1. Well, Ohio State continues to be a perfect barometer on what side of the bed you wake up on, haha. If you’re an optimist, you see 5-0, you see the Buckeyes going on the road in conference to beat a fellow unbeaten, and you see four top-10 teams lose over the weekend, and, well, things aren’t so bad. If you’re a pessimist, well, these Buckeyes sure don’t seem to be the most fun team to watch right now, and it hasn’t been the most impressive 5-0, and in fact it’s fair to say the Buckeyes will gave much tougher teams than the ones they’ve beaten by one touchdown (Northern Illinois and Indiana) later in the season. Urban Meyer’s postgame reaction continues to be that the Buckeyes are still coming together and are a different team from a year ago, as all teams are from season to season, and there is time for it all to come together. Which is a pretty fair point; it’s not always pretty, but when the 2012 Buckeyes sneaked out of Bloomington with a win (or when last year’s team survived a scare at Penn State), there were plenty of rumbles those teams had a long way to go. One ended up undefeated and the other won the national title, in case you had forgotten.
2. OK, I’m not sure about this note, but I feel like saying something on the subject. Eleven Warriors has put together a compilation of negative tweets (and worse) that Cardale Jones received yesterday; Darron Lee’s mom, Candice, went online to voice her frustration with fans’ negativity toward her son’s penalties; and Lee himself went online to promise the Buckeyes were putting their heart and soul into their games so “you guys can brag with your people.” Now, I know that in any large fan base, there’s gonna be some people who aren’t gonna be happy with anything, and in the Twitter era it’s easier than ever to tell those players how you really feel (even if it is phenomenally short-sighted and stupid to do so). So I get that, but at the same time, this is how what is supposed to be a fun sport turns into a slog. Again, 5-0, and right now, judging this team against its unusually and probably unfairly high expectations isn’t, well, fair to those players. Who hopefully are smart enough to realize that’s now hot the majority of the fan base feels.
3. The quarterback thing keeps getting play and probably too much play but you have to admit it’s pretty fascinating. The number of anti-Cardale Jones tweets I got during yesterday’s game hit an all-time high, with some suggesting he wasn’t a good leader and another saying he “should spend less time on Twitter and more on football” (as though an amateur athlete who has tweeted 10 times in the last two weeks and spends probably at least 40 hours a week on football is some sort of derelict). I’ll never quite understand the vitriol for Jones – even if you think J.T. Barrett should be the quarterback, not respecting what Jones has done (including winning a national championship) is pretty foolish. That being said, the offense sure does move in fits and starts, and consistency is not Jones’ strongest suit. He had some excellent plays and throws yesterday, but also some red zone misses and a pretty bad interception. At a time when the offensive line and wideouts and play-calling are having ups and downs, it probably isn’t helping the overall consistency of the offense that the quarterback has them, too. The question then becomes, can J.T. Barrett be that guy? Last year’s body of work says yes; his performances so far this year cast some doubt on that subject (remember, he was given two pretty golden chances to take the reins and didn’t turn in splendid showings vs. Hawaii and NIU). So with that in mind, it’s Cardale’s job, and the Buckeyes are just going to have to deal with the ups and the downs.
4. The turnover issue is a pretty big one right now, with the team having turned the ball over 19 times in the last seven games and 13 times in five contests this season. It has to be maddening to Urban Meyer, who I know spends quite a bit of time emphasizing ball security in practice. Then again, here’s another view – the Buckeyes’ offense has been marked by explosive plays and turnovers in the last seven games. In that time, they are 7-0. Yesterday, the team had three explosive plays and three turnovers. The three explosive plays netted 21 points. The three turnovers led to 10 points for IU. That’s plus-11 right there. So you can argue pretty convincingly that if you’re gonna have both, you can win football games. Then again, if the explosive plays dry up (as they did a few times earlier this year), then you’re in trouble against good teams. And if the Buckeyes hadn’t turned the ball over on IU, it would have been a much more comfortable win.
5. So those were man touchdown runs by Ezekiel Elliott yesterday – no cheapies. I remember the line that was famously said about Ted Ginn Jr. – if he’s even, he’s leavin’. Well, you just about can say the same about Elliott. Not only is he a tough and physical runner, if he gets a half a step on you, he’s gone. A lot of it is skill and some of it is pure determination, a “you’re not gonna catch me” attitude, and he’s right. Sometimes, a long run is the product of an offense, a well-blocked play that gets a back into space; sometimes, the back does it himself; usually, it’s a combination of the two, great blocking combined with a back’s ability to make things happen in the open field. And man, can Zeke make things happen in the open field. Meyer called him an excellent second-level runner after the game, and he is, but he’s more than that. He’s great on all levels. He can break a tackle at the line and then make things happen in the open field, and that’s pretty spectacular.
6. People have been frustrated at times by the play-calling, and while Tom Herman wasn’t perfect he sure was damn good at it in his time at Ohio State. So far, it’s been fair to call the offensive staff a work in progress as well (something the coaches have admitted), and the first-half play calling was pretty frustrating for all to say. People smarter than I continued to be perplexed by OSU’s horizontal attack when Jones has the tools to be one of the best vertical passers in the nation. But credit to the coaches for making a halftime adjustment to gap blocking and dedicating the play-calling to pounding the ball up the middle against an Indiana 3-4 that was pretty kamikaze about sending its outside linebackers upfield in contain. That adjustment helped Elliott go off in the second half, and the Slobs did a pretty good job of blocking, too, to make that happen.
7. I said this at halftime – last year, it seemed like Ohio State’s pieces on offense fit together really well, especially at the end of the year. Come playoff time, you had a quarterback with a great arm and a great deep threat. You had an offensive line that had jelled together, wide receivers who excelled at blocking and a running back who could take it to the house. You had receivers who could threaten every level of a defense. Even when Barrett was the QB before that, you had a pretty efficient guy who could distribute to the weapons on the field. This year, it just doesn’t quite feel that way. The perimeter blocking still isn’t ideal, which limits the effectiveness of guys like Braxton Miller and Curtis Samuel (who aren’t great blockers, either, and in fact a key Miller penalty on a block cost OSU a TD), and without Smith that deep threat, as we know, isn’t quite the same. Before the season, the thought was talent would overwhelm that, and to a certain extent, it has – the Buckeyes have topped 30 points in all but one game. But the team hasn’t quite been as lethal as expected, and that’s partly why, in my opinion.
8. Anyway, as for the defense, it just goes to show you how one mistake can so big. When Elliott broke free for his final long touchdown, it seemed like the Buckeyes would cruise home. Then Zander Diamont breaks free on a long run thanks to a few small mistakes – the linebackers got blocked up a bit, Sam Hubbard was just a step late getting to him and then was taken out by the diving tackle attempt of Tyvis Powell, who was the last line of defense and missed. That play changed the game, changing the narrative from “OSU was scared for a bit but pulled away” to “OSU had to fight for its lives until the final play.” The Buckeyes’ rush defense was almost impenetrable for most of the game until that run, and even with a 79-yard run on the docket, the Hoosiers averaged just 3.2 yards per carry. That’s 1.8 ypc on plays other than the long run. That, as you likely know, is pretty good.
9. You know, I might be one of the only people who liked Indiana’s decision to go for a fake punt deep in its own territory. OK, I didn’t like the call – telling your least athletic player to try to run 15 yards on a Division I football field without being tackled and not giving him any other options in case that doesn’t work out isn’t the smartest idea – but I liked going for it. In fact, I said before the play that I wouldn’t be surprised to see a fake. It wasn’t that far too go, and no one really expects a fake that deep in your own territory, and it shows confidence in your guys. Just maybe come up with a better play next time.
10. One last thought on Elliott – it’s kind of funny, I saw on Facebook a few posts about “This is what happens when you give Elliott the ball.” Never mind the fact that Elliott had 23 carries, less than his average of 25 when the offense “struggled” against Hawaii and Northern Illinois. Of course, that’s a bit of a misleading stat – if he had broken off 55-yard-plus runs vs. the Rainbow Warriors or Huskies, he wouldn’t have had a chance for more carries because the drives would have been over. But at the same time, it just goes to show you execution is sometimes better than innovative play-calling, and the Buckeyes had execution on Saturday in the second half. And, of course, the same people who were saying “Feed Zeke” were probably the same ones upset at the “conservative” play-calling late in the game when OSU gave it to him five times on six plays in the last two drives. Hey, what can you do?