I'd be hard-pressed to make a case that Saturday's performance converted the growing number of Buckeye skeptics -- who seem to prefer to point out the final score of the game as a final determinate of an overrated Buckeye team. Honestly, I can't blame them, at least without some additional in-depth analysis of what really happened in the "Shoe" on Saturday afternoon.
At first glance, Saturday brought only narrow seven point win and most notably a season high 17 points against OSU. Wow, finally a quality opponent with a respectable 9th rank running game shows Laurinaitis and company have some holes in their armor after all. That is, if you didn't catch that OSU's defense actually only gave up three points.
You couldn't have asked for a better day in Buckeye land on gameday. I may be crazy but it seemed like the mercury may have a risen a couple notches each time OSU's stifling "D" stepped onto the field. I suppose we could call the offense that one annoying cloud in an otherwise clear sky. And the result -- most Buckeyes fans didn't get the tan they thought they might.
Michigan State came into this game boasting their 9th rank rushing game. Led by MSU standout Javon Ringer, they full well expected to showcase their main offensive prowess in Columbus.
Ranked first in the Big Ten averaging 467 yards of offense and close to 37 points per game it was clear this would be the first chance for the Buckeye "D" to show they are really that good. The Shoe might be sporting a new "Mission Accomplished" banner soon. Coincidentally this declaration seems to have the same meaning behind it as was in George W's message. The war has just begun.
"Lights out" was the distinction offensive tackle, Kirk Barton, gave the Buckeye "D" after Saturday's game. As unbiased as I try to stay when analyzing this reloaded 2007 Buckeye team, I have to agree with the Big Guy (Barton).
Here's the good...
- The "D" held an offense averaging almost 37 points per game to just 3
- Michigan State's offense was able to generate just 185 yards of total offense -- 282 yards short of their normal offensive production of 467.
- OSU stifled the ninth ranked rushing offense of Michigan State allowing just 59 yards, impressively holding Javon Ringer to just 49 yards of that total. Ringer came in averaging 176 yards per game in conference play. The rushing offense as a whole was average 243 yards per game before Saturday.
- Michigan State managed just nine first downs.
The not so good...
- The 14 defensive points Michigan State generated count against OSU's defensive points allowed statistic. Not fair. OSU came into saturday ranked #1 allowing just 6.9 points per game.
- The "D" still can't hold a shut out, allowing Michigan State a field goal late in the fourth.
- When the "D" once again bailed out the offense allowing just a Michigan State field goal after a late fourth quarter punt. Leaving Michigan State looking for 7 points rather than 3 was huge.
- Cameron Heyward saved OSU from giving up a first down inside their own 20 by providing a nice hit that knocked the ball loose from receiver, Terry Love's grasp late in the fourth quarter.
- MVP - James Laurinaitis. The unquestioned leader of this defensive unit never fails to give anything less a solid performance. He ended up with 12 tackles, the most of any Buckeye in Saturday's precedings.
- Honorable Mention - Doug Worthington. I give him two thumbs up for a pretty athletic interception on the 29 yard line in Michigan State territory -- which set up a Buckeye touchdown and a 17-0 lead.
Overall, the defense was the same group that we've been seeing all season. They're hungry, they're quick, and they're physical.
The main thing that this "D" excels in is sure tackling. Every guy on that side of the ball can and will make a game saving play; It's just a question of who gets to the point of attack first. A lot of times it two, three, and four Buckeyes.
The Buckeye D went into Saturday finally looking for and expecting some sort of a challenge... and it seems they're still looking. Holding a good Michigan State offense to under 200 yards is remarkable in my opinion.
As good as the performance was, I want to get back to something I alluded to earlier. The stats and collective physical effort of this unit are great, but a "Mission Accomplished" banner is a bit premature.
The real test starts next week in Happy Valley. How will this Buckeye 'D' perform on the road in by far the most hostile environment they've had to play in all season? I've got a feeling the whole nation will be watching next Saturday in primetime.
I'm confident, and I've yet to find a reason not to be. However, I'd like to think this defensive unit isn't. Confidence too often translates into relaxation and complacency, two things for which Penn State's offense will have no mercy.
So what's the bad news?
I was impressed; I was in shock; I finally took a breath -- and all in that particular order.
I was impressed...
First of all, what a nice catch by tight end Jake Ballard.
Overall, I have to say I was pretty impressed with the offense, late in the third quarter with a 24-0 lead. I thought it was over, and was fully expecting another seven points at least to break that 30 point mark. How good would that have looked? If only, if only...
If there was any question left about Wells being one of the most important players on the Buckeye's offensive unit, they've been answered now. Chris Wells is an exceptional athlete, even at less than 100% he managed 221 total yards. This included a huge run on the first drive of the game to contribute to a seven game, first drive scoring streak.
Boeckman was perfect in his first 10 passes, and despite his one interception he looked extremely good. Finishing the game 15/23 attempts, 193 yards, and 2 TD passes -- he surpassed my expectations. The question is, will he learn from the mistakes of this weekend?
I was in shock...
With a comfortable 24 point lead, I had the gull to leave the television, and walk a couple blocks up town with a good friend to enjoy gameday festivities in the 'Bus -- after all it was a beautiful day. The next time we happened to catch the game Michigan State had generated 14 mysterious points. Needless to say I had a new-found interest in watching the rest of it.
Call it looking ahead, complacent confidence, or just a huge offensive melt down -- whatever you want to call it, it wasn't good. We even got a glimmer of last-year Beanie, almost giving up a huge third turnover late when he fumbled after a big hit from a Michigan State defender. Luckily Michigan State got greedy and tried to pick this one up as well, and they fumbled the ball around before Beanie was miraculously able to come up with a crucial recovery.
I finally took a breath...
When the "D" held Michigan State to just a field goal, I decided a little bit of oxygen was in order. Even better, MSU decided to kick it away with 3:42 left in the fourth rather than go for the onside.
From there Chris Wells carried the Buckeyes on a game ending drive, rushing 7 times in a row and picking up three Buckeye first downs. This is where Wells really proved to me that he's going to be there for the Buckeyes when it's absolutely crucial. His presence on the offense is vital for their success, and nothing has shown it more than his determination, strength, and leadership on that final drive.
Here's the good...
- The turnovers committed by the offense on Saturday, I am happy to say, are relatively uncharacteristic for this Buckeye team. Michigan State came up with two nice turnovers and made them count, returning both for six points. If they don't return those for six, I have no reason to believe the D wouldn't have taken care of business -- limiting them to at most three points each time.
- Chris Wells' performance, despite his fumble, was the best I've seen him. As mentioned, that last drive depended on Wells to put this game away, and he did just that.
- The butterflies are out. I think the Buckeyes can go into next week with at a bit stronger offensive unit. Really, they showed that the offense is sufficient enough, given the Buckeye strength on "D". More than ever now, we're aware of our inadequacy on offense, so this week of they focus on playing four quarters, rather than two.
The not so good...
- The Buckeyes gave up 14 points on two offensive turnovers in a span of 56 seconds. If the "D" doesn't do it's job and hold MSU to zero points before the turnovers, and just three after the minute scoring spree, the Buckeyes probably lose this game.
- The Buckeye offense either punted or turned the ball over 5 out of 6 possessions in the second half.
- MVP - Chris "Beanie" Wells. He is really a force to be reckoned with in the backfield. He carried the Buckeye offense against Michigan State, and without him I shutter to think what the outcome might have been. His peformance in that final drive is where Beanie clinched my offensive MVP honors.
- Honorable Mention - Todd Boeckman. Yes, there were mistakes but I can't honestly justify those wiping out an otherwise excellent saturday afternoon performance. This Boeckman performance, minus the blunders, and we basically have a blown-out Michigan State team, and a lot more people with a couple more positive words regarding this Ohio State offense.
- Jake Ballard - A huge catch set the tone for this game early. Converting their first drive into seven points was huge, and the catch by this tight end was impressive to say the least. Nicely done, big guy.
I hate saying things like "If we didn't do this...", "If this turnover doesn't convert to six points..", etc.. I don't really want to attempt to make a case for the Buckeye's performance on Saturday, but if I was I'd mention something like this:
Without committing those turnovers, this game isn't even close. Credit Michigan State for not giving up even down 24 late the third quarter, but Michigan State didn't almost win this game by any means. The Buckeyes handed MSU 14 points on a silver platter.
However, we are lucky it was Michigan State we were playing, and not a Penn State, Michigan, or worse a team like an LSU. Turnovers like that in one of these types of games spells doom, for sure.
As much doubt as I have in the Buck's offense, I have ten times as much confidence in this defensive unit. They showed they can shut down one of the top running games in college football in Javon Ringer. It's also notable to mention, OSU has been without one of it's starting D-lineman, tackle Todd Denlinger, for three straight weeks.
The secondary is growing ever stronger, led by lockdown defensive back Malcolm Jenkins -- which is finally bringing together the final lethal components of this defense.
It wasn't pretty, that's for sure -- but a win, is a win, is a win. Come on, sing it with me, football nation.