Forget the BCS standings, No. 4 Ohio State just needs to figure out a way to dominate a game from start to finish.
The Buckeyes have been living on the edge in their last three games. Head coach Urban Meyer told the Associated Press (h/t ESPN.com) that he has learned to just enjoy the wins, but he may want to hire a cardiologist if this continues. His team needs to make his life a little bit easier.
In nonconference play, the Buckeyes started fast, outscoring opponents 123-14 in the first quarter. In the Big Ten, the offense has struggled coming out of the gate, outscoring opponents just 27-24 in the first quarter.
The level of competition certainly has been much higher, but the Buckeyes are too good to be in close games against inferior opponents.
When Ohio State is playing well, it is probably unbeatable in the Big Ten. This does not mean a team can’t topple the Buckeyes them. The upsets across the country over the last two weeks have shown that taking any team lightly is a recipe for disaster.
Ohio State definitely wants to win the Big Ten, but it has higher aspirations too.
Here are three areas the Buckeyes must improve to avoid any upsets and make their fourth BCS National Championship Game.
Ohio State’s red-zone defense has been suspect all season. In 21 trips, opponents have scored 81 percent of the time. The Buckeyes have allowed three rushing touchdowns and five field goals, which is reasonable. The concern is they have given up nine passing touchdowns.
Miscommunication seems to be the root of the problem. The linebackers and secondary are blatantly missing assignments, which is leaving receivers wide open to catch easy touchdowns.
Fans in Columbus are getting a little nervous, but these mistakes are correctable. Meyer told the media during his weekly press conference (h/t Cleveland.com) that he knows the proper adjustments will be made and the players are capable of playing better.
If he’s right, all will be fine.
With three returning starters, including All-Big Ten cornerback Bradley Roby, the secondary was supposed to be the strength of the defense as the new starters up front gained experience. So far, that has not been the case.
Whether it's jumping routes, taking poor angles or flat out missing tackles, the secondary has been underperforming.
The Buckeyes are currently ranked No. 78 in the FBS, giving up 240.7 passing yards per game. They have also allowed 20 passing plays of 20-plus yards.
Part of the issue has been defensive game-planning for the Big Ten opponents.
Wisconsin (296 rushing YPG), Northwestern (175 rushing YPG) and Iowa (196 rushing YPG) thrive on pounding the ball. Shutting down the rushing attack had to be the top priority, and it worked. The Buckeyes held the Badgers, Wildcats and Hawkeyes to a combined 328 yards on the ground.
With so much emphasis on stopping the run, the secondary was bound to be vulnerable at times. What has been so surprising is how confused it has looked while getting burned by second-tier talent.
Roby’s inability to lock down the opposition's No. 1 receiver has been shocking.
Wisconsin’s Jared Abbrederis is a solid receiver, but Roby had to hold and tug on him all night. It still did not work, as Abbrederis finished with 207 yards and one touchdown.
The following week, Northwestern wide receiver Rashad Lawrence finished with 149 yards. In the Iowa game, Roby was ejected in the first quarter for a targeted hit against tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz.
Roby’s junior season has been erratic and the Buckeyes need him to turn it around quickly if they want to stay undefeated. Upcoming games against Penn State, Indiana and Illinois will test the secondary’s resolve. All three teams rank in top 30 in passing yards per game.
Meyer said Roby has been practicing hard and expects a big game out of him this week against the Nittany Lions.
The games against Penn State are typically hard-hitting, which bodes well for Roby. If he plays well, it would be a nice springboard for the home stretch in November.
Progression of Braxton Miller
Similarly to Roby, quarterback Braxton Miller’s junior season has been up and down. After suffering a minor knee injury in the San Diego State game, he had to patiently watch backup Kenny Guiton set the world on fire over the course of three games.
This had many Buckeye fans thinking Guiton was better-suited to run Meyer’s offense. Of course, this is ridiculous, but the Bucknuts are hard to please.
Miller returned to the lineup against Wisconsin and played extremely well, passing for 198 yards and four touchdowns. He laid an egg at Northwestern, passing for 203 yards with no touchdowns and one interception. He also had two fumbles. Quiet chants for Guiton could be heard back in Columbus.
With a bye week to regroup and prepare for Iowa, Miller delivered one of his finest performances. This game exemplified his vital importance to this Buckeye team.
Making play after play, he kept several drives alive in the second half. He finished the game 22-for-27 for 222 yards, two touchdowns and 102 rushing yards.
For the first time since Week 1, Miller appears to be healthy. This is great news for the Buckeyes. They need him to take it to the next level and have a monstrous second half of the season.
If he does, Ohio State will win the Big Ten Championship and be primed to make the BCS National Championship Game.
Will Ohio State's secondary improve in the second half of the season?
Ohio State is battling more than just issues on defense. Most people think the Buckeyes should comfortably win each week in the mediocre Big Ten, but the Buckeyes’ reputation is not meeting the team's expectations.
Close games are why the squad is suffering in the polls.
The Buckeyes will face a lot of pass-happy teams over the next six weeks, and that is actually good news. They might face Oregon or Florida State down the road, and the Ducks and Seminoles are two of the best at slinging the ball. Ohio State’s secondary needs a few tests before it goes up against one of these offensive powers.
For better or worse, the Buckeyes are winning their games. This matters most in the BCS system. They'll need a little luck to make it to the title game, and they’ll need to fix the passing defense to win it.