Ohio St. Buckeye Breakdown Week 1: Bauserman, Miller Shine in 42-0 Rout of Akron

Dan Hope@Dan_HopeContributor IIISeptember 8, 2011

Braxton Miller, in the pocket ready to pass
Braxton Miller, in the pocket ready to passKirk Irwin/Getty Images

Buckeye Breakdown Week 1 Review: Joe Bauserman, Braxton Miller Shine in 42-0 Rout of Akron

Akron 0, OHIO STATE 42

As expected, the Ohio State Buckeyes were not tested in their season opener against Akron. The greatest competition for the Buckeyes in this game came not from the Zips, but from themselves.

With seven key players suspended (running back Daniel Herron, wide receiver DeVier Posey, left tackle Mike Adams, defensive end Solomon Thomas, running back Jordan Hall, cornerback Travis Howard, cornerback Corey Brown), the players who were eligible to play in this game sought to prove to their coaches and fans that they could step up and keep the Buckeyes in contention for a Big Ten title.

Fortunately for the Buckeye fans, there were many players who did just that in this game.

Of course, there was another key player not playing in this game, who will not be playing for the Buckeyes ever again, and that was quarterback Terrelle Pryor, who left the program this spring. That puts the spotlight on the quarterback position and the battle for the starting job between senior Joe Bauserman and freshman Braxton Miller. Bauserman got the start and played all but one series in the first half, before giving way to Miller after one series in the second half.

Both quarterbacks were impressive. Bauserman does not have any special abilities, but he showed that he can run the offense efficiently. He actually put on a surprising display of rushing ability on his first drive. When a play broke down from the 15-yard line, Bauserman decided to run the ball up the middle. While he does not have great athleticism, he carefully navigated his way through the defense, all the way to the end zone for the game’s first touchdown.

After that, Bauserman made smart and accurate throws, completing 12 of his 16 pass attempts for 163 yards and three touchdowns. Previously, I feared the Buckeyes’ ability to win games with Bauserman. But even though this performance came against Akron, Bauserman showed that he can be a steady starter and that the Buckeyes will be able to win games with him under center.

After his solid performance, Bauserman should remain the starter for the early part of the season; he is a steady presence who is the best option to lead the Ohio State offense right now. However, it will not be long before freshman Braxton Miller becomes the best option; he showed in this game that he has the potential to be a special player.

Miller’s lone series in the first half did not go well; he went 3 and out. However, this was not Miller’s fault. Reid Fragel dropped an accurate pass on 2nd down, while center Mike Brewster delivered a bad snap on 3rd down.

In the second half, the Buckeyes gradually opened up the playbook for Miller and, as they did, he excelled. Miller displayed his athleticism, big arm and ability to throw accurately both out of the pocket and on the run. As Miller is only a true freshman, he may not be ready to be thrust into the starting role just yet, but the coaching staff must find ways to get Braxton on the field. If his progression continues to be positive, they will gradually groom him into the starting role.

(Watch my video analysis for my explanation of how this situation is similar to the situation they faced at the quarterback position three years ago.)

With both Dan Herron and Jordan Hall suspended, the Buckeyes were short-handed at the running back position in this game. Strangely, sophomore Jaamal Berry also did not play in this game, likely due to a nagging hamstring injury. In those backs’ absence, sophomore Carlos Hyde became the feature back—and he put on an impressive showing.

Hyde is not the home-run hitter those other backs are, but he is a back with great size and showed a great ability to run the ball up the middle in this game. He did that consistently and finished the game with 93 yards on 19 carries.

The second running back in this game was freshman Rod Smith. Smith had one of the Buckeyes’ lowlights when he fumbled the ball on the 4-yard line, ruining what should have been a scoring drive for the Buckeyes. But he was otherwise impressive, gaining 74 yards on 18 carries. With Hyde and Smith both proving they can make an impact this season, the Buckeyes are set to have a deep backfield next week when Hall and Berry return, and especially after the return of Herron in the Buckeyes’ sixth game.

The receiving corps is a major area of concern for the Buckeyes, with DeVier Posey suspended for the first five games of the season and the graduation of last year’s leading receiver, Dane Sanzenbacher. A new standout receiving target emerged during this game, and that came from the tight end position with senior Jake Stoneburner.

Stoneburner, who caught two touchdown passes all of last season, was on the receiving end of all three of Bauserman’s touchdown throws in this game. Stoneburner is a big tight end with reliable hands and an ability to get open. He showed that he is going to be a very valuable weapon in the passing game this season.

At wideout, the Buckeyes are relying heavily on a trio of freshmen: Verlon Reed, Devin Smith and Evan Spencer. Reed led the Buckeyes with 66 receiving yards on three receptions in this game, while Smith also had a solid showing, highlighted by a 14-yard touchdown reception from Braxton Miller.

On the receiving end of one other Miller pass, however, Evan Spencer made the play of the game. Miller threw a very good strike to the left sideline, but to make the catch, Spencer had to turn toward the ball, leap up, then make an absolutely tremendous extension and pull the ball in with one hand. If you did not see the game or the highlight on SportsCenter, this play must be seen to be believed, so look it up on YouTube (search "Evan Spencer catch"—all of the top results are of the play).

Overall, with three freshmen standing out at wide receiver, there appears to be great potential at the position, albeit with a lack of experience. Two players who were disappointing offensively were junior tight end Reid Fragel and sophomore wide receiver Corey Brown.

Fragel dropped Miller’s first pass attempt of the game and only had one catch on the day. Aside from an impressive 44-yard kickoff return, Brown was a non-factor, barely playing on offense, and seemingly going down with cramps every time he got in the game—a sure sign of poor conditioning.

Up front, the starting offensive line took care of business. Filling in for Mike Adams, Andrew Norwell started at left tackle. Although he did get flagged for one penalty, he had an otherwise solid game. Of course, it was hard to get much of a feel for the Buckeyes offensive line since they went up against a weak Akron defensive line.

In two weeks, when they are put to the test against a very athletic Miami defensive line, the mettle of the Buckeyes’ revamped offensive line sans Mike Adams will truly be tested.

It may have come against an Akron offense with a complete lack of firepower, but the Ohio State defense was very sharp in this game. The Buckeyes allowed only 90 total yards of offense and shut the Zips out on the scoreboard, allowing their offense into Ohio State territory only once on 13 total drives.

The defensive line looked very strong and completely controlled the line of scrimmage against the Akron offensive line. One defensive lineman who caught my eye, particularly in the second half of the contest, was freshman defensive end J.T. Moore. Moore looked good as a pass rusher late in the game and came up with three tackles, including one for a loss.

Senior defensive end Nathan Williams and junior defensive tackle John Simon are the stars of the line, but were quiet in this game. It is key for freshmen such as Moore and defensive tackles Michael Bennett and Steve Miller, both of whom showed flashes in the second half, to make an impact over the course of the season, especially early on with Solomon Thomas suspended.

With the graduations of Ross Homan and Brian Rolle, the weight falls on the shoulders of senior Andrew Sweat to become the leader of the linebacker corps. In his initial test, Sweat passed with flying colors. He was consistently in on plays in this game, and had two tackles for loss, along with a tremendous interception.

Sweat’s interception was a tandem effort with sophomore cornerback Dominic Clarke, who started this game in place of Travis Howard and probably earned himself a full-time spot in the starting lineup after his fantastic performance in this game.

Clarke was the best player on the field in this game. He consistently locked down opposing receivers. He had two recorded pass defenses, but also created the Sweat interception. Clarke established tight coverage against intended receiver Jerrod Dillard and deflected the pass when it came his way, tipping up into the air. Sweat showed tremendous instincts and athleticism, when he leaped up to grab the live ball, then landed with both feet in bounds along the sideline for the interception.

This play was the highlight of the game for two players who stood out as the top players on the Ohio State defense in this game.

Two other linebackers who were impressive in this game were junior Etienne Sabino and freshman Ryan Shazier. Sabino played much of the game and made many instinctive plays, looking capable of taking on the middle linebacker role for the Buckeyes this season.

In second-half action, Shazier was very impressive. He had two tackles for loss and showed his athleticism and ability to be a difference-maker when on the field. A true freshman, Shazier will not start this year unless due to injury, but he should be called upon to make an impact as a situational player.

Clarke was the star in the secondary, but the unit was impressive as a whole. Senior strong safety Nate Ebner and sophomore cornerback C.J. Barnett both played well. Next week, when the Buckeyes bring back starting cornerback Travis Howard along with backup defensive back Corey Brown, the secondary should be even stronger, with a strong cornerback pairing of Howard and Clarke leading the way.

Overall, the Ohio State Buckeyes were very impressive in this game and now look ahead to this Saturday’s contest, when they play Toledo at home. Toledo is certainly a stronger opponent than Akron, but as another middle-of-the-pack MAC team, they should not give the Buckeyes much trouble.

Once again, this will be an opportunity for the Buckeyes to build early momentum, while evaluating their talent and continuing to see which players should be called upon to step up when they begin their tougher schedule next week at Miami.

The Buckeyes will have a few more players at their disposal this week, with the returns of Hall, Howard and Brown from suspension, as well as a likely return from running back Jaamal Berry from injury.

I expect another big win from the Buckeyes, with a predicted final score of 38-7. The importance of this game, however, will once again be to see how Joe Bauserman, Braxton Miller, the players returning from suspension and the rest of the Buckeyes perform as they look to prove themselves to the coaches and fans and earn valuable playing time.

UPDATE: As it turns out, the three suspended players from last week: Jordan Hall, Travis Howard, and Corey Brown--are not eligible to play this week. Disappointing for the Buckeyes, who lose the opportunity to work those players back into the lineup prior to a tougher opponent next week in Miami.


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