COLUMBUS — If you would have predicted a 48-3 win over Michigan State for Ohio State, it is likely that you would have been asked to pee in a cup shortly thereafter.
While Saturday’s outcome was surprising, it wasn’t unbelievable. After all, with this Buckeye team, any outcome is seemingly possible, so we can’t be overly shocked by anything we see the rest of the way out.
Because of this bizarro nature, we are still learning things about this football team.
What did we learn this week? Plenty.
1. The Buckeyes’ playoff hopes are still alive.
Tom Orr has already spelled it out for you, but if the Buckeyes win out impressively, and Alabama, Miami, and Oklahoma win out, Ohio State could be looking at a No. 4 seed and a matchup against Miami or Alabama in the first round of the playoffs. At the very least, OSU would be going up against the Pac 12 champ in a beauty contest as the final entrant. One week ago, OSU’s playoff scenarios may have sounded like a pointless brain exercise, but here were are. There is nothing like college football. Ever.
2. Teams still think throwing on Denzel Ward is wise.
The Ohio State cornerbacks have been pretty good over the last seven games, but it is clear that Denzel Ward is the best of the bunch. Despite this understanding, teams like Michigan State still think throwing on him is their best opportunity to complete a pass. It’s like ignoring the open road and waiting for a speed trap to see what your car can really do. There is a time and place to throw the ball, and where the Buckeyes are concerned, those times and places generally aren’t against Denzel Ward.
3. Chris Worley needs to stay outside.
Chris Worley had a rough couple of minutes to start the game on Saturday, but he responded well for the other 56 minutes or so. He was a relentless spy on quarterback Brian Lewerke and wasn’t a slouch on the blitz either. Worley’s season has been up and down, marred by injuries mostly, but maybe he has been playing out of position this whole time. He was excellent last season as the team’s Sam linebacker, and the move to Will this week worked out for the entire defense. The two outside linebacker spots are interchangeable, so he was able to pick things up very quickly. Keeping Worley on the outside also keeps Tuf Borland in the middle. Borland led the team with 11 tackles. I was concerned as to how he would defend a pass-happy Spartan offense, but he was fine. After the game, Urban Meyer said there would be discussions about keeping Worley outside. That then leaves a decision at Sam, which might be perfect for Jerome Baker, who would better be able to focus on coverage and not bite too hard on play actions.
4. Ohio State can still run the ball when they want to.
Earlier in the week, OSU offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson basically said, “Sure, we could pound the football, but then we’d be facing third-and-eight, and then what?” It was a nice game of possum by Wilson, who took Urban Meyer’s mandate to run the ball — and Greg Studrawa’s blocking attack — and pounded the Michigan State defense for 335 yards on just 42 carries. Rich businessmen usually have to pay upwards of $500/hr for domination like that. After abandoning the run early and often against Iowa, the Buckeyes stuck to their guns against Michigan State and riddled the Spartans with bullet holes.
5. Mike Weber is what Urban Meyer said he was.
Urban Meyer kept telling us in spring and fall camp how much better Mike Weber was now compared to where he was a year ago. A hamstring injury in camp made Meyer look like a liar…up until about 12:30 pm on Saturday. Weber tore off up the middle for 47 yards and looked every bit as good as he ever has. One quarter later, however, Weber took a hand-off out of a draw play and sped 82 yards up the middle once again, splitting the Michigan State defense, and looking faster than he ever has before. Meyer and Tony Alford tried to tell us that Weber was legitimately fast now, but Weber wasn’t satisfied with word of mouth, so he went and showed us with his own two feet. And right now, defenses have to be very concerned with the combination of Weber and J.K. Dobbins. Calling the two of them a “1-2 punch” sells somebody short. It’s actually a “1-1 punch.”
6. Kick coverage looks fixed.
That’s two-straight games following personnel changes after Penn State that the kick coverage has been pretty outstanding. The Buckeyes kicked off nine times, with three of those returns being stopped inside the 20-yard line. Three times the Spartans managed to get out past the 25-yard line, with two returns going to the 27-yard line and one all the way out to the 35-yard line. Two of those three came late in the game when there was no battles left to fight. The wide lanes that we saw against Penn State have disappeared the last two weeks, so without declaring things absolutely fixed, they do look pretty much okay.
7. We might be done seeing Parris Campbell on kick returns.
Parris Campbell was full go this weekend against Michigan State, but he was not back on kickoff returns. I don’t know if Urban Meyer has decided to bring Campbell back slowly, or if they are just trying to limit the opportunities where he could take a significant shot to the head. Mike Weber has been his replacement, which raised some eyebrows against Iowa. After seeing his top speed against Michigan State, however, maybe now we understand why Weber was Option No. 2.
8. Targeting is a good rule applied stupidly.
I realize we learn this just about every game for every team every week, but humor me here please. Targeting was implemented to protect the players’ skulls and brains, so I’m still puzzled as to why Dre’Mont Jones was ejected for a forearm shiver to Brian Lewerke’s shoulder. And I have no idea how the call can be reviewed and merely “stand.” If you cannot confirm targeting, then it should be waved off. The call on the field is supposed to lean to targeting, but the review is supposed to lean towards getting it correct. If targeting cannot be seen via replay, then it shouldn’t be upheld. This was a terrible implementation of a great rule.
9. The staff still feels more comfortable with Jordan Fuller in nickel than bringing in a freshman corner.
When Darmon Arnette left with a thigh bruise, the Buckeyes went with Jordan Fuller as the team’s nickel back and then brought in Erick Smith as the strong safety. They did this earlier in the season when Denzel Ward was falsely accused and ejected for targeting. They do it because right now they feel better about adding Smith to the back end and sliding Fuller inside than they do of sliding a corner inside and bringing in freshman Jeff Okudah. I don’t expect that to change during the regular season if it happens again.
10. Damon Webb has some range.
On the Ohio State practice fields, you will sometimes see a red line running the length of the field between the sideline and the numbers. Greg Schiano says it is rare for a safety to be able to cover from red line to red line, but it was something that Malik Hooker excelled at. I asked him a couple of weeks ago if Jordan Fuller is getting there, and he said he’s not there yet, but that Damon Webb was pretty close. On Webb’s interception, he went from the opposite hash to the numbers, which was still a nice little jog.