Ten Things: Ohio State gets the job done vs. Western Michigan

Ohio State looked better against Western Michigan than it did vs. Northern Illinois, so why was that? BSB's Jeff Svoboda has his thoughts in his weekly postgame column.

1. Well, this was the kind of game where if you are predisposed to liking Cardale Jones, you can look at the positives – a career-high 288 yards, two touchdown passes – and see a lot to like. If you’re not a Cardale fan, then you see the underthrown deep passes including one that was intercepted and see evidence that Jones still isn’t consistent enough to be the team’s starter if it wants to win the national championship. As with most things in football, the answer is likely somewhere in between, with Jones playing better than in previous weeks but still obviously not quite playing a complete game. What does it mean? Well, it was just start No. 7 for the big-armed Clevelander, and let’s not forget he’s 7-0. Also, you wouldn’t expect him to quite miss those deep balls consistently like he did on Saturday. I’m willing to give him a pass for those, honestly, because at least the opportunities were there unlike in past weeks. Just think, with a few more accurate passes, Jones likely would have thrown for 350 yards and four scores.

2. One thing I’ll say about Jones – he has the shortest memory of about any quarterback I’ve ever seen. The drive at the end of the first half showed that. He was being brought down for a sack and threw the ball backward for a 14-yard loss, which would have ended the two-minute drill for most teams. All Jones did was come back to complete 4 of his next 5 passes to get the Buckeyes in scoring range. Of course, then came the half-ending intentional grounding penalty, which was a weird play but likely the right call in the end. But Jones came back and led a scoring drive on OSU’s next possession after the break. Does Jones make mistakes? Yes. Does he let them stick with him? Rarely.

3. So what the heck is wrong with J.T. Barrett? The cool-headed sophomore went 1 for 3 and threw an interception, and right now his passing efficiency number of 104.77 is, well, not good. I’ve been in favor of Jones getting the starts just because I feel his skill set opens up things for the Ohio State offense that just wouldn’t be there with  Barrett, but I also still think Barrett is a heck of a quarterback who would probably start at 12 other Big Ten teams. But he simply hasn’t looked comfortable this year other than in week one. Is he pressing? Is not being the starter messing with his head? Is he simply trying to do too much when he gets in the game? It could be any of them. It could just be a small sample size that drives people to overreact. Who knows. But he doesn’t quite look the same.

4. Another game, another without a big play by Braxton Miller. The staff and players made it clear that Miller doesn’t seem frustrated even though he had just six touches and accounted for 38 yards. He does seem a bit discombobulated, to use Urban Meyer’s word from a week ago, as the position switch is now looking as difficult and nuanced as thought it would and not as simple as it appeared when he totally took over the Virginia Tech game. Miller is a smart guy and I’m sure he’s taking things in stride, but there were times when just being in a new spot were evident. He just dropped the ball at one point while running after a direct snap, and he even bobbled one of his catches. But like I said, it’s a transition and it’s gonna take some time for him to get comfortable.

5. One thing that Ed Warinner said that caught my ear during postgame – “It's frustrating, because everybody assumes that after seven months you should just pick up where you left off, and that isn't the case. There's new pieces on the coaching staff, there's new pieces on the offense and things change. You're never the same. You have to earn your way and you have to develop a team. Every season is different.” Warinner said. And he’s right. We’ve focused so much on what has come back – Cardale, J.T., Ezekiel Elliott, Mike Thomas, four linemen, etc. – that we lost sight of what is lost. Hey, it makes sense. No team in college football ever comes back the same, but a lot of preseason favor is given to those who return a lot, and the Buckeyes returned a lot. But they also lost Devin Smith, perhaps the top deep threat in college football; they lost Evan Spencer, also a starter who was perhaps the best blocking wideout in college football; and they lost Jeff Heuerman, a dependable veteran who was an excellent blocker and a sure-handed receiver. Those are important losses, and the Buckeyes haven’t quite replaced any of them at a 100-percent level. So maybe we should have seen some up-and-down moments coming.

6. I was pretty rough on the receivers a week ago but they plainly weren’t great against Northern Illinois, both when it came to stretching the field (though they were rarely given the opportunity) and when it came to blocking on the perimeter (it was clear throughout the week Meyer and the staff were very disappointed in this realm). So give credit where credit is due, and the Buckeyes had a much better game against Western Michigan. The Broncos have some good players – I do like both corners, especially Ronald Zamort – and Ohio State was able to get more separation this week. Curtis Samuel and Jalin Marshall each caught a deep pass, and Marshall could have had a couple more if not for Jones’ underthrows. The perimeter blocking seemed improved as well, helping OSU to 6.6 yards per carry. So one week after I was harsh, I’ll be complimentary of the group, which took a very noticeable stride.

7. Sweet play I: The play design on the Buckeyes’ second touchdown – the long one from Jones to Marshall – was great. The Buckeyes used motion to confuse the secondary on the left side, then faked a screen pass that way to Ezekiel Elliott, freezing the defender who was supposed to take Marshall for just long enough for the wideout to get five yards behind him. Well done, and much needed for an OSU offensive brain trust that saw its play-calling questioned the first few weeks. Sweet play II: Adolphus Washington’s pick-six. I mean, any defensive lineman pick-six is fun, but it was a heck of an athletic player – and very necessary because there were no OSU defenders behind him. What could have been a 30-yard gain for the Broncos instead was an OSU touchdown. Not bad. Sweet play III: There was a lot of fun with pulling linemen. Western Michigan’s split zone run with the tight end arcing across the formation was a consistent big play, and OSU brought the counter run back with Elliott with two pulling linemen leading the way. Pulling linemen are the best.

8. I’ve posited the best way to move the ball on Ohio State might be to pound the run and then throw over the top, and that’s the attitude Western Michigan took. I can’t blame them. OSU’s pursuit is so good that trying to go side to side on the Buckeyes is pretty much impossible because of the team’s speed, so you might as well try to attack the middle of the field and see what happens. The Buckeyes are good but not great on the interior line (though Washington has been insane so far this year, things drop off after that)  and Raekwon McMillan is still a sophomore (his 16-tackle day included a few missed tackles that led to decent runs, but he’s a second year player and that’ll happen). Any team with the ability to run the ball would be wise to stick with that and then try to hit over-the-top hits, which Western Michigan did. The Broncos would have had a better day had offensive line penalties not killed the team (although one can counter that by saying the Buckeyes are so good that the line had to take those penalties).

9. Very quietly, Jack Willoughby has become very dependable for the Buckeyes. Do I trust him making a game-winning field goal? Well, we’ll see, but his kickoffs have had plenty of leg of late and he’s started making field goals, too. The job seems to be his, and the Duke transfer doesn’t seem overwhelmed by the moment at this point. Kudos to him.

10. Here’s an upset pick: Michigan over Michigan State on Oct. 17. I picked it before the season and I’m sticking with it. That’s especially true after Utah ran Oregon off its home field Saturday night. Suddenly, Michigan’s loss in Salt Lake City doesn’t look so bad, while MSU’s home win vs. Oregon probably isn’t as good as we thought as that Ducks team has serious issues. Plus, Michigan has been impressive otherwise, including its stomping of a BYU team that found a fourth consecutive tough opponent – especially one with a noon start that was really 10 a.m. in Provo – too tough to overcome. MSU, meanwhile, keeps getting hit by the injury bug and isn’t exactly blowing teams off the field. I’m just not sold on the Spartans right now. I’d say their No. 2 ranking is too high but after TCU nearly lost, who knows who should be where. 

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