Although many fans were unimpressed with the Buckeyes last week, I think their lackluster performance was a one-time thing. The team played a late game on Labor Day against a tough, physical Virginia Tech team and did not get home until early Tuesday morning. Even though they didn’t have football practice that day, players still had to drag themselves to class on a few hours of sleep. Then two days of practice to prepare for Hawaii, a day of rest and then the home opener on Saturday. Two games in six days is a lot to ask these guys to do even if they are elite athletes.
Offensive struggles aside, the Buckeyes still won 38-0, and the defense looked mighty impressive holding the Rainbow Warriors’ passing attack to under 100 yards for the first time since 1998. It was nice to have the suspended players back as well, especially Joey Bosa, who is just an intimidating force up front. I think getting all the skill players back on offense might have contributed to the sluggish offense because sometimes too much of a good thing is too much. I expect they’ll work it out as the season goes on and each player finds his identity.
Players of the Game –
Ezekiel Elliott – He scored three TDs last week even though he had a tough time running between the tackles with only an average of 3.7 yards per carry. When the Buckeyes got down near the goal line, you could tell he wanted the ball and wanted to score. With the rest of the offense sputtering, he carried the team on his back.
Vonn Bell – He seemed to be everywhere on Saturday. He had one interception, but it could have easily been three if he’d held onto the ball. He also had three pass breakups, and his presence with Eli Apple, Gareon Conley and Tyvis Powell in the backfield make Ohio State’s back four one of the best in the nation.
On Northern Illinois –
MAC programs are always a cause for concern because they tend to fly under the radar and pull some marquee upsets (Toledo over Arkansas for example). Northern Illinois has been a top-tier MAC program and perennial top-25 team for the past five years, so a win against them is never a sure thing. Ohio State may be a 35-point favorite over the Huskies, but when an offense averages nearly 600 yards of offense per game, you have to take notice. NIU has a dual-threat QB by the name of Drew Hare who has already passed for more than 700 yards and six TDs in two weeks. His top wideout threat is Kenny Golladay, who has 17 receptions for 357 yards and 2 TDs. Assuming Apple and Conley are still on their game, I think the backfield can lock them down and keep the damage to a minimum.
As Urban reiterated this week, he comes from a MAC background, so he won’t underestimate the teams and players the conference puts out. He specifically talked on Thursday about how he went 4-0 against Power Five conferences when he coached at Bowling Green, so he’s fully aware of any upset potential. I assume Urban’s instilled a healthy fear of NIU into the team this week during practice because MAC teams will play you just as hard as Purdue or Michigan would.
As a fan, I’m waiting for the offensive line to come together as a unit and show their dominance like it did at the end of last season. Its inconsistency has led to a stalled running attack and more hits on the quarterbacks. This week, I hope the line will be able to open up holes in the run game for Zeke and give the quarterbacks time to make more accurate, effective passes. If they can find the offensive line of the 2014 playoffs, then our skill players will be able to run wild. I also want to see the defense continue to grow and develop and make life miserable for the opposing team. Seeing kids like Conley and Raekwon McMillian improve every game is fun to watch as a fan. There is so much talent on this Buckeye defense that each week should show improvement and growth, and we’ll hopefully get to see a few freshmen play against NIU.
Special teams has me a little worried, though. I don’t think my heart can take it if Saturday’s game comes down to a late field goal. Jack Willoughby has not looked sharp in his two games, with kickoffs going out of bounds and a missed field goal. Hopefully Urban is on them in practice, and we’ll see more consistency from him or Sean Nuernberger as the season progresses. Regardless, I expect the Buckeyes will be prepared, and I think they’ll play much better than last week. Prediction: Ohio State 55 – Northern Illinois 17
Musings – First let’s talk about Bret Bielema’s favorite topic: strength of schedule. Man, I loved seeing the SEC get taken down a notch last week with Arkansas losing to Toledo and FCS foe Jacksonville State pushing Auburn to the limit. It was nice to see teams from non-Power Five conferences give the SEC teams a run for their money. The Buckeyes did beat three top-25 teams in row last year, two of which were No. 1 and No. 2, so maybe Bielema should stop talking until Arkansas actually beats a team from Ohio.
The SEC coaches and fans should focus on their teams’ schedules and players and let other teams around the nation worry about who they are playing on a weekly basis. Urban says his team focuses on Ohio State football and the team it is playing next, and it doesn’t worry about anyone else or who they’re playing. That’s the way it should be. Take care of your business week to week and you’ll be in the right place at the end of the season. Worrying about what you can’t control just prevents your team from focusing its energy and time on getting better each week.
Every year, someone criticizes Ohio State’s schedule and questions why we can’t get more high profile games each year. First off, it’s not like the athletics director can just call up a team like Virginia Tech or Oklahoma every year and ask for a spot on the schedule. It’s not uncommon for Power Five conference teams to create their schedules years in advance. Ohio State already has its schedule done all the way until 2019, and it has a few other marquee games scheduled for 2020 through 2024. Let’s look at 2023 for example. Ohio State has Boston College, Texas and Notre Dame on its nonconference schedule, but who’s to say those teams will be upper-echelon teams in eight years? Sure, when you schedule Texas or Notre Dame, you expect them to be top-tier programs, but the football gods are finicky. Eight years ago, TTUN entered the preseason ranked No. 5. This season, the Wolverines didn’t even make the top 25 preseason poll.
Ohio State is making an effort to go out and schedule higher-quality opponents not only for the sake of the program, but also for the fans themselves who want to see big-name matchups. As much as it helps giving smaller, in-state schools a game every now and then, the fans want to see the Buckeyes play teams like USC, Oregon and Florida State.
I will end with this – as much as coaches, fans and analysts criticize an underwhelming Big Ten conference and roll their eyes at the Buckeyes’ lackluster nonconference schedule, at least we don’t schedule teams like Middle Tennessee State, UT Chattanooga or other FCS teams late in the season. As much as the SEC and Pac-12 like to brag about their conference strength from top to bottom, they’re still not above scheduling a cupcake or two throughout the season to run up the score. Fans like the meat and potatoes of tough opponents, but everyone enjoys a cupcake every now and then.
A Fan’s Top 4 –
1.) Ohio State – Still No. 1 in my book although I might be biased. They didn’t impress many people last week against Hawaii but the talent on this team is still second to none.
2.) Michigan State – The Spartans move into the top four with their win against Oregon last week. They proved they belong with a win against a perennial top-10 team.
3.) Alabama – Another win against a lowly nonconference opponent last week, but the Crimson Tide take on Ole Miss this week in a game that should test them. The Rebels have averaged 74.5 points per game so far this season, so it should be fun watching Alabama’s famed defense try to stem the tide, so to speak.
4.) UCLA – The Bruins round out my top four. Not a spectacular showing in week two for Josh Rosen, but he led the team to another win and a top-10 ranking. The Bruins play BYU, the NCAA’s new media and fan darlings, on Saturday. BYU has won the last two games on Hail Mary passes, but will the miracles continue to come true against UCLA?