View From The Fan: It's Not So Bad

Things haven't been perfect for Ohio State, but 3-0 and ranked No. 1 in the country isn't a bad place to be, the view from the stands submits this week.

Thoughts On Last Week –
What can I say that hasn’t already been said since the game against Northern Illinois? The offense looks uninspired, and the defense continues to play with their hair on fire. Every Ohio State fan has an opinion on what can fix the offense, but only the coaches and the players have the answers. As Urban pointed out this week, the coaches need to prepare the players better, and the players need to execute better.

Neither quarterback proved to be very effective last week, although J.T. Barrett did have a nice back-shoulder pass to Mike Thomas that proved to be huge. Cardale Jones was more successful passing the ball to the other team and got benched because of it. The offensive line again struggled to open holes for the run game, and Braxton Miller – one of our best offensive weapons – only saw a few touches. Urban Meyer has said again and again that we need to get the ball to the playmakers, but when Braxton has just a few touches, the playmakers aren’t getting the ball enough. It was painful to watch the Buckeyes last week on offense; thankfully the defense provided some hope.

I’ve said before that Ohio State’s back four might be the best in the nation, and they proved it again last week. For the second time in a row, the Buckeyes defense held a prolific passing opponent to fewer than 100 yards passing. Northern Illinois’ quarterback Drew Hare struggled all game to find a rhythm, and Kenny Golladay, his favorite big-play target, had only three catches for 19 yards. With 10 of the 11 starters grading out as champions last week, it is easy to see Chris Ash and Luke Fickell have turned out a defense worthy of a No. 1 team. Now they just need to get the offense on the same page.

Players Of The Game
Darron Lee – His interception in the second half ended up being the deciding score of the game, and his overall play during the entire game was phenomenal. He graded out as a champion, as did most of the defense, but Lee’s six points makes him my player of the week.

No offensive players of the week

On Western Michigan
The Buckeyes come into this game 3-0, but you’d think the team is 1-2 with how the fans and media are reacting to what has happened the past two weeks. Urban says the team needs to find consistency, and the coaches need to prepare the players better. Maybe this week we’ll finally get to see the playmakers make plays, and the offense will reach its full potential.

The big question this week is, “Who’ll get the start at quarterback?” Urban confirmed Wednesday night Cardale still had the job. Is this the right move? Cardale proved himself in big games in last year’s playoff, but he didn’t have to endure the slow grind of the regular season. J.T. got the team through the woods last season, and he’s shown some sparks this year. Is he a more effective leader for this offense?

If Cardale gets off to a similar start on Saturday, will Urban pull him again or let him battle to right the ship? Although a certain level of competition leads to better athletes, once the regular season rolls around, the quarterback needs to feel relatively comfortable in his position. Cardale can’t keep looking over his shoulder after every pass to see if J.T. is warming up. For the team’s sake, I hope Cardale plays the whole game – unless we’re up by a lot. Let him get settled in as the starting quarterback. The knowledge of J.T. waiting in the wings will keep him from getting complacent, but he needs the chance to get into a rhythm.

The quarterbacks weren’t the only ones raising questions last week. What was going on with the coaching staff? There were mismanaged clock situations, the debate on if the offensive coordinator should be up in the box, and an overall confusion on the play-calling at times. The Buckeyes had the ball with the lead late in the fourth, and even the most recreational of fans knew all Ohio State had to do was run the ball to burn some clock, except we came out throwing on first and second down. Did the coaches want another score to feel comfortable? Did they think it would look better to end the game with 23 or 27 points instead of 20? The way the offense was throwing the ball on Saturday, it could have been a pick-six and a tie game.

Last year, Tom Herman preferred to be in the booth calling plays so he could see what the defense was showing him. With Ed Warinner down on the sidelines this year, we don’t have anyone viewing the field from above. I’ve heard a lot of rumblings that Warinner has too much on his plate with coaching the offensive line and play-calling duties. Since the offensive line continues to struggle against mid-level opponents, and the overall play-calling was questionable at times, the concern might be legitimate. Maybe Warinner needs to take on one or the other or ask Urban for help.

Like Northern Illinois, Western Michigan is very efficient passing the ball and can run when necessary. Its offense put up 24 points and 383 yards against Michigan State, so it has the ability to put points on the board. Quarterback Zach Terrell comes into the game completing 70 percent of his passes, but he also has five interceptions on the year. Through three games, Daniel Braverman, the Broncos’ leading receiver, had 40 catches, which means we should see a lot of Gareon Conley and Eli Apple playing tight on him to prevent him from having a big game. On the defensive side of the ball, the Broncos give up more than 400 yards to opposing offenses per game, so I hope Ohio State can move the ball and put up points against them. This is another MAC team, and judging from our performance against that conference so far, I won’t be surprised if it looks ugly early on, but I expect us to right the ship and get back on track.

This week I expect to see what I thought might happen last week, which is a cohesive unit coming together and playing with a fire and intensity that we haven’t seen yet. The Buckeyes are a prideful group, so hearing people question their tenacity and grit has to be eating them alive. They must want to go out and prove they’re still worthy of that spot atop the polls. I believe the offensive line will find themselves this week, and Zeke, Braxton and Samuel will get quite a few touches and run behind a line possessed. Hopefully we see some better blocking from our wide receivers on the edge to create space on the outside for the jet sweeps and read-option plays that lead to big gains and long touchdowns.

Prediction: Ohio State 42 – Western Michigan 13

Musings –
All things considered, you’d think Ohio State fans would be relatively happy about the state of the program and where it is headed. Three games into the season, however, and fans are acting like we’re Illinois or Purdue. Football fans are a fatalist bunch, and not even some of the most die-hard Buckeyes fans can escape the woe-is-me thinking. I participate in many different message boards and read many different articles by national pundits and local news outlets, and the refrains seem to be the same:

“Where is the No. 1 team in the nation at that we saw at the end of last year?”

“Why isn’t the offense clicking with basically the same players as last year?”

“Do we really miss Tom Herman that much in the play calling?”

The answers to these questions are all pretty much the same - last year is over; let’s focus on 2015. Yes, we lost a great assistant coach in Coach Herman. While his play-calling will be missed, I can remember people questioning his hiring a few years ago when we couldn’t seem to score enough points or be fluid on offense. Even though the offense looks the same as last season on the surface, we lost a great blocker in Evan Spencer and a deep threat in Devin Smith that have proved hard to replace. As for where the No. 1 team in the nation is, let’s just be patient and let the season play out.

Since everyone always wants to bring up last year, at this time in 2014, everyone had written us off as a playoff team because of our early season loss to Virginia Tech. My, my how things changed. There is a lot of football left to play this season. Step back from the ledge, my friends, and realize how good of a thing we have with Urban Meyer and The Ohio State Buckeyes. We’ve lost three games in the past 3-plus seasons, our national recruiting has been phenomenal, and the Ohio State brand continues to grow and become more popular (or hated depending on how you look at it). The future is bright at Ohio State, and fans and media alike need to realize that even though we’re not winning 70-0 each week, this team is incredibly talented and poised for great things this year and for many years to come.

Fans are excellent armchair quarterbacks, and while it’s their right to gloat when the going’s good and gripe when it’s bad, they have to realize there’s a reason Ohio State pays so much money to its football coaching staff. The coaches know more about the potential of the players and what they need to do than you or me or anyone else. Sure, they miss out on some kids like a Christian Kirk or a Josh Sweat in recruiting now and then, and yeah, they call bad plays once in a while, but overall, the team is as good as I’ve seen them in my 30-plus years, and they are a joy to watch week in and week out. Well, maybe the joy is buried under a lot of relief, but it’s there. I encourage Buckeye nation to take a step back and see the bigger picture. Remember how far we’ve come in the last 15 or so years, and maybe you too can enjoy what is going on in Columbus this year.

A Fan’s Top 4 –
1.) Ohio State – Still winning. It might not be pretty, but it’s all that matters right now. When teams like Alabama and USC go down early in the year, you just have to remember that winning games will get you there in the end.

2.) Michigan State – Another week, another win for Connor Cook and Michigan State. They don’t really face another test until they face off against Michigan on Oct. 17, so they should remain a solid top-four team barring a huge upset.

3.) Ole Miss – What can you say about the Rebels? Two wins in a row against the mighty Crimson Tide. Alabama fought back, but Chad Kelly came up huge and sparked the upset. Let’s see if they can avoid what happened last year with a late-year swoon.

4.) UCLA – I’m still going to put UCLA here even though they just lost their best player Myles Jack for the season. They came back against a gritty BYU team and pulled out the win to get to 3-0. Josh Rosen continues to impress as a true freshman quarterback. If they can survive their test against Arizona this week, we will know a lot more about where UCLA stands.

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