1. One week after Ohio State looked like perhaps the most explosive team in the nation, they turned in one of the least interesting performances I can remember. It felt like watching one of those early-season Jim Tressel era classics – the offense couldn’t get in gear, the Buckeyes’ defense was dominant and Ohio State gutted out a victory against a foe most thought was overmatched but turned in a game performance. Some in the postgame locker room said that playing with only four days rest was no excuse for the disjointed performance, but I think it was clear that was a factor. I don’t expect Ohio State to do that again.
2. Probably the most surprising stat to me was the number 24 – that was the Buckeyes’ longest play of the day. Cardale Jones had a 24-yard pass to Jalin Marshall and also ran 24 yards at one point, and that was it as far as 20-yard plays for the Buckeyes. If Ohio State had been able to hit a big play or two early, that might have loosened things up and jazzed up a game that could fairly be described as listless, but that didn’t happen. Instead, the game turned into “The Grind” – and the Buckeyes did just that.
3. You do worry this team might become beholden by expectations. Everyone expects to see the Buckeyes, with all the talent in the world, just crush teams. There were times a year ago when they did just that – remember the stretch when the Buckeyes ran through Kent State, Cincinnati, Maryland and Rutgers like they weren’t even there? And of course there was the playoff run, with its big wins against Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon. But there were also contests in which the Buckeyes didn’t look so good – Penn State, Minnesota and Indiana come to mind as contests where the offense wasn’t always in sync. At the end of the day, as Urban Meyer used to say, the best thing about being 2-0 is the chance to go 3-0. And at the end of the day, you look around the nation and see things like Alabama unable to get its running game going, Arkansas losing to Toledo and Missouri almost losing at Arkansas State, and you see there’s a reason a win is a win in college football.
4. Before the season, I did worry that having so many playmakers – and, well, two quarterbacks – on offense could actually be more trouble than people expected. There’s only so many balls to go around – one per play, in fact – and sometimes it’s hard to find an identity when you’re trying to determine which players should be the focal point of an offense. Also, with so many skilled players, sometimes it’s easy to get cute and try things rather than just sticking to your basics. Of course, if you’re going to try things, Hawaii is the time to do it. With three suspended players coming back, the Buckeyes are still trying to find out what works. That can take some time.
5. Well, it wasn’t exactly the kind of day that sheds much light on the quarterback situation. Cardale Jones started, the team bogged down some, and Meyer chose to put in J.T. Barrett. I kind of viewed it as similar to a goalie change in hockey – sometimes, you make a move not to bench the guy who’s in there but to ignite a spark in a team. But it didn’t work, as Barrett misfired on a few passes and the offense moved in the same fits and starts as it did with Jones taking the snaps (when they were on target). That led to Jones going back out there, and he was in until the game was in hand. A combined 20-for-34 effort for 181 yards and no TDs – the first time since early in 2013 the Buckeyes didn’t have a passing score – was solid but not spectacular. The offense didn’t seem to move any better with either in the game. All offseason, the question was, what if the team struggles moving the ball – how does the team and how do the fans and coaches react? We’re starting to find out. So far, the front is still united on the team, it seems, but I’ve seen a few fans say it should be Barrett. We’ll see what happens.
6. The offensive line does have to be a little bit of concern. Now, it’s worth noting the first two teams the Buckeyes have played have provided the team with different fronts than a typical 4-3. Virginia Tech loaded up with its “Bear” front and all-out blitzes, a strategy that would make it difficult on any offensive line in the nation. Hawaii, meanwhile, ran a 3-4. Urban Meyer pointed out before the game the team has had some trouble with 3-4 schemes in the past – think Indiana a year ago – and lamented the short week of work the Buckeyes would get to attack it. So those are fair points. It’s also fair to say the Buckeyes have lost a few one-on-one battles we didn’t see them lose near the end of 2014. So rather than sit here and say the move of Ed Warinner to offensive coordinator has hurt the O-line, I’m going to take a wait-and-see approach. I will also point out there were some plays when the Buckeyes ran right at Hawaii and there were some maulings handed out. You just expect (there’s that word again) to see more than 3.7 yards per carry for OSU, especially a week after the 9.7-yard average was second most in program history.
7. OK, that’s enough contemplation about the offense. How about the defense, which turned in perhaps its most dominating home performance in a couple of years? At no point did it really seem like Hawaii was comfortable, as the Rainbow Warriors were forced into five three-and-outs and had just one possession last more than six plays. Hawaii never got closer than the OSU 35, and Rigoberto Sanchez had to punt the ball eight times – nine if you count the time he got decked by Darron Lee, who turned apologetic after the game. There was concern that USC transfer Max Wittek would be able to make things happen, and Hawaii had two good, experienced receivers, but OSU’s coverage was airtight from the very beginning of the game. Wittek had two interceptions and essentially lost two fumbles, and really, it could have been more if the Buckeyes could have snagged a few more balls thrown right at them. Just a beautiful performance.
8. Listing stars on defense might as well just include every starter. Joey Bosa was impactful and would have had an impressive sack whilst being held had a surprising holding penalty on the OSU defense not negated it. Adolphus Washington finished with six tackles and got penetration along with Tommy Schutt in the middle. Joshua Perry and Darron Lee were forces both against the run but also in the passing game as rushers, with Perry notching a key sack and Lee earning two sacks to go with a forced fumble on a blindside hit of Wittek. Gareon Conley had two pass breakups and an interception and looked like a potential star in his third-ever start. Vonn Bell had a pick, a scoop-and-score, and three more pass breakups – two of which could have been interceptions. This was the kind of suffocating defense the team had in mind this offseason when it re-embraced the Silver Bullets mantra.
9. Two thoughts about Braxton Miller: First, how about that block he had on the punt return? I’ve never subscribed to the theory that Miller is “soft,” as I’ve seen some fans postulate – the beating he took in the Orange Bowl in 2014, not to mention how often he did play through pain as a quarterback, dismisses that for me. But it was still cool to see him make a play like that, one that never used to be in the job description for Miller. In addition, I feel we’re not that far away from seeing Miller take a direct snap and throw the football. You can debate this a few ways – do you want him to do it to put it on tape for teams coming up? Or do you want to save it to take someone by surprise in what could potentially be a close game down the road? All I know is, that play – and probably some fun others – is in the playbook. Miller also had quite a spectacular 7-yard run on one play in the game, and some of his runs up the middle on the veer option seemed straightforward enough but a second viewing showed just how much vision he had to read the blocking and make them happen. He’s still a superstar.
10. How nice will it be to get back to a normal schedule? This whole week was funky, and it seemed like there was a malaise among the fan base yesterday. Even though it was the home opener, watching the Buckeyes come off a huge win on the road against a good team and then have to play just five days later seemed to take the starch out of everyone. Now, the Buckeyes will have a normal week and then play on an autumn Saturday. Sounds good to me.