Sunday Observation: Colorado

The Ohio State football team concluded its non-conference slate with a big 37-17 win over Colorado. Get the full breakdown and analysis from the Buckeyes' big win inside the latest version of Sunday Observation.

For it only being seven days, the Ohio State football team went through some pretty dramatic changes.

During that short period of time the Buckeyes went from suffering a big loss in non-conference play at Miami (Fla.), to naming a freshman their starting quarterback, to getting a much-needed bounce back win against Colorado.

It was a tough beginning to that time period, as thoughts of running through the Big Ten unchallenged before wining the conference crown for the seventh-consecutive time were instantaneously replaced by the reality that this team has a lot work to do.

Though coming to that realization was uncomfortable for the vast majority of fans — culminating in the embarrassing loss to the Hurricanes — the 37-17 win over Colorado in Ohio Stadium Saturday proved the Buckeyes weren't going to allow its season to get away from them just yet.

The facts still remain that this is an incredibly young team that has been through more in the last seven months than most programs have to endure in years. The scandal, suspensions, and injuries, could have added to something a lot worse than one loss in non-conference play.

Now just a week away from heading into the Michigan State game, the Big Ten Conference opener, the Buckeyes have regained some momentum — and more importantly confidence — to try and continue what fans have come to expect as normal.

Before we take a look at the Spartans and the pivotal matchup awaiting the Buckeyes in just seven more days, I take you back for one more look at the team's most recent win over Colorado in the latest version of Sunday Observation.

Braxton Miller is the guy — Though Miller's first start for Ohio State wasn't the most aesthetically pleasing thing we've seen from a Buckeye quarterback in the recent seasons, the freshman proved that his immense athleticism gives this team a spark that it doesn't have when Joe Bauserman is on the field. Though Miller completed only five passes in the game, he proved that his ability to move the chains with his legs is something this Ohio State team cannot live without. Like it or not, this team has been at its best dating back to the days of Terrelle Pryor with a quarterback that can make plays when everything else seems lost. Miller, even without a vast understanding of the playbook, has proven that he can do that. That is the X factor for this offense and this is now his team. There's no looking back now, even if that means suffering through more losses down the road of this season.

Looking at Miller's play — Miller gave us what we were all expecting — the feeling that this team has a chance to move the football. Even when Ohio State was unsuccessful in doing so, you didn't get a feeling that the team was helpless offensively like you did a week ago. With a playmaker in the backfield, it was very easy to get a sense that the team was going to break off a big play at any moment, which is a very securing feeling for those who endured a game a week ago where there wasn't one pass completed to a tight end or receiver. That feeling alone is an immense improvement.

When it comes to how he actually performed, he did what was very typical of players making starts early in their careers. When feeling pressure early in plays, he skipped his progressions and did what he felt was right — he pulled the ball down and ran. Though some runs were designed, he had 14 rush attempts alone in the first half, many of which came on pass plays where he left the pocket too soon. But given where he is in his career, it was all but a certainty that was going to happen. The most encouraging thing about the way he played was that as the game continued to progress the freshman looked like he was getting more and more comfortable in the pocket. As the season progresses, he'll likely get better at sticking with plays longer, which is certainly what the coaching staff wants. He took some unnecessary hits that he'll need to avoid in the future if he plans on making it through the season healthy.

Though there's a lot of room to grow, Miller showed he could put zip on the football and find people downfield in an array of different ways. The most encouraging thing in his performance, of course, was that he was able to avoid turnovers. He didn't throw an interception against the Buffaloes, but more importantly he secured the football the entire game after putting the ball on the ground twice at Miami. Overall it was a very encouraging performance given how young he is.

I would have liked to see him throw more — Maybe the coaching staff called more passes that they would have liked to see him throw, but for the most part they kept Miller in check. He only attempted 13 passes in the game and many of those came in the second half with Ohio State already holding a substantial lead. There's obviously risk involved in chucking it around the field with a freshman, but the only bad news is he'll still be very inexperienced as a passer when Michigan State comes to the ‘Shoe next weekend. You always have to concentrate on getting the win first – and Ohio State did that – but I am sure they could have done a little more to help Miller gain some more experience as a passer. We all know the team isn't going to run all over the Spartans the way they did the Buffaloes this week.

I think he's going to be special — Sometimes you just get a sense for someone and I have that feeling with Miller. He has all the intangibles of what makes a quarterback great. He has all the athleticism in the world, but his elusiveness is so natural. It's not something that can be taught and there's nothing more exciting than seeing a youngster come onto the field and sport skillsets that are obviously going to develop into something great. However, the most impressive thing I saw out of Miller the entire day was his quick flick-of-the-wrist release on his throws, which we saw better than ever on his two touchdown darts that were perfectly placed. Not only is he going to be a special runner in his time, I am chomping at the bit to see what they can turn this kid into as a pocket passer as time goes by.

Miller isn't the only special youngster — Check out Devin Smith, who caught both touchdown passes from Miller against the Buffaloes. I have ranted and raved about how this kid always seems to make plays and in nearly every game I have seen him participate in he's done that. He caught two different types of touchdown passes from Miller, one on a long seam route where he burned the defender and another on a fade where he had to jump up and grab it while getting his feet down. He's the most impressive freshman wide receiver I have seen in my time covering college football and it is hard to imagine him turning out as anything other than a star. It's impossible not to be excited about the Miller-Smith connection for the years to come.

It isn't hype, Jordan Hall is as good as it gets — I was the biggest skeptic in the world when it came to Hall and everything we had been hearing about him, particularly with the idea of running him in between the tackles. After watching the win over the Buffaloes, it is impossible to not want Hall to have as many touches as humanly possible during a game in any possible way. Hall runs unbelievably hard for his size, as I saw numerous times he was able to move the pile despite his small frame. Hall made plays in special teams – including a 90-yard kickoff return. He had a 20-yard run out of the Wildcat formation, he is incredibly elusive, he is talented receiver, he has unmatched vision and has very good speed. There is no question that he is the best player on offense when Ohio State is on the field at this point and it will be interesting to see how things look when Dan Herron returns from his suspension.

John Simon cannot be stopped — Colorado quarterback Tyler Hansen probably won't remember the Horseshoe fondly when looking back at it in the future. That's if he remembers it at all. Simon was constantly in the Buffaloes' backfield and he even got a full shot on Hansen where he drilled the quarterback into the ground. I know I spoke about Simon last week, but it is clear that he is the best player on Ohio State's defense, and it isn't even close. His endless motor will be an invaluable weapon for Ohio State once it kicks off the Big Ten season.

Field position made it easy for Miller — Though Hall's big kickoff return and a muffed punt by Colorado deep in its own territory late in first half will change the numbers a little bit, Ohio State's starting positioning for its drives against the Buffaloes was at the opposing 47-yard line. Starting drives in opponent territory – and twice in the opponent's red zone – is just what the doctor ordered when gaining confidence for a freshman quarterback making his first start. The Buckeyes took advantage of the two big plays on special teams and turned it into 10 quick points, but there's no question Colorado had no shot of winning this game after losing the field position battle that bad.

BONUS: Ohio State recovered a muffed put with 15 seconds remaining in the first half deep in Colorado territory. With the 17-7 lead and one timeout, Miller rushed the ball to nearly the goal line before Luke Fickell burned the team's last remaining timeout. Ohio State faced a second down from nearly one yard out and six seconds left. Instead of taking a shot to the end zone – which would have been the team's only option – the staff decided to settle for the field goal. I thought the Buckeyes had enough time to take a quick shot to the end zone, which would have left time for the field goal anyway had the ball fallen incomplete. In doing so, Ohio State had a chance to make it a 24-7 game going into the half, which would have probably ended the contest right there. I understand the idea of being safe and taking three points, but I thought there was an opportunity there for Braxton to gain some experience (and confidence) while going for the game. Sometimes those risks are worth taking.

ODDS AND ENDS: • It looks like Corey Linsley could be on the verge of taking the starting right guard spot away from Marcus Hall. Though Hall started the game, Linsley came into the game on the second drive and played a good amount. When watching him, Linsley seemed to be getting some good push. We could be on the verge of a position battle.

• Speaking of position battles, Christian Bryant started the game at safety alongside C.J. Barnett. Though regular starter Orhian Johnson got some good time — particularly on third downs — it seems as if Bryant's aggression on the field is what the coaching staff is looking for. He led the team in tackles with six and he seems to play the position the right way. We'll have to keep an eye on how this develops, but its hard to no like Bryant on the field as much as possible. He is just a ball player.

• Here's a shout out to Nate Ebner for his terrific play on special teams. Every year there is always one guy that stands out on coverage units and this year it seems like Ebner is the guy. He has been outstanding on the kickoff coverage team.

• With Hall coming on strong and Herron coming back after next week's game, it is possible that Rod Smith and Jaamal Berry could be the odd men out at running back. It is hard to see either of them really taking on a big role with the way Carlos Hyde has been running and certainly with Hall coming on as strong as he has been.

• Props to Ben Buchanan for continuing his strong play, as he played an integral part in Ohio State's domination of the field position. He has really come on strong for the Buckeyes this season and it is worth pointing out.

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