THE WIN: SUMMARY A win is a win is a win. For the first time in 2011 it was actually nice to see Ohio State players actually having fun, and seeing some positive energy coming out a program that has been beaten into the ground since the original Gee/Smith/Tressel fiasco of a press conference. And things were basically downhill from that point, until freshman quarterback Braxton Miller took the field and at least gave people a reason to smile over Ohio State football again. Miller's talent, and his personality, injected some needed mojo back into the program, and that was the best part of the game against Colorado. There were other good signs as well.
YOUTH GETS SERVED: It was written last week that young players such as Miller, Devin Smith, Michael Bennett, Ryan Shazier and Christian Bryant needed to be out on the field a lot more, and if that meant unseating a veteran or two, so be it. Aside from Miller's debut, the play of Bryant and Smith might have been just as telling to the direction of the program. Smith is simply the best wide receiver on this team not named DeVier Posey, and the experiments with Verlon Reed, Philly Brown, Tyrone Williams, Chris Fields, Evan Spencer, and anyone else should now end. Smith is more talented than the rest of them and needs to be on the field every play, even with the return of Posey. The best thing about Smith is he can get a lot better in his routes, and he's going to get stronger. For now, he gets open and catches the football, which puts him way ahead of the wide receiver field. More on Bryant coming.
THE DB ROTATION: A lot better mix, especially the flexibility Bryant gives you in being able to switch from safety to the STAR position, depending upon down and distance. Is there still a place for Orhian Johnson in this defense? Absolutely, but not for 75 plays per game. The cornerbacks were good, and Travis Howard, Bradley Roby and Dominic Clarke would be better if Ohio State could mount consistent pressure on the quarterback, but that's another story for another paragraph. C.J. Barnett has played well, but people need to remember he is only one year removed from a serious knee injury. Nobody can shut out wide receivers when the quarterback can stand and scan the field. Not even in the NFL.
THE D OVERALL: The last drive, resulting in the last meaningless score, kind of takes away from a solid defensive effort. The defense played well, stopped the run cold, and other than not consistently pressuring the quarterback, gave a solid effort. Tyler Moeller is being asked to play more in space this season, and he played well. The linebacker group as a whole might not have as much speed as in the past, but this is a solid, efficient group. Ryan Shazier brings a different level of speed to the defense, but he has never played standing up before and is learning on the job. As he gets more comfortable, somebody will be losing reps to this freshman, because his talent to simply run and hit is extremely high. This defense is very young and inexperienced, and really loses something without Nathan Williams on the field, but they have talent and will get better each week. Playing Johnny Simon and/or Adam Bellamy at the outside spots hurts the pass rush, but it will be very tough to run the football on Ohio State. Getting Williams back healthy, and getting Shazier more experience could be the solution to the pass rush issues going forward. The missed tackle problem against Miami seemed to be cleaned up, and was probably an isolated issue, not a trend.
STATS LIE: Don't get wrapped up in statistics for Braxton Miller, or the Buckeye defense for that matter. Braxton is more Michael Vick at a young age than he is Joe Germaine, so the completion percentage won't be high going forward. Like Terrelle Pryor before him, judge Braxton Miller on his won/loss record. He's just not going to be a stat-freak for a few years. The best defense in America gave up 21 points and over 300-yards last Saturday night to an average team, but so what? You want your team's offense to line up and play LSU? I didn't think so. Go by what you see on the field, not so much by yards and points. For Ohio State, 37-10 looks a lot better, but the last drive saw some younger guys out there and it was the correct move.
THE BRAXTON FACTOR: Expectations are now through the roof, and he was a five-star talent coming out of high school, so he should now dominate opponents with exactly one start under his belt, right? Please. Remember the popular high school chant: "He's a freshman." Like Troy Smith and Pryor, there are going to be ups and downs as Miller goes through the learning process, and in time we will see exactly why coaches HATE playing freshman quarterbacks. It could be this week, or against Nebraska, but just like the two greatest quarterbacks in Ohio State history, you live with their mistakes and watch them grow into the job. In two years, Miller should be destroying all comers, but that isn't realistic for this season. He will throw the ball better in time, but that improvement usually comes from off-season work. He IS going to have a game this season where he plays poorly and gets benched, and the greatest irony would be Joe Bauserman coming off the bench to win a game for Ohio State. He will get that chance at some point.
COACHING: First and foremost, these guys once again played extremely hard, and that will always be where people should be looking at for number-one on the checklist. I guess the decision to take the field goal before the half could be questioned, but what would Tressel have done? Not challenging the Devin Smith catch/no-catch? I guess Fickell could have, and again, after watching Jim Tressel butcher the challenge rule week after week, year after year, it's no shock. The Colts hiring Tressel to oversee challenging plays is comedy gold. What's next? Hiring Rich Rodriguez as the draft consultant? Fickell and staff did a nice job making the necessary changes with Bryant, Smith and Miller, and also had an excellent game plan to demolish Colorado. They knew Colorado would stack the box offensively, and throw the ball 75% of the time, and the Buckeyes executed on both sides of the ball. No special team issues certainly makes the game easier as well. Overall, a good performance from the staff, and props to Nick Siciliano for having Miller up to speed.
THE O-LINE: They are so good, and the addition of Corey Linsley makes them even better. Linsley is starter-material. In two weeks they get back one of the top offensive tackles in America in Mike Adams, which makes one of the best units in the country even stronger. They create holes to run through, and keep the quarterbacks upright. This is a great group, and the strength of the team.
THE JORDAN RULES: Jordan Hall is the best all-around threat Ohio State has offensively, and while his touches might not need to go up, varying how he gets them might make him even more effective. He is not the typical 30-carry tailback, but rather a hybrid player that can cause problems for a defense with his versatility. I would love to see Hall get carries, swing passes, screen passes, draw plays, work in the slot, play wide receiver, wildcat quarterback, return punts, return kickoffs, and move him all over the field creating mismatches. This isn't Eddie George or Beanie Wells, so don't just line him up at tailback so the defense knows what he's doing. Get him all over the field, and let them scheme to adjust to him defensively.
JUST HOW GOOD IS OHIO STATE? ANSWER: I do not know, and neither does anyone else, including Luke Fickell, ESPN, Kirk Herbstreit or Urban Meyer (had to throw that name in there somewhere). Real football starts this week, and everyone will have that answer in about two or three weeks. What we do know is that Akron is beyond terrible although they did beat VMI. Seriously? VMI? Forget the Zip scrimmage. Colorado was closer to Akron than to Michigan State. Toledo is decent, and I'm not sure Miami qualifies as decent. We are going to find out how good Ohio State is before the leaves turn colors, with Michigan State this week, followed by road games at Nebraska and Illinois. For now, 3-1 isn't too bad and gives them something to build on.