Game notes and thoughts

Some thoughts and opinions on the game from Charles Babb, including a look at the fourth quarter, A.J. Hawk, and more.

Fourth quarter collapses

Another week, another thriller at the Horseshoe. Seriously, this is getting old, and the coaching staff and players need to do something about it. At some point they are going to run into a football team that can win the game rather than just play for the tie.

In 2002, the Buckeyes' defense held teams out of the end zone when they came knocking late in the game, but this year, it seems like the defense is rolling out the Scarlet and Gray carpet and bidding them come in.

"I thought we did some good things in the course of the afternoon, especially coming out defensively," he said. "I thought we controlled the tempo of the first three and a half quarters of the game… I think, once again allowed someone at our place to have a chance in the fourth quarter and that's something that we've got to straighten out."

So far this season, the Buckeyes' defensive unit has allowed 77 points, 301 offensive plays, and 1,180 yards in four games, but the frightening item for Scarlet and Gray followers is the high percentage allowed after only 8:30 is left in each football game. Washington racked up 102 yards on 22 plays, scored a touchdown, and missed a field goal. Bowling Green managed to gain 138 yards on 24 plays, scoring 10 points and was driving for more when Will Allen intercepted an errant pass to save the day (again). Counting overtime, NC State ran another 27 offensive plays, gained 182 yards, scored 4 touchdowns and a field goal. Only San Diego State failed to score or gain more than 100 yards in the last 8 minutes of a game against the Ohio State defense with 27 yards in 10 plays and a failed fourth down conversion. Adding the numbers, opposing offenses have gained 448 yards (38% of the total), run 83 plays (28%), and scored 49 points (64%) with less than 8:30 remaining in each game.

What is wrong with the defense, or is it the defense at all?

Michael Jenkins explained the problem as having its locus in the offense. "We just have to better on offense, putting teams away when we have a chance to," he said. "If we get a turnover from our defense, we have to go down and score, things like that. If we get good field position and we've got the team pinned down on the five, get it back on our 50, we have to put the ball in the end zone, just things like that. (You) have to be confident with your offense and be efficient."

At first, it would be tempting to say that this cannot be the case, but then again - perhaps they too share in the blame. With 8:30 or less remaining in the 4th quarter, the offense for Ohio State has been worse than offensive; they have practically tried to give away football games. Against Bowling Green, they ran only 3 plays, gained 10 yards, were forced to punt, and fumbled the football on their own end of the field (though they recovered it). The San Diego State contest was slightly better when they managed 52 yards on 13 plays, punted only once, and ran out the clock. Without the overtimes last week, the Buckeyes only gained 21 yards on eight plays, punted once, and threw an interception deep in their own territory to set up an NC State score. Finally, despite controlling the first 51:30 in their tilt with the Washington Huskies, the Buckeye offense had just 11 yards on seven plays with 2 punts and one fumble late in the fourth quarter.

Maybe Jenkins is right. Maybe the offense does have something to do with the whole mess. If you are scoring at home, in the last 8:30 (give or take a few seconds), the Buckeyes have a paltry 94 yards on 31 plays. They have punted the ball four times while fumbling twice and throwing an interception.

Whatever the problem, the Buckeyes need to sit down as a team and fix it.

No dropping in the polls this week

Ohio State fans should be happy that they will not be likely to drop in the polls this week despite yet another close win and fourth quarter let down. Of course, it is not like the pollsters might not like to drop Ohio State. It is simply that Kansas State, Michigan, Georgia, and Pitt all fell in upsets.

Actually, the Buckeyes will likely even move up in this week's AP Poll, the first time this season. Why? The Michigan team recently anointed as the best team in the land went to Autzen, came out flat, and lost.

Former Opponents

With all the questions about their team's margin of victory, Ohio State fanatics have to be pleased at the performances of their previous weeks' opponents. NC State took Texas Tech behind the woodshed and spanked them until they cried uncle (49-21). The Washington Huskies mauled the Idaho Vandals 45-14 after allowing them to stay close into the second quarter. The San Diego State Aztecs made short work of their sacrificial lamb, Samford, by bleeding them for 37 points in a 37-17 rout.

Perhaps the level of competition is a bit better than credited. Combined, the record of the teams the Buckeyes have faced thus far is 10-5, with 4 of those 5 losses obviously coming against Ohio State. Expect two former opponents to be ranked in the top 20 soon (Washington and NC State).

Buckeye Turnovers

Possession of the pigskin is a precious part of protecting the prize of victory.

One of the hallmarks of the Buckeyes in 2002 was that they knew how to take care of the football, but thus far, the Ohio State offense has done anything but protect the football in 2003. As a team they have fumbled ten times (recovering just three). The quarterbacks have thrown five interceptions. In yesterday's game alone Ohio State fumbled four times (recovering two) and tossed a pick. Crunching the numbers, they are turning the football over an average of three times per game.

How do they keep winning?

The defense is keeping Ohio State in the football game by creating turnovers. They have seven interceptions and four fumble recoveries.

Script for next week's game

Given the cardiac problems many are complaining about when watching this team, I have a suggestion. Do not bother tuning into the game until there are only two minutes left in regulation.

By that point, the Buckeyes will have already sweated for most of the afternoon to gain a lead only to fritter it away. However, that should be of no concern because Will Allen will come up with an interception/tackle to save the game.

If he keeps this up, he might just make All American.

In the past 18 games for Ohio State, Will Allen has repeatedly answered the bell in the hour of need. Against Cincinnati, it was his interception on a tipped ball in the end zone that allowed OSU to preserve a win. When Michigan looked like it might score and dash Ohio State's national championship hopes, it was Will Allen who stepped in front of a wide open receiver to snag the pass and run out the clock. San Diego State had upset plans in its heart, and probably would have escaped the Horseshoe with a victory had not Will Allen intercepted a tipped ball (sound familiar?) and returned it 100 yards for a defensive touchdown. T.A. McClendon was barreling toward the end zone trying to give the Wolf Pack a chance to win the football game in overtime when Will Allen fought through a hold in the end zone to halt his momentum at the 1 foot line.

Then there was yesterday. Bowling Green was driving down the field, cutting through the Ohio State defense like a hot knife going through butter. It looked like the Buckeyes would squander another 17 point lead. Fans were caught between absolute horror and brutal shock.

Cue the music and bring out the superhero cape.

With defensive linemen chasing him, Josh Harris let loose an errant pass. Will Allen stepped in front of the football, wrapped his mitts around it, and ran out the clock.

"Well, it was a good play until he didn't take a knee to end the game," said Tressel at the post game press conference. "I was nervous when their receiver was chasing them down, he didn't know he was there. Will's where he's supposed to be, he's poised and patient even when the game is harried. It looks like it's supposed to be the most important play in the world. He knows what he's supposed to do, gets himself in position, slows the play down, and makes good decisions."

Good decisions.

That's one way to put it. Another way might be game-saving decisions.

Penalties

In the preceding two weeks, the Buckeyes played uncharacteristic football by committing all sorts of penalties. Late hits, pass interference, holding, false starts, delay of game, roughing the punter… you name it and Ohio State players probably were called for it. Against San Diego State and NC State alone, the Buckeyes were whistled for 26 violations and 253 yards.

Something changed yesterday. Whether it was the referees allowing the young men to play or whether the Ohio State players decided enough was enough. The Buckeyes were flagged on only 3 occasions for just 15 yards.

A.J. Hawk

I simply cannot say enough about this young man. I do not believe anyone can. Maybe he was not recruited as highly as others coming out of high school. Maybe he does not possess the freakish athletic abilities of a Mike D'Andrea or a Chris Gamble. Maybe he is not going to be appearing on the Ohio State 4 x 100 indoor relay team when track season rolls around.

All he does is make plays.

Yesterday, he was a one man wrecking crew, and it was not an anomaly. Hawk leads the team with 34 tackles (18 solo), is tied for the team lead with Will Smith for the most tackles for loss (5.5 tackles for a loss of 23), is tied with Will Allen for the team lead with two interceptions - one of which he almost returned for a touchdown against NC State, is tied with four other players for the team lead in sacks with two, and he has even knocked down two passes (only Chris Gamble has more).

That's not too shabby considering Hawk was not rated as highly as the other three linebackers Ohio State landed in its 2002 recruiting class…


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