While Marcus Hartman has the market almost cornered on notes, emptying out his notebook yesterday in a fantastic Cus Words blog entry, I have a few quotes of note that ‘Cus was unable to get to.
We'll just go person by person:
Marcus Freeman on the biggest weakness shown by the defense: "I think the biggest thing is turnovers. To be a dominant defense in this nation, we have to get a lot of turnovers. We got one but we have to improve on that."
Freeman on Boom Herron: "Boom is a guy that last year on the scout team gave us a hard time. Anytime an offense or defense doesn't like a scout team member, that means they're pretty good, and Boom gave us a rough time last year."
Nicol on the series when six freshmen, including Pryor, came onto the field during the first quarter: "It kind of puts perspective on things. You're like, ‘Man, I've been here for five years already, and one time I was them.' I can just imagine Rob Sims probably wanted to punch me in my face a couple of times because he was playing left tackle at the time. But that's part of the deal."
Nicol, with a smile, on Freeman saying that people were asking him about the health of Chris Wells at Chipotle: "That's why Marcus weights 260 pounds, because he's always at Chipotle."
Brandon Smith on what he thought when he saw Wells on the turf: "As a fullback, I'm like, ‘Oh, snap. Is that my fault?'"
DeVier Posey, whose brother Julian plays for Ohio, on the Bobcats' defense: "They attack. They play aggressive. That's how OU plays. My observation from years of playing and watching them because I've been watching them just because my brother's been there, I just know that they're really hungry."
Shaun Lane, whose brother Ben plays for Youngstown State, on dropping an interception that he almost assuredly would have returned for a touchdown against the Penguins: "It was funny, I was right there on the YSU side, and my brother was right there. As soon as it bounced off of me, I could hear him in my ear (saying), ‘You sorry.' I just tried to block him out, you know?"
A review of last week's game showed what I had suspected originally: that Ohio State had played pretty well. I won't go into too many details – really, it's hard to draw that many conclusions, especially when the starting defense had less than 30 plays – but one play I loved came in the third quarter. Lawrence Wilson lined up at tackle on a third down play, blew right by guard Nhemie Theodore and notched a sack. I think this experiment with the ends playing tackle on some plays could turn out to be a very good one, especially given the quickness and strength of players like Wilson and Cameron Heyward. I don't know too many guards who can handle that duo inside.
Now, with Ohio on the docket, I see this game being closer than the experts think. In fact, if Ohio State covers the 34-point spread, I'll eat my hat. This looks like a classic trap game with USC on the docket for next weekend. With Chris Wells out and the Buckeyes tinkering with the offense to see what works and what doesn't before the contest with the Trojans, I can see the offense not getting into a rhythm for a while. Add in the fact that Ohio's aggressive defense could cause troubles and I just see this one staying close for a while. Unfortunately for the Bobcats, quarterback Theo Scott should be fun to watch, but their offense just doesn't have the horses to do much against a Buckeye defense that looked to be without weakness against the Penguins. I'll go with 34-10 as the final for this one.
Play Of The Week
In what will be a regular feature, I'll write a bit about a play that struck me as particularly impressive or important from the past week's Ohio State game. Special thanks go to the DVR that helped me watch this one over and over.
One of the better throws Todd Boeckman has ever made came during the second drive of the day – in fact, on a second-and-7 play from the YSU 44 with Ohio State leading the Penguins 7-0 and 9:43 remaining in the first quarter.
Boeckman lined up in the shotgun with Wells to his right. Tight end Jake Ballard was on the right side of the formation, while wideouts Brian Robiskie and Brian Hartline (slot) were split to the left side of the formation. YSU appeared to be in its base 4-3 defense.
At the snap, Robiskie dipped inside and ran a post route, while Hartline slipped outside to run a fly pattern down the field. Quickly, it became apparent that Hartline would be one-on-one with cornerback Jarvis Richards.
While Boeckman looks downfield, defensive tackle Torrance Nicholson, lined up as the left tackle, runs a stunt to his right, looping around tackle Alex Boone to close in on Boeckman. On the other side, end Luke Matelan goes well wide to get around Bryant Browning and get the angle to Boeckman.
Just as Nicholson is to arrive, Boeckman lofts a pass down the left sideline for Hartline, who has gotten behind Richards. Boeckman gets the ball off an instant before getting hit from the front by Nicholson. Matelan hits Boeckman in the back as he's being pushed backward from Nicholson's hit.
Down the field, Hartline lines up the ball, which loops through the sky. It comes down safety in his arms at the 17, and Hartline stumbles forward before hitting the turf at the 9-yard line, giving the Buckeyes first-and-goal.
The throw was notable because the pressure was fairly obvious, as Boeckman was looking Nicholson in the face as he bore down. Hartline ran a good route from the line to get by Richards. Though Boeckman suffered a hit, the offensive line did enough to give him the time to complete a bomb through the air. All in all, a well-executed, well-designed play that went off with great success.
Checking In Around The Big Ten
Presented with an opportunity to make a splash on the national scene, the Big Ten instead sunk like a stone during the opening weekend, though at least the stone did not have an anchor attacked like the ACC or Big East.
Perhaps most surprising of the results came in St. Louis when 20th-ranked Illinois lost to No. 6 Missouri 52-42. Matt Hayes of The Sporting News expressed shock afterward when Missouri's offensive players said they could have done better, but anyone who watched it would have a hard time believing that the Tigers brought their "A" game despite compiling 542 yards of offense.
Illinois head coach Ron Zook had an explanation after his team was unable to stop Missouri at almost any point in the night: poor tackling.
"That's on me 100 percent," he said. "I felt like we could do that, but tackling is about 99 percent emotion. If you're just thinking a little bit, then you're not flying around. You've got to get past that thinking stage. You're way better off having guys flying at the football than trying to make every adjustment possible."
Observation: Maybe, just maybe, the Fighting Illini don't have the horses in the back four to hang with a team like the Tigers. The final seven minutes of the first half, during which Missouri scored twice, would seem to be instructive in that regard. With around six minutes to go in the half, Mizzou tailback Derrick Washington broke into the clear and made the Illinois secondary look silly. First, he juked around safety Bo Flowers, then he ran through the arm tackle of safety Travon Bellamy before finding paydirt from 40 yards out. On Missouri's next possession, tight end Chase Coffman ran right by Nate Bussey to grab a 17-yard touchdown pass.
As it stands, it Fighting Illini might find it hard to deal with the loss of two starting safeties a year ago, as both Flowers and Bellamy, the new starters, did not have great games. Finding a suitable corner to sit across from All-Big Ten contender Vontae Davis also has been a chore, and Bussey looks to have issues as the nickel back.
As for Michigan State, the phrase "Same Old Spartans" seemed about right after the squad dropped a 38-31 decision to Cal. Credit goes to Mark Dantonio's team for continuing to take the fight to the Golden Bears, but there are still sore spots in East Lansing at quarterback and defensive back.
Brian Hoyer had what was at times a shudder-inducing 20-of-48 performance that included a brutal interception late in the first half with the Spartans driving that a flushed Hoyer threw up for grabs rather than out of bounds. While he made some good throws, developing a rapport with Mark Dell that saw the wideout top 200 yards, Hoyer was at times very inaccurate with his throws.
Credit to him, he took the heat afterward.
"It's something I expect," he said of criticism lofted his way. "I'll be up front with (the media). You saw the game and you know when I'm lying. I'll take responsibility win, lose or draw, good, bad, whatever."
Dantonio still might be short an athlete or two when it comes to implementing the defense he used to pace Ohio State on its way to a national title. The defensive line was unable to get much pressure – after all, he'd love to get a front four that can put pressure on teams without blitzes – and the makeshift secondary had its pluses and its minuses.
Nowhere was that more evident in the play of Otis Wiley. Full disclosure would include me saying that Wiley is one of my favorite players on another Big Ten team, as he showed great personality during an interview session last year at the league media days. However, Wiley has struggled to assert himself under Dantonio, and despite making two big interceptions against Cal, one of which he returned for a touchdown, he taketh away near the end of the game.
With the Spartans holding momentum after a field goal got the team within seven points with 4:38 left, Wiley got caught out of position on the very first play of Cal's ensuing drive. With the safety Wiley blocked out of the play, Shane Vereen was able to run untouched 81 yards for a touchdown that made it a 14-point game.
Then there's Michigan, which at times looked hopelessly lost on offense on the way to a meager total of 203 yards. The numbers are ugly, to be honest. Starting quarterback Nick Sheridan, a former walk-on, was 11-of-19 for just 98 yards, a touchdown and a killer interception – seemingly thrown to no one in particular – that allowed Utah to score a game-changing touchdown late in the first half.
That performance has him more than likely out of the starting role for the next game in favor of Steven Threet, who has to wonder how he vaulted himself into the starting role after going just 8-of-19 for 69 yards and a touchdown.
Then there's the running game. Brandon Minor had the team's only run of more than 10 yards, going 21 yards on one scamper. That run gave him the team's lead for rushing on the day; he finished with those 21 yards on four carries. The next leading rusher, freshman Sam McGuffie, had 8 yards on eight carries.
And then there's the little matter of head coach Rich Rodriguez's frustration.
"We ran three different run schemes, that's it," he said. "And then run maybe eight or nine different route patterns. We had to keep it simple. We don't want to confuse the young guys. We're probably as simple as we could ever be right now. At some point, we've got to add more."
Also, the offensive line was "below average" and the defense was "awful" in the first half.
For the record, I was 10-1 on my Big Ten picks last week. Before each football season, the BSB staff picks every game played by all 11 league teams and publishes the resulting standings in a preview story for the paper. Using those picks, I got only one game wrong last week, as I chose Michigan over Utah. This upcoming week, I have the league going 10-1, with the only projected loss belonging to Minnesota in Bowling Green. Thank a slate of cupcakes – the best game might be suddenly depleted Penn State vs. Oregon State – for that sterling projected record.
Checking In Around The Top Ten
Each week, I'll dig up a few news and notes about some of the teams Ohio State possibly will be battling when it comes to getting into the national title game.
I'll have a scouting report on USC in next week's issue of The Almanac, but I must say that after watching the first half of their decimation of Virginia with a critical eye that the Trojans certainly were excellent in just about every regard. Pete Carroll felt the same way; according to the USC Rips It blog on his website, the only two negatives he reported to the team were that they committed two turnovers and were called for a number of penalties. I think that No. 1 ranking is certainly deserved given the scope of the demolition and the fact that Virginia is a BCS league team that won nine games last year. One flaw I noticed in the Trojans, at least during the first half: though Mark Sanchez often had all day to throw the football, he often had to settle for short dump-off passes, a sign that the USC receivers weren't getting open downfield.
Things keep going wrong for new No. 2 Georgia, it seems. Left tackle Trinton Sturdivant was lost for the season during the preseason, then defensive tackle Jeff Owens suffered a knee injury against Georgia Southern in the opener that ended his campaign as well. For a team might boast the toughest schedule of any national title contender, those are two damaging blows. Another interesting note on the Bulldogs: reading BSB contributor Craig Merz's cover story in last week's Columbus weekly The Other Paper, I noticed that one of the Vegas oddsmakers interviewed by Merz – erstwhile Youngstown resident Jimmy Vaccaro – said his group had Georgia sixth in its preseason rankings.
It's hard not to be impressed No. 4 Oklahoma's week one performance, even if it did come against a Division I-AA foe in Chattanooga. The Sooners outgained Chattanooga 487 yards to 36, gave up just one first down, had 12 different receivers make a catch and led 50-0 at halftime on the way to a 57-2 win. Perhaps that offensive explosion is the result of a new no-huddle offense the Sooners seemingly ran to perfection during the first half. We'll find out just how good the squad is this upcoming week when it takes on resurgent Cincinnati, which had no trouble with Eastern Kentucky to start its season with a 40-7 win. Oklahoma is favored by three touchdowns but Dustin Grutza – remember when he completed 18 of 22 passes against Ohio State in 2006? – was 21 of 28 last week as the starting quarterback and threw for three touchdowns while replacing Ben Mauk, who is in lawsuit purgatory when it comes to getting another year of eligibility. Considering the lean slate in college football, this could be the game of the week.
The Big East didn't look all that good in week one – Rutgers was handled at home while Louisville was mostly inept during a 27-2 loss to Kentucky – perhaps giving No. 8 West Virginia an inside shot at a national title run. The Mountaineers dropped Villanova – which completed 21 of 37 passes, proving it wasn't as efficient as Rollie Massimino's 1985 NCAA basketball championship team – by a 48-21 count, but the Wildcats did outgain WVU by nearly 50 yards. Perhaps of most interest was the offense run by the Mountaineers. Quarterback Pat White threw 33 times – completing 25 of them for five touchdowns – and ran just nine times for 63 yards against a Villanova team sold out to stop the run. "As I tried say way back and no one would believe me, if you put nine people in the box, we're going to throw the football. It's the only thing I know how to do," new head coach Bill Stewart said. We'll see how much White does when it comes to moving the ball through the air this year. He passed Marc Bulger for WVU's career record for passing yards in the game.
And Finally… **The running for the worst team in a BCS conference looks like it will have plenty of contenders in 2008. Consider Minnesota, which went to the wire against a team many feel will be the worst team in the MAC. Then there's Syracuse, which looked hopeless while being waxed by Northwestern. Don't forget Washington, a squad that couldn't hang with an Oregon team that was on its third quarterback for most of the game. And then there's the entire ACC.
**I hope everyone enjoyed Alumni Band weekend this past weekend in Ohio Stadium. The quadruple Script Ohio is always a sight to see, and it did not disappoint this year. I had the chance to meet with some band members who were back for the alumni weekend while writing a feature on the band for the print BSB, and I must report that they were all nice people. I wish I had had more space to chronicle what is always a fun weekend for all of them. I especially enjoyed speaking with former drum majors Shelley Graf (the first female drum major in Big Ten history), Greg Eyer and Alex Neffenger. All had great stories from their days in the band and all were thoroughly friendly and clearly enjoyed each other's company. Also of note was a conversation I had with 89-year-old Bill Scharenberg, who was in the band when Script Ohio wasn't incomparable but was brand new. They're great people who put on a great show as well.
**In this space, I must give a hearty good-bye to Tim Stried, a member of Ohio State's athletics communication department who left his post this week to accept a job with the Ohio High School Athletic Association. The people of OSUAC make our lives tremendously easier, and while there are many good people left in that office, none are better than Tim. Best of luck, Tim, in all your endeavors.
**Consider me unimpressed by Daunte Culpepper's retirement announcement, in which he said he was not given "a fair chance" to compete for an NFL job. Considering he's thrown just 13 touchdowns against 20 interceptions over the past three years, I don't find it hard to believe at all that no one wanted him. Also, I must call out ESPN. Watching SportsCenter last night, I noticed that an anchor credited NFL analyst John Clayton for breaking the story. Actually, Culpepper made the announcement in an e-mail message to NFL.com's Adam Schefter.