What went wrong in this game that prevented Ohio State from rolling to an easy win? From my point of view most of the problems were on the offensive side of the football, and there were many.
Football is usually a game decided in the trenches, and even though they won, it's hard to say Ohio State won the battle with its offensive line. After watching the tape, seeing the game live, and talking to people in the know, I'm convinced the problems were more mental than physical errors. There seemed to be numerous blown assignments, both in the running game and in pass protection. This is surprising considering the Buckeyes return four starters. It's too easy, and incorrect, to pin the blame on newcomer Bryant Browning. There appeared to be breakdowns on both sides of the football, and it was surprising to see the Bobcats taking on people at the point of attack, and winning that battle often. With such a veteran line, and one that has tasted success in the past, I'm choosing to believe that these problems can be corrected on the practice field and in the meeting room. One thing is for certain. This group will play a huge role in determining the direction this season will go, starting this coming Saturday. They need to play better, much better, to defeat a team like USC.
The wide receivers did not have their finest hours as a group against Ohio U. There were three dropped passes that could have affected the outcome of the game in a more positive manner for Ohio State. The route running appeared to be sloppy and players not involved as the primary option, were not finishing their routes. Two players that did appear to play well were Ray Small and Dane Sanzenbacher. Small clinched the win with a long punt return, while Sanzenbacher made a few clutch catches at crucial moments in the game. Suffice to say that Brian Hartline and Brian Robiskie will be needed to come up big against USC, and in games against Big Ten opponents. Neither Hartline or Robiskie has a history of dropping passes, so the hope is that last week was an aberration and won't be repeated.
Quarterback Todd Boeckman gets more than his share of criticism, but he was actually fairly solid against Ohio U. Boeckman completed more than 60 percent of his passes, even with the drops, and did not throw an interception. There were occasions where he held the ball too long and he made a few bad decisions, but in fairness he wasn't given much help by his fellow teammates on offense. He needs to be better in the future: sound like a broken record? Boeckman can erase a lot of doubts by playing a great game this week versus USC. Should he struggle and not play well, the cry for freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor will get louder every week. I believe Boeckman has the necessary tools to lead the Buckeyes to a win in Southern California, and he is an obvious key to a victory over USC.
I believe we saw the greatness of Chris "Beanie" Wells on display last Saturday as well. Simply put, Ohio State isn't a great team without him. He makes everybody around him better. He opens up passing lanes for his teammates, and he has the ability to create his own running lanes when he has the football. Ohio State isn't Ohio State without Beanie. He is the best football player on this team and he must be healthy to beat USC. His three backups were solid against Ohio U. They are not in Beanie's class however, as difference-makers. They are all solid. He is spectacular. Danny Herron was dramatically better than he was in the opener, and will continue to improve with every game. Maurice Wells also gives great effort and will be needed in pass protection against USC. Saine is too talented to not be used in some capacity, possibly as a receiver like he was against LSU last year. If Beanie is healthy, I won't worry about this group.
Defensively, Ohio State wasn't totally dominant, but they were good. They had trouble stopping quarterback runs on third down and there were some missed tackles, but they were able to put pressure on the passer from the outside with Lawrence Wilson and Thad Gibson. Gibson, in particular, is getting better week by week and could be a huge factor against USC. The tackles were pretty good, and Dexter Larimore is looking like he's another player growing in stature with every passing quarter.
The linebacking core was good last Saturday, but they need to raise their game another notch this week. James Laurinaitis has not had a game that makes you come out of your seat yet in 2008. Marcus Freeman was quietly effective and Ross Homan is ready to take his place as the next great Buckeye linebacker. Tyler Moeller and Jermale Hines have proven to be good role players and were once again around the football. This group was caught out of position a few times and missed some tackles, but it's hard to be too critical of their collective performance.
The defensive backs were very good and Malcolm Jenkins was outstanding, both in coverage and in stopping the run. Kurt Coleman and Anderson Russell were good on the back line and Chimdi Chekwa was his usual steady self. This is a very good group and they will bolstered by the return of Donald Washington and Jamario O'Neal this week. There were very few open receivers last Saturday and they came up with turnovers.
The look on Jim Tressel's face, and his post-game comments, let everyone know he was not happy with his team last Saturday. The Buckeyes need to have a great week of practice, and have to get better as a team this week, before heading to California to play the Trojans. It is said that teams improve the most between the first two games of the season, but that was not true with this team. They need to find that improvement on the practice field this week to have any realistic chance of beating USC.