That could have been a lot prettier.
The Buckeyes played host to George O’Leary’s UCF Knights today in the Horseshoe. Despite Braxton Miller’s impressive performance, the Knights kept fighting their way back into the game only to fall 31-16. Turnovers and big plays were the difference in the game as the Buckeyes scored 14 points off the Knights’ miscues.
Things weren’t as easy as last week, which is a big credit to O’Leary for preparing his kids to play. The UCF running game found lots of space to move the football, and it was well balanced by the passing game. The Buckeyes, on the other hand, focused on their running game for the most part, throwing on only about one third of the total possessions. In particular, Braxton Miller ran for 27 carries, a week after Urban Meyer was quoted as saying that 17 carries were too many.
Like Tim put together for us last week, here are the positives and negatives to take away from this game.
1. Special Teams Play. The Buckeyes did a great job getting down the field on kickoff coverage and held UCF inside the 25 on several occasions. Add to that a blocked extra point late in the third quarter by the OSU defense and you have a very solid day in the kicking game. The Buckeyes are clearly making special teams an important part of their play again.
2. Playcalling. The offense generally did a good job of selecting plays. As I mentioned above, Braxton Miller ran a few too many times which may need to be changed in the future. Critically, though, the offense moved the ball competently all day, with few exceptions. The UCF defense usually seemed to struggle when trying to sort out exactly what the Buckeyes were doing, which is definitely a good sign.
3. Downfield Blocking. Repeatedly the Buckeyes were able to break longer plays simply because the receivers were doing a good job getting a hat on a defender. This is a big improvement over last season when the receivers either had trouble engaging, or simply didn’t engage the block.
4. Braxton’s decision making. Braxton Miller ended up throwing pretty well on the day, going 18-24 for 155 yards and a touchdown. He made one boneheaded throw for a pick where he failed to set his feet properly, but otherwise he did very well picking his receivers – even going 7/7 passing to start the game. Add to that the success the Buckeyes had on the ground, mostly due to Miller’s running game, and you have a pretty strong case for Miller’s decision making.
5. Defensive secondary turnover game. The secondary picked up two interceptions off the tip drill today helped dig the Buckeyes out of a bad situation. They then picked up a third interception by Orhian Johnson inside the 10 yardline with UCF threatening to score. The defense is playing very opportunistic football right now and it’s making a big difference in how this team looks as a whole.
1. Offense still not able to handle 4th and short. The Buckeyes need to punch it across from 1 yard every single time. They failed on 4th and 1 from their side of the 50 in a play that was inexcusably slow developing and weak. Urban Meyer will clearly not be happy with the fact that his team failed yet again this week in this area. Thankfully, a second attempt in similar field position was much more successful, punching Carlos Hyde up the middle for a five yard game.
2. Slow defensive adjustments. UCF attacked first with the pass and found limited success on their first drive. Their second drive, featuring their running game much more, was substantially more successful. That continued through much of the game until they began to find passes down the side of the field (more on that later).
3. Linebackers in coverage. Shazier dropped his coverage in 3rd and goal to give UCF their first touchdown. The middle of the defense was generally soft in the passing game, giving up five to ten yards consistently. That’s something that will have to be fixed – preferably sooner rather than later.
4. Braxton Miller’s decision making. Don’t get confused, while his decision making is solid in some ways, it’s weak in others. His zone reads still need serious work. He missed a play handing off that would have gained 5, but instead saw Miller get tackled at the line. On the next play, he missed another where he should have hung on for yardage rather than hand it off only to get stopped at the line. He’ll get it sorted out eventually, but for now it’s a work in progress.
5. Corner coverage deep down the sideline. Yet again we saw confusion in the secondary on deep passes – this time down the right side rather than the left. Bradley Roby was at fault for one, misreading the pass and going after the short man with his man going long down the sideline. The Buckeyes later gave up another that had three defenders floating underneath the pass completely confused. Expect this to be a problem all season long.
One way or another, this season is going to be a wild ride. There’s still a lot of youth on this team, and it’s clear the coaches are still trying to get the concepts into the kids’ heads.
The Buckeyes next face the California Golden Bears in the Horseshoe. You’ll be able to see that game on ABC at Noon EST.