The Ohio State Buckeyes played their first real football game of the season in front of the third largest crowd ever at Ohio Stadium in their narrow 31-24 win over Wisconsin.
Saturday, outside “The Shoe” before the game every now and then I would hear “its Miller time.” Not too unusual, I thought, after all it was a college campus on game day and occasionally students have been known to imbibe a bit.
After I watched the first quarter I realized what they really meant was quarterback Braxton Miller has healed and it’s time for him to do his stuff, and boy did he. He showed no signs of tightness or soreness. His knee has healed.
Braxton took command of the offense and threw four TD passes to three different receivers. He completed 17 of 25 passes for 198 yards. In addition he was the second leading rusher, in The Shoe that day, gaining 83 yards and beating Wisconsin leader Melvin Gordon who had 74 yards rushing and nearly out pacing his own teammate Carlos Hyde (85 yards).
Miller also set a record, becoming Ohio State’s leading quarterback career rusher, and he has only played three games so far this, his junior year.
Wisconsin is one of the tougher teams in the Big Ten and ranked 23rd nationally. They represented the first real challenge for the Bucks so far this year. The No. 4 nationally-ranked Buckeyes faced the challenge head on and then won their 18th straight game and fourth in a row with a comeback win over Northwestern last week. The Buckeyes had to score 20 fourth quarter points just to beat the Wildcats, 40-30, but true to form, Coach Meyer’s team got it done.
The OSU defensive line has been the weakest part of the team the last few weeks and all the sports writers and experts from the Columbus newspaper, ESPN and even Coach Urban Meyer warned about the powerful Wisconsin running game and Northwestern’s passing game.
With the concern about the rushing attack against Wisconsin, OSU pulled some of the defensive backfield forward to help the line. This created a situation that the Wisconsin coach Gary Anderson quickly recognized and near the end of the second quarter, the Badgers switched more toward a passing attack. This change in strategy worked well for the Badgers as they ultimately gained 295 yards passing verses only 104 yards for rushing. This change made Wisconsin more competitive; however, it was not enough as a few dropped passes and key penalties may have cost them the game.
Wisconsin was led by Jar Abbrederis (receiving 207 yards) and the linebacker Chris Borland (16 tackles). Genoa fans may remember Borland as he played for Kettering Alter when the Comets met them in the state playoffs a few years ago.
The defense, led by Junior Ryan Shazier (9 tackles), held Wisconsin, the third ranked rushing offense, to 104 yards. The pass defense, however, was weak and may get worse as co-captain Christian Bryant, a potential All-American safety, broke his ankle and may be out for the season.
Despite Ohio State’s winning, there were several things that surprised me. One was the non-use of second team quarterback Kenny Gouiton. Has everyone forgotten how well he filled in for Miller in the early weeks of the season?
If nothing else let him run a couple of plays to confuse opponents. Maybe even throw to him as a wide receiver. We know he can catch and run. Maybe a trick play where after receiving a pass behind the line he then throws down field as the defense pulls in thinking he is going to run.
The second surprise was the absence of running back Jordan Hall, who had been averaging over 100 yards per game. Hall had one carry for five yards against Wisconsin. While first team All-Big Ten running back Carlos Hyde did well, it only seems fair that Hall gets more time.
Since the Wisconsin game, when Meyer was asked about this, he basically said we, the coaches, fell back into old habits and just used Carlos Hyde.
“We had no intent to not to use Hall it just happened,” Coach Meyer said “We failed him a little bit. He’s such a good kid, does everything right and we need to make sure he gets more playing time.”
In fairness to the coaching staff, as outsiders, we do not get to see what happens every day in practice. We may not agree with some of the coaches’ decisions but we certainly shouldn’t argue about their success. Was Coach Meyer happy with their team play?
He said, “I don’t know if I remember as many explosive plays this early in the season, ever.”
The third surprise at The Shoe against Wisconsin was the return to what some call “Tressel Ball”. It seemed as though Meyer got conservative in the last quarter. I won’t argue with his strategy but I was shocked at this uncharacteristic approach, for him.
The Northwestern game was billed as the Wildcat’s biggest home game since 1995. Northwestern went into the game nationally ranked at 16th. Northwestern’s play calling and the OSU pass defense told us that the Buckeyes learned little from their game with Wisconsin.
The Bucks will play four tough Big Ten games this year and they won their first two. Penn State may give them a game and so will Michigan, but who knows? Ole’ Blue won their last two games, but they need to straighten out their quarterback problems to be a serious competitor this year.
In my opinion, the Bucks should be 12-0 in late November and win the Big Ten Championship. As for the BCS championship, there’s a good chance they will play for the national title, but they must solve some of their remaining problems and find a way to compete with the SEC. If they play Alabama it could be a long, but exciting, day. Never, however, underestimate Urban Meyer’s coaching abilities.
Two Ohio State players with local prep roots go through blocking drills before the Wisconsin game — Woodmore’s Ben St John (67) warming up against Jack Mewhort (74) from St. John's Jesuit. (Press photo by Harold Hamilton/HEHphotos.smugmug.com)
Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller looks to throw during the Buckeye’s win over Wisconsin. (Press photo by Harold Hamilton/HEHphotos.smugmug.com)