I’m starting to feel like a broken record at this point - another week, another win, yet still more complaining from Buckeye nation. I admit, the first half of the game against Indiana wasn’t very enjoyable to watch, but the offense showed what it is capable of in the second half. The Buckeyes rattled off 28 points in the second half to overcome a 10-6 halftime deficit. Cardale Jones still looked tentative throwing the ball out there at quarterback, and running the ball with him was futile. Indiana made it known they would focus on stopping the run, and sure enough, they consistently loaded nine guys in the box and kept both safeties down closer to the line. They dared Cardale to beat them with a deep pass, and he shied away like a nervous colt. We had two touchdown-scoring drives that stalled and resulted in field goals instead of seven points.
Indiana’s defense all but shut us down in the first half, but after the halftime commercial break, viewers tuned in to the Ezekiel Elliot show. Once again, he demonstrated why he’s considered one of the best, if not the best, running backs in the country. Zeke broke off runs of 55, 65, and 75 yards for touchdowns, and he finished the game with 274 yards rushing – a career high. He finally looked like the running back from last year’s championship run again as he found holes in the defense and showed track-like speed in getting to the end zone. Zeke’s performance seemed to buoy the rest of the offense as well. Jones made up for an earlier interception with a nice pass to Mike Thomas in the back of the end zone to start the fourth quarter, and the offensive line resembled the group we saw at the end of last season.
Despite these improvements, turnovers continued to plague the Buckeyes. In addition to Cardale’s interception, Jalin Marshall fumbled the ball twice during runs, halting promising drives. Out of 127 teams, Ohio State is tied for 101st in terms of turnover margin on the year. We might be able to lose the turnover battle against teams like Indiana and still win the war, but down the line, teams like Michigan State are going to take advantage of it.
Surprisingly, the defense struggled a bit against Indiana, giving up more than 400 yards of offense to a team that lost its starting quarterback and running back early in the game. Zander Diamont, who had a decent game last year against Ohio State, came in and led the Hoosiers on three scoring drives. His most spectacular one was a 79-yard dash by Tyvis Powell that brought Indiana back within seven with just over 10 minutes left in the game. Gareon Conley and Raekwon McMillan received limited playing time due to injury and illness, so the Buckeyes relied heavily on Marshon Lattimore and Camren Williams. Indiana picked up on Lattimore’s inexperience and exposed him several times for significant passing yardage. Conley returned in the second half and Williams filled in nicely for McMillan. The defense has been so steadfast this season, so I think last week was a fluke. Hopefully, they can regroup and come back strong against Maryland.
Players of the Game vs Indiana:
Ezekiel Elliott – When you earn Big Ten offensive player of the week and a few national player of the week awards, you make my Player of the Game list. His three touchdown runs in the second half propelled the Buckeyes to a win. His 243 yards in the 2nd half was the most ever for a Buckeye running back in a single half, and his overall 274 yards tied him with Keith Byars and left him behind only Eddie George’s 314 yards for most in a game.
Tyquan Lewis – He does not get a lot of praise from the media, but his play on the edge has been key to helping the Buckeyes shut down opposing offenses. He made some great plays behind the line of scrimmage, totaling 3.5 tackles for loss, including one sack. All-American Joey Bosa seems to receive all the attention, which allows Lewis to come off the other side and make plays.
On Maryland –
The Buckeyes welcome the Terrapins of Maryland as their Homecoming date this year. Maryland comes in with a 2-3 record and looks to be one of the bottom-dwellers of the Big Ten this season. The Terps have played three different quarterbacks so far, and only one has a completion percentage over 50 percent, and their combined TD/INT ratio is 9/15. While I expect Caleb Rowe to get the start, it would not surprise me to see Perry Hills at some point in the game. Rowe is more of a traditional drop-back passer, whereas Hills can beat you with his legs. Luckily, Maryland is even more turnover prone than Ohio State at 121st in the nation. They also give up a lot of points per game - 31.8 on average.
Both of these stats bode well for Ohio State this week as it looks to change the turnover margin more in its favor, and we know Urban Meyer and company love to score points. Urban has singled out William Likely, Maryland’s cornerback and punt returner. He called Likely “the best punt returner in America,” so expect to see Cameron Johnston get as much hang time on his punts as possible to make it harder for Likely to have any space to return.
My big question for the week is, “Can the Buckeyes finally put a complete game together and show the nation what they are made of?” In sports show after sports show and column after column, all I see is a bunch of disrespect for the defending national champions. I’ve seen mock playoff polls with Ohio State missing from the final four. Analysts and fans compare the Buckeyes to Florida State, last year’s defending champions who managed to survive a lot of close games only to lose to Oregon in the playoff. Is this Ohio State team on the same path? Despite its roller-coaster consistency over the last four weeks, this team still boasts the most talent of any team in America. If everything comes together and the team jells, I don’t think anyone can beat Ohio State. Whether or not that will happen remains to be seen. This week’s game against Maryland is the perfect opportunity for the Buckeyes to settle into their comfort zone and put up a convincing performance. Yeah, yeah, sure it’ll be against Maryland, but we have to start somewhere. The Buckeyes need a complete game where they dominate their opponent on both sides of the ball. Once that happens, I believe their confidence will return, and the Buckeyes will be able to rejoin the conversation about the best team in the nation.
I expect Ohio State to move the ball with ease this week, and if we can avoid the turnovers, the game should be over by halftime. Elliott should get quite a few touches, and he might even post back-to-back 200-yard rushing games. I see Cardale taking the majority of the snaps under center, but since this game should be a blowout, J.T. Barrett will likely get some playing time. Urban has alluded to bringing J.T. in on situational plays in the red-zone. If that happens, it’ll bring me back to the Stanley Jackson/Joe Germaine days. With a defense as bad as Maryland’s, the Buckeyes should top 500 yards and score at will. I know I’ve said that before this year and been dead wrong, but I think Ohio State is ready to turn the corner. Expect a couple of great defensive plays, maybe a special teams gem, and an offense that finally gets clicking in the right direction.
Prediction: Ohio State 56 – Maryland 13
There has been a lot of talk recently about the rule requiring kids to be three years out of high school before entering the NFL draft. Most people seem to think this is an NCAA rule, when it is, in fact, an NFL rule. If you remember back to 2004, Maurice Clarett tried and failed to bypass the three-year rule when he attempted to enter the draft after only one year of college football.
The reason this rule is gaining attention again is because of a certain freshman running back at LSU by the name of Leonard Fournette. He’s been destroying teams with his style of running, and he leads the FBS with 864 rushing yards in four games (LSU had a canceled game at the beginning of the season). Many wonder if Fournette could be NFL-ready after only two years of college football. Fournette and Les Miles have both publicly dismissed the idea, but we all know those claims won’t stop the media and others from discussing this as the season progresses.
As a fan of college football, I love when these kids stick around for the three or four years, but I get where the players are coming from. They can leave school early and be millionaires before they can legally drink. Football players have short shelf lives. The game takes a toll on their bodies, and more games in college means more opportunities to get hurt before they can start earning money. Look at Myles Jack, an All-American linebacker at UCLA who got injured this year; instead of working toward coming back to college, he’s dedicated himself to preparing for next year’s NFL draft. He knows his body can only take so much, and this injury makes him more vulnerable if he were to return to the field this season. His coach, Jim Mora Jr., thinks it’s a risky move, but I think he’s more concerned about losing such a high-caliber player than about Jack’s readiness. As a former NFL coach, Mora knows what these players go through, and he shouldn’t blame Jack for saving himself for the big money in the league.
Will we see a true underclassman successfully circumvent the process and enter the draft before his three years is up? I think it is inevitable, and once one player does it and performs well in the NFL, the floodgates will open for more kids to do the same. We already have the one-and-done in college basketball, and football might not be far behind. I don’t see it happening nearly as often as it does in basketball, so I don’t think the overall quality of college football will suffer much. The obvious negative effect will be on individual college programs. Recruiting would take on a whole new level because coaches will have to plan for these losses and adjust their recruiting to keep the positions stocked in case. As a fan, I’d be disappointed if I only got to watch these kids for one or two years instead of three or four. It already stings to lose a player after his junior year when you’ve watched him develop and compete for three years; now imagine losing him after only one year. Hopefully this won’t happen for a while, but I believe that it is coming. I could go on about this issue in its own separate column, but for the sake of brevity, this is how I feel in a nutshell. Do you think that the NFL should allow underclassmen to enter the draft? Why or why not?
A Fan’s Top 4
1.) Ohio State – Still #1, still a lot to prove, but no one below the Buckeyes has impressed me enough to unseat them in my poll.
2.) Clemson – Great win last week against Notre Dame, and Deshaun Watson is playing at a high level. Clemson looks like the team to beat in the ACC, until of course they pull a Clemson and lose to someone they should beat. I am looking at you, Georgia Tech.
3.) TCU – Trevone Boykin and Josh Doctson are lighting up the scoreboard and highlight reels on a weekly basis, and one would think that the winner of the Big 12 will have a seat at the playoff dinner table. Right now I see that team as TCU.
4.) LSU – Two words: Leonard. Fournette.
A Fan’s Heisman Ballot:
1.) Leonard Fournette
2.) Ezekiel Elliott
3.) Trevone Boykin
4.) Seth Russell