Ohio State vs. MSU Game Thoughts
Things I Think I Saw/ Things I Thought I’d See
By Ken Pryor
The Buckeyes traveled to East Lansing to take on the Spartans of Michigan State in what turned out to be a pretty good game to watch. It had all the ingredients of an old-fashioned Big Ten donnybrook, complete with hard hitting, stout defenses, and low scoring.
While this game may not have been aesthetically pleasing to the “experts” who seem to be so enamored with the SEC or Pac-12 style of play, where teams score points in X-box fashion, it was beautiful football in my personal opinion.
The Buckeyes weathered some storms and survived Braxton Miller’s three turnovers on the way to a well-earned 17-16 victory.
OHIO STATE OFFENSE
The Buckeyes got out the gate quickly with a very nice opening drive, mainly behind the running of Braxton Miller who really hurt the Spartans with his ability to make people miss. In the early going, he needed only to make defenders miss in open space as the blocking on QB power, zone read, and QB lead was truly a thing of beauty.
Guys like Zach Boren and Reid Fragel really made a name for themselves with their ability to get out in front, find their guy and lock on him with solid blocking technique. Late in the game, Fragel started to assert himself as no worse than William Gholston’s equal. Gholston certainly made some plays and affirmed himself as a force to be reckoned with, but Fragel more than held his own, especially later in game when Ohio State needed yards to keep the clock moving.
ESPN named Braxton Miller as the player of the game, and while it would be hard to argue that selection, it is clear Miller is a work in progress in all facets of the game. Miller continued his role as a dual-threat even against an established defense, passing for 179 yards – on a 16 for 23 completion ratio – while amassing 23 carries for 136 yards on the ground.
Michigan State started to ratchet things up quite a bit in the second quarter, when they began blitzing more and more in hopes of forcing more turnovers. To some degree, their plan worked, as Miller indeed turned the ball over three times.
The offense clearly needs Braxton Miller to be on in order for the rest of the unit to click. We hear and read how others on the offense need to do their part or become more involved. Ironically, those others need the same Braxton Miller to do a better job in order for them to get the ball before they can contribute.
Miller still has trouble reading coverages, so the receivers are going to have trouble doing anything with the ball because they aren’t getting it. Aside from that, his throwing mechanics are still a bit awkward. Sometimes deep balls, or long throws to the sidelines, seem to be heaved as opposed to simply being thrown. The running backs also suffer an inability to find their groove when Miller misreads the defensive end on zone-read.
The good news for the Buckeyes is they are actually winning games while their quarterback continues to learn the game. I am of the firm belief that the Cal and Michigan State wins are games the Buckeyes would have lost had they played them last season.
As the Spartans began to tighten the screws in the second quarter, I began to worry about the outcome of the game. They seemed hell-bent on forcing Braxton to make decisions under fire. The game began to take on a tone eerily similar to Terrelle Pryor’s nightmarish performance at Purdue during his sophomore campaign.
The difference between this game and Pryor’s nightmare was the current offensive line actually was able to get a handle on the Spartans’ defensive front while Pryor’s line may still be having nightmarish visions of Ryan Kerrigan dancing in their heads.
Make no mistake, I have nothing but praise for the win at East Lansing, but I do have a couple complaints or concerns.
Is Jake Stoneburner still on the team? If there is a player on this team who might be frustrated, it would have to be him. Heck, I’m frustrated for him. It seems a real shame that a weapon of his magnitude is seemingly going unseen, un-utilized or flat-out ignored while Miller is on his learning curve.
I love Corey “Philly” Brown. He is a Buckeye and he catches the ball better than I ever thought he would, but I vote “no” on bubble screens to Philly. He just isn’t a homerun hitter. I don’t know what it is, but that play is fast becoming the new staff’s “Dave” in my mind. When he does get the ball, he runs like he’s scared for his life. I don’t see confidence or explosiveness.
Personally, I don’t think Devin Smith gets nearly enough touches. If there is a receiver on this team onto whom Braxton should lock (which he tends to do at times), it should be Smith, in my estimation.
All in all it was a solid showing by the offense. Unfortunately, Miller had three miscues that occurred while Ohio State was moving the ball on what seemed to be drives that would result in points. The offensive line looked very good, receivers caught balls, and the offense, as a whole, moved the ball. The Buckeyes carried the ball 44 times for 204 yards on the ground. Last season they ran the ball 39 times for 35 yards. That’s some serious improvement. Most importantly, they were able to get necessary first downs when they absolutely had to have them. That is the mark of a good team…or at least a good team in the making.
I would grade the offense out at a B for their performance at Michigan State. Fewer turnovers and a few more points might have netted them the higher grade.
OHIO STATE DEFENSE
Defensively, I thought the Buckeyes were very similar to those old Silver Bullets units we had all come to know over the years, thanks in part to the Spartans choosing to go with their more conventional offensive approach.
Conventional offenses will have trouble against this Buckeye defensive unit. They are not great at tackling in space, nor are they great at defending in open space, but if opponents choose to run between the tackles from a pro set vs. spreading them out, they’re going to have all kinds of troubles. That philosophy plays right into the wheelhouse of the Ohio State defense.
The defensive line played a whale of a game on Saturday. Nathan Williams really came on strong looking like his former self. He was extremely active in beating his man off the edge and providing solid pass rush. When he wasn’t rushing, he was providing strong run support or providing a new wrinkle thrown in by Luke Fickell where he moved to a linebacker position.
The tackling was much better than it had been in recent weeks, however, there is work still to be done – especially in the secondary. The defensive linemen and linebackers did a solid job of flowing to the ball and stopping Le’Veon Bell at the point of attack. Rare were the times when he dragged the Buckeyes forward for more yards. Bell was held in check for 45 yards on 17 carries with his longest run of the day totaling at 8 measly yards.
The defense is not out of the woods yet though. The Spartans were actually able to move the ball through the air with much success, but several big pass plays were nullified by Spartan penalties.
When penalties weren’t committed, the Spartan receivers bailed out the Buckeye defense with dropped balls. Funny how the drops started coming just as Brent Musberger and Kirk Herbstreit began heaping mounds of praise on the Spartan receiving corps for not dropping passes.
Thank goodness for the drops, because the Ohio State secondary is really painful to watch. As a unit, they are the worst tacklers on the team and their coverage is always a question mark in my mind. And yet they are the cockiest unit… the group who talks the most trash on the field.
The throwback pass to Keith Humphrey caught Orhian Johnson out of position, then rendered him reaching for Humphrey’s flag instead of trying to make the tackle. Travis Howard had a shot at him, but he seemed surprised that Humphrey didn’t run into his waiting arms as if he’d been waiting for Travis all his life to come tackle him.
Christian Bryant gave a gallant effort (and by gallant I mean pathetic) with his shoulder bump that did nothing more than push Humphrey back into Howard who, again, seemed surprised that the ball-carrier simply didn’t take a knee at that point. Enter Etienne Sabino, who tries to rip the ball out of Humphrey’s arms to no avail. In the fray, we see Nate Williams get in on the act, but the other Buckeye defenders seem to be holding Humphrey up instead of bringing him down, so they all go for a ride into the end zone.
What should have been stopped for an 8-yard gain turned into a 29-yard touchdown that should have left this group nothing short of embarrassed. A group that seemingly possesses very little shame or humility.
Whenever I see Doran Grant in the game, I see good things, yet he can’t seem to steal a starting job. Outside of receivers running free in the zones, and the pathetic tackling from the DBs, the defense overall performed pretty well. They stood tall against a quality opponent and they put the clamps on a top-tier running back.
The Bucks held the Spartans to only one trip into the end zone and only 16 points total. When the game was in question, they got a necessary stop at the 4-minute mark giving the ball back to the offense. Well done on that merit alone.
Overall I want to grade the defense at an A- or B+, but the secondary play really bothers me. They kept drives alive for the Spartans with penalties, looked lost at times and the tackling remains abysmal from that unit. I’ve got half a mind to make the grade lower, but that wouldn’t be fair to John-John, Nate, Garrett, Etienne, Ryan and Storm … a group of guys who really came to play on Saturday.
The defense gets a B- from me in this game.
OHIO STATE SPECIAL TEAMS
This unit is sort of up and down in my opinion. More up than down though. The tackling on some kick-offs is poor at times, but they haven’t been gashed yet.
The highlight of the day was Brad Roby’s blocked punt. The effort he gave on that play was high-level. He was literally falling to the ground as he extended his arm at the last moment when he got every bit of that ball. Too bad the offense couldn’t capitalize on the short field, but kudos to the punt block team anyway. Blocked punts don’t happen very often at all.
Carlos Hyde got a silly penalty when he hit the kid in the head area, presumably trying to jar the ball loose. Somebody ought to tell Carlos it works better when you put your hat on the ball, which is in the runner’s hands, not on top of his head. Hyde’s speed and aggression undoubtedly earned him a spot on the unit, but proper technique will go a long ways too.
The specials made FGs, blocked a punt, coverage teams didn’t get gashed, while the return teams are still looking for that guy who can make it go. I give the specials a B+
Extra Points to Ponder
Nega props to the Michigan State training/coaching staff for keeping William Gholston in the game after getting his “wind knocked out.” I’m no medical doctor, but I have played and watched a lot of football in my 42 years on this earth, and never have I seen a player lay motionless on the football after having his “wind knocked out.”
In this day and age of being overly cautious with regards to head injuries and concussions, the Spartan staff took us back to a Mesozoic era of thinking. There is very little doubt in my mind that kid was unconscious as he lay on the ground, yet they trotted him right back out there to continue playing in hopes of winning a football game. I’m all for playing hurt and playing through pain, but that was an egregious show of carelessness and lack of concern for that young man’s safety.