays, calling Dan Herron Understudy #1 Carlos Hyde's number each time. Hyde went for 2, 8, 3, and 5 yards respectively with these carries, with a Bauserman to Stoneburner coming in on the second play. Bauserman then showed some ability to get the ball downfield, connecting with Verlon reed for a 28 yard play, followed by a Rod Smith run and what appears to be a broken play in which Bauserman does his best Denard impression. Apparently, the tailback went the wrong way, and Bauserman was forced to wing it; surprisingly, he did pretty well, looking positively Krenzelesque as he ran it in for the score from 15 yards out. Bauserman is no Pryor, or Smith, or Miller when it comes to mobility, but he seems to be close to on par with Krenzel (both are about the same size). He did show some nice mobility on a passing play in the second quarter, taking off for 9 yards when everyone was covered, just barely avoiding a defensive lineman. The offensive line gave Bauserman and Miller all day to throw and ample running room for Hyde and Smith, but that's to be expected against Akron (even without Mike Adams).

The Ohio State running back situation is not too dissimilar from ours...for the first 5 games in Herron's absence, at least. OSU has a stable of talented backs to work with, but just as Michigan seemed to narrow things down to a predominantly Shaw and Toussaint-heavy attack, OSU primarily deployed Carlos Hyde and Rod Smith on Saturday.

Both were impressive enough given the circumstances (not only did they get four full quarters--the novelty!--but they got it against Akron). Both backs provide size that Michigan's group doesn't seem to bring outside of Hopkins; Hyde stands at 6'0'' 238 and Smith at 6'3'' 230, and both are underclassmen. Those are two big backs. Hyde looked big and fast enough (he couldn't quite gain the corner on one 25-yard run in the 2nd quarter) and did well to keep his legs moving to fall forward for the extra yard from time to time. While some Buckeye fans have made the relatively underwhelming comparison to Lydell Ross, Hyde looked solid in this one. Again, as good as they looked they are simply keeping the backfield warm for Boom Herron. Rod Smith also fumbled the ball in the red zone, a point which I'm sure didn't please Luke Fickell. I wouldn't be surprised to see some of the other backs get some action next week as a result, especially if Jordan Hall--who was supposed to be the starter until he got suspended--comes back soon. Hall is an entirely different back too, standing at a diminutive 5'9'' 195.

The quarterbacks also carried the ball a little bit (in addition to Bauserman's aforementioned glacial-speed TD run), with Bauserman going 6 carries for 32 and Miller 6 for 30. Like I said, Bauserman is certainly not fast but he can run a little bit if he needs to, but then again this was the Akron game. Miller had one rush for 12 yards, but other than that he wasn't that successful on the ground, and he didn't need to be. Miller's first collegiate play was a QB Draw, so maybe that's a signal that the Buckeye staff will use his running ability in a way that Pryor's was not.

Overall, I was pretty impressed with Bauserman's arm strength (as a former baseball player, he's got at least that going for him), and he seemed to not be overwhelmed by the responsibility of leading the team. He seemed to favor Stoneburner and Verlon Reed the most. Of course, I said this about Stoneburner just last week:
Jake Stoneburner is a pretty decent talent at tight end but when was the last time the Buckeyes really utilized the tight end position? I'm not sure that this is the year.
Naturally, Stoneburner reeled in 3 touchdowns (after having 2 all of last year), all from Bauserman. This might be the result of a Posey-less receiving corps, but Stoneburner was by far the star of the day and Bauserman's favorite target. Everybody knew that Stoneburner could play, but Ohio State has not used their tight ends effectively in quite a while...then again, I'm not sure if they've had a pass-catching threat like Stoneburner in several years. Stoneburner's three touchdown receptions were from 28, 11, and 2 yards out. It'll be interesting to track Stoneburner's production going forward; obviously it won't remain constant after this performance, but we'll see if Bauserman/Miller still lean on him as much once Posey gets back and young guys like Devin Smith and Evan Spencer mature a little bit (as well as other inexperienced wideouts i.e., Verlon Reed and Philly Brown). Spencer managed to make probably the catch of the week on a pretty horrid pass from Miller in the 4th...it was his only catch of the day but he seems like a talented young receiver that could do some things as the season progresses.

The Buckeyes were a solid 8/15 on third downs on the way to amassing 517 total yards of offense (293 passing, 224 rushing). Only one turnover on the day (the Smith fumble), and a relatively penalty-free day is something to be happy about for such a young team (3 penalties for 29 yards). The Buckeyes ran the ball 51 times compared to 28 passes...TRESSELBALL LIVES.

The Defense 

Watching Ohio State play defense for the last at least six or seven seasons has been an envy-filled affair. Year after year, Ohio State has fielded defenses with future NFL talent, with good pass rushers, consistent and talented linebackers, and top level talents in the secondary. With the state of Ohio as talent-rich as it is, it's not hard to see how OSU was able to accomplish this, particularly with their recent unadulterated dominance of their home state throughout the RR years. Once again, I know this was Akron--a bad, bad football team--but a shutout is a shutout.

Ohio State was of course without the services of Solomon Thomas (suspended for the first five games), as well as top corner Travis Howard (who was suspended for this one along with Hall and Corey Brown). These losses come on top of the losses to the NFL, which were significant as they've been nearly every year. Ohio State lost big names like Cameron Heyward, Chimdi Chekwa, Ross Homan, Brian Rolle, Jermale Hines, and Devon Torrence. However, it looks like they will reload just fine, and despite returning 3 less starters Ohio State figures to have a much, much better defense than the Wolverines once again.

The Buckeyes held the Zips to under 100 yards of offense, while also sacking the quarterback 5 times and coming up with 1 interception. Akron only managed to muster up 5 first downs, while also going a putrid 2/13 on third downs. They weren't able to do much of anything on the ground or in the air, and even without Howard, corners Bradley Roby and Dominic Clarke didn't seem to be challenged at any point (same goes for safeties Orhian Johnson and CJ Barnett). On one shot downfield in the second quarter, Clarke (who was previously the #3 corner before Howard's suspension), was in perfect position to break the pass up. Akron's only success of the day come on the last drive of the half, in which they managed to reach the Ohio State 24 before missing a 41-yard field goal. The drive largely happened on the back of two plays--both Clayton Moore passes--of 33 and 11 yards.

OSU's 5 sacks came from Darryl Baldwin, Etienne Sabino/J.T. Moore, Michael Bennett, Nate Ebner, and Ryan Shazier, and there were a number of hurries that were very nearly sacks. WLB Andrew Sweat notched the only interception of the day, picking off Clayton Moore in the second quarter, on a nice play in which he reeled in a tipped ball near the sideline while managing to keep his feet inbounds.

All in all, the defense looked stout as expected; nothing came through the middle and when the ball went elsewhere the Buckeye defense got there fast. This unit won't be tested next week either, unfortunately, and might not even be tested until the State game, depending upon whether or not you consider Miami and Colorado tests at this point in time (I don't).

Special Teams

There's not too much to discuss here, but...speedster Philly Brown had one kickoff return (to open the second half), which he took for 44 yards down the left sideline after an impressive spin move. The guy can fly, so I wouldn't be surprised to see him take a few to the house this year. On punts, Brown, Chris Fields, and Devin Smith all took turns, with the longest return being one of 17 yards (also from Philly).

PK Drew Basil was 6/6 on extra points but missed his only field goal attempt of the day from 40 yards out (just wide right). Punter Ben Buchanan had a solid day, with an average of 42 yards a punt on 3 tries (he had a long of 49). On kickoffs, Akron's Antoine Russell did have one return of 42 yards, but take that one out and his average drops from 18.8 to 11.0 yards per return.

Other than the one field goal miss and the bad coverage on the one return, the Buckeyes should have some solid special teams play once again this season. This will be crucial down the road when the offense needs the field position to score against better teams.

2011 Ohio State Schedule

September 3: OSU 42, Akron 0 (1-0)
September 10: Toledo
September 17: @ Miami
September 24: Colorado
October 1: Michigan State
October 8: @ Nebraska
October 15: @ Illinois
October 29: Wisconsin
November 5: Indiana
November 12: @ Purdue
November 19: Penn State
November 26: @ Michigan

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