There was a mix of reactions when the final gun sounded last Saturday as the Buckeyes finished of their season opening win in Baltimore against Navy, 34-17. I’ve read people say the Buckeyes are a top 5 team and more than a few others gave the “it’s going to be a long season” dreary sentiment.
Once again, and is typically the case, I think ultimately the season will be somewhere in the middle. That said, I came away from Saturday with much more of a positive feeling than I thought I might. We’ll explore it and look ahead to Saturday and Virginia Tech’s visit to Ohio Stadium.
It’s Wednesday, let’s rumble!
Coming into Saturday’s season opener, I wasn’t nearly as concerned with redshirt freshman JT Barrett and how he would fair taking the reigns from Braxton Miller as a lot of people. What kept me up at night were the same things that had my head spinning before the news that Braxton would miss 2014 broke: How improved will the defense be and what is going to happen with the rebuilt offensive line?
The strength of the Silver Bullets will be the line and that’s not going to change, at least not this year. I had a feeling guys like Michael Bennett, Joey Bosa and Adolphus Washington could have a big day if they could manage to keep their shoulders square and stay on their feet. For the most part they did exactly that.
What I didn’t expect was the play of Darron Lee. The redshirt freshman from New Albany came seemingly out of nowhere and attacked Navy’s run game like a demon. Lee came to Ohio State listed as an “athlete” and was set to be buried
behind the likes of Mike Mitchell and Trey Johnson. With Mitchell having transferred and Johnson being nagged by injuries, Lee stepped up his game and took the “SAM” linebacker job in fall camp. Most wondered who he was or what he was doing appearing on the two-deep, me included. Now we know: Lee can run and hits like a truck. His specialty as an athlete who played wide receiver, h-back and even quarterback in high school was that he is supposed to be much better in coverage than at the point of attack. If that is legit, I really like where he is headed.
I also didn’t expect Curtis Grant to look as quick as he did, though maybe I should have considering his election as a captain last week. Grant has one season left to live up to his ranking as the best linebacker and defensive recruit in the nation when he came out of high school. He took a big step on Saturday.
So, I know what you’re saying: Dude, they gave up 370 some-odd yards on the ground, how can you be optimistic and talking about guys looking good or having great games?
It’s really simple, and I told you about it last week: Navy is going to run and they’re going to be successful doing it. They do it better than anyone in the country, they’re disciplined and tirelessly committed to it.
And it isn’t just the Buckeyes they took advantage of, they run on everyone. It’s a fact, look at 2013 as an example. They were second in the country averaging 325 yards per game on the ground.
When I look at the defense’s performance against the Middies, I look at the scoreboard and the amount of times quarterback Keenan Reynolds was forced to pitch. Those two “un-stats” tell you this: The Buckeyes were disciplined and well conditioned, stuck to their assignments and forced a running machine out of its comfort zones and made it work hard. They also stiffened and were impenetrable inside the five yard line. When the Midshipman decided to try and throw to soften up the front sevens assault, they were sacked and nobody was open.
This was a huge step in the right direction for the hopeful return of the Silver Bullets.
Offensive line was offensive early
I’m not going to harp on the struggles of the front five because I heard what I need to hear from Urban Meyer in his post game press conference.
When asked about the unit struggling early, Meyer admitted they were blown assignments and growing pains. That I understand and realize are going to happen. What I can’t get on board with is guys juts flat out getting beat. Meyer insisted this wasn’t the case, the communication and assignments led to some abysmal effort early on.
“Concern number one is offensive line. We’re facing (what) will be one of the top one or two defensive lines we’ll face all year,” Meyer said Monday. “Our offensive line did not play like an Ohio State offensive line. The second half we played pretty good. But pretty good is not what we expect. You play pretty good this week you won’t win that game. So we have to get much better fast in the offensive line. “
Meyer also made a statement, though it was quick and largely unnoticed, that I was very glad to hear when he said that they needed to pick a starting five and let them work together all week in prep for Virginia Tech. It was an admission that the amount of “or” that we saw on the depth chart last week, at least for this unit, was an error.
An offensive line needs to gel. It needs to know each others tendencies, calls and most importantly speed from one guy to the next.
Just one example among many: The timing of a pull for a guard has a lot to do with the tackle and he needs to have a comfort level with the speed of said tackle. He gets used to the tackles first step, knows how to adjust if he turns and sees him not moving in the proper direction and so forth. This only comes from reps next each other.
When you’re rotating guys in and out, that comfort level can’t get established. And, quite simply, it hurts. And don’t give me the “well, the guard should know the tendency of whoever it is that’s at tackle” as a reason to support a rotation and conclude it with “it shouldn’t matter” because it does. There’s enough to memorize and enough going on at the line of scrimmage, especially for first timers. The comfort and familiarity that only comes from rep after rep of having the same guy next to you working is needed for a line to succeed.
When an offensive lineman goes down, the biggest “uh oh” typically isn’t the drop off in talent. It’s that the continuity of the unit has been disrupted and a new gear needs to be worn in to the machine.
The front five will have their hands full this week with Virginia Tech. According to analyst Phil Steele, Tech has a top 20 defensive line. As good as they may be, they’re equally as young as the Buckeyes offensive line.
Hokie Hokie Hokie
Saturday night is going to be electric. Not only is this the first time Virginia Tech comes to Ohio Stadium it is the first time the Hokies and Buckeyes have met on the gridiron in their history. There’s not too many schools left on the list of “have never played” for Ohio State.
The Hokies are coached by Frank Beamer, a guy who is wildly underrated in the pantheon of all-time great college football coaches. 2014 is Beamer’s 28th season as the head ball coach at Va Tech and has 267 total wins putting him in a pretty exclusive class with names like Bryant, Robinson, Warner and Hayes.
The Hokies will bring a traditional spread offense into The Shoe but you’ll see a lot of moving parts pre-snap. They have a defense that likes to attack from the second it walks off the bus. This all is without mentioning Beamer is renowned for his expertise and excellence running the Hokies special teams units.
Tech won’t be intimidated and should bring the Buckeyes more than a handful of problems to deal with.
Also, and don’t tell anyone this, but Virginia Tech has always been one of my favorite teams to pull for when it has no negative impact on Ohio State. Why? The way they come into the stadium for home games is the best in the country. There is no way I can miss seeing this in person next year when the Buckeyes make the trip to Lane Stadium.
You’ve read a ton about JT Barrett, here’s my thoughts on him: With the exception of one costly mistake (a redzone turnover is gut wrenching), Barrett played as well as anyone could have expected or asked of him. Tom Hermann and Urban Meyer did a great job of setting him in situations to take advantage of the Navy defense and Jt was all over the opportunities, notable the bomb to Devin Smith. He’ll be tested this week with a much better secondary and the aforementioned pass rush. If Barrett can give them what he gave them last week, the Buckeyes win this one going away.
The running back by committee approach gets old real fast. I understand this was similar to a preseason type of game where some new toys needed unwrapped and tried out. That’s great. Now give Ezekial Elliot the overwhelming bulk of the carries and spell him with Curtis Samuel and occasionally sprinkle in Rod Smith of you’re so inclined. A good back gets stronger as a game goes on and gains confidence as a season progresses.
Dontre Wilson is going to break out and have a massive game one of these weeks and it’s coming soon. Take that to the bank.
Nothing fires me up more than the war in the trenches and seeing the way Michael Bennett and Joey Bosa manhandled people had me gritting my teeth and hollering through them. It won’t be so easy for the big guys this week, but they will have a quarterback trying to establish a passing game to chase after that should make it a lot of fun.
Josh Perry is the best kept secret in college football. Dude fly’s to the ball, is a sure tackler, seems to be a bit of a leader on the field. He’s exactly what this defense needed.
Wrap it up
If you’re headed to the stadium for Saturday’s game be sure and bring your voice with you. This one is huge for national ranking and overall team confidence. It was nice to get a win after finishing 2013 with two heartbreaking losses. Beating a quality, name opponent on national television should the season in the right direction and get the train that took a bit of a wrong turn when Braxton Miller went down back on a championship chasing course. The Hokies will be a test, do your part and make The Shoe a pit. Until next week, Go Bucks!
Metallica track of the week
In tribute to the opponent this weekend and their stellar home field entrance, let’s go back to Orion Music and More 2012 in Atlantic City for Enter Sandman!
Aaaaand… if you’re interested, here’s my point of view on the tail end of that same video…