What Went Wrong?
By John Porentas aka Captain Obvious
Losses happen in different ways, but the question that gets asked after every one of them is always the same. What, the Buckeye faithful want to know, went wrong?
There wasn't a whole lot of information to be gleaned from the post-game comments of the players and coaches, but watching the game left us with some pretty obvious conclusions.
1) MSU's secondary was good, OSU's wasn't. Spartan coach Mark Dantonio has been singing the praise of his secondary all season. Last night we saw why. MSU's corners were able to stay with the Buckeye wide receivers all night, effectively taking them out of the game.
One the other side of the coin, OSU's safeties were like raw meat in front of a hungry lion. The got devoured. C. J. Barnett and Corey Brown gave up play after play all night, and that more than anything else led to OSU's first defeat in two seasons. It wasn't the only thing, that's for sure, but fix that problem, and the Buckeyes win.
The OSU front seven played well against the Spartans, certainly well enough to win, but Barnett and Brown were weak, very weak. Personally, I don't think this is a matter of coaching. It's a matter of lack of talent. The loss of Christian Bryant left OSU with not one, but two weak points in their pass defense, and teams have exploited them since Bryant went down. MSU was the first team to actually be able to turn that weakness into a win, but the writing has been on the wall for a long time. The Buckeyes squeaked past Michigan, but their weakness in the secondary finally caught up with them against the Spartans. With hindsight, the loss is probably less surprising than the fact that it actually took this long to occur. To some extent you can hide one weak link in a defense, but not two. The lack of talent goes on the OSU recruiting effort in the Tressel era. There just wasn't enough quality depth at safety.
On Monday, Urban Meyer said that if the OSU defense didn't play better than it did in the Michigan game the Buckeyes would lose the MSU game. He was right.
2) OSU's passing game is average at best, probably below average in reality. Braxton Miller is a tremendous weapon as a runner, but he still leaves a lot to be desired as a passer. Credit has to go to the MSU secondary (see item 1 above) but there were opportunities in the passing game that were wasted, and a lot of that has to go on Miller. His passing is better than it was last year, but still isn't all that good. He throws with velocity, but not with touch. He also often holds the ball too long leading to unnecessary sacks. He just does not yet have great command of the passing game.
The other half of the equation is the wide receivers. They too are better than last year, but against a good secondary they pretty much disappeared. Like Miller, the receivers still have a ways to go.
After the Michigan game, a candid Urban Meyer said that he did not have a lot of confidence in his passing game against the Wolverines, so the Buckeyes rode Carlos Hyde. Against MSU, we saw why.
3) Not enough Carlos Hyde. Hyde got 18 carries. He probably should have gotten twice that number. The Spartans couldn't control him early in the game, in the middle of the game, and late in the game. In the first two instances, it's because Hyde just overpowered and outran them. Late in the game, for some inexplicable reason, he just didn't get the football.
The most glaring example was the failed fourth and two call in the fourth quarter. Hyde was used as a blocker on that play. What a waste. Urban Meyer said the OSU coaching staff wanted the ball in the hands of their best player, Braxton Miller. With all due respect, Miller might be the best player on first and ten, but on fourth and two there was no better option than Carlos Hyde, and the OSU coaching staff didn't call on him.
Criticizing play calling is a crappy form of criticism. Hindsight is always 20-20, and there is a lot more to calling plays that Joe Averagefan understands. The OSU coaching staff called plays very well all year, and good enough in the MSU game to have a lead going into the fourth quarter, but it is really hard to understand why Carlos Hyde did not get more carries in the fourth quarter. Tom Herman said after the game that he couldn't figure out good ways to get Hyde the football. With all due respect coach, from where I sat, it didn't matter how you got it to him, you just needed to get it to him. MSU couldn't stop him even when they knew he was going to get it. It just didn't matter. He gained yardage no matter what MSU did. Feeding Hyde in the fourth quarter may have actually been enough to overcome the poor play of the OSU pass defense, but we'll never know.
Those are the thoughts of Captain Obvious. It really was so simple that even he could see it.