In just the 60 minutes that compiled Ohio State's 27-22 win over Toledo, a week's worth of rejoicing from the season-opening win over Akron was quickly replaced with unsettling questions as the team moves forward to Miami (Fla.) week.
Even after escaping what would have been its first loss to a Mid-American Conference opponent since 1921, Ohio State now is searching for answers before heading to Florida to partake in its big non-conference matchup against the Hurricanes.
Perhaps it was because Toledo was an exponentially better opponent than Akron, or maybe it was various glaring weakness in areas of Ohio State that were exposed by the Rockets. Or maybe it was a combination of both that left more to be desired from the Buckeyes (2-0) narrow win over the Rockets.
We take at all the intricacies from the game — good and bad – before shifting focus to the Hurricanes in the latest edition of Sunday Observation:
• Like it or not, Joe Bauserman is your starting quarterback — Regardless of what Ohio State head coach Luke Fickell said after the game, Bauserman is the starting quarterback on this team. Though Fickell said that freshman Braxton Miller is part of Ohio State's plans, it is clear the coaching staff wanted Bauserman on the field with his team in a close game. Perhaps it was because Bauserman is the older of the two, but there wasn't a time in the game where a seamless transition of quarterbacks may have worked, especially because Toledo put the pressure on Ohio State early. Maybe Miller's dual-threat capabilities would have provided a spark, but by not playing him at all was a clear statement that the coaching staff is more comfortable with Bauserman. Want proof? The coaching staff still stuck with Bauserman even though he wasn't necessarily making dynamic plays for Ohio State to regain control of the game. For now, he's the guy and it is time to accept it.
• Assessing Bauserman's play — Maybe Bauserman played too well in his first career start against Akron, because he was showered Saturday with boos numerous times during the game. And here's the kicker — Bauserman finished the game having not thrown an interception while making numerous wise plays by throwing the ball away. It was likely that the scoreboard made it less tolerable for fans to stay patient with the senior making only his second career start, but all of a sudden he went from being the big man on campus to the quarterback on a short leash.
Here's the thing about Bauserman that is important to understand — he isn't a sexy player. He isn't going to make plays like Terrelle Pryor did and he likely isn't going to win games with dynamic plays that are going to make television highlights. That's not who he is. Instead, it is wise to expect him to stay composed, keep Ohio State in games while not making bone-headed plays. That's precisely what Bauserman did against the Rockets, even if he threw it away more times than the crowd would have liked to see.
Though I don't think Bauserman stole the show by any means, I don't remember seeing anything out of the senior that had me thinking he had to come off the field. Sure, there were inconsistent throws — which I warned you about during fall camp — but for the most part he made the wise decision, he hit guys that were open, and he led Ohio State to a win. That's the only thing Ohio State's coaching staff is looking for out of him. It's not always going to be pretty, but as long as he avoids turnovers, remains confident, and makes the plays he's in a position to make, they won't be dissatisfied with him.
Not to make excuses for him, but for the grand majority of the first half, there were a lot of things out of Bauserman's control that made it hard for Ohio State to light up the scoreboard. For instance, Ohio State couldn't get a push on the offensive line and it was impossible to run. Under those conditions, the entire outlook of the offense is altered due to no fault of Bauserman.
So here's the knock on Bauserman – and it is a big one. Sometimes it isn't as much about what he is doing wrong on the field as much as it is what he isn't doing. Ohio State fans have become accustomed to a quarterback that is going to make plays for the offense and getting reacquainted to the contrary is going to be tough.
• I understand the desire for Miller to get into the game — The above assessment isn't even in defense of Bauserman. I am a football fan, too. I want to see exciting plays and it is only natural for people to want to see Miller and his great athletic ability on the field. Unfortunately, with a limited understanding of the playbook and Ohio State down in the second quarter, it simply wasn't a good time to throw Miller into the game.
As the game continued to progress, it got less and less likely for him to see the field. Finally, once the fourth quarter came and it was still close, it would have been borderline unfair to throw him into the game having not played and expected him to lead Ohio State to the win. We have to remember that Miller is a freshman. There is a learning curve. He isn't a physical freak like Pryor was, so maybe he isn't as ready to get onto the field despite being further along mentally at this point in his career. This game was in question, and gambling on Miller may not have been the right play. Remember, no matter how ugly this game was it is in the win column.
I truly believe that Miller is in the plans for Ohio State this year. If he wasn't, there's no reason he would have played as much as he did against Akron. But it is important to be patient. The "flow" of the game didn't go as expected and it is quite understandable why he didn't get in. Take a step back away from the anxiety of being engaged in a close game with Toledo and it is pretty rational as to why the freshman didn't get into the game.
• Special teams can cost teams games — Perhaps we spoke too soon in the middle of the week when crowing Ohio State's special teams as "back." Lets be real, a blocked Ben Buchanan punt that was returned inside the Buckeyes five yardline changed the entire scope of this game. With Toledo scoring just plays later — plus adding a 2-point conversion — it seemed as if the scoreboard vastly altered the command Ohio State showed on its opening drive. For the remainder of the game, Toledo played with all the confidence in the world while the Buckeyes seemed "scared" to be in a close game with a MAC team. Perhaps that's the inexperience, but special teams breakdowns continued to haunt Ohio State this year and literally almost cost this team the game. And here is an even truer statement — Ohio State isn't even close to good enough this year to overcome mistakes of this magnitude against premier teams. Special teams needs to be a tool for Ohio State to gain leverage against opponents, not something that hinders them in games. It is inexcusable.
BONUS: It cannot go unnoticed that Chris Fields and Ohio State's punt return team may have made up for the blocked punt, as he took it 69-yards all the way back for the score. Not only did it help Ohio State regain the momentum heading into the locker room, it was an actual plus for the special teams. Kudos to Chris for being a part of such a big play that may have ultimately saved the game for Ohio State.
• Field goal kicking a major concern — Ohio State's offense isn't as dynamic as most would have hoped. I think it is fair to say that is fact. Unfortunately Ohio State doesn't have a kicker – at least not yet — that has proven it can get this team points when it reaches the other team's side of the field. Drew Basil, who is incredibly inexperienced, is now officially 0-for-4 (and he missed a fifth one that didn't count) in his career. Going to Miami where every point is going to matter, that has to be a major concern for this team. I felt one of the goals of this game was to get him to make a field goal to gain confidence, but it wasn't accomplished. I can't even tell you the last time Ohio State started off a season without getting a field goal in either of its first two games. Keep tabs on this against the Hurricanes.
• Don't underestimate the loss of Nathan Williams: Ohio State has had to overcome so many losses of players because of injury or suspension it is often easy to look past the impact of any single player. When looking at Williams specifically — who didn't play against the Rockets because of a bone bruise to his leg — the ramifications of his absence had on Ohio State's defense can't possibly be understated. Williams is certainly Ohio State's best pass rusher and not having him on the field had a profound effect on what the Buckeyes wanted to do defensively. Though Toledo did a ton of screens to combat the pass rush, not having Williams there had an obvious impact on how well Ohio State got to the quarterback. Ohio State was very successful a week ago against Akron by getting push without blitzing, and Williams was a big reason for that.
• Not going to blame Tyler Moeller — I can't blame Moeller for the reason why Toledo's screens were working so well, but I think it is safe to say that he wasn't quite as effective as he needed to be out there against the Rockets. Though we are typically used to seeing Moeller shed blocks with ease and make tackles, its possible his off time while dealing with injury has had an effect on him. Not to say that he played terribly, he just wasn't as effective in terms of getting of blocks and making tackles as he typically is. Apparently he owned up to that when talking to the media after the game, but I think it is impossible to not bring up the fact that he had no tackles in the game.
• Devin Smith has my attention — The last thing on earth this team needed was another injury, as Philly Brown came off the field and didn't return with what looks to be a serious ankle injury. But I will say this — Smith has my attention. Every single time I have seen this guy play, whether it was in high school or in college, he is there making big plays. He has very good hops, incredible hands, and just a knack for coming down with the ball. If Brown can't go and Smith needs to be inserted into the lineup on a more permanent basis, I am comfortable saying that I think Ohio State would be in good hands. He was very impressive to me today and every other time I've watched him.
• Carlos Hyde is the starter, but sometimes lacks vision — I have no idea what it is like to have good vision while running the ball, but some people have the uncanny ability to see how things develop. From what I saw out of Hyde Saturday afternoon, I couldn't count on one hand how many times he seemed to miss the developing hole or a way around a defender. Though I think there's something to say about his youth — we saw how long it took Dan Herron to figure it out — there were runs today where Hyde left yardage on the field by taking improper routes with the football. I don't know how to correct that, but I'd say that it was noticeable. BONUS: I don't know how Rod Smith's fumble at the end of the game is going to have an effect on his playing time in the future, but that's the second time he has fumbled on what looked to be a weak hit. The fumble, which almost cost Ohio State the game, didn't even seem to be caused by anyone from where I was standing on the sideline. Again, you have to be patient with youngsters, but there is no excuse for fumbling in that situation, particularly when it didn't look like anyone did anything special to knock the ball loose.
• Dominic Clarke plays well, again — Who cares if Travis Howard is suspended? OK, maybe that's a little far because he's clearly the best cornerback on the team, but you have to give props to Clarke. Though everyone nearly had a heart attack on a deep route on Toledo's final offensive drive, Clarke was there to step up and knock the ball down. Showing great athleticism and ability to play the ball, Clarke continued to impress me.
• Etienne Sabino is the better option than Storm Klein? — Both guys made plays in this game and Klein had the biggest play on an interception. However, when seeing how both guys played the game I think it was clear that Sabino was just balling out there. We have had a lot of good and bad things to say about Sabino in the recent past, but he looked like the quicker, more aggressive option out there. Though they're rotating at middle linebacker, I think the play from that position was more effective with Sabino on the field. Of course the coaches will get closer look on film.
• Eric Page is a difference maker — Ohio State said they weren't underestimating Page before the game. Whether the Buckeyes did or didn't, Page made a statement by the time this one was over. I know people are more concerned with Ohio State notes in this piece, but it would be a disgrace to myself if I didn't mention how good this kid was. After finishing with 12 receptions for 145 yards and two touchdowns, he proved he is a real difference maker out there and will continue to cause fits for opponents all year.
• Ohio State is vulnerable — Given how good Toledo was projected to be this year, it really isn't all that unbelievable that Ohio State struggled at times with the Rockets. Though some big plays early may have helped Toledo with confidence, Ohio State is still an extremely young team still trying to find its way. But the bottom line is simple — this Buckeyes team is vulnerable. Why? Because I don't care how deep or talented a team is, when missing the type of talent to injuries and/or suspension that Ohio State is, it is going to catch up. Frankly speaking, for those who think this team is going undefeated this year, it may be time to start reconsidering your expectations.
• Extra Points: Because this team tends to get very long and I feel like I haven't come close to covering all of my thoughts, I thought I'd end with short observations that stuck out to me from the game:
• You have to hand it to Johnathan Hankins for getting into shape. There's no way Ohio State could have won this game without him and he played a lot more than he would have been capable of a year ago.
• John Simon is invaluable to this team. Even though he cramped up, he showed the toughness to get back out onto the field and end up helping this team win.
• Perhaps Jaamal Berry is still somewhat banged up, but I am confused as to why we haven't seen him carry the ball. If he is healthy enough to return kicks running full speed, he should be healthy enough to run the ball considering his issue was a hamstring problem.
• Bauserman is the one who got the bad rap, but Ohio State's offensive line struggled for the majority of the game to get a push. That's why the team struggled a lot to move the ball on the ground, thus putting an immense amount of pressure on Bauserman's shoulders.
• I think Bauserman should sell his play-fake more. If Ohio State is going to be a run-first team, that play-fake and selling it to defenders could make quite the difference in the future.
• Hand it to Toledo head coach Tim Beckman. To knock off a team like Ohio State on the road it takes aggressiveness. He showed no fear when going for two and trying to convert on fourth downs.
• Finally, Ohio State was saved by Toledo's penalties and inability to convert on third down. You'd be stunned to see how close this game was if you look at how many penalties the Rockets committed and how much of a hard time they had moving the chains on third down.