What did we learn this week: Sometimes I'm just not sure at this point.
I hate to come across like a cynic but while Ohio State has looked really good the last few weeks the competition just is not been up to par.
Rutgers is in a funny position because I think that they're not very good at all right now, but the Scarlet Knights have enough players they might not really be that far away from being able to provide a real challenge in the future. (Unfortunately that's unique in the Big Ten -- but good for Rutgers, I guess.) Schematically, they didn't do as much to challenge the Buckeyes as I thought they might, particularly with their defense. Tom Herman said afterward OSU was expecting Rutgers to try to take them out of their base offense (as previous teams have tried), but the Buckeyes were mostly able to rely on their bread and butter.
That Ohio State keeps taking care of business is certainly a good sign for this team both mentally and physically. We've seen a lot of Ohio State teams over the years that messed around a lot more than this one seems to. What that's worth in the long run remains to be seen, because most of those other Ohio State teams ended up doing some pretty good things by the time of season was over anyway.
So far this season has been at once frustrating and fascinating to watch unfold. Because like I said I really do believe the competition has been pretty bad, but Ohio State is not just playing sort of well and winning. The Buckeyes are playing really well and blowing these teams off the field. So what are we supposed to make of it? Does it mean anything until we know what's going to happen when they play Michigan State? Of course, the Spartans have their own share of questions still in need of definitive answers.
I think we're getting a good read on just how much talent Ohio State has -- especially at the skill positions. You can observe the way these guys move on the field of play and tell that they're not just regular guys. I think the offensive line has certainly improved as well, both physically and mentally. I also think the offensive line was not as bad as it looked against Virginia Tech anyway, at least until the very end of the game when desperation had fully set in. As Rutgers head coach Kyle Flood even said Saturday, protecting the passer when teams are in a must-throw situation is far more difficult than it is earlier in a game.
What we can expect to learn this week:Probably not very much more as far as the actual talent of the Ohio State team, but the situation could be challenging. Certainly it will be a hostile environment, at least to begin with.
I thought before the season this will be the hardest year for Penn State, one in the deepest depths they will feel from the NCAA sanctions that have since been lifted, and that seems to be bearing out. Nowhere is that more the case then the offensive line, a funny position group to manage because while a team can get by with only five good players in any given season, it's hard to find a five good players if the pool you're picking from isn't very big. Sometimes very hard, so the margin for error is small.
And as Ohio State learned against the Nittany Lions in 2008, the offensive line is really not a place you want to have a significant deficiency. I thought those Buckeyes were better at more positions than Penn State was that season, but Penn State's defensive line had an oversized effect on the outcome and the Nittany Lions deservedly won the game when they forced a late Terrelle Pryor fumble and cashed in.
The teams are far from as evenly matched this season, but Penn State often has a harder time taking advantage of it strengths because of that glaring weakness up front. When they are able to protect quarterback Christian Hackenberg, he has the type of talent around him to beat a better team even if his squad is outgunned overall.
OSU receivers coach Zach Smith expressed confidence in how J.T. Barrett will handle the hostile environment that awaits at Beaver Stadium, but this is still an opportunity for the Buckeyes' redshirt freshman quarterback to write another chapter in what is becoming quite a story. Executing the Buckeyes' game plan with calm and cool could go a long way toward telling us how he might react when that Michigan State showdown finally rolls around, not to mention make sure the stake remain as high as they appear they will be.
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