It turns out that thought was nothing but a fairytale. Instead, Ohio State's 24-6 loss to Miami Saturday night was just the culmination of all the hardship the program has endured in the football form.
That's not saying the season is a complete loss after one misfire on the road, but perhaps its time to start looking at the 2011 season for what it really is — a transitional year for a program that enjoyed unparalleled success during the course of the last decade.
This Ohio State team just lost its legendary head coach Jim Tressel. Also gone prematurely was three-year starting quarterback Terrelle Pryor — an invaluable member of the team on the field — along with the loaded senior class from a year ago.
Suspended are three of Ohio State's most important offensive players and injured are No. 1 receiver Corey "Philly" Brown and defensive end Nathan Williams, perhaps the team's best pass rusher. There isn't a team in college football that could overcome those blows without paying the ultimate price in the win-loss column.
But this is college football — there's always next week and not all is lost. There are no excuses for this Ohio State team that probably had enough raw talent to knock off Miami to continue living the dream for another week or even longer.
But now we get a real idea of what this team is about and the beauty of this season will be continuing to see how this young squad continues to grow.
Before we take a permanent look forward starting next week, I break down all the things I noticed and took away from Ohio State's most recent game in Sunday Observation.
• Joe Bauserman isn't the answer anymore — Much like Tressel did in 2008 with Todd Boeckman, Ohio State head coach Luke Fickell gave Joe Bauserman an opportunity to hold off the talented freshman and solidify this as his team. Needless to say, Bauserman failed. The sixth-year senior may have had the most ineffective game for a quarterback I have seen at Ohio State in the last decade — maybe even longer — finishing the game just 2 of 13 passing for 13 yards.
Though Bauserman never made any bonehead decisions like Miami's Jacory Harris did, he never put himself out there to make a play, either. Ohio State never lost the game on any one play, but conversely Bauserman didn't give them a chance to win it at any point of the game. He has no dynamic playmaking ability, he is overly cautious with the football, and certainly doesn't have the gifts to make plays when things break down.
I think it is important to mention that this team doesn't have the weapons around him to make big plays like they've had in the past, but the Ohio State offense seemed helpless when he was on the field. And the crazy part about that was the offensive line seemed to be winning the battle in the trenches and there was still no hope the Buckeyes would find the end zone. With the team running it moderately effectively, it was clear that Ohio State's sluggish offense was a direct result of the quarterback play. There's just no candy-coating it. Bauserman is not the answer for this team if it wants to win games against gifted teams with tough defenses.
• That said, I understand why Bauserman played as much as he did — Though Ohio State's offense had no chance of moving under Bauserman, I understand why the coaching staff did what they did. Like it worked when Tressel was the head coach, they felt more comfortable out there with Bauserman because he was less likely to turn the ball over. In that scenario, it gave the defense or special teams a chance to come up with a big play. It almost worked as the Buckeyes almost came up with a punt return for a touchdown and a pick-six late in the game. The plan backfired, however, and the Buckeyes went down with the drowning offensive ship.
• Braxton Miller wasn't ready to play, coaches mishandle QB situation — Maybe Miller was too banged up to play against Toledo or maybe the flow of the game didn't present itself to get Miller onto the field against the Rockets. Regardless, the handling of the quarterback position has gone afoul because they couldn't count on the dynamic talent when they needed him because he lacked game experience. Sure, throwing Miller into the game against Toledo would have been a risk because Ohio State was trailing the Rockets, too, but it certainly would have made sense to get him on the field so he was more prepared to handle a situation like the one he faced at Miami.
Instead, Miller looked like a deer in the headlights out there when he came out and he fumbled the ball three times and threw an interception in his limited action. We saw bits and pieces of what he's able to do athletically, but it was hard to put him in late in the second half trailing Miami when he has no real gauge on how to play college football. When they finally get to the point where they feel it's Miller's time to play, they have to just stick with him. Rotating in and out isn't going to help him grow. He's going to make mistakes, but there is going to be a time – likely this year – where they have to bite the bullet and prepare this kid to be the starting quarterback at Ohio State .
• That said, it is Miller time now — There are so many reasons why this season cannot be compared to 2008, but it is hard to deny that it isn't starting to feel a little like it. So lets go with the flow and turn the Colorado game into that season's Troy game by breaking out a flashy freshman quarterback as the team's new permanent leader for the remainder of the season.
Ohio State has already paid the ultimate price by suffering a loss at Miami, now is time to fully dedicate this season to the future by putting Miller in and leaving him in. He's going to make mistakes, he's going to turn it over, and the team may even lose again. But at the end of the day, it is for the greater good of the program because I truly believe this guy is going to be a special player in the future.
He clearly wasn't ready for the task against Miami — which is probably the coach's fault for not utilizing him more the first two weeks — but now is time to throw him in and stick with him. Ohio State's offense was actually moving with him on the field against the Hurricanes and maybe this is the best way to prepare this team for a good run to close out the year. Bauserman has been with the program for years and if this is what he's going to contribute in a big game on the road, what is Ohio State leaving behind? So to sound like the rest of Buckeye Nation — it's Miller time.
• All the talk about Jordan Hall was legit — This guy is a real playmaker and I have to admit that I wasn't for using him as a traditional back. In the Miami game, though, he made plays in all aspects of the game and has really turned the corner as someone this team can rely on moving forward. He has great vision, incredible elusiveness, and can see holes and explode through them as good as anyone else on the roster. On a day where Ohio State's offense was hard to watch, he was really the only bright spot to remember. On 14 carries he had 87 yards (6.2 average), which begs the question — where was he in the second half? Granted, Ohio State didn't have the ball much, but he is an incredible playmaker that shouldn't come off the field for the remainder of the season.
• They key to this game was forcing Harris to throw picks, BUT — Even when he did throw them, Ohio State couldn't cash in with scoring touchdowns. After falling behind 14-0 in the first quarter Ohio state had two opportunities off Harris interceptions to get back in the game and the team settled for two glorified extra points by Drew Basil to get their measly six points.
The first time Ohio State reached the red zone they got predictable with two runs up the middle on first and second down before Bauserman famously threw it into the stands on third down. The second time the Buckeyes reached the red zone off a Bradley Roby pick, Bauserman missed a wide open Jake Stoneburner in the end zone that would have made the game 14-10, all but assuring Ohio State would be the sole carrier of the game's momentum.
And then finally, late in the game Christian Bryant jumped in front of a Harris pass that would have been a pick-six and brought the Buckeyes within one score but he dropped it. The moral of the story? Harris put the opportunities out there to lose the game for his team, as we all predicted he would, but this time Ohio State couldn't capitalize on those mistakes and make Miami pay for them. It was the key of the game — Miami just dodged the bullet.
• Tackling was the worst I've seen in a long time — This bullet is going to be short and sweet. This was the worst attempt at tackling I've seen out of an Ohio State defense in years. I am not sure exactly what was going on, but the Buckeye defenders couldn't seem to wrap up and simply bring guys down. Countless second-chance opportunities led to bigger yards in a variety of different situations. Those add up and can make all the difference, whether it leads to points or a shift in field position.
• Johnathan Hankins is a talent to remember — Hankins played 67 plays last week against Toledo, obviously a career high after a freshman season where he could barely play three plays in a row. Once again Hankins was dominating the man lined up in front of him, but it was the lateral movement on the field that stood out to me. For a big 330-pound defensive lineman, Hankins moves very well. Additionally, it seemed like his motor was in first quarter form at the end of the game. Now in his sophomore season, Hankins is really turning out to be a gem on this Buckeyes defense.
• John Simon played even better — There aren't very many plays that go by where Simon isn't making an impact. He was completely relentless on the pass rush against the Hurricanes, something the Buckeyes desperately needed with the absence of Nathan Williams. Simon absolutely bullied the guys in front of him and was responsible for many of Ohio State's third down stops because of the pressure he put on Harris. If I had to put in a vote for the team's best player, I'd have a hard time picking against Simon.
• Corey Linsley gets a lot of time at right guard, lines win trenches battle — It didn't look like Ohio State was going to win the battle in the trenches early in the game, but I think it is clear to say that despite the loss that the Buckeyes won the battle at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.
There was an ugly start defensively with Miami getting 14 quick points, but after that the defense really settled down. Offensively, I think the inability to move the ball was just a testament to how poor the quarterback play was. Even with Linsley, who was available for the first time this season, rotating in and out with Marcus Hall, Ohio State's offensive line was more than adequate against the Hurricanes. The running lanes were there and the protection was there. It was just an unfortunate night for Ohio State's offense, which managed only 35 yards of passing the entire game. It is rare, but the team that lost the battle on the lines won. BONUS: I don't think I have ever seen more holding calls ignored, particularly on the outside runs for Miami. It seemed like there was some case of holding on the majority of plays that attacked the outside on the ground.
• There are no playmakers in the wide receivers group right now — Say what you want about Bauserman – and it is likely deserved – but there were no wide receivers that took it upon themselves to make plays tonight. I don't know if Bauserman just refused to throw the ball in the field of play, but I am assuming he threw it into the stands as much as he did because guys weren't getting open. There were a couple of times where Verlon Reed or Devin Smith had a chance to make a play and neither came up with the football. This team really misses DeVier Posey and it didn't help that the speed Philly Brown provides was missing, too.
• Andrew Sweat looked vulnerable out there today — The senior linebacker is supposed to be one of the best players on this defense, but I can't help but mention that I felt like he looked kind of slow out there. Though he did make some plays in the backfield, there were runs to the outside where he had the angle but wasn't quite quick enough to make plays. Conversely, Ryan Shazier seemed to be really quick on the field when Sweat came out in the first half with a minor injury. Maybe it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world to start experimenting with some of these young, uber-talented freshmen all over the field. Slide Sweat inside to Mike and let Shazier play Will? I'd have my popcorn ready to watch that.
• It was good to see Drew Basil make some field goals — Though both of Basil's kicks were chip shots and they came after Ohio State failed to score a desperately-needed touchdown, it is a positive that Basil was able to overcome the 0-for-4 start on field goal attempts in his career to make both of his tries against the Hurricanes.
• Fickell, welcome to the real world of being Ohio State's head coach — Perhaps Fickell knows what it is all about when you're Ohio State's head coach. If he doesn't he's going to find out this week. It wasn't even halfway through the game where people were publically questioning the young coache's merits to be in this position, and after a loss in which the offense looked worse than it has in years, things are only going to get worse. Perhaps fans will forget about this game if Ohio State can bounce back in the next few weeks and get back on track, but there are no excuses for Buckeye Nation. Expectations aren't compromised as Fickell pointed out in his introductory press conference and they weren't lived up to against the Hurricanes. Urban Meyer is the most popular man in Columbus now and Fickell needs to be prepared to cope with that.
BONUS: I agree with those who are upset Fickell chose not to take a timeout in the final two minutes of the game with the clock ticking down. Though Ohio State had no chance to win at that point, not taking a timeout indicates that Fickell didn't have faith his team could pull out the shocker. Maybe that's the truth, but Buckeye fans envision a coach that is going to go down fighting. Simply put, Ohio State didn't in the final two minutes of the game. He won't hear the end of it for that.
ODDS AND ENDS
• After the game Fickell said the quarterback rotation was left up to offensive coordinator Jim Bollman. With a decision of this magnitude, if Fickell felt any differently he should have asserted his position as the head coach and changed that. Moving forward I'd anticipate it will be one guy and the team seems best served for that guy to be Miller.
• Running back Carlos Hyde, who got the start, seemed to run with more authority in the game. Though vision was something he admitted he lacked against Toledo, Hyde seemed to find holes better and ran with a good burst. More than once he fought for extra yardage and helped Ohio State move the chains, which was quite the accomplishment for the Buckeyes tonight.
• Christian Bryant and Orhian Johnson did some rotating at safety. I am on the fence with who is the better player, but the vast majority of people are calling for Bryant to get on the field. There's no question that Bryant is a heck of a playmaker and he almost changed the game had he caught that Harris pass and turned it into a defensive touchdown.
• Props to Ben Buchanan tonight. He was busy, but he did a good job of helping Ohio State stay out of disastrous field position even though it seemed like the team couldn't get a first down. It may have been the best outing of Buchanan's career.
• Both C.J. Barnett and Bradley Roby recorded their first career interceptions. Again, more young players still learning the ropes on how to be good football players. They're all over the field for the Buckeyes.