It was the perfect condition for Fickell in his debut — the weather was unbearably hot in a packed Ohio Stadium, serving for one more piece of adversity his eager team would have to fight through.
As if the previous three months filled with talk of off-the-field scandal weren't enough for the Buckeyes starving to put the past behind them with a big win.
But the mission was accomplished in pretty impressive fashion, as the Buckeyes turned over the page of a new era by doing what the fans expected — blowing out an over-matched Akron team, 42-0.
Before Ohio State shifts its focus to the next opponent, we take one final look back at Saturday's win over the Zips in our first edition of the weekly "Sunday Observation."
— This is what you needed to see out of Joe Bauserman — It's hard not to blame Ohio State fans for being premature in their judgment of Bauserman. After all, he looked terrible last year at Illinois when he came into a close game and threw an interception while Terrelle Pryor was temporarily off with an injury. All the other previous times where he was in were, well, underwhelming. So why wouldn't you want to start freshman Braxton Miller? Well, Bauserman proved Saturday why Fickell made him the starter, and it had little to do with seniority.
Though Bauserman has a long way to go before he is a proven commodity, the 25-year-old senior did everything in his power to prove he's the man for the job. After scrambling on an impressive 15-yard touchdown run on his first drive as the starter, he went on to complete 12-of-16 passes for 163 yards and three touchdowns. When the dust settled, Bauserman was about as impressive as he could have possibly been, which goes to show that he isn't the quarterback that we all remember from the past. For the first time in his life the starting nod was his, and he seized the day. For that, not only does he get to continue to hold that spot, he also gets the benefit of the doubt when it comes to what he may be capable of moving forward. This isn't the same guy that has been the butt of jokes for the past six months.
And the pressure was on, too. After all, he was playing a terrible Akron defense, so he couldn't afford to be anything but impressive. Any mistakes, bad decisions, or interceptions for that matter and he would have had people clamoring to get him off the field. Instead, he left no room for criticism.
With the hotshot freshman on his heels waiting to steal his job, there is no room for complaint out of Bauserman, who was as consistent as I've seen him play since he's been here. Consistency has plagued him from day one, but now that he's proven that he's capable of doing the job well, maybe it is time to start cutting the guy a little slack. He's already proven some of us wrong.
— This will be an exciting year philosophy-wise — All you had to do is look at the stare on Fickell's face as he led his team into Ohio Stadium after the Skull Session to see how intense he is. When it comes to philosophy, two things toward the end of the first half show immediately that Fickell isn't going to play things close to the vest — pun intended.
First example, midway through the second quarter Ohio State was clinging to a 7-0 lead and faced a 4th-and-1 inside the Akron 20 yardline. In that situation, former head coach Jim Tressel would have certainly sent the kicking team out onto the field to attempt to grab the 10-point lead. Instead, Fickell left his offense out there and powered the ball over the weak Akron defensive line for the first down. Two plays later, Bauserman found Jake Stoneburner for the first of his three touchdown receptions to help Ohio State to the 14-0 lead. The statement was made already.
Late in the second quarter, Fickell's defense made another decision. With Akron still down 14-0 with under two minutes remaining in the first half, Fickell called timeouts when his defense got the stop on first down. In doing so, it forced Akron to try and move the chains to prevent Ohio State from getting a final possession in the quarter. Rarely, if ever, did we see Tressel taking timeouts in this situation. He was more than happy to take two-score leads into the locker room. Again, another philosophical difference that could imply vast changes in thinking from the coaches.
BONUS: Though I have already complimented Fickell on going for it on fourth down, he had a chance later in the half to go for it again and opted to kick. Up 14-0 with less than three minutes to go, Akron jumped offside on a field goal attempt on 4th-and-6. Creating a very short 4th down as a result closing in on Akron's red zone, I thought Fickell would definitely send his offense back out to try and convert. It ended up being a missed field goal (we'll get to that later), but this was the time for Fickell to assert his "toughness." Ohio State's offensive line is blowing them off the ball every play, show confidence in your offense to get the first time, show who the dominant force is in that situation, and try to get seven more heading into the break. Against another team that has a better defense maybe you still kick, but in that situation he could have shown Akron who the big boys were. I thought for sure Fickell would thrown his offense back out there.
— Braxton Miller is in the plans, has a bright future — There was one play on a 12-yard run where Miller looked to run up the middle, realized there was nobody there, then stepped back and juked an Akron defender before scampering down the field. Not a lot of people could have made that play.
Though his first series on the field was rough — mainly for reasons outside of his control — the freshman quarterback with a moderate grasp of the Ohio State offense is a special player. Not only did he find receivers that were open while scrambling with his eyes down field, he made a few difficult throws while finishing a drive with a touchdown. Though Bauserman had perhaps the best day he possibly could have had, there's no question why Fickell said this team will need both quarterbacks all season. Miller is an emerging star and anybody who watched him play out there Saturday probably got a sense for that.
— Youthful receivers made plays all day — If watching the Ohio State receivers was what we can expect from an inexperienced group that doesn't go deep, then I'd love to see what this group looks like when they're seasoned veterans. Not only did Ohio State not have Dane Sanzenbacher, the leading receiver from a year ago, the Buckeyes also were without DeVier Posey, who is out while serving a five-game suspension. Even so, the receivers made plays.
Converted wide receiver Verlon Reed, who started his first game as a Buckeye, came out and led the team with three receptions for 66 yards, but everyone got in on the action. Chris Fields and T.Y. Williams both had two receptions and even Zach Boren and Carlos Hyde got into the action with catching the ball. The only disappointment from this group was Philly Brown, who caught only one pass for six yards. With his explosiveness, Ohio State likely would have wanted a big play out of him just to get the confidence up if nothing else.
But the highlight of the day came from two freshmen — Evan Spencer and Devin Smith. Though freshmen usually see a redshirt season their first year with the program, neither ever seemed to be in a position to be held off the field. Saturday, they proved why. Spencer grabbed one catch for 33 yards, but it was a one-handed snag on the sideline that will likely be one of the top plays on TV for the next week. Then there was Smith, who caught a 14-yard touchdown in traffic from Miller.
Overall it was an encouraging day for the wide receivers, who got a performance from the collective group. Though nobody's individual numbers stole the show, there has to be some solace taken in the fact that the Buckeyes did it as a team.
— The most impressive receiver is a TE — Ask any Ohio State fan and they'll likely tell you that the Buckeye coaching staff has typically under-utilized the tight end in this offense in the recent past. If Saturday is any indication, however, Stoneburner could be on track for a memorable season.
Coming to Ohio State from the local Dublin (Ohio) Coffman high school, Stoneburner was a receiver first. After a conversion process that took a redshirt season, Stoneburner has been waiting for an opportunity like this for a long time. And he seized it — catching three touchdowns from Bauserman in the first game of the season to become the first tight end in Ohio State history to have that many touchdown grabs in one game. Stoneburner has maintained since the day that he got to Ohio State that he could be a game changer, and this year he seems poised to live up to that word.
He said early in the fall that he plans on being the team's leading receiver, and with the chemistry he seems to have the Bauserman, that could end up being true. Ohio State has a lot to gain by throwing to this athletic tight end, and the coaching staff finally seems to understand that.
— Carlos Hyde and Rod Smith make for good 1-2 punch — Believe it or not, Ohio State was down to only two scholarship running backs on Saturday. Of course, Dan Herron is out with the suspension, but Jaamal Berry has a hamstring injury and starter Jordan Hall was ruled out for one game late in the week after it was found that he took impermissible benefits this summer. Either way, the two that were in the game did more than get the job done.
Carlos Hyde had been impressive all fall, but his combination of speed and power really took to form on Saturday. Hyde carried the ball 19 times for 93 yards, which included a nice display of power and elusiveness. Meanwhile, redshirt freshman Rod Smith, who carried it 18 times for 74 yards, had a 19-yard gain where he showed off that explosiveness that makes him a budding star.
Combine the two stats together and you have 167 yards rushing and over four yards per carry. The only issue of the day was Smith's fumble deep the Akron red zone, but he shook it off and continued to make plays for the remainder of the game. For how young these two backs are, it's hard not to be encouraged by their outputs.
— Field goal kicking is kind of a concern — Ohio State kicked Drew Basil had two field goal attempts last year and they were both blocked. In his first game as the No. 1 kicker Saturday, he missed both attempts, even if only one counts. He tried one from 45 yards out and missed, but an offside penalty on the defense gave him another shot. He then missed the one from 40 yards out. It's hard to get down on a kicker after one game, but this team has made a living with its field goal kicker in the recent past. It will be hard to rest easy until Basil starts putting them through the uprights.
ODDS AND ENDS:
— The defensive line swarmed the Akron backfield the entire game, which is probably why the Zips managed minus-10 yards in the entire second half. Not only does the line have stars like John Simon and Nate Williams – who played SAM linebacker at times — but the depth is unbelievable. As long as this is a strength on Ohio State's team, this Buckeyes squad will continue to win games.
— Offensive line depth can be an issue. Though the Buckeyes first team has the potential to be extremely good, its hard not to worry about an injury throwing a monkey wrench into all the plans. When Antonio Underwood went down late in the game with an injury, they sent Andrew Norwell back in the game. The team was likely preserving redshirt options for younger guys like Chris Carter – which Jim Bollman basically told me after the game – but the Buckeyes didn't have enough guys to field an entire second team line.
— I am not a coach. I don't need to be politically correct. Without getting too down on Ohio State's opponent, Akron is likely going to be one of the worst teams in college football this year. We learned a lot, but Toledo will be a much better opponent next Saturday. We'll see what there is to observe in a week.