Nine Things We Learned from a Sloppy Win over UCF
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Urban Meyer wasn’t down about Ohio State’s victory over UCF on Saturday, but there were plenty of things for his team to work on after a 31-16 victory in Ohio Stadium.
Quarterback Braxton Miller set a modern-day OSU rushing record, this time for carries, with 27 on the day.
1. Braxton Miller is the offense.
Photo by Dan Harker
When Urban Meyer took the head coaching job back in November, he talked about wanting to get the ball into the hands of his best playmakers. That’s been Meyer’s M.O. since his very first head coaching job at Bowling Green, but who should be getting the ball in this offense?
Certainly Carlos Hyde was a guy who should get 15-20 carries per game, but it’s not always that simple. His injury in the first half created a unique situation where Ohio State was desperate for guys who can make plays.
It’s no secret Miller is Ohio State’s premier playmaker on offense, and the only guy Meyer really trusts to make a play when the pressure is on. He has some other options, but Ohio State’s offense has been at its best with Miller is making plays for the Buckeyes this season and there aren’t a lot of plays being drawn up for other guys right now.
Meyer said he plans to go back to the drawing board and figure out who needs to touch the football more in order to keep Braxton from running in 27 times, but don’t be surprised if that drawing board still has a lot of No. 5 carrying the football.
2. This team needs Jordan Hall.
Photo by Dan Harker
We don’t know what a healthy Jordan Hall could look like in this offense. It hadn’t developed enough in the spring to see what Hall might be able to do, and he wasn’t able to practice in the fall.
We have an idea of what it might look like, but the Buckeyes desperately need Hall to get himself healthy and back on the field so we can at least see what can happen. A number of the coaches have said this offense would be a little limited in some of the things it can do until Hall is back out there. That’s probably true, but right now they just need a guy who can carry the football and make plays. It doesn’t really matter how they get him the football.
Hyde can be that guy when he’s healthy, but Hall could bring something different to the offense. He’s quick and shifty and hard to take down. This offense is great at getting those types of guys into space, where they get 1-on-1 matchups with defenders.
3. Bri’onte Dunn had better be ready.
Photo by Jim Davidson
The fact remains, this team probably won’t have Hall or Hyde next week when they take the field against Cal. That is a scary proposition after what we saw Saturday against UCF. It doesn’t look like Rod Smith is ready to be a part of the action, for whatever reason, and Zach Boren is just starting to get comfortable with the ball in his hands.
Remember, it’s not just that he only had one career carry coming into this season. He also didn’t get to carry the ball ever in practice either, so this is all new for him since Meyer and the staff took over. It looks like he can be a dangerous weapon in short-yardage situations, but Boren isn’t ready for 15-20 carries a game right now.
Nobody other than Braxton really is, at least of the guys who are healthy. They really don’t have many options right now, and may end up getting Corey “Philly” Brown more involved in the running game, but the guy who has to be ready is Bri’onte Dunn.
The freshman tailback out of Canton GlenOak has looked good in limited opportunities this season, but now those opportunities are going to come in the first quarter, and they’re going to come when the game is on the line. It’s not an easy situation for a freshman running back, but he doesn’t have the luxury of picking his spots. His time is now.
4. Get used to aggressive calls, even when they aren’t popular.
You want a more aggressive offense? You got a more aggressive one. Instead of an offense that gets a 10 point lead and desperately tries to run out the clock with Dave left and Dave right for the next two quarters, the Buckeyes now have a group on offense who will go for it on fourth down and who will hand the ball off in the final minute rather than taking a knee.
Co-offensive coordinator Ed Warinner said that’s just their style, and they won’t apologize for it. It’s exciting for the players, and the fans were thrilled to see Meyer go for it twice on 4th-and-1 near midfield, but it was gut-check time the first time they didn’t get it.
This is what you wanted right? There are going to be times where Meyer’s aggressive style backfires, and it is going to drive the Jim Tressel crowd insane because it is so far from the way he went about winning football games.
Different strokes for different folks, I guess.
5. This offense has a long way to go.
The Buckeyes have scored 56 and 31 points in their first two games of the Urban Meyer era, yet there was plenty to dissect after the win over UCF on Saturday. Meyer was particularly frustrated with the turnovers and the 10 penalties, saying that it’s a sign this isn’t a very good football team right now.
The fact is, he’s right. If it was a good football team, they wouldn't need Braxton Miller to run around carrying the ball 27 times in a game like that. Part of it was on Braxton, who is still learning how to make that read in the read-option play, but certainly not all of it.
The offensive coaches were still calling designed runs for Miller in the second half, because they didn’t feel comfortable calling those plays for anyone else. This offense needs to find other guys who can make plays, even they aren’t flashy plays. It doesn’t have to be a 65-yard touchdown run, they just need guys who can hold on to the football, pick up 4-5 yards and move the chains.
6. So does the defense.
We might be talking about things a little differently today if not for the interceptions from Ohio State’s defense on Saturday. It’s clear Everett Withers and Kerry Coombs have brought some different things to the back end of Ohio State’s defense this year.
They have rarely been this effective at creating interceptions in the secondary, but the Buckeyes have absolutely needed them the last two weeks. It doesn’t make up for the fact there continue to be communication breakdowns in that same secondary.
This was an issue a year ago, and it’s no surprise the Buckeyes are having some complications on the back end, considering they returned all six of their top defensive backs from last season.
One of the miscommunications Saturday appears to have been on Bradley Roby, who didn’t get the right call. Last week it was Travis Howard and then Orhian Johnson also lined up in the wrong coverage this week.
7. Something has to change up front.
At some point, they have got to get that fixed, especially since they aren’t getting the kind of pressure they want on the front end. Whether it’s scheme or talent, the Buckeyes did not do a good enough job getting to UCF quarterback Blake Bortles on Saturday.
He was sacked only once and really wasn’t being hit much in the backfield, which Meyer quickly pointed after the game as one of his biggest concerns. People are going to point the finger at John Simon, because he’s the big name on the D-line, but Simon really was a factor all day.
He would have had a sack if not for a blatant hold, which they called, and he was being double teamed, triple teamed and chip-blocked the rest of the day. What that says, is either the other three guys aren’t able to beat their man 1-on-1, or Luke Fickell and Mike Vrabel aren’t being aggressive enough up front.
Obviously Fickell has taken a page out of Jim Heacock’s manual when it comes to rushing only three or four guys in obvious passing situations. With Michael Bennett and Nathan Williams both missing from the game Saturday, those 3-4 guys were not good enough to get there.
Meyer said he’s going to talk with his defensive coaches this week about it, because they have got to find a way to get more pressure in the coming weeks.
8. Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington are ready to play.
One bright spot on the D-line has been the play of freshmen Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington. Add Tommy Schutt to that mix, but Spence and Washington have been just what Ohio State needed.
They are still very raw, but they have a knack for getting after the passer, and it’s been exciting to see them line up next to each other out there and make plays. Both of them had a sack in the opener, and both of them were close to getting another one yesterday. The future is in good hands with these two.
9. Veterans have come a long way.
It wasn’t just the youngsters who played well Saturday. Let’s give some credit where credit is due. The three Florida guys from the class of 2008 – Etienne Sabino, Travis Howard and Orhian Johnson – all came away with big interceptions Saturday.
Johnson also tipped the pass that was picked by Sabino, but it’s clear these three guys have come a long way, even from last season. Most OSU fans would have labeled them as disappointments, and some people were actually hoping they would lose their spots to younger guys this preseason.
Instead, all of them have stepped up to make plays early in the year. Sabino has been arguably their best linebacker and Howard already has three picks in the first two games. Johnson came out of nowhere this week to get the nod as the ‘Star’ defensive back in the nickel, and he was all over the field making plays.
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