Every win on the road in conference play is a good win, especially when they come against a ranked opponent.
On Saturday, the Buckeyes went into East Lansing and defeated the No. 18 Michigan State Spartans by a score of 26-6. They held MSU to 54 yards rushing, with 47 of those yards coming on a single quarterback rush.
Of course, the win was not enough to keep Ohio State from sliding in both the coaches and AP poll, but the Buckeyes only covered the spread by 16.5 points, so they should have expected the drop.
Overall, it was not the most revealing game, but there are still 10 things that enlightened us.
1. As the running game picks up, the pass protection is slipping.
The running game has improved, but I wonder if all of the focus on run blocking played a part in how poor the pass protection was against Michigan State. Or maybe it was a simply a matter of neither Thayer Munford or Isaiah Prince being ready for MSU defensive end Kenny Willekes. Willekes finished with 13 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, and a sack. He had both of the OSU offensive tackles spinning. Pass protection has been pretty good for most of the year. Maybe this was just a bad matchup for them, but it is something to watch as the Buckeyes creep toward Michigan Week.
2. The secondary is finally settling.
The Buckeye cornerbacks were finally healthy, which meant that they were back to their normal three-man rotation. The safeties have finally settled, as Brendon White is at boundary (strong) and Jordan Fuller is at field (free). This has also allowed Shaun Wade to focus more on his nickel position. Wade was thrown at six times and gave up just one 5-yard reception. He also came away with an interception. Right now, the secondary is finally settling down, and it’s about time.
3. Dwayne Haskins does not have the best pocket presence.
There were times on Saturday when Dwayne Haskins had an opportunity to step up into the pocket and avoid the pass rush but it didn’t happen. I would expect him to step forward on a few of those plays, and when he didn’t, I had to remind myself that he just made his 10th career start. He’ll get better at his pocket awareness, but there will still be blind spots this year.
4. Tate Martell is still on the team.
Who knew? It is a very significant development that Urban Meyer has agreed to allow Tate Martell to play in games that are not already decided. If we saw him on the road at Michigan State, then we should also see him against Michigan. And even if we don’t, the Wolverines are still going to have to prepare for him. Perhaps against MSU and Maryland we will only see Martell run the ball. He won’t throw it until Michigan least expects it.
5. Jim Tressel had to be torn.
Jim Tressel loves Ohio State, he loves Mark Dantonio, and he loves his nephew Mike Tressel (who is MSU’s defensive coordinator), but perhaps more than any of that, he loves punting. While Drue Chrisman’s first punt of four yards couldn’t have been pleasing, everything else that he and the Buckeye gunners did on the day had to be appreciated like only a true punting aficionado can do. While Tressel had to feel bad for Mark Dantonio, the fact that the Spartan loss came via the punt perhaps eased the pain.
6. Michigan State’s offense was made for OSU’s defense.
Michigan State’s 274 yards of total offense were the fewest the Buckeyes have allowed since Tulane managed 256. Part of that is because of quarterback Brian Lewerke’s bum shoulder, and part of that is because the Spartan offense doesn’t necessarily ask opposing linebackers to do anything too out of character. There were times when OSU’s man defense forced linebacker Pete Werner to split out past the numbers in coverage, but MSU never went at him to take advantage of what could have been a mismatch. Instead, the Spartans threw the ball a bunch with two quarterbacks who were incapable of being accurate.
7. Mike Weber rushing for 104 is significant.
Michigan State’s rush defense is legit. Ohio State is just the third team to rush for over 100 yards against MSU this year. Beyond that, however, is the importance of Mike Weber rushing for 104 yards on 22 carries. He kept plugging away and rushed for 56 yards on Ohio State’s final two possessions. Last week, it was J.K. Dobbins salting the game away. This week it was Mike Weber. The fact that the Buckeyes have two guys now with recent experience running out the clock shows that they are running as tough as Urban Meyer was asking them to do.
8. This offense misses Austin Mack.
I kept waiting for a linebacker to step in front of a Dwayne Haskins slant pass and take it back for six. At times, it felt like that was the only way the Buckeyes felt comfortable throwing the ball. Gone are the days when they could move the chains with Austin Mack out wide, or perhaps anybody out wide. So they have had to turn their eyes inside to passes over the middle to move the chains. While there is plenty of room to operate, it is not unusual for linebackers to go unseen by a quarterback on some of those slants and meshes over the middle.
9. Dwayne Haskins hears the talk.
Dwayne Haskins hears what people say about his running ability. He was criticized for sliding early against Nebraska, so when he finally showed that he can run hard against Michigan State, he was excited. Of course, the run in question — with his head lowered and him successfully fighting for yardage nearer and nearer the goal line — was called back due to penalty. Haskins said after the game that he was “salty” about that play coming back. It does show that he is interested in proving people wrong about his toughness, which is a step in the right direction.
10. The defense is more confident than it was a week ago.
The Michigan State offense will make most defenses more confident, and that’s exactly what they did for the Buckeyes this weekend. The coaches were excited about OSU’s performance on that side of the ball as well. While the performance is relative to the offense that the defense is facing, we have seen this defense give up plays against bad offenses, so it is a positive thing that the Buckeyes did what they were supposed to against Michigan State’s offense. As such, the defense as a whole is feeling better about themselves. That confidence is a good thing, but if the Buckeyes don’t perform against a twitchy Maryland offense, then confidence could become an issue against Michigan.