Thursday, September 15, 2011

Keep Your Enemies Closer: Week 2

Here we are at Week 2, where the Buckeyes squared off against another supposed minnow from the state of Ohio in the form of the Toledo Rockets. While Toledo is not nearly as bad as Akron, they still should not have posed a threat to the Buckeyes; unfortunately for Coach Fickell and the Buckeyes, that was not how it turned out on the field. The Buckeyes (particularly Bauserman/Miller) will have the chance to "prove themselves," but this week was not the time for that. At least, it shouldn't have been. 

As a quick prefatory note, I just want to say that these reviews will be far from perfect. After all, I am not a Buckeye fan and cannot reasonably be expected to know the ins and outs of the Buckeye roster, practice buzz, injury notes, etc. as well as the average OSU fan. With that said, I noticed some talk about my discussion of the OSU tailbacks at the O-Zone. In the interest of accuracy, I will say that I wasn't aware that Hall was lined up to be the starter pre-suspension, and I'm not sure if I simply forgot or didn't know about Berry's hamstring issues, but, either way, I didn't know that he [Berry] would've been next in line had he been healthy (hence my designation of Hyde as "Herron Understudy #1"). Mea culpa. As the season goes along and I become more familiar with the roster, I hope that I'll able to be more precise in my analysis. In the end, though, I'm just a guy writing about what I see. I am by no means an expert and I shouldn't be treated as such. With that longer than expected note behind me, let's continue with the second installment of "Keep Your Enemies Closer."

The Offense 
The Buckeyes would still be without a number of key contributors in this one (namely Jordan Hall, in addition to the suspensions levied before the season), but there's still no excuse for the lackluster performance in this game. There were certainly some bright spots, but this game represented the picking of the scab that is Joe Bauserman as OSU's starting quarterback. I'm sure Joe Bauserman is a nice guy, but the Buckeyes won't get where they want to go with Joe Bauserman. Craig Krenzel he is not. 

Naturally, the most interesting issue that needs to be discussed from the get go is the Braxton Miller's role/lack thereof in this game. Miller stood on the sidelines the entire game, Waiting for Godot  Playing Time as Joe Bauserman opted for conservative checkdown after checkdown. The potential theories behind Miller's lack of playing time are many, and it's not worth speculating about the exact reason as opposed to the decision's effect and implications. Will Luke Fickell continue to go with the older, less talented Bauserman if he struggles in the coming weeks as OSU gets ready to face teams with BCS talent? That is indeed the question, and I fall unequivocally in the Play Miller camp. Despite the age difference, I sincerely believe that there is very little that Bauserman can do that Miller cannot. Of course, the previous sentence does not take into account the other half of the Great Mass of Infinite Possibilities also known as "mistakes," which Miller would ostensibly commit more of if he become starter. 

After a nice return from Jaamal Berry (who, judging from the burst he showed, seems to have recovered nicely from a hamstring injury), OSU marched down the field methodically but with very little help for now starter Carlos Hyde, who went for runs of 0, 4, and 1 on the 7 play drive. To be fair, a pair of defenders met him unblocked at the LOS on the first one, the second was a toss sweep which the Toledo defense flowed to fairly well, and there was just nothing doing in the last one. Bauserman, on the other hand, came out firing on a successful drive. Like last week, Verlon Reed was an early beneficiary of the gameplan. He carried the ball once on a token end around for a nice gain of 12 and added a reception of 13 yards two plays later. Later on, Bauserman would hit a ridiculously wide open Stoneburner in the seam for the touchdown. Bauserman had all day and fired a pass that was just a touch off, but Stoneburner made a one-handed catch that verged on nonchalant, almost to the point that it seemed as if he could have just caught it normally. Either way, Stoneburner's increased production should be a point of immense delight to OSU fans who have been wondering if the tight end position would ever become relevant again. Stoneburner did balance out the spectacular touchdown catch with a Braylon-esque drop on 4th and 3. In the grand scheme of things it didn't mean much, but a drop is a drop. Still, Stoneburner looks like he'll be a primary target going forward, which is a good sign because he's a pretty talented player. He ended the day with 4 receptions for 43 yards and the aforementioned TD grab. 

Stoneburner had his touchdown and freshman Devin Smith--filling in for Corey "Philly" Brown, who went down with a pretty painful looking injury in the second quarter--filled in nicely, reeling in two receptions for 67 yards. Reed pitched in two receptions for 23, and Carlos Hyde flashed some receiving ability with 4 for 28 yards, as Bauserman looked to him in the flat on more than one occasion. Despite the absence of DeVier Posey and the injury of Philly Brown, the Buckeyes are still stocked at the receiver position, albeit really, really young. That could hurt them in the next few weeks as the defenders lining up across from them become better and the guys coming at Bauserman become bigger and faster, but it didn't throughout these first two games.

The running game, on the other hand, was a major disappointment. The OSU line didn't seem to get a lot of push throughout most of the day (from what I could tell based upon one viewing of the game, at least). Hyde was the primary ball carrier, with 20 carries for 76 yards, including one long touchdown run of 36 yards in which he showcased some solid vision and speed by hitting a crease created by good blocks from J.B. Shugarts and Jack Mewhort (he had another short TD run inthe 3rd quarter as well). Hyde got through the line, saw the daylight and ran to it. This was one of the few big plays on the day, as playing the "take out that one run and then see what his YPC is" leads us to a fairly grim figure of 2.1 YPC. This is not good. Rod Smith didn't do much better, carrying seven times for 24 yards and a long of nine. Once again, though, Smith put the ball on the ground (fumbling on OSU's penultimate drive), and it seems that he is building up a medical history of fumbleitis just as fast as Stephen Hopkins seems to be doing in Ann Arbor. Honestly, Smith probably shouldn't get many carries going forward, and especially if Hall is cleared to play soon. The announcers compared him to Eddie George at one point, which...okay. They're both big guys but the comparison ends there; there is a reason he is behind four other backs, although he is but a little freshman so there's still hope for him yet.

Toss sweeps were unsuccessful on a couple occasions, and Hyde was left with nowhere to go as Toledo defenders were able to knife through the wash like butter on their way to Hyde. The line's inability to just dominate Toledo in the trenches is a little worrisome, but the standard caveat about suspensions and whatnot (Adams) goes here. Although I don't think that Miami is very good, it will be interesting to see how the OSU line responds when exposed to a significant increase in athleticism and talent (whether those talented and athletic defenders can actually play defense and do things like make tackles and shed blocks in another story entirely) will be interesting. Toledo's front seven was obviously undersized and overmatched on paper but they did well in holding the Buckeyes to 112 rushing yards and 3.4 YPC. Pass protection, on the other hand, was generally pretty good (I don't believe that Bauserman was sacked a single time), but Bauserman's relative immobility is an issue when paired with a line that isn't up to normal standards at this point. 

Bauserman showcased his arm strength yet again on one play late in the second quarter when he heaved an absolute bomb down the field to Verlon Reed which ended up drawing a pass interference penalty. Arm strength is certainly not Bauserman's problem. If OSU can figure out their run blocking then that could really open up some more play action looks down the field (OSU has gone PA a number of times in their first two games). Bauserman, like Uncle Rico, can really throw that ball over them mountains if the offensive staff would just let him do it more often. How advisable an extremely vertical offense led by Joe Bauserman paired with inexperienced receivers might be is unclear, but what is clear is that arm strength is by far his biggest asset, and maybe it could help the running game if utilized in the correct proportion and circumstances. At the same time, he was pretty inaccurate at times despite having more than enough time to settle and throw. The boo birds came out early in the fourth quarter after Bauserman tossed two incomplete passes in a row en route to a three and out. I'm not sure how long the OSU fanbase will rationally tolerate Bauserman's existence as the leader of the offense, and I'm not sure how long Fickell will either given that this season is basically a one-year audition for him. I think you play Miller and live with the mistakes while assuming that his talent will eventually begin to override his youth, thus making him a better option in the long run. But, that's just me (I don't think I'm alone, though). 

The offense in a nutshell: Bauserman is not good, OL didn't perform like an OSU line should against a MAC team, and Hyde is decent but no Hall/Herron and definitely still reminds me of Lydell Ross (which probably isn't a great thing) too much to feel excessively positive about him as a player. This all becomes moot when Hall and Herron return anyway, but whatever. 

The Defense
Despite the final score, I wouldn't be too worried about the defense if I was an OSU fan. The Buckeye defense shut down the run, giving up only 46 yards on 30 carries. The Buckeyes were quick to the ball regardless the type of run, and the interior of the DL was stout once again. I was especially impressed with Etienne Sabino, who made a couple of plays that, to make a comparison with a Michigan player, reminded me of Brandin Hawthorne's slashing TFL against Notre Dame this past week. Sabino looked fast and quick to diagnose plays, a good sign for Buckeye fans as he is still relatively unproven despite a good bit of recruiting hype. 

For the most part OSU seemed to come out in a 4-2-5 look, with three guys on the line in a three point stance and one guy standing up on the edge a good amount of the time. OSU shut down the zone read pretty well...I can't remember it getting more than at most 3 or 4 yards. The linebackers stayed home and attacked when they saw the ball come out of the tailback's belly or stay in the QB's hands. Given Michigan's success with the zone read against Notre Dame, this is of particular relevance. Of course, Denard Robinson and whatever tailback Michigan trots out (hopefully Toussaint is in one piece and ready to go by The Game) are much better than Toledo's tandem, but that is a match-up that neither fanbase should think about for quite some time. 

Jonathan Hankins impressed me on one sack in the first half in which he flashed a surprising amount of agility and quicks in completely blowing by the left guard to get to Dantin. For a guy who was supposedly "slow played" by Michigan in the recruiting process for essentially being out of shape (see "too fat") despite having obvious talent, I was blown away by his quickness on this play. If he didn't play for Ohio State I'd say that he'd be a solid candidate for the elusive and always hilarious fat guy touchdown, but I guess I'll just stick to hoping that Will Campbell will drop in coverage against Eastern and return a pick for six like he's Ed Reed. A guy can dream.

First Team All-Awesome Name MLB Storm Klein had a nice pick as well, and did a solid job in getting to his spot while tracking the QB's eyes, and then, ultimately, actually making the catch. He looks like he should be another good linebacker for the Buckeyes, and yes, I am very jealous of the talent and consistent production from the LB corps for the last several years or so down there. Having guys that are disciplined, fast, and well-coached? What a novelty. I honestly have no idea how much Vrabel has or hasn't done with them thus far, but on the surface I'd say so far so good.

The only major issue on the day was a few big plays here and there. I didn't envy the Buckeye defensive backs, as defending Eric Page seemed like trying to catch a fly with a pair of tweezers. That guy is agile and fast, and I don't doubt that he has a career in the NFL ahead of him (if not simply as a punt/kick returner). The play he scored on in late in the first quarter (the 66 yard screen) was just a perfect combination of execution on the part of Page's blocking and pure, unadulterated speed on Page's part. Andrew Sweat flies in and gets blocked out of the play just enough that his tackle attempt left him flailing at Page's feet, and Page was able to enter hyperspace down the sidelines as he zoomed past Orhian Johnson (I think?) and outpaced CJ Barnett. Page can really go, so no shame there. Still, Sweat could've done better here, but the secondary could have better to clean up the mistake as well.

Other points came: a) after a blocked punt lead to a short field for Toledo and b) a touchdown after a 44 yard pass that took the Rockets to first and goal. In short, OSU's defense is still good, although the big plays and Toledo's final drive--in which they marched down the field from their own 28 all the way to the Ohio State 17 before the drive fizzled out--are things to improve upon. Also something to keep in mind: the Buckeyes were without Nathan Williams for the entire game, and John Simon didn't play much of the second half.

Special Teams 
Jaamal Berry looked good all day on kick returns, bringing three out for an average of 22.0 per returns and a long of 28. He seemed plenty quick so it seemed to me like any hamstring issues are no longer extant. In the same vein, Chris Fields had a brilliant 69 yard punt return for a touchdown in which Ryan Shazier decided to make a cameo appearance as Terry Tate, Office Linebacker. Fields brought it down the field in a flash, with little to no lateral movement, with the help of good blocking and good speed on his part (not great coverage helped somewhat too). The return from Fields is good news, especially in light of the roadrunner known as Philly Brown's injury (which didn't look too good). 

On the other hand, OSU had a punt blocked, missed a field goal (putting Drew Basil at 0/2 on the year), and was unprepared on Toledo's two point conversion on their first touchdown. Has Basil simply been unlucky or will this be the first year in a while that OSU won't have an obvious asset at the PK position? Who's way too early and way too small of a sample size to tell. Let's see how he does on the road this week. Kick coverage was decent except for one big return for 42 yards from Eric Page. This is the second week in a row that OSU has allowed a return of 40+ yards, so this will definitely be something to work on for Fickell and Co. 


This was certainly not an ideal win for the Buckeyes but college football isn't always ideal. As an outsider, the main points I took away from this game are: a) Bauserman is not very accurate or mobile (and seemed to lose confidence as the game went on), and without an elite running back behind him the offense will have some problems and b) the defense was fine minus a few big plays. In short, nothing to see here and ALL IS WELL. Well, not quite, particularly if Fickell sticks with Bauserman (which is a mistake in my opinion, both for his own chances at throwing off the interim label and OSU's chances at winning the conference), but OSU has been here before (e.g., 2009 Navy) and been just fine. Nevertheless, next week will be interesting.

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