10 Things We Learned from Meyer’s First Big Ten Victory
By Brandon Castel
EAST LANSING, Mich. — The Buckeyes are 5-0, and the number of fans climbing back on the bandwagon could be heard all the way from East Lansing.
Ohio State beat a pretty good team Saturday – a team with a solid defense, a good rushing attack and not much else to speak of – and secured the first Big Ten victory of Urban Meyer’s head-coaching career.
We take a look at the 10 Things We Learned from Saturday’s win over Michigan State.
1. The Buckeyes wanted this one. That’s not to suggest they didn’t want to win the first four games of the year, but it was abundantly clear that these players really wanted to win this game. They really wanted to return the favor to Michigan State for what happened last year in Columbus last year, and, more importantly, they wanted to win it for themselves. They wanted to win it for their coach. For everything they’ve been through. For all the hard work – the blood, sweat and tears. All the sandpit crawls and ‘bloody Tuesday’ practices. This was pay day. This was the chance to make a statement. That’s what this team wanted to do, more than anything else. To remind the world Ohio State hasn’t gone away. It’s back, and with Urban Meyer, it’s back in a big way.
2. This team has some heart. When I spoke to senior fullback Zach Boren in Chicago over the summer, he told me the biggest problem with this team a year ago was the inability to finish. That could be games, or the season as a whole. Looking back, it’s easy to see. They should have finished off Nebraska. They should have finished off Purdue. Heck, they probably should have finished off Michigan, but what we saw on Saturday was a team that has some heart. That wasn’t true of the group that took the field to the tune of 6-7 a year ago. It starts at the top, with Meyer and with Miller, but these guys left it all on the field Saturday. And what they found in the process could be the guts they needed.
3. Urban Meyer is having fun. He’s been so obsessed with transforming this team into a winner again, that I’ve often wondered if Meyer is really enjoying himself in his first year back in football. He’s had some obvious highlights, but Saturday was the first time I have seen true joy on his face since he started this journey back in January. He looked like a little kid hopping around on the field, hugging Braxton Miller and carrying Zach Boren across the grass after the final second slipped off the clock and into the night sky. Always big on hyperbole, Meyer called this one of the best wins of his entire career. But, you know what? Maybe it was. The guy has been through a lot. He walked away from the game and when he came back, he was called a liar and a fraud. He has been challenged and attacked by a number of the coaches in his new conference, including the guy across from him on Saturday. It wasn’t hard to tell that Meyer really wanted to win that game, and the players saw a different side of him in the locker room. They saw a guy who was having fun.
4. Braxton Miller is tougher than we thought. Saturday’s game could have been the exact opposite of what it turned out to be. Had Miller’s fumble gone the other way for a touchdown, and his knee been a lot worse that it was, this could have been the beginning of the end for the Buckeyes. That’s how fragile this season is. But that doesn’t mean Miller is fragile. Based on his history, I think we all have a preconceived notion that one bad hit will put him on the bench for the rest of the year. Well he took a bad hit Saturday and came back. He made a plant on his left knee, and everyone assumed the worst. Yet Miller was right back in there. He carried the ball 23 times against a very good MSU defense, and while he was certainly sore after the game, he stuck it out to the end. I expect him to do that the rest of the year, at least until he proves me wrong.
5. It’s apparently acceptable to mock injured players. Braxton Miller took a late hit out of bounds and ended up hitting his helmet on some metal box along the Michigan State sideline. For those who have been to Spartan Stadium, there is very little room in the bench area. There are fans and media basically walking in between players right behind the bench, so that might explain why Miller was playing dodgems over by the OSU bench. What it doesn’t explain is when it became acceptable for fans to mock an injured player after he hits his head on something because their player took a cheap shot at him out of bounds. It wasn’t a ridiculous cheap shot, but that’s hardly the point. What if Miller had been seriously injured? What if he had to be carried off on a stretcher? I guess those fans would have had to live with the fact they were chanting “he’s a p***y” on his way out. Then again, at that point, do they really care?
6. You can get the wind knocked out of you…from a helmet to helmet hit. I don’t know what happened with William Gholston on Saturday. I’m not a doctor, nor do I pretend to have any medical expertise whatsoever. Yet somehow I find myself having a hard time with the idea Gholston left the game because he had the wind knocked out of him. It looked pretty clear from the press box at Spartan Stadium that Gholston was either knocked out or immobilized for a number of seconds after taking a shot to his helmet/shoulder area from a teammate.
He was looked at on the bench by the training staff, and I would like to believe they would put his safety above winning a football game, but it’s really hard when that player wants to go back in the game. It happened so quickly, I have to believe there are more tests they could have done to make sure he didn’t have a concussion.
7. Ohio State’s line came to play, on both sides of the ball. This probably should have been higher on the list, but make no mistake about it, the Buckeyes won this game in the trenches. That’s where this game is always won, especially in a matchup like this. The Spartans completely dominated the line on both sides of the ball a year ago, but this time it was the Buckeyes who controlled things up front. It’s too bad that part of it was the injury to center Travis Jackson, but it wouldn’t have made much of a different.
Jackson and the MSU interior line was getting owned up front by Hankins and Garrett Goebel. The OSU linebacker did a good job filling in the gaps behind them, and Nathan Williams was all over the field wreaking havoc on the Spartans Saturday. On the flip side, Reid Fragel had another career day and this OSU offensive line has to be the most improved unit on the roster. Fragel and Jack Mewhort limited Gholston’s effectiveness, and when the game was on the line, these guys bullied the Spartans up front to close out the game.
8. This defense really is built for power more than speed. Meyer said his defense was better suited to stop an offense like Michigan State’s and boy was he right. When it’s strength on strength, I’ll take the Buckeyes every time. Especially when the best player on the field at any given moment is probably No. 52, Johnathan Hankins. There won’t be many teams the rest of the year that hold Le’Veon Bell to under 50 yards rushing. This defense was flying around, laying the wood and controlling the game for most of the day. They let one slip through their fingers on the Humphery touchdown (what kind of tackling was that?) but the big test will be next week against Nebraska. If they can shut down Taylor Martinez and Rex Burkhead, then I’m ready to believe in this group. Until then, I think MSU was simply a better matchup than teams that constantly attack the perimeter with fast, shifty runners.
9. Devin Smith is the most exciting receiver in the Big Ten. I dare you to name someone else in the conference who is more dynamic, more explosive and more dangerous when the game is on the line. Certainly there are other receivers who have been more consistent this season. Heck, you could put Corey Brown on that list. He has 32 catches in five games this year, including his 12 grabs on Saturday. But when the Buckeyes need a big play, there is nobody more capable of stretching the field vertically than Smith. He also has good size and seems to have a knack for being in the right place at the right time. This kid still has two more years in a Buckeye uniform after this one. Braxton to Devin could be a pretty famous connection by the time it’s all over.
10. Bradley Roby is a difference-maker. The same could be said for Orhian Johnson, who played maybe his best game as a Buckeye Saturday. Johnson was on the right end of three big pass break-ups down the field, but it was Roby who allowed the Buckeyes to bring Christian Bryant down into the box as an extra defender. Roby’s return from injury gave Meyer the faith that his corners could handle the MSU receivers in man-coverage. Roby also comes through with the blocked punt after telling his head coach to go after it.
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