Cus Words: Disenchanted Lullaby

Ohio State's defense can put opposing teams to sleep even while the Buckeye offense takes a snooze. Which issue is more worthy of discussion seems up for debate among fans, but with a Foo Fighters song in mind, BSB staffer Marcus Hartman explains how he sees it.

What we learned last week: The most appreciable change in the Ohio State football team since September 12 is the defense has developed a stiffer backbone.

A good Badger offense threw a lot at the Buckeye stop troops, but the Silver Bullets were up to the task. And they were better late than they were early, a key detail if we remember late scores allowed in recent games to Penn State, Texas, USC and even Navy, but that was not the case this time around, and I'm not going to let the significance of that get lost in the din of complaints about the offense.

Maybe that's partly because I already knew the offense's ills were not cured, but I'll speak more on that later.

Back to the defense… how about another big performance without an important starter? Last week at Indiana, the Buckeye secondary still played well despite missing its best player, senior safety Kurt Coleman, and now this time around the front seven stood tall without its stoutest member, nose guard Dexter Larimore.

Todd Denlinger and John Simon more than held their own inside, and the rest of the group helped swarm John Clay before he could get going down hill the way he did last week against Minnesota and last year against many of these same Buckeyes (who also gave up a fourth-quarter touchdown that cost them the lead last season in Wisconsin, come to think about it…)

As at the conclusion of every home game in recent seasons, I was down on the field as the Badgers were making their final pushes to somehow get back in the game. Standing in the north end zone I wondered if I was going to see another repeat as Wisconsin moved closer to me. I certainly got a feeling of deja vu, but that turned out to be for nothing as they stiffened for four straight downs once the Badgers reached the 18-yard line.

Then again I did know what was in store when the Buckeyes got the ball back - three straight runs for virtually nothing. (Again, we'll get to that.), but the prospect of giving the ball back to the Badgers this time did not give me any reason at all to think there were going to be any more potions scored. Instead, my first thought was, "Poor Scott Tolzien is going to get hit again."

And that's exactly what happened as the Silver Bullets continued their relentless attack on the Badger backfield.

This was was a defense smelling blood, not a unit hoping to get off the field.

The sense of attack was palpable, and I'm not sure I have felt it, at least not to that degree, since I was on the field as the 2005 group battered opponents until the final gun every week after a disappointing failure to answer the bell in the fourth quarter against Texas.


What we can expect to learn this week: OK, about this offense.

The problem in the first place was hardly - if at all - the formations they were using. The Buckeyes' difficulties were a result of not blocking enough people well enough for long enough, not throwing it well enough to scare opposing secondaries and not countering their usual base plays with enough things to prevent opponents from ganging up on them when they tried to do their favorite things.

What was wrong Saturday? They didn't get enough push up front, the pass plays they did try weren't generally execute very well and the defense played down hill against them because it had no fear of counters to what it had seen the last couple of weeks.

Just like Navy and USC and Toledo did to Ohio State when it lined up in the I, the Wisconsin put extra blockers in the box to stop the Buckeye run game when they had tight end Jake Ballard in the game.

This is no different from what bothered them before.

Now, is it fair to think the line was not its best because of the flu that bothered some of its members during the week? Certainly, it is.

Might the Badger front seven be pretty good? That seems pretty likely, too. Without a doubt, end O'Brien Schofield is the real deal, an exceptionally quick athlete who was strong enough to hold his own in the running game. The new linebackers were active and aggressive, too, so give that unit some credit, and safety Jay Valai was already a proven run-support guy.

Did a lack of reps, both in total and in succession, make it just about impossible for any rhythm to develop? Surely it did. And that is partly the fault of the offense itself for going three-and-out early, but it's also got something to do with the defense and special teams scoring touchdowns that robbed the offense of a chance to get on the field and work on anything in the second half.

Should Ohio State have been able to overcome all that? Probably. I do believe the receivers, Pryor, the offensive line as it is currently constituted, Ballard and the backs are more talented than the Wisconsin defense, but there is a lot that goes into being an effective, consistent offense, and the Buckeyes are having a hard time getting on the same page all the time right now, and it shows.

So the lesson this week is the same as it will be for the rest of October before the start of a brutal November: what has the offense learned? What can it do now it couldn't last week? What's the best it can be?

Purdue waits in West Lafayette with the Big Ten's worst scoring defense (30.5 points per game allowed), but remember these Boilermakers bedeviled the Buckeyes last season in Columbus.


All-Buckeye Beater Nominees:
This is looking like another one of those years when filling out the offense in the All-Buckeye Beater team might be difficult, but there could be some fierce competition on the defense.

Schofield will be among those who make the final cut, if I had to guess. His seven tackles, including two sacks, aside, he was just impressive to watch work against the youthful Buckeye tackles. Quickness is the name of his game, but he did not seem to lack power, either. I'm not sure Ohio State has seen a better individual defensive player this season.

J.J. Watt, the end who lined up opposite Schofield, was nothing to sneeze at either. He helped control the edge in the running game and pressure Terrelle Pryor on occasion. He will get some postseason consideration, as will defensive tackle Jeffrey Stehle and linebacker Mike Taylor (eight tackles).

In the secondary, Devin Smith gets a nod for two pass breakups and three solo tackles. I can't remember off the top of my head if I have even included kickers on this team in the past, but if I decide to do so this year, I'll have to keep in mind Badger Brad Nortman, who punted four times for 195 yards, an average of 48.8 with a long of 61.


DVR Directions
The weekend starts early this week as No. 8 Cincinnati travels to No. 21 South Florida for a Thursday night game that could affect No. 7 Ohio State before all is said and done. The Buckeyes are ranked ahead of the Bearcats at the moment, but it remains to be seen what voters would do at the end of the season were they to have to choose between an undefeated UC and one-loss OSU if both are in the national championship conversation. This could be the last ranked team Brian Kelly's squad faces this season. The Bulls are unbeaten, too, but still must play No. 9 Miami in November.

Saturday starts early with the Buckeyes traveling to Purdue for a noon kickoff on the Big Ten Network, but there is a real dilemma at that time as No. 11 Iowa travels to Wisconsin (ESPN) and Texas takes on Oklahoma at the same time on ABC. Choose between an early scouting report on the Hawkeyes (and seeing how they match up with the team Ohio State just faced) or check out a possible loss for another undefeated team, the third-ranked Longhorns. If your DVR is like mine, you'll have to make a choice there.


Cus Words Big Ten Power Poll (Previous week ranking)

1. (same) Ohio State
2. (same) Iowa
3. (same) Wisconsin
4. (same) Penn State
5. (same) Michigan State
6. (same) Minnesota
7. (same) Michigan
8. (10) Northwestern
9. (8) Indiana
10. (9) Illinois
11. (same) Purdue

Marcus Hartman is a staff writer for BuckeyeSports.com and Buckeye Sports Bulletin. He can be reached for comment, cursing or questions via email at mhartman[at]buckeyesports[dot]com

For more from this author, read his blog about Ohio State football and whatever else crosses his mind . The most-recent entry deals with some over-the-top criticism of Terrelle Pryor.


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