Three and Out From Inside the WHAC
By Tony Gerdeman
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Before a team can become great, they must first become good. More than talent or coaching, a great team needs consistency. After all, what good is all of that talent if it isn't consistent?
A good team can be inconsistent, and in fact, most are. That's what keeps them from being great. Right now, the Buckeyes are one of many good teams in the nation. But simply being good isn't good enough.
For Ohio State to take that next step the talent needs to improve, the coaching needs to continue to mesh, and everybody needs to become more consistent. But even a lack of talent can be overcome if the coaches know as much as possible about their team, and that comes from the team being consistent.
On his weekly call-in show, Urban Meyer mentioned that the offensive line probably doesn't have any first rounders on it yet, but when an offensive line works collectively as a unit, they can hide some of their talent shortcomings.
When asked what area of the offense that he was most pleased with to this point, offensive coordinator Tom Herman cited how hard the offensive line has played this season. The constant and consistent effort they have given has allowed them to stand out in their coach's eyes.
As arguably the team with the most talent in the Big Ten, it will ultimately be Ohio State's consistency that decides their fate this year.
Part of the difficulty in being as consistent as a team would like is the fact that the goal of the other team is to make you as inconsistent as possible. Despite some of the most productive offensive outings to open a season in school history, there is still a rather large learning curve going on simply because of how defenses are trying to defend Braxton Miller.
"I've seen defenses in the last three weeks that I've never even dreamt of in my mind to try to stop the QB from running the football," Herman said this week.
"It's an interesting quandary to be in when you have such a dynamic runner back there that defensive coverages tend to be completely skewed opposed to what you grew up knowing. Teams now are trying to get eight and nine guys in the box to be sound against him pulling the ball and running. So the variety of coverages that we see on first and second down is absolutely mind-boggling."
Basically, in order to make defenses pay for skewing their defenses, Herman has to decide whether to skew his own offense, or just do what his offense does best and not really change anything.
However, what Herman would like to do and what he can do aren't always the same thing, and that is again where consistency comes into play.
Miller is just a sophomore. Last week he didn't have the go ahead to check out of plays. The coaches are going to give him the responsibility of doing so this week, however. Can he handle it? Herman would like to think so.
"I think you always as a play-caller and a quarterbacks coach, you want to be able to understand the decisions and the things that that young man sees at 19-years old in the span of 2.1 seconds," he said.
"And the decisions that have to be made within those 2.1 seconds is off-the-charts complex. I think as you go throughout the week you say, 'What can he handle and what can't he handle', regardless of who it is playing, whether it's Peyton Manning or Braxton Miller. You've got to decide what's too much to put on his plate and what kind of decisions can he make."
If Miller can accept the added responsibility and remain consistent in his performance, then they will continue to add to his workload. Once that consistency diminishes, however, then it will be time to dial back how much they are asking him to do.
Compared to the defense, the Ohio State offense has been as consistent as Old Faithful. Communication issues in the secondary to start the season, and extreme issues with tackling against California have been the defensive story lines for the Buckeyes this year.
The communication problems seemed to go away against Cal, though nobody would be surprised to see them pop back up this week against an opponent that likes to throw the ball downfield and who may not exactly require a defense's full attention.
In other words, it will take more than one week of not happening to believe that the issues of the past are in the past. When the secondary becomes more consistent, "miscommunication" will no longer be a hot-button issue.
However, the Buckeye defense has bigger fish to fry right now anyway. Tackling against California was poor in all of the worst ways. You can watch the game and see defenders not even using their arms when attempting to tackle. That's like bobbing for apples without using your mouth. What do you think your success rate would be doing that?
Urban Meyer and Luke Fickell have said that the Buckeyes work on tackling more than anybody, and to prove their point they added a second day of tackling this week. The results, they hope, will be seen on Saturday with a much more sound defensive effort.
They still want to go from Point A to Point B as fast as they can, but they can't forget to bring their fundamentals with them when they do get to Point B.
"We're not going to use it as an excuse, but sometimes the stress of going as fast as we possibly can from Point A to Point B, it is our mantra and we're not going to take that away, but we still have to do that with the understanding of where point B is," defensive coordinator Luke Fickell said on Monday.
"We can't lose sight of that. As hard as you go and as much energy as you have and as much emotion as you have, you still can't lose sight of the base fundamentals of what you do."
It's not one over the other, speed over fundamentals, or fundamentals over speed. Without both at the same time, consistency will continue to be fleeting.
Losses happen, and if the Buckeyes don't become more consistent than they are right now, some of those losses will be theirs.
However, where things stand right now, Ohio State may be good enough to go 12-0 this season. There is no opponent remaining on the schedule who is clearly better than the Buckeyes. The key to winning each game is, of course, both sides of the ball being consistent.
It's easy to see what this offense is capable of, and there is talent on each level of defense. It all just needs to find a way to come together. The players see that as well, which only drives home the need for them to become more consistent.
Photo by Jim Davidson
"I'm happy because we're 3-0," fullback Zach Boren said.
"We've scored enough points to win each game, but at the same time there's been some stuff that's happened each game where we weren't clicking the best. There were way too many three and outs this past Saturday. Some drives just stalled out. I would say that each game we kind of jumped out to a lead and we just couldn't really keep the momentum going. That's something as an offense that once we do jump out to that lead, and our defense is holding them, we should have to keep on going and finish the game off."
Boren is talking about his team having a killer instinct. The coaches want to see it as well, that's why they lean toward aggressive playcalling, even on fourth down. They want to instill that instinct to finish a team off, but consistency must come first.
"I think that's why Coach Meyer says it's scary how good of a team we can be," Boren said.
"We've put up a lot of points as an offense, and we've done good things, but at the same time there's been some big things that we haven't done well. If we capitalize on some of those drives, we could easily put up a lot more points."
When you look back at everything you have seen from the Buckeyes this season, don't forget that you still haven't seen either the offense or the defense fully healthy.
Defensively, Ohio State still misses defensive end Michael Bennett. He is perhaps the Buckeyes' best pass rusher. They miss him and when he's not out there, they're simply not as good as they could be.
And remember, tailbacks Carlos Hyde and Jordan Hall have yet to be in the same backfield together, and that's something that has been in the works for nine months.
"It's crazy to think that we haven't been full-go as a whole offensive unit yet this season and we're still putting up some good numbers and still winning games," Boren said.
"We're excited to see what we can do as a full unit out there and everyone being healthy. We're still growing as a team, we're excited though. We're 3-0. We're a young team. We have a lot of young guys, and I think they're going to get more confident as the season goes on."
Unlike the dictionary, however, in football consistency comes before confidence. Confidence without consistency is just bravado, and bravado has never won a game.
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