10 Things We Learned from Ohio State’s Letdown in Indy
By Brandon Castel
It was a heartbreaking way for Urban Meyer to lose his first game at Ohio State. After a school-record 24-straight victories, Meyer’s Buckeyes fell to Michigan State, 34-24, in their first appearance in the Big Ten Championship game.
After falling behind 17-0 to start the game, the Buckeyes rattled off 24 straight points to take a seven-point lead late in the third quarter, but Mark Dantonio’s defense rose to the challenge from there, keeping Braxton Miller and Ohio State’s high-powered offense off the scoreboard the rest of the night.
Here’s a closer look at 10 Things We Learned from Ohio State’s letdown in Indianapolis.
1. Michigan State was the most complete team in the Big Ten. While I do think Ohio State could have, and maybe should have, won this game on Saturday, it was obvious to me that Michigan State was the more complete team. The performance of quarterback Connor Cook gave Mark Dantonio’s offense new life and tailback Jeremy Langford racked up 100 yards on the ground against the Buckeyes. While the Buckeyes are a better offensive team that what they showed in this game, their defense continues to be a liability, while Michigan State has become a well-rounded outfit since their early-season struggles on offense.
2. It’s possible Ohio State wasn’t quite as elite as we thought. I know I’m going to get a lot of fans frustrated by this comment, but I’m not convinced these Buckeyes were really one of the truly elite teams in college football. I’m not saying they didn’t deserve to be in that game or to play in a BCS bowl, but there are a lot of good offenses in college football. The truly elite teams have a decent defense to go with it. Having Kenny Guiton as a backup quarterback gives them an advantage over some other top-flight teams, but that didn’t come into play on Saturday night. What we did see was a really good offense that looked rather one-dimensional against an equally good defense. The receivers struggled to create separation against Michigan State’s defensive backs the Buckeyes put too much on the shoulders of their two best players. In the end, I think this was a really good football team that continued to find a way to win each and every week, but they weren’t one of those truly elite football teams that would have gone on to beat Florida State in the national title game.
3. A lack of creativity finally caught up with the Buckeyes. Obviously Urban Meyer and Tom Herman understand their football team better than I do, but all season I’ve been wondering when we would see this offense get a little more diverse and creative. Relying on the legs of Carlos Hyde and Braxton Miller was more than enough offensive firepower to get the Buckeyes through their soft regular season schedule, but I had a feeling there would come a point where this team would need something more. They showed some things earlier in the season, but as the temperatures dropped and the leaves fell across Ohio, Meyer and Herman resorted back to the offense we saw at the end of last season. I get the idea of wanting the ball in the hands of your best player (Braxton), but at what point do just give up trying to keep the defense off balance?
It doesn’t matter how good Braxton Miller is, if a defense like the one they faced Saturday knows he’s getting the ball, they can sell out to stop him without any fear of being burned. That’s exactly what we saw. Even Dantonio said they knew Miller was going to keep the ball on a sweep one way or the other during Ohio State’s fourth down attempt. What happened to the creative play calling we saw during Meyer’s days at Florida? What happened to using the entire field, stretching a defense both vertically and horizontally? What happened to the other playmakers on this team? Why not give guys like Dontre Wilson, Jordan Hall or even Ezekiel Elliott a chance to get a few touches, just to keep the defense from keying on 5 every single play. It just seemed like Herman and Meyer made it easier than it had to be for the Spartans.
4. Just giving it to Carlos Hyde might have been enough. It’s hard to believe Hyde only carried the ball 18 times in Ohio State’s loss to Michigan State. Hyde has been a workhorse for the Buckeyes this season, averaging nearly eight yards per carry as a senior but it seemed like he became the forgotten man down the stretch in Saturday’s game. Hyde was averaging over 6.5 yards per carry against Michigan State’s stingy defense, and he was imposing his will on them early in the second half, but Meyer and Herman decided to keep the rock in Miller’s hands down the stretch. He was also having a big game on the ground, but Ohio State was never going to win this game playing one against 11. That’s simply not how football games are won at any level, and we might be having a different discussion today if the coaches had given the ball to Hyde a dozen more times in that game Saturday night.
5. Braxton’s limitations limit this offense. One reason the one man Braxton show wasn’t effective for the Buckeyes is because there wasn’t even a threat of giving the ball to someone else. I realize Braxton Miller is the best athlete on the team. He’s one of the best offensive weapons in the country and one of the all-time great quarterbacks in school history, but Miller’s inability to run a true “read” offense really limited the effectiveness of the Ohio State offense down the stretch this season. The true Urban Meyer offense has a read element to it. The quarterback assesses the defense, finds the numbers advantage for the offense and determines whether to keep the football or give it to the tailback, or another offensive skill player. Without that element, it was already predetermined in the huddle who was getting the football and where they were going with it. That worked most of the season because Miller is such a ridiculous athlete he could just run away from the first two guys who tried to tackle him, but that doesn’t work against a really sound defense like Michigan State’s. Miller’s still rushed for 142 yards and a pair of touchdowns, but on the really important plays down the stretch, his inability to run a true read-option play often left him one on five in the open field. Even Braxton can’t win that.
6. He needs another year at the college level. Anyone who watched Braxton Miller this season realizes how much this kid improved from his sophomore year to junior year, both as a leader and as a passer. We didn’t get to see that on Saturday night, but we can all remember what Miller was like during his first two seasons in Columbus. With another year of progress, Miller could truly be one of the best quarterbacks in college football, and a legitimate pro prospect. I don’t see that right now. I don’t see a guy who can step into the NFL be the quarterback of a football team. I don’t see a guy who is ready to make the kind of decisions with the football that need to be made at the next level, because his the gap between his athleticism and that of the defensive end trying to tackle him will not be nearly as large when he gets to the NFL. If Miller comes out early, especially in a quarterback-heavy draft, I don’t see him being a first or second round pick. With another year of tutelage and dedication, Miller could become the type of player the NFL covets at the most important position.
7. Something has to change on defense. It’s hardly fair to blame everything that happened Saturday on defensive coordinator Luke Fickell, but something has to change defensively in Columbus if the Buckeyes are going to compete for national championships. I look at what Dantonio has done with the Spartans as proof that good defense is still possible in today’s world of high-flying offense, and the Buckeyes should aspire to that. What we’ve seen from this OSU defense in 2013 is simply not good enough. Forget what other teams are doing, this program has been too good for far too long defensively to accept the product we saw on the field this season. I’m not saying a change is the only answer, but this is two years in a row where Urban Meyer’s team has been held back by its defense. I know he cannot be satisfied with what he’s seen, and simply scoring more points offensively is not a good enough solution.
8. The secondary was a mess this season. This isn’t exactly something we learned, but it’s almost baffling to think how bad Ohio State’s secondary was this season, especially when it was supposed to be a strength of the team. Remember, the Buckeyes lost six of their seven starters in the front seven and the back end of the defense was supposed to be the strength of the unit. With four players back, this group was expected to be one of the better backfields in the Big Ten – certainly never on the same level as Michigan State’s – but that never materialized. The injury to Christian Bryant didn’t help, and neither did the fact his backup, Corey Brown, looked completely out of place at times this season. He was burned on the long touchdown Saturday night, and really never came close to living up to the expectations for a former 5-star prospect. But it’s not fair to put it all on Brown. In fact, no one in the OSU secondary looked good on Saturday night, and really all season. Bradley Roby has had his moments, and C.J. Barnett has made a number of big plays – including the interception against Michigan State – but I’m not sure I have ever seen a worse cover unit in Columbus.
9. Joey Bosa is the next big thing at Ohio State. About the only time the secondary didn’t look bad on Saturday night was when No. 97 was in the backfield making plays. That just happened to be most of the game. Certainly Michigan State was aware of Noah Spence and decided to pay him a little extra attention, but that doesn’t take away from the performance of young Mr. Bosa. It’s hard to believe this kid is only a freshman. He had a monster rookie season in Columbus and probably played the best game of his career on Saturday. Bosa was a constant in the MSU backfield and it looks like he could be the next big star for Ohio State on defense.
10. Next year will be interesting. This game got me thinking ahead to next season. It will be interesting to see how this team develops, especially if Braxton Miller stays for another year. They lose a lot on offense, including Hyde, four starters on the line, and Philly Brown. They also lose Roby, Barnett and potentially Ryan Shazier on defense. The loss of Shazier would be the biggest to me, at least outside of Miller and Hyde, but it will be interesting to see what younger guys emerge for this team after the bowl game.