10 Things We Learned from Another Offensive Meltdown
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — We all know what happened. It was ugly.
Now let’s find out what we learned from Ohio State’s 10-7 loss to Michigan State.
1. Braxton Miller has a long ways to go. First of all, it is not Braxton’s fault that everything came crashing down again Saturday. This is a young kid who is being asked to step in and right a whole lot of wrongs with the OSU offense. Chances are he’s going to be a pretty good football player. Maybe a great one, but let’s not forget what Terrelle Pryor looked like his freshman year (imagine what it would have been like without Beanie Wells, and, voila). Just because Braxton seems like a more technically sound passer at this stage doesn’t mean he is ready to read college defenses.
2. The coaches have him playing scared. Even if Miller could have diagnosed what was going on out there Saturday, the kid is obviously terrified of making a mistake. It’s apparent the coaching staff has hammered home the fact that not turning the ball over is his No. 1 priority (they don’t even try to hide that) and that it’s the only way for him to stay on the field. There were some windows to throw the ball against Michigan State, but Braxton had no time to recognize them and even when he did, he had to be 100 percent sure they were open. They have done him no favors by putting quick reads into the game plan and they didn’t design any plays Saturday to help take the heat off their young freshman.
3. This whole thing doesn’t work without Tressel. On the surface, it doesn’t make much sense that Jim Tressel would have been able to make much of a difference Saturday. He wasn’t going to be the one throwing the passes or protecting the QB, and let us not forget how many times his version of offense had Buckeye fans reaching for their hair (what little they have left after the 2002 season). Tressel was hardly an offensive mastermind. His play-calling was mundane, redundant and every bit as archaic as what we saw Saturday against Michigan State. Yet somehow he made it work. It wasn’t always pretty, but Tressel was the master of control. He built an entire system that relied on him at the head. Cut off the head, and this writhing, twisting body is what’s left—for however long it’s allowed to twist in the wind.
4. Fickell is in over his head. There were a few times it got away from him (‘07 title game, ‘08 at USC and ‘09 at Purdue come to mind), but Tressel was the ultimate game manager. Fickell is not. Why would he be? Tressel won four national championships at Youngstown State before he coached his first game at Ohio State. Fickell had never managed a game in his life before this season. He is a football player and good defensive mind. He has energy and passion and he loves Ohio State. None of that helped him or the Buckeyes Saturday. He has tried to build an “us against the world” mentality on this team, but I’m not sure that really prepared them for the adversity that was coming their way on the football field. This is not the school (or the year) for a first-time head coach to cut his teeth while trying to hold everything together. It’s a shame, because Fickell will probably be a good head coach someday. The thing about someday is that it’s not today.
5. This team misses Terrelle Pryor more than people want to let on. It doesn’t matter what your personal feelings are for Terrelle Pryor as a person or a quarterback. More than anyone else, he let this team down and let his teammates down, but that doesn’t change the fact that they desperately miss him right now. Heck, they would even take the 2009 version of Pryor right now over what they have in 2011 Braxton Miller and Joe Bauserman. Pryor was a weapon, and when he harnessed it, he could be a one-man offense. Certainly this team also misses Dane Sanzenbacher and a number of other players, but Pryor plays the most important position on the football field. There is no debating that. Before the season, Mark Dantonio said he would rather have a veteran quarterback returning than a veteran offensive line. This offense without Pryor is like the Colts without Peyton Manning. That’s how valuable he was, and no, I’m not comparing Pryor to Peyton.
6. It’s time for offensive coaches to take some responsibility. Ohio State’s conservative offense has always frustrated fans (outside of late ‘05 to ’06), but Tressel’s method of solid defense, field position and special teams was enough to bring home Big Ten championship after Big Ten championship. It allowed the coaching staff to skirt the fact they were running an offense that was (again outside of 2006) three or four decades behind the times. That plan doesn’t work without Tressel, and it’s time this staff takes some responsibility for what has happened to this offense in 2011. It has been a decade now under Jim Bollman, and the Buckeyes still don’t have a clue how to run a screen pass, a reverse or even a simple counter play. They ran two draw plays against Michigan State and Carlos Hyde picked up nice yards on both of them. Other than that, it was lead play after lead play after lead play. Death by Dave is the worst kind of death, and it’s no wonder the players were proposing things they could have done differently. This offense is young, but there is talent. It’s simply going to waste right now.
7. This team needs leadership in the worst way. When the junior fullback is the leader of the offense (no offense to Zach Boren, because he might be the best player at his position), things are bad. Boren tried his best to breath life into this offense, but to no avail. Defensively, John Simon, Andrew Sweat and Tyler Moeller seem to be doing a good job, but this team has no senior leadership right now on offense. They need DeVier Posey and Boom Herron’s production back in a hurry, but they also need their leadership. It’s strange, because those guys are a big part of the reason OSU is in this mess to begin with, but, unlike Pryor, they now have the chance to redeem themselves.
8. Bradley Roby is a player. He was doubted after giving up the early touchdown to Miami, but Roby is quickly becoming one of the real playmakers on defense (I told you guys he was good in man coverage). He intercepted Jacory Harris to give Ohio State a chance in the Miami game, and he almost single-handedly kept them in it again Saturday. He tipped the pass that C.J. Barnett intercepted in the end zone and then grabbed a pick of his own off Kirk Cousins.
9. Dominic Clarke should be an OR. I tweeted this during the game, but I seriously don’t understand how Travis Howard is still ahead of Dominic Clarke in practice. I get that Howard is a veteran and was expected to be a leader on this team, but he and Clarke have almost identical playing experience. More to the point, we saw Clarke play some great corner the first 2-3 weeks while Howard has done nothing but struggle since returning to the lineup. That doesn’t mean he can’t play, but Fickell talks every week about getting the best 11 on the field. He made the right move with Christian Bryant, now it might be time to give Clarke a look.
10. There is some excellent young talent on this team. It’s been a rough year. It might get worse. It probably will. Or not. This team is young. They lack leadership. They don’t have a quarterback. There are a lot of reasons for fans to give up on the 2011 Buckeyes, but don’t do it. Don’t miss a chance to see some of these young players develop right in front of your eyes. Just think of that secondary alone with guys like Barnett (soph.), Bryant (soph.), Roby (rs frosh.) and Clarke (rs soph.). Add a linebacker like Ryan Shazier (frosh) and some serious young talent up front in Michael Bennett (frosh), Johnathan Hankins (soph.), J.T. Moore (rs frosh.), Steve Miller (frosh), Darryl Baldwin (rs frosh), Joel Hale (frosh) and Kenny Hayes (frosh). This defense could be loaded, assuming they find another linebacker or two. The offense could also be pretty good in a year or two with Braxton, Devin Smith, Evan Spencer, Philly Brown, Verlon Reed, Carlos Hyde, Rod Smith and Jeff Heuerman all being in their first or second season on campus.
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