What we learned this week: Ohio State has too many good players for any team in the Big Ten to beat the Buckeyes if they don't beat themselves.
Maybe this was not so much a lesson as a confirmation. A validation of Urban Meyer's program at Ohio State. Turns out recruiting better players than everyone else is still a sound strategy,mat least as long as you can coach 'em up.
Not every game has to have a greater meaning. Sometimes a team just wins or loses. But this was a referendum on Ohio State and Michigan State, and the result was a resounding reminder the programs are not really peers. I guess it was appropriate the game ended at 11:59 because the clock struck midnight on the Spartans.
That stuff about Urban Meyer turning Ohio State into a team that will runaway and hide from the rest of the league? Maybe it was true after all. Now that doesn't mean the Buckeyes will never lose a league game or even that they'll win this week. It's really just a statement of fact that Ohio State has more good players than anyone else. Perhaps quite a few more. And as a group of mostly juniors, sophomores and redshirt freshmen, they beat a veteran Michigan State squad by double figures -- at Michigan State.
Yes, the Spartans were exposed as a good not great team. Whether Ohio State is a great team this year remains to be seen, but the Buckeyes are on the right track.
The unfortunate truth for MSU is none of its new starters on defense have played as well this season as the guys they replaced. Meanwhile, Ohio State got better at both safety spots, middle linebacker, Sam linebacker, X receiver, H receiver (x2) and right guard since last season. There are places they've gotten less production this season, too, but overall that's a pretty good rate of return and nowhere has the drop really been significant. That's a credit both to recruiting and development, the latter especially with some guys singed by Jim Treessel who are playing key roles for the first time like Steve Miller and Darryl Baldwin.
J.T. Barrett turned in a better performance against Michigan State this year than Braxton Miller last season, but I believe Miller as a senior with this far improved cast of skill players would be putting together a similar if not better season. He would have exposed the "no fly zone" in much the same manner because the Spartans couldn't match up with the Buckeyes on the outside this time around. As it stands both of them are 1-0 at Spartan Stadium in their careers.
Both teams proved they have balanced, top-of-the-line offenses but at the same time exposed some weaknesses in the respective defenses. Ohio State's vaunted defensive front was handled pretty well in the running game and got only marginal pressure on Connor Cook, and this is notable because the Buckeyes were also susceptible to the run last season after a great performance against Wisconsin -- despite not really even facing any great running teams.
Ohio State's receivers, who too often have shrunk from the spotlight in recent big games, went to East Lansing with confidence they could do damage to Michigan State's secondary and then did just that.
We also learned Tom Herman has a pretty good grasp of this whole offensive coordinator thing. Well maybe some learned that, but others certainly already knew.
I was impressed with Herman's patience. He stuck with what was working -- the inside running game -- while mixing in a good variety of short passes and rollouts. And this year when the Buckeyes took their shots, they hit them. The receivers won when they needed to. (It is worth pointing out last year's game would have had a much different feel if about three 50/50 balls aren't dropped or broken up by All-Big Ten defensive backs, not to mention another bad drop of a wide open pass that would have gone for a critical first down, but I digress...)
While the talent difference might have been predictable -- unless you really believe the stuff the NFL apparently doesn't about Mark Dantonio turning 3-star players into great talents as opposed to simply guys who are productive in his schemes -- the Buckeyes' performance still wasn't necessarily so.
Having better talent doesn't necessarily do much good if it isn't utilized, and early in the night Ohio State validated questions about their ability to do so. With the errors adding up early, it was hard to foresee them stopping. And unlike Penn State, Michigan State obviously had the offense to make it hurt, but the Buckeyes cleaned things up and showed some maturity as the night wore on.
That is why they still have everything to play for,this season.
What can we expect to learn this week: Minnesota presents another test of the Buckeyes' maturity both above the neck and in the trenches.
The Golden Gophers are too good to call this a trap game, but a letdown is still possible -- perhaps inevitable -- after a game as emotional as the one in East Lansing is understandable.
Few teams are 100 percent into a game every week, and this one brings with it the added difficulties of being an early road game against an unfamiliar opponent a week after a night game away from home. That shortens prep time -- by eight hours this week according to Urban Meyer.
Minnesota will be at an overall talent deficit on Saturday, but Jerry Kill's team has a few players on defensive who jump off the film. And while his offense is limited in the passing game, the Gophers will make you buckle your chin strap and stop the run.
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