Ohio State: Thoughts From the Win Over Northwestern
Tim from Varsity Blue hits us with his weekly thoughts on the Buckeyes. Head over to his site to see my views of Michigan's game vs. Minnesota.
What I saw
Ohio State turned in a dominant performance on each side of the ball. Despite a lackluster day from the offensive line, they were able to pound the ball for nearly 250 yards.
Despite wind and occasional rain, they passed for nearly 200. Despite facing a mobile quarterback, which has typically been an Achilles heel of this team, they gave up less than 300 total yards, and only 10 points.
The Buckeyes offense operated primarily on the ground, while taking advantage of the passing opportunities they had.
On defense, Kafka got loose early, but the defense adjusted to prevent him from running, and the Buckeyes built up a solid lead. After that, it was essentially game over.
I also saw Ohio State score a touchdown with under a minute left, prompting some to accuse Jim Tressel of running up the score.
However, I don’t really think running it up the middle with your entire second team offense on the field constitutes poor sportsmanship.
Confirmation that Tressel was merely trying to run out the clock comes by way of the horrified look on his face after Boom Herron scooted into the end zone.
What I didn’t see
Any improvement from the offensive line, despite an entire season to come together and a bye week to get their problems worked out. At this point, I don’t think it’s likely we’ll see the Buckeyes’ OL turn in a good performance against a truly good defense. However, bailing out the offensive line, I also didn’t see…
Any tackling by Northwestern. Beanie and Pryor consistently broke multiple tackles on the way to picking up big yardage by ground and air. Of course, there were the two highlight plays (Wells’s 55-yard run and Pryor’s escape/strike to Rory Nicol), but there were several other instances of Northwestern players not making the tackles that were available to them.
A lot of passing. This is the biggest complaint I’ve heard from Buckeye fans in the after math of the game. If Pryor was having success through the air, why not give him more opportunities? However, I disagree, and think that the play distribution was probably as it should have been. I may be channeling my inner Woody/Bo, but if you can run the ball three times as often as you pass, and still come away with a 35-point win, why bother chucking it any more?
Who I watched
I already talked a bit about the offensive line, so we’ll skip them. That brings us to Pryor and Wells. If ever a team had a porous offensive line, these two players are the guys you’d want to have in the backfield to compensate for it.
Both can break tackles and keep plays alive before either breaking a big gain on the ground or, in Pryor’s case, throwing it down the field.
Pryor still makes a freshman mistake now and then (for example, he still needs to learn to throw the ball away under heavy pressure, instead of trusting his legs to get him out of a ridiculous situation), but his other skills make up for that a hundred times over.
He’s not an Ohio State player, but I also watched Northwestern QB Mike Kafka. The Ohio State defense responded well to the dual-threat player, though they gave him a couple drives for free before shutting him down (on Northwestern’s first drive, there were 13 total plays, 11 of them runs by Kafka).
Of course, Northwestern didn’t have much else in the way of offensive weapons, but Ohio State still showed they were able to shut down a one-dimensional offense.
What I expect to see next week
As inconsistent as Michigan has been this year, Illinois is the one team (OK, maybe there are two, if you count Wisconsin) that has been even more erratic.
However, Illinois has had Ohio State’s number for the past few years (though that has typically turned blowouts into close games, rather than resulting in many actual wins for the Illini), and Ohio State is showing much more weakness in 2008 than they have since 2004.
Juice will probably run the ball a lot, and be Illinois’s leading rusher. He’ll also pass it some, because Illinois is becoming desperate in the race to make a bowl game.
He’ll have some success doing each against Illinois, though not enough to beat the Buckeyes, who should put on an offensive show of their own.
What this can tell us about The Game
The Buckeye offensive line is bad (a relative term in this case, of course), and probably isn’t going to get any better this year. Michigan will provide the best defensive line Ohio State has seen since USC, or maybe Penn State.
Michigan should be able to get into the backfield. However, Ohio State has had success this year because of Wells’s and Pryor’s abilities to make plays even when there are players in the backfield.
Michigan has been a terrible tackling team this year. I foresee a pretty good offensive day for Ohio State.
Defensively, Ohio State has shown they are capable of shutting down unconventional offenses, though it sometimes takes them a quarter or two. All year, Michigan has shown they can score, but only in the first quarter.
The Wolverines will have to pull out all the stops to get a lead early in The Game if they want to stand a chance. The Buckeyes do face their second of three consecutive shotgun-option offenses this week, however, so they may come out pre-adjusted.
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