10 Things We Learned from a Party in the ‘Shoe
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Unless you are a Wisconsin fan, Saturday night’s thriller at Ohio Stadium was a treat for college football fans everywhere.
What looked like a one-sided game for more than three quarters suddenly became a back-and-forth battle of wills between the Buckeyes and Badgers. Ohio State ultimately pulled out the victory with a 33-29 win that somewhat avenged their loss up in Madison last season.
It was the second-straight week of last-second heartbreak for the Badgers, with another video review to boot, but there was a lot to be learned about the Buckeyes from their celebration at the Horseshoe.
1. Winning is more fun than losing. All sports fans know this. It is obvious and self-fulfilling and yet nothing reminds us more of how true this really is than a few tough losses. Ohio State players and fans have become accustomed to winning just about every week, so this year has served as a little reminder of what the other side feels like. It also reminded us all of how sweet a redemptive win can taste for a team desperately trying to stay together.
2. This team has more heart than we thought. After the Buckeyes blew a 12-point lead in the fourth quarter, I turned to a number of my colleagues and told them that this OSU team has no heart. It was the second time this season they blew a two-score lead in the fourth quarter and it looked like they were going to fall to 1-3 in the Big Ten when they could easily be 3-1. Heck, they could be 4-0 with a decent game plan against Michigan State. The fourth quarter of Saturday’s game just seemed to fit this team perfectly. They had found yet another way to create a spectacle and a new way to lose. Only they didn’t lose. With just over a minute on the clock after they fell behind, the Buckeyes battled back. Jordan Hall went 42 yards on the kickoff. Boom Herron fought for a big first down and then of course Braxton Miller saved the day. It was impressive to see this team fight back after all the reasons they have been given to quit.
3. Suddenly the Big Ten title goes through Columbus, again. How can this be possible? This team was done after just two games in conference play, and yet all of a sudden they are back in the race. They still don’t control their own destiny thanks to a missed field goal by Illinois on the final play of their loss at Penn State, but the Buckeyes almost have to be considered the favorites to win the Leaders division at this point. The Nittany Lions are 8-1 overall and 5-0 in conference play but they close out the season with Nebraska at home followed by trips to Ohio State and Wisconsin. If they win one of those they would be lucky. If they lose two of them, the Buckeyes could book a trip to Indianapolis by winning their final four games. Suddenly that doesn’t seem so unrealistic. They get Indiana and Penn State at home and Purdue on the road. The toughest remaining game is going to be in Ann Arbor to close out the year, but they will have DeVier Posey back for that trip.
4. Boom Herron is the soul of the offense. They will also have Boom Herron, who has quickly reminded us how good he was at the end of last year. In two games this year, Herron has racked up 274 yards on 56 carries and he has topped the century mark in five of his last seven games dating back to last season. He did a little too much East-West running Saturday, but it’s impossible to argue with his final tally of 33 carries for 160 yards. The Buckeyes should probably still find a way to get Carlos Hyde 6-7 carries a game, but it’s impossible to ignore the emotional lift Herron has given this team the last two weeks. He is putting his heart and soul into the rest of this season and in doing so, he has become the heart and soul of the offense. He can turn nothing into a big run and he does an incredible job of using his blockers.
5. Ohio State’s offensive line gives them a chance to win every week. Herron’s return coupled with that of Mike Adams has really started something special. It’s possible, if not probable, that this current offensive line is even better than last years—in large part because the three seniors are all better. Adams is playing at an elite level and Michael Brewster and J.B. Shugarts both played great Saturday, other than the obligatory false start for No. 76. Sophomore Andrew Norwell has fit right in at left guard and let’s not forget about some of the blocks thrown by Zach Boren, Adam Homan, Jake Stoneburner and Reid Fragel. Boren in particular just flattens people every week, but the way this group is starting to gel gives the Buckeyes a chance to be successful every time they take the field.
6. Braxton Miller is on the verge of stardom. Another part of that equation is Miller, who played the best game of his young career. He finished with less than 100 yards passing yet again, but there is no question that this kid is going to be a star if he can stay healthy. Forget the game-winning pass—which is impossible to forget because it was the signature play of his career and of this season—and Miller was still having a game to remember. He was running all over Wisconsin’s defense, picking up long third downs, and then he busted off a 44-yard touchdown run that looked more like Terrelle Pryor than anything he has ever done before. Miller is quick, he is elusive and now we know he can turn on the afterburners when he gets in the open field. The passing is still a work in progress, but Philly Brown and Jake Stoneburner didn’t do him any favors in the first half with those two big drops. As for the winning play, that is not something freshmen are supposed to do. They are supposed to make bad decisions, or at the very least commit to running the ball when it’s there. Instead, Miller kept his eyes downfield. He stopped just short of the line of scrimmage and heaved a pass to his buddy Devin Smith. It wasn’t a perfectly thrown ball, but it didn’t have to be. Miller’s scrambling ability had already sucked the defense in enough to leave Smith wide open. All Miller had to do was get it there.
7. The secret to success for Wisconsin’s offensive line. As it turns out, it’s pretty simple: hold all night long without a single penalty flag and then laugh when the referees call holding on the opponent. OK, so maybe that is a bit sarcastic, but it was almost comical that Ohio State had three holding calls against them while Wisconsin had nary a one. I have never been a fan of blaming umpires or referees for anything in sports, unless it is something so blatant that it warrants attention. That was definitely the case in this game, where Wisconsin’s offensive line mugged John Simon and Johnathan Hankins all night. Simon was tackled more times than Braxton Miller and Hankins nearly had his pads pulled up over his head on a few occasions.
8. Adam Bellamy arrived Saturday night. It would have been easy to write more about Simon and Hankins and how amazing they are because, well, they are that amazing. But we already knew that. It’s nice to be reminded week after week just how good these two guys are but Saturday marked the arrival of another member of the defensive line. Ever since Nathan Williams suffered a season-ending knee injury in the opener, the Buckeyes have been looking for a third guy up front to come alive. Michael Bennett has shown flashes for a freshman, but Bellamy came alive against Wisconsin and it turned OSU’s defensive line from good to great. With all the attention being paid to the two Johns, Bellamy was all over the Wisconsin backfield.
9. Christian Bryant is who he is. It is better to realize this now and stop hoping for him to be someone else. That doesn’t mean Bryant won’t develop into a better, more intelligent version of himself, but if you take away his aggressiveness you take away the thing that makes him Christian Bryant. He is young and he is going to make mistakes. Those mistakes have cost them, especially the missed tackle at Nebraska, but the reason Bryant is starting instead of Orhian Johnson is because he has no fear when it comes to making plays. That is why they like him. Sure, he missed some tackles Saturday. He also missed a big interception that led to Wisconsin’s first touchdown. He also had a devastating hit on third down that forced a punt. This defense has a lot of guys willing to “do their one-eleventh,” they need a couple guys like Bryant who can step outside that to make a big play.
10. Can’t say enough good things about Ben Buchanan and the specials teams. Somehow I feel like I’m writing about Ben Buchanan every single week, but it’s hard not to. Maybe I just didn’t give punters enough credit in the past, but it’s impossible not to notice the season Buchanan is having. Outside of Simon, Hankins and maybe Zach Boren, Buchanan has been OSU’s most consistent player this season, and certainly one of their best. He was at it again Saturday against Wisconsin. His ability to flip the field and turn bad field position into good has really masked some of Ohio State’s youth and inexperience on defense. He had another fantastic punt that pinned Wisconsin inside the 10 yard line and also hit a couple of bombs. His hang time is getting better too, which has allowed guys like Ryan Shazier, Nate Ebner and Zach Domicone to fly down the field and make big hits. Give Orhian Johnson credit for a few nice plays on special teams too. Of course no one made a bigger special teams play than Shazier, who blocked the punt that was recovered by Curtis Grant near the goal line.
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