10 Things We Learned

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Last updated: 10/07/2012 5:40 PM

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Football
10 Things We Learned from a Triumphant Win over Nebraska
By Brandon Castel

COLUMBUS, Ohio — That one had to feel good.

After what happened last year in Lincoln, Ohio State’s 63-38 win over Nebraska had to be absolutely exhilarating for the Buckeyes. These players talked about owing the Cornhuskers for that comeback last year at Memorial Stadium, and they certainly delivered.

Here’s a look at 10 Things We Learned from Ohio State’s triumphant victory over Nebraska Saturday night in Ohio Stadium.

1. The plan is working. When Meyer became the head coach back in January he told his players he has a plan to win, and if they will follow him, there is a 100% chance of success for the Buckeyes. Most of the guys bought in, but a grueling offseason produced up and down results in the nonconference. The Buckeyes skated through with a 4-0 record, but the plan has really come to fruition in the first two weeks of the Big Ten schedule. The Buckeyes have hardly been perfect on defense or in the special teams, but they were winning the turnover battle and they are playing the kind of football Meyer envisioned when he started this journey back in January. The team is 6-0 with a legitimate chance to run the table, at least until the end of November.

2. We are truly in a different era of Ohio State football. This wasn’t the first time the Buckeyes have scored 60+ points in a game, but it has to be one of the only times in school history when they have scored half a hundred or more in just three quarters. The slow start caused some more grumbles this week, but how many of us can remember a big game in conference play where Ohio State looked so dominant offensively? You would probably have to go back to 2006, but even that team only scored 50+ points in one game all season. A big part of that is a difference in philosophy between Jim Tressel and Urban Meyer, two of the most successful college coaches of the last decade. Neither is necessarily right or wrong, though I prefer Meyer’s aggressive mentality to a more conservative approach, but there is no denying that we have officially moved into a brand new era of Ohio State football. It’s not going to look much like the any era before it.

3. Braxton Miller is a once-in-a-generation talent. It hasn’t translated to the next level, but the Buckeyes have had some amazing talent at the quarterback position over the last 20 years. From Bobby Hoying and Joe Germaine in the 90s to Craig Krenzel, Troy Smith and Terrelle Pryor over the past decade, this team has had some unique talent at the quarterback position. Miller may be the most unique of them all. He isn’t a better passer than Germaine or Smith yet, but nobody in scarlet and gray has ever been quite like Braxton in the open field. Let’s not forget that this offense does a great job of creating those situations for Miller, but he has a remarkable ability to make guys miss and then explode up the field. He’s tough, he’s hard to trip up and he always seems to get a few extra yards at the end of every run. And he’s only a sophomore. Troy Smith wasn’t even on the field at this point in his career.

4. Carlos Hyde has what it takes to be ‘the guy.’ Not to say I told you so, but I’ve been trying to tell people for two years that Hyde is the one guy in this OSU backfield who could be a true feature back for this football team. He has a rare blend of speed and toughness, and I’m not sure I’ve seen a guy run the ball harder than Hyde did against Nebraska Saturday night. He doesn’t always hit the right hole, which will come with time, but he is hungry to be great. He’s as competitive as any guy on the roster and he desperately wants to be the guy Urban Meyer can count on to carry this team so Braxton Miller doesn’t have to do it alone. Rushing for 140 yards and four touchdowns is a pretty good start.

5. Ohio State’s offensive line is the real hero. A lot of credit is going to go to Braxton and Carlos for the way they ran the football against Nebraska, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see the OSU offensive line take home Offensive Player of the Week honors again. It’s amazing to think how far this group has come from a year ago, when they really were the punching bag for this football team. They had some silly penalties Saturday, including false starts by Nick Vannett and Reid Fragel, but this group has really dominated the last two games in the trenches. Meyer called them his favorite group on the team right now, and there isn’t enough that can be said about a group that cleared the way for 371 yards on the ground in a primetime Big Ten football game. Don’t look now, but Jack Mewhort has really blossomed into a star at the left tackle position.

6. Rod Smith’s talent is undeniable. Ohio State fans finally got to see a glimpse of the explosiveness we heard about from Rod Smith a few years back, when he was running all over the starting defense during bowl preparations. He had almost reached mythical status before this season, and when he lost the backup job to freshman Bri’onte Dunn in camp, it looked like Smith was going to disappear before he ever actually appeared. But for one brief moment Saturday, Smith looked like the best player on the football field. His 33-yard touchdown run gave OSU a 56-31 lead in the third quarter, but it also gave fans a reason to believe in Smith. He showed explosiveness, vision, speed and power on that run which can’t be taught. It might have been the single best running play of the season that didn’t involve Braxton Miller keeping the football, and it’s the kind of play that will cause Meyer to write Smith’s name on the chalkboard as a guy who needs to get the football.

7. John Simon showed more than guts in this one. Last week, I wrote about all the injuries Simon has been playing through this season, and how he was gutting it out each week even though it wasn’t showing up in the box score. Well, forget that. Meyer said Simon was as healthy as he has been since early in camp this week, and it showed right from the start. After watching the film of Ohio State’s first five games, Nebraska apparently thought Simon wasn’t a guy who deserved a lot of attention on the defensive line. They gave a lot more to Johnathan Hankins and Nathan Williams, but that turned out to be a critical mistake, as Simon made Taylor Martinez pay on a number of big hits. He finished with seven tackles, included five for loss and two sacks. He also forced a fumble that set up the last touchdown run for Hyde. If he’s healthy the rest of the way, look out.

8. Bradley Roby is the star of this defense. There are a lot of big names on this defense, despite its inconsistent play so far this season, but nobody seems to feed off the spotlight more than Roby. His first-quarter pick-6 was a thing of beauty, and without it, the Buckeyes would have been down 17-0 after one quarter instead of 17-7. It become apparent through the game that Martinez should just avoid throwing in the direction of No. 1 the rest of the game, a lesson he didn’t learn until after Roby intercepted him for the second time. He still has a lot of room to grow, but this kid is turning into a superstar right in front of our eyes.

9. This defense would really be lost without Ryan Shazier. This really dawned on my when Shazier limped off the field after taking a helmet to the knee. He would later return, but for a moment the Buckeyes were facing the reality of playing a true freshman in Camren Williams at the Will linebacker spot. This is one of the most important positions on this defense, and Shazier has quickly become one of the most indispensible players on the entire team. He is still learning, but this kid has tremendous instincts and unbelievable athleticism. Some of the plays he made from the other side of the field were unbelievable, and he his ability to make plays in space is critical for the Buckeyes, because that’s exactly where their other linebackers have struggled.

10. The defense will have issues all year. Even with Hankins, Simon, Williams, Shazier and Roby all playing at a high level, this defense just isn’t on the same level as some of the OSU defenses we have seen in years past. It’s hard to put a finger on exactly what the biggest issues seems to be, but when was the last time an OSU defense allowed 38 points at home? A big part of that is the fact the offense was throwing points on the board at will, but let’s not forget how easily the Cornhuskers went down the field on those first two scoring drives. Take nothing away from Nebraska’s offense, because Rex Burkhead might be the best running back in the Big Ten,  some of the tackling issues and miscommunication stuff on the back end is going to continue to be a problem the rest of the year. Fortunately, they seem to be a much more opportunistic defense than some of the ones we have seen recently.

Bonus: Maybe they should try Ben Buchanan or Drew Basil at linebacker. OK, so maybe this isn’t a good idea, but how can you not be impressed with some of the tackles Basil and Buchanan have made this season? These two guys do not shy away from getting in there, but it’s probably not a good thing. First of all, you don’t want either of these guys getting hurt. More importantly, these guys are not linebackers. They’ve made some great plays, but you don’t want your kicker and punter being the guys to make the big tackle on coverage teams.

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