10 Things We Learned from a Near Disaster in Bloomington
By Brandon Castel
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — The Buckeyes put 52 points on the board in a Big Ten road game Saturday night, and it almost wasn’t enough.
Ohio State should have won this game comfortably, but Indiana got some key calls to go their way under the lights, and the Hoosiers scored two late touchdowns to make things interesting.
Here’s a look at the 10 Things We Learned from a near disaster for the now 7-0 Buckeyes.
1. Urban Meyer’s patience is wearing thin with this defense. Meyer did a good job of not throwing anyone under the bus after Ohio State’s 52-49 win over Indiana, but it was easy to see he was seething about the performance of the defense. He’s made a lot excuses for this group over the year, but there is no excusing 49 points to Indiana. Meyer said he plans to get more involved with the defense after watching that performance, which can’t be good news for Luke Fickell, Everett Withers and those coaches on that side of the ball.
2. Kevin Wilson is the man for the job at Indiana. Wilson has won exactly three football games in his first two years as the head coach at Indiana. He is 0-10 against the Big Ten and nothing he’s done has helped to put more butts in the seats. Yet it’s hard to watch the Hoosiers these last two weeks without thinking Wilson has them on the right track. They are currently second in the Big Ten total offense and first in passing. They carved up Ohio State’s defense in the second half, but they also had Michigan State in a 17-0 hole last week before falling 31-27 to the Spartans. The ultimate goal is to win games, but Wilson certainly knows how to coach offense. Now he just needs to find a defense.
3. Indiana is a basketball school with a football problem. Was that all you got, Indiana football fan? A night game against the Buckeyes is supposed to be the perfect time for an aerial shot of Memorial Stadium because OSU fans always travel so well to Bloomington. They did again Saturday, but Indiana fans must have missed the 8 p.m. kick time. There were patches of empty seats all over the East side of the stadium, and the loudest cheers of the game (other than the ones from Ohio State fans) were directed at Tom Crean and the basketball program. It was an exciting game and Indiana actually had a chance at the end, but not many IU fans were there to witness it.
4. Carlos Hyde is just getting started. In case you had any thoughts that last week’s 140-yard, four-touchdown performance against Nebraska was a fluke, it wasn’t. Carlos Hyde is looking more and more like the real deal now that he’s actually healthy enough to carry the football. He touched it 24 times against Indiana, and racked up 183 total yards and a pair of touchdowns. He isn’t the shiftiest runner and he might not always find every hole, but there may not be a back who runs the ball harder in the rest of the country. At 230 pounds, Hyde runs through arm tackles, but he also has enough speed to break away in the open field. The one thing we’re learning about Hyde is that he seems to get stronger as the game goes on.
5. Braxton Miller is going to put up number, even on an off day. How can you call it an off day when a quarterback throws for 211 yards and runs for 149 more while orchestrating an offense that scores 52 points on the road? That’s how good Braxton Miller is in this new offense. He threw an unnecessary pick in the end zone which led to a huge momentum swing, and the Hoosiers actually did as good a job of corralling him the open field as any team has all year. And just when it looks like they’re going to force someone else to beat them, Miller rips off a 67-yard touchdown run where he hardly gets touched on his way to the end zone. It almost seems in inevitable that a healthy Braxton Miller will be headed for New York at the end of the year.
6. Devin Smith is spectacularly frustrating. Miller could have been over 300 yards passing against the IU defense Saturday if not for a pair of dropped touchdown passes to Devin Smith. The second one would have been an over-the-shoulder grab, but it was a catchable ball that his Smith right in the hands. The first was one was just a flat-out drop near the goal line, and yet Smith was on the receiving end of two long touchdowns Saturday. The first was one was straight speed on the fly route and the second was serious agility, as he danced his way to the end zone. Both were probably plays no one else on the roster could make, and yet they don’t entirely make up for the two drops.
7. Rod Smith’s ceiling may be limited. It seemed like it was only a matter of time before Rod Smith busted off a big touchdown run Saturday at Indiana. He looked good returning kicks – better than anyone else has this year for OSU – and he runs the ball with both fluidity and suddenness, which makes him extremely tough to tackle in the open field. He had six carries for 40 yards this week, but just when it looked like we were on the verge of seeing Smith’s first step towards greatness, he puts the ball on the ground. It looked like a questionable handoff, and it was recovered by a teammate, but this is an ongoing issues for Smith, who seems to limit his own ability with carless mistakes.
8. Zach Boren is a tremendous football player. Did he play a perfect game at linebacker Saturday night against Indiana? Absolutely not. He really wasn’t that big of a factor in the game, despite the fact he actually led the team in tackles after 3.5 years of playing fullback on the other side of the ball. Think about that? How many players could switch from offense to defense on Tuesday and lead the team in tackles five days later? There are linebackers on this team who couldn’t learn the defense in a year, let alone a week. It’s pretty remarkable when you think about it, and Boren should only play better as he gets more comfortable. He’s also much more suited to play against an offense like Penn State or Wisconsin than he is Indiana’s hurry-up spread attack.
9. What does that say about the other linebackers? Yes, this team is riddled with injuries on the defensive side of the ball. A lot of guys are playing hurt. Nathan Williams was out with a concussion. Etienne Sabino has a broken leg. Christian Bryant and Travis Howard both left the game with injuries but ended up back in the game. That still doesn’t explain how Boren, a four-year starter at fullback, can practice three times at linebacker and already be able to give them more than anyone outside of Shazier. Klein still played a good amount in this game, but the guy who stands out in this situation is Curtis Grant, who went from starting MLB in the spring to unusable on defense in a matter of weeks.
10. This defense will have issues all year. I said it last week and I’ll say it again, this defense has problems. Yes, they have certainly been hurt by injuries, but there is nobody missing from this group who could make up for some of the glaring weaknesses this OSU defense has shown every time it faces a spread offense. It can be any spread, really, and this group is going to struggle. And it wasn’t just missed tackles. There were two long touchdowns runs Saturday where the defense barely got a finger on the guy. This isn’t something Meyer can step in and fix, and it isn’t something that’s going to naturally correct itself in a week or two. This defense had better try something new, because what it’s doing is not working.
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