But as it was pointed out after the loss to the Hurricanes, this year is going to be a process. The worst news, of course, is that what we saw against the Spartans in the latest Buckeyes loss could be typical of what we see out of this team in the next three weeks against opponents that all reside in the Top 25.
Simply put – buckle your seat belts. The heck with it for now, lets just dive into the things we can take away from the 10-7 loss to Michigan State in the latest version of Sunday Observation:
• I don't know why trying to be imaginative and taking risks is worse than dying slowly with predictability — I understand that Ohio State's coaching staff is in a situation that isn't common for a Buckeyes team. Not only do they have a freshman quarterback under center for only the third time in school history, there are no dynamic playmakers – or anyone with vast experience for that matter – surrounding him. Because of that, it is only fair to assume that the offense would be limited in its options with the great fear of committing a turnover hanging in the balance.
That said, why does being limited offensively have to be the same thing as predictable? I don't know why, but Ohio State felt it was fine to make it apparent that it was going to run the ball on first down. They did it over and over and over again against the Spartans. That plan had players in the interview room expressing their frustration for not getting anything going because Michigan State was one step ahead of them. The Spartans in the other locker room celebrating the big win spoke about how they knew what Ohio State was going to do. Is this really the best plan?
Sure, it is important to protect the youthful quarterback that still has a ways to go before he can be trusted, but would it kill the staff to mix it up a little bit? Was the fear of turning it over so great that the thought of getting more aggressive to move the chains was more daunting than slowly dying with three and outs? Even if Braxton Miller turned it over twice in the game, how can the staff not live with that knowing it is putting its team in a better chance of competing? Above all, doesn't putting in those situations actually help him grow? I could go on all day about this topic, but one thing is for sure – if they continue with this same predictable offense they'll lose each of the next three games.
• Adjustments, please? — Perhaps Ohio State's biggest issue was its inability to respond to what Michigan State wanted to accomplish defensively, both from execution and adjustment standpoints. Michigan State was concerned with one thing – blitzing and getting pressure and they were able to do it consistently all game. Though head coach Luke Fickell said the offensive play calling was moderately restrained by the youth of Miller and the weather conditions, Ohio State's philosophy seemed to go through little changes despite no previous positive results for much of the game.
As a result, the familiar feeling of the predictable offensive repertoire used in years past came storming back. On each of Ohio State's five first down plays in the first quarter the team handed the ball off to one of the running backs. In the second quarter Ohio State attempted to pass three times different times on first down, but the sometimes-anticipated play calling trends carried well over into the second half.
Michigan State's defensive philosophy didn't change at any point during the game, as Ohio State players commented on the consistency of the Spartans' blitz following the loss. The Buckeyes, however, remained one-dimensional for most of the game, as adjustments to counter Michigan State's pressure weren't made. The Spartans regularly brought run blitzes from the backside or at the very least the defensive ends were crashing the backfield. The Buckeyes didn't attempt to combat those defensive moves with attempts at running counter, reverse or misdirection plays that could have potentially caught over-pursuers out of position. General blitzes by the Spartans weren't met with Buckeye screen passes or draws to keep the defense honest, both or which are plays Miller should have been comfortable running given the playbook utilized at his high school.
How Ohio State can go through an entire game getting absolutely destroyed while on offense without making an adjustment just seems unreal to me. Would it have killed Ohio State to run a counter or a screen? Michigan State knew what Ohio State was doing every play and the Buckeyes not once made them second-guess that.
• Why did Joe Bauserman come into the game? — Given the fact that Michigan State was making its home in Ohio State's backfield the entire game, what on earth was it that Bauserman brought to the table late in the game where the staff felt like making the switch was important? As expected, Bauserman came onto the field and was over-matched before throwing a meaningless touchdown pass once the game was already lost. In my opinion, I couldn't disagree any more with the notion that bringing Bauserman onto the field was a good idea.
Ohio State made its bed with Miller when they named him the starting quarterback. And with how bad the offense was with Miller on the field, some of the ineffectiveness had nothing to do with him. Line play was crummy, the play calling was predictable, and there were a ton of stupid penalties. And even if Miller was the reason for the offensive mediocrity, the staff had to understand that bumps and bruises are part of the territory when naming him the starting quarterback.
Not only could the staff have hurt Miller's confidence moving forward by yanking him out of the game in the clutch, maybe they shouldn't have thrown him to the wolves as the clear-cut starter if they truly thought he wasn't ready to handle it.
• Miller isn't the freak Terrelle Pryor was — I think we are all spoiled in remembering the types of plays Pryor made in his freshman year. Let me stress that Pryor was a physical freak – like LeBron James – that was able to make plays with his legs that 99 percent of the other QBs in college football couldn't make. That said, be patient with Miller's scrambling ability. It is going to take time before he moves the chains the way that Pryor did with his legs. Miller is elusive, but he doesn't have that natural athleticism that made Pryor a threat to take over a game all by himself. His legs will definitely be a factor, but it isn't going to be as easy or come as naturally as it did for Pryor. I think the comfort fans felt with Pryor often makes us forget why starting at quarterback as a freshman has now only happened three times in the program's history. Maybe our trust for Pryor's athleticism made it easier for us to believe that Miller was ready this soon in his career? Perhaps Miller isn't? Now that's a thought to really ponder.
• What was with the snap timing? — If you thought it was weird how good of a jump Michigan State's defensive line was getting, it was because they had timed Miller's snap count. I find it really strange that nobody caught on to this or adjusted that. If anything, they should have done a few hard counts to try and draw the Spartans offside or at the very least make them second-guess their timing.
• There are no dynamic playmakers on this offense — Save for Jordan Hall, who can only do so much, there are no established go-to guys on this team that you know are going to make a play when this team needs it the most. That's not saying that there aren't players who can't make plays because they all can. Unfortunately, there is not one player that you can always count on to rise to the occasion when the team needs it the most, which can sometimes be troublesome for a young quarterback looking to try and establish himself. Getting DeVier Posey, Mike Adams, and Dan Herron back this week should definitely help the team with this deficiency.
• Kudos to the defense — If Ohio State's offense didn't have a remarkably terrible offensive performance the defensive effort the Buckeyes put out Saturday is a win 90 percent of the time. Not only did the Buckeyes continually come up with big plays and turnovers to keep the game at a 1-possession margin up until late in the contest, but it got Michigan State's offense off the field. Now obviously Ohio State's offense couldn't sustain a drive, but for how long this defensive unit was on the field they did an outstanding job keeping this team in the game. Unfortunately, with some better offensive teams coming up on the schedule the defense cannot be expected to hold opponents to 10 points, thus putting the onus back on the offense to keep this team in games.
• Offensive line play was remarkably bad — Name something the offensive line could have done wrong and Ohio State's probably did it. Reads were missed, snaps were biffed, pre-snap penalties were prevalent, and blitz pickup was bad. I am not going to single out one person because the entire unit played collectively poor. If anyone is wondering how the offense could have been this bad, mix together terrible offensive line play and incredibly predictable offensive play calling and you end up with something that should have turned into the first home shutout suffered since 1982.
• What's with the cushion? — Maybe Ohio State didn't want to get burned deep, but it seemed like Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins was enjoying the big cushion the Buckeye cornerbacks were providing. And guess what? Michigan State actually had short/quick pass patterns to neutralize Ohio State's pass rush and the corners were too far away to make a play on the ball. I am not sure if they should have made a bigger effort to set up or jam receivers, but some of those completions that moved the sticks were way too easy. Ironically enough, for all the cushion given it was two big plays to B.J. Cunningham that were the difference in the game.
• Why not Kenny Guiton or Taylor Graham — I am not the coach, but I am fairly certain I know why we didn't see Guiton or Graham today. First of all, Guiton seemed like the quarterback most susceptible to turning the ball over during fall camp and throwing him in the game deep in his own territory down 10-0 seems like a long shot. As far as Graham is concerned, I'd be terrified to see what he would look like in the pocket with Michigan State's defense getting the pressure it was getting. If you thought it was ugly when Bauserman was in the game…
• Bradley Roby stood out — If there is anyone to get excited about on this defense it could be Roby. Though he is splitting time at his position right now, I think this kid's potential was booming higher than ever in the loss to the Spartans. I'd expect his playing time to increase after such a performance and if he continues on his current trajectory he could be an outstanding asset in this team's encouraging future.
• This team may lose a lot this year — The second that statement is accepted as fact is the second this season becomes a lot easier to watch. This team is what it is. It has been subjected to too much and it is all starting to culminate in the football form. Frustration in the postgame interview room was prevalent and the schedule is getting that much harder. Though this team has all the potential in the world for the future, this season won't be highlighted as one to remember when it is all said and done.
• I feel bad for Fickell — With each passing week (and loss) the chances of Fickell being retained in his position are growing smaller. Will he keep his job? I cannot answer that question, but what I do know is that the hand he has been dealt is far from easy. The NCAA violations, the suspensions, the injuries and the expectations are all factors. There isn't one coach in his situation that wouldn't be intimidated by taking over a program in this state. I will reserve my evaluation of Fickell until after the season is over, but it is hard not to feel for the guy in this situation.
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