10 Things We Learned from an Uneven Blowout
By Brandon Castel
It was a strange weekend for the Buckeyes. They scored 60 points for the second time in three weeks and won a game on the road by 25 points, but Ohio State dropped one spot in the AP Poll this week.
A big part of that was probably the quality of the opponent, as Illinois looked hapless defensively against Carlos Hyde and the OSU offense. Another part may have been the fact Ohio State’s defense allowed the Illinois to make it a game in the second half.
Here’s a look at the 10 Things We Learned from Ohio State’s uneven blowout on Saturday in Champaign.
Photo by Dan Harker
1. Carlos Hyde is a grown ass man. Period. Simple. The end. Carlos Hyde was a man out there on Saturday, just as he has been all season since returning from his three-game suspension. I said at the onset of yesterday’s game if you're going to tackle Hyde, you had better bring that 'want to’ because Ohio State’s tailback is playing with a tremendous amount of determination right now. Right from the start, it didn’t look like the Illinois defense had much interest in tackling the 230-pound back, which explains why he was running free down the middle of the field all afternoon.
That’s been the biggest difference in Hyde’s game this season. Now that he’s healthy again, Hyde has regained that burst in the open field we saw a few times during the 2011 season. He’s really the complete package right now. He’s quick, he is showing tremendous vision, he’s patient waiting for the hole to open up and he’s running with a refuse-to-be-tackled mentality. The numbers speak for themselves. With his monster performance against Illinois – the third highest rushing total in school history – Hyde has now run for 906 yards in the six full games he has played this season. He's averaging over 7.8 yards per carry in those games and has found the end zone 12 times, including five on Saturday.
2. Message received? If Urban Meyer was trying to send a message to his players on Saturday, I’m not exactly sure what it was. Meyer benched Hyde for the opening series of the game because of an academic issue, one that he withheld from the local media throughout the week. Meyer was reportedly flustered when a sideline reporter asked him about it before the game, and he was quick to put Hyde back on the field for Ohio State’s second offensive possession. Now we don’t know what the nature of Hyde’s offense was. Meyer said after the game was in good standing, but there are certain academic standards they adhere to. If Hyde really violated one of those, however, I’m not sure sitting him down for a handful of plays had much of an effect.
3. It still starts up front. There’s a reason the Buckeyes have already broken the school’s single season record for touchdowns, and they’ll top the school’s single-season scoring record next week against Indiana. Obviously Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde are the guys on all the highlight reels, but the real reason this offense is trucking the bottom half of the Big Ten right now is the five guys up front. Look what happened when Jack Mewhort went to the sideline to rest his knee. All of a sudden Braxton Miller didn’t have the same type of time to go through his reads, and he didn’t look like the same player without his trusty left tackle. Mewhort might be the best offensive lineman in the Big Ten this season, but all five of those guys up front are playing at an extremely high level. It doesn’t matter how good Hyde is, no running back – other than maybe Barry Sanders and Adrian Peterson – can average 7-8 yards per carry without a dominant offensive line in front of him.
Photo by Jim Davidson
4. Braxton Miller is quietly rediscovering the magic. Every week it seems like Braxton Miller is starting to look more and more like the guy everyone was picking as a Heisman Trophy candidate during the offseason. The game was 36 seconds in when Miller took off for his first touchdown on a 70-yard run right down the middle of the defense. Illinois blitzed its linebackers up the middle and Miller made the outside backer miss on his way to the house. He finished two yards shy of tying his career-high of 186 yards on the ground. While he only threw for 150 yards, he had a number of nice passes, including the touchdown pass to Philly Brown. He missed on a couple big ones to Devin Smith, but all around it was a solid performance in the win.
5. Dontre Wilson still isn’t getting enough love. It’s hard to really criticize anything Meyer and Tom Herman are doing right now. Clearly they have a winning formula for the Big Ten and they know Hyde and Miller are the guys who will carry this team as far as it can go. I’m still convinced this team could be even more dangerous if they would find a way to get Wilson more involved in the flow of the offense. That doesn’t mean giving him 15 carries, because obviously those carries would have to come away from Hyde and Miller, but he needs more than the one touch he got on Saturday. Maybe not now, this team isn’t going to lack for points against anyone in the regular season, but what about Michigan State? Or Alabama. Or Florida State. Or Oregon. Or Stanford. You’re going to need every point and every yard you can get. It just seems like it would be smart to get Wilson more comfortable with touching the football at this level before they actually need him. Maybe they feel like they won’t, but I think the more diversified they can be offensively, the more it will open things up for Hyde and Miller.
Photo by Jim Davidson
6. Bradley Roby has to make plays. It’s not enough for Roby to be out there defending the opposing team’s best receiver anymore. He’s had some good games and some not so good games this season, but what Roby can do is make plays like the one he did on Saturday. Give C.J. Barnett credit for his tip, but Roby snatched that ball out of the air and just outran everyone down the sideline on his way to the end zone.
7. Noah Spence is on the verge of stardom. Anyone who saw Spence back in the spring knew he was destined for greatness at some point in his career. He simply has too much explosiveness and savvy as an outside pass rusher for a guy his age, but now we’re starting to see that translate into production on the field. Go back to Roby’s pick-six on Saturday and it was the pressure from Spence off the edge that forced Nathan Scheelhaase to rush his throw. He put it behind the receiver, it was tipped by Barnett and the rest is history. This is the third week in a row where Spence has been a force in the backfield and starting to become one of the most dangerous pass rushers in the Big Ten. He’s almost impossible to block one-on-one outside and he seems to be all over the field making plays for the Buckeyes. Outside of Ryan Shazier, Spence might be the most important player on the OSU defense right now.
8. Joey Bosa may be as well. He’s only a freshman, but Bosa already looks like a veteran force out there on the OSU defensive front. His versatility has been a huge bonus for Mike Vrabel and the Ohio State defensive staff, but it’s pretty remarkable that he’s been able to supplant Adolphus Washington as a fulltime starter on the line, injury or not. Bosa isn’t just out there taking up space, he’s out there making plays. He had three sacks on Saturday and was a constant fixture in the Illinois backfield. He left the game with an injury, but tweeted afterward that he was feeling good. That’s good news for the Buckeyes because Bosa has quickly become one of their best players on defense. He is only going to get better from here and it looks like Ohio State could have a pretty dynamic tandem of ends in Spence and Bosa heading into next season.
Photo by Jim Davidson
9. Camren Williams struggled in his first go around. Who would have thought the Buckeyes would really miss Curtis Grant and Josh Perry on Saturday? It seemed like as good a game as any for Ohio State to be without two starting linebackers – Perry missed the game after hitting his head on a patch of ice – but Camren Williams really struggled in his first legitimate action. I’ve been a pretty big fan of Williams since he got to Ohio State because he seems to have good natural instincts. We saw some of those instincts on display Saturday, but even when Williams was in the right place he couldn’t come up with the play. His tackling left something to be desired and the Illini exploited the fact Ohio State had such an inexperienced player lined up next to Shazier. Ultimately, I think Williams is better than what he showed on Saturday, but it can’t be comforting for Luke Fickell and the defensive staff to see how thin their linebacking corps is right now.
10. Ohio State lacks national championship-caliber defense. Urban Meyer said it after the game, and I couldn’t agree more about Ohio State having average linebackers right now. That doesn’t include Ryan Shazier, who might be the best defensive player in the Big Ten and the most importantly player on the Buckeyes outside of Hyde and Miller. The rest of the group, healthy or not, has looked average all year and the defense as a whole was simply hasn’t improved to the degree it did last season. They’re starting to get more pressure and force more turnovers, but they are still susceptible to the big play. We saw that on Saturday, as the Buckeyes watched a 35-7 lead turn into a 47-35 game midway through the third quarter. The Illini put up 420 yards of offense against the Buckeyes and scored 21 points in the second half of a game that should never have been within reach for Illinois.