10 Things We Learned from a Boiler Blowout
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio - With a win Saturday, Urban Meyer became the second coach in Big Ten history to start his tenure with 21+ straight wins. The Buckeyes haven’t lost a game since Luke Fickell was the interim head coach, and they haven’t beaten Purdue as badly as they did Saturday in the history of that series.
Meyer and the Buckeyes have scored 50+ points in back-to-back games for the third time in his brief tenure in Columbus, and they are 9-0 heading into their second bye week of the season.
Here’s a look at the 10 Things We Learned during Ohio State’s 56-0 blowout of the Boilermakers.
1. The Buckeyes are playing championship-caliber football. This is something I would not, and could not, have said just a few weeks ago. Yes, the Buckeyes took care of business against Wisconsin and Northwestern, but their performance against Iowa at home left a lot to be desired. In fact, their overall body of work left something to be desired for a team that was supposedly in the upper echelon of national championship contenders. A lot has changed since the bye week, however, and Ohio State has looked like a different team the last two weeks. Forget the fact they outscored Penn State and Purdue by a combined 119-14, they have just been a hungrier group. They’ve also been a more complete football team, which is what it will take to win a championship.
2. This is truly a new era of Ohio State football. When Urban Meyer was hired as the head coach at Ohio State, fans immediately had visions of 70-point blowouts in their head, but it’s taken some time for Meyer’s offense to reach full speed. That being said, the Buckeyes did score 50+ points four times last year, and they’ve already done it again four time this season. That’s a total of eight 50-point games under Meyer in just 21 contests; Ohio State had six such games under Jim Tressel in his 128 games as the head coach in Columbus. Tressel’s teams relied more heavily on a staunch defense, but this is truly a new era of Buckeye football unseen in the school’s history. Only John Cooper’s offenses really rivaled what we are saying today, and Saturday was the first time Ohio State scored at least 40 pts in back-to-back first halves since 1996 against Rice (42) and Pitt (52). Who would have thought just a few years ago the Buckeyes would be putting up 63 points against Penn State or scoring 56 in West Lafayette, a place that has given them fits over the last decade.
3. Statements are relative. People talk about Meyer trying to make a statement for the BCS championship game with the way his team is putting up points as of late, but the Buckeyes really took their foot off the gas on Saturday. If Meyer really wanted to, he could have probably hung 80 points on Purdue, but there was no need. There was no need to play Braxton Miller in the second half, or give Carlos Hyde any more than the eight carries he got. There was no real need to prove a point by embarrassing an opponent that clearly didn’t belong on the same field Saturday, and it was good to see Meyer recognize that. His offense still punched it in the end zone twice with Kenny Guiton at the helm in the second half, but anyone who watched that game knew the statement was already made by halftime. The Buckeyes showed no mercy in the first half and their execution was nearly flawless on both sides of the football. Purdue is not a good football team, but that hasn’t stopped the Boilermakers from causing problems for Ohio State in the past. There wasn’t going to be any of that this time around.
4. Darrell Hazell has a long road ahead of him. For the first time since he left Ohio State, I’m wondering weather Hazell has what it takes to be a head football coach for a big time college program. When I say big time, I’m including a place like Purdue, where I thought Hazell would have solid success as a second-tier program in the Big Ten. The Boilers were 6-6 last year during the regular season and made it to a bowl game, but this season has just been a disaster from the word go for the former Ohio State assistant. The Boilers are now 1-7 on the year and 0-4 in the Big Ten. Their only win of the year was a 20-14 win over Indiana State, and they’ve been outscored 155-17 in conference play. That’s not a typo. They’ve actually been outscored by 138 points in four Big Ten games this season, which is almost unfathomable. Hazell is a great guy and a good motivator. He was one of my favorite coaches to work with when he was at Ohio State and his former players swear by him as a receivers coach, but he can’t expect to win at Purdue using the Tressel formula at Ohio State.
5. The Buckeyes might have the two best quarterbacks in the Big Ten. Urban Meyer was asked after the game Saturday whether he thought he had the two best quarterbacks in the Big Ten. Meyer deflected the question with the appropriate response, but he went on to say if they were having a draft, he has the two guys he likes. Stopping to think about it for a moment, which quarterbacks in the Big Ten would you take over Braxton Miller and Kenny Guiton right now? It’s hard to say for certain, because I’m quite positive a guy like Devin Gardner would be a much better player in Meyer’s offense than the one he’s running in Ann Arbor, but there’s not one quarterback – other than maybe a healthy Taylor Martinez – who is better suited to run Ohio State’s offense – or any offense in the Big Ten for that matter. Connor Cook looked good as a game manager for the Spartans Saturday, but I think Mark Dantonio would take Guiton in a heartbeat to run that offense up in East Lansing. Joel Stave is having a decent season at Wisconsin, but he’s already thrown seven picks this year. It’s getting more difficult to argue against Miller and Guiton as the two best in the conference right now.
6. They certainly have the best one. Whether or not Guiton is the second best quarterback in the Big Ten is largely irrelevant, simply because we know the Buckeyes have the best quarterback in the conference. His name is Braxton Miller and he was at his all-time best in the first half of Saturday’s game. Sure, it was Purdue’s paltry defense, but Miller nearly set new career highs in the first half against the Boilers. He was 19 of 23 for 233 yards and four touchdowns in the first half. Since the bye week following the Northwestern game, Miller is 59 of 73 passing (80%) for 707 yards, with nine touchdown passes and just one pick. He’s throwing the ball better than he has at any point in his career and the Buckeyes are blowing teams out without having to run Miller 20-25 times a game. That should keep him healthy the rest of the way.
7. Jordan Hall no longer in the plans? Speaking of staying healthy, it’s pretty clear Jordan Hall isn’t going to be for the rest of the year. He was dressed for the first half of the game Saturday, but spent the second half of the game in a warmup icing his knee. Meyer said the knee was going to bother him for the rest of the year, and it appears like it might actually keep him from contributing much, if anything, the rest of the way. With Hall out, freshman Ezekiel Elliott did a nice job of filling in as Ohio State’s change-of-pace back on Saturday. He probably doesn’t have as much wiggle as Hall, but there’s a lot to like about Elliott’s game. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him fill Hall’s role for the rest of the season.
8. The tight ends are making a comeback. Remember when Urban Meyer called this the best group of tight ends he has had in his coaching career? Well, we saw a little bit of what he was talking about on Saturday. Both Jeff Heuerman and Nick Vannett came away with touchdown catches and Heuerman in particular was a forced to be reckoned with. He caught the first offensive touchdown of the game on a 40-yard catch and run down the left sideline and he finished with 116 yards on five catches. It was the first time an OSU tight end topped 100 yards in a game since Ricky Dudley in the 1996 Citrus Bowl against Peyton Manning and the Tennessee Volunteers.
9. The defense is starting to come together. Much of this column has been focused on the offensive side of the ball, but Urban Meyer was quick to praise the defense after Saturday’s win. He talked about the fact pass defense has gone from a major weakness to, well, not nearly as much of a weakness. Doran Grant made a huge play to start off the game and the defense really fed off that aggressiveness. Noah Spence continues to be a force up front and Michael Bennett was playing at a very high level before walking gingerly off the field on Saturday. The Buckeyes were all over Purdue quarterback Danny Etling. They sacked him six times for -49 yards on Saturday, holding the Boilers to 116 yards of total offense.
10. We won’t really know anything about them until the bowl game. Yes, the Buckeyes have looked much better defensively the last two weeks, but what did we really learn about them? How certain are we the defense is getting better when they’re facing teams like Penn State and Purdue? Unfortunately, we probably won’t learn a whole lot more over the next three games. The Illinois offense shouldn’t be much of a test and even Michigan looked like a complete disaster on Saturday. Yes, the Spartans have the best defense in the Big Ten – and maybe the country – but Michigan’s offensive line was just dominated for four quarters. Indiana will probably give the OSU defense its toughest task the rest of the way, because even Michigan State doesn’t have much of an offense to bring to Indianapolis for the Big Ten title game. We may not know how good this defense really is until they face off against Alabama, Oregon, Florida State, Stanford or someone like that in the postseason.