Ohio State Football: Biggest Problems Buckeyes Must Sort out
After five weeks, the Ohio State Buckeyes have five wins, which is two more than any other team in the Big Ten Leaders division.
Dual-threat quarterback Braxton Miller has piled up over 1,500 yards of offense with 15 touchdowns, and the Buckeyes are ranked 12th in the AP Top 25.
The beginning of the Urban Meyer era hasn’t offered up much to complain about.
That said, the Buckeyes haven’t been perfect and might be 3-2 if not for narrowly avoiding two second-half collapses in recent weeks.
Big Ten play is now in full swing, and Ohio State has a big-time matchup with 21st-ranked Nebraska on the schedule for this weekend.
Here's a look at the lingering issues still affecting the Buckeyes football team and what they must fix to make the most of the 2012 regular season.
Missed Tackles Are Still a Concern
In the Buckeyes' narrow, 35-28 win Sept. 15 over the Golden Bears, Ohio State's defense allowed Cal's backup RB Brendan Bigelow to run for 160 yards and two scores on just four carries.
Home runs can deflate a defense quickly, and Bigelow had two of them—for 59 and 81 yards. Miller's five TDs saved the day, but Ohio State's inability to wrap up ball-carriers and prevent big plays nearly cost them in a game that shouldn't have been close.
Fast forward to the 17-16 win over Michigan State last week, and it was a 29-yard TD catch by Keith Mumphrey that nearly sank the Bucks after multiple missed tackles allowed him to sneak into the end zone.
The defenders seem to be more concerned with stripping the ball than showing proper tackling technique, a strategy that isn't forcing many turnovers.
They were able to secure the powerful Le'Veon Bell impressively in that game, but this Saturday's contest offers a much different challenge.
Nebraska has a dual-threat of its own in QB Taylor Martinez, and the slippery Junior has 298 rushing yards to go with 1,059 yards passing and 14 total touchdowns. Wrapping up the 5'11, 210-pound running back Rex Burkhead can make for a daunting task, as well.
Creating Offense Outside of Braxton Miller
The Buckeyes aren't getting much production out of anyone on the offense not named Braxton Miller, and the onus to change that falls on RB Carlos Hyde and senior WR Jake Stoneburner.
Stoneburner has zero catches in his last two games, after scoring three TD's in the first three weeks. Sophomore wide receiver Devin Smith has 351 yards and four scores through the air, and is becoming quite the deep threat for Miller.
But the offense needs an effective Stoneburner to help open up the passing game more consistently, especially with the state of the Buckeyes' rushing attack.
Of course, the running game is just fine with the ball in Miller's hands, but the loss of RB Jordan Hall to a partially torn PCL (reported by ESPN's Brian Bennett) leaves Ohio State a little thin in the backfield. The speedy senior found a nice rhythm in consecutive weeks against Cal and UAB, and scored a touchdown to open the game against the Spartans before the injury forced a premature exit.
Hall playing against Nebraska is doubtful, and no time for a return has been set.
Hyde, a junior out of Naples, FL, hasn't been quite as effective outside of short-yardage situations. But he—and perhaps even freshman Bri'onte Dunn—will need to be effective as long as Hall remains out, so Big Ten defenses have more to worry about than just Miller.
The QB has taken a serious pounding as a result of having such a heavy workload, so continuing to rely on him for all your offense could cost you if Miller goes down.
If that happens, the Buckeyes will basically have no offense.
Finishing Strong Is Just as Important as Starting out Hot
The Buckeyes haven't struggled to get off to fast starts in games, but closing them out in the same fashion hasn't worked out so well.
After allowing a field goal on the Spartans' first drive, Ohio State forced four straight punts and Michigan State's offense was clueless as to how to move the ball.
The Spartans were able to come out of the half revitalized, piling up 114 yards of offense and 10 points in their first two drives of the third quarter.
Against Cal, the Buckeyes were up 20-7 at the half before 313 second-half yards and three rushing TD's by the Golden Bears completely changed the outlook of the game. Ohio State benefited from three missed field goals on the day, too.
Nebraska is not a team you want to fall asleep on. Just ask Wisconsin.
The Badgers held a commanding 27-10 lead over the Cornhuskers in the third quarter, before a furious Martinez-led rally sank them 30-27.
The Buckeyes cannot continue falling asleep at halftime, or their perfect record will be tarnished as early as this weekend.
Eliminating Turnovers Is Key to Big Ten Play
You have to commend Miller's toughness, but the three turnovers he committed against Michigan State (two fumbles, one interception) could've been extremely costly, if not for the ineptitude of the Spartans offense.
Miller is going to have to protect the pigskin better if the Buckeyes want to have continued success, plain and simple.
Michigan State boasts one of the better defenses in the conference, but Ohio State has some potent offenses that will make you pay if you give them freebies.
Big Ten games are rarely high-scoring affairs, and every possession is vital. If it can avoid the turnovers, this offense has the potential to do some real damage.