The first big road test of the season is out of the way, and the Buckeyes come away from it with a 52-34 victory. The Buckeyes showed great balance as they put up 608 yards of total offense, 276 through the air, and 332 on the ground. However, they also allowed 503 total yards on the defensive side of the ball. Therefore, there were a lot of positives to be taken away from this game, but there are some area of concerns that the coaching staff will need to sure up, in the weeks leading up to Wisconsin.
Lets start with the offense. Kenny Guiton, obviously, had an outstanding performance on Saturday night. Guiton was named Walter Camp Offensive Player of the Week after his 21/32, 276 yard, 3 touchdown outburst. He also added 92 yards, on 14 rushing attempts. However, overshadowed by Guiton’s performance, are the performances of the rest of his offensive cast.
Jordan Hall had a fantastic performance, toting the rock 30 times, for 168 yards, and 3 touchdowns. He also contributed 5 receptions for 20 yards. Joining Hall with a big performance, was highly touted freshman, Dontre Wilson. Wilson looked much more comfortable in the offense this week, as he racked up 107 yards of total offense. The third breakout performer of the week, was Devin Smith. Smith had two big plays, a 90 yard touchdown reception, and a 47 yard touchdown reception, which helped him end the day with 149 yards, and two touchdowns, on just 3 receptions.
The most significant performances of these three was Devin Smith’s. Smith not only had two outstanding big plays, but he also ran really good routes this game. His third reception was a nice crisp curl route that went for a first down. Smith last year was a one trick pony. This year, as I watch him play, I can see a multiple threat wide receiver, who is starting to understand the small details, that have to be done consistently, in order to become a big time wide receiver.
A lot of different players touched the ball against Cal, but I had my eye on one player in particular, Rod Smith. I was expecting Smith to give the Buckeyes a power run game, that they have been desperately missing. However, for whatever reason, Smith only had 3 rushing attempts for 8 yards. Smith has been on the clock since Meyer took over the reigns, of the Buckeyes. Rod has a lot of potential, but he has had ball security issues, as well as not always being mentally engaged in the offense. Therefore, I’m not sure where Smith stands with the coaches. It may be that the coaches decided to ride the hot hand with Hall, or maybe Smith wasn’t giving them what they needed. Either way, Smith did not see the field much, and with Hyde coming back, Smith’s opportunities to get on the field may be dwindling quickly.
For all of the explosiveness, and balance, the offense showed Saturday night, there were a few things they will need to fix, before facing Florida A&M. The major area of concern I have for this offense, is the 3rd down conversion percentage. The Buckeyes went 6-15 on third down, which I have to admit, isn’t that bad, but its also not that good. The Buckeyes should aim for 50% or higher on 3rd down. Yes, I am nit-picking. However, in a big game, such as on the road at Northwestern, third down conversions will be vital for this team to convert on. Sustaining drives will be very important to not only keep this offense on track, but also provide the defense with a breather.
While the offense seemed to be clicking on all cylinders, the defense seemed to sputter throughout parts of the game. The Silver Bullets surrendered 503 yards of total offense. No matter how you spin it, that number is not flattering to any defense. However, when you look at the numbers, and the amount of plays ran, there is a level of understanding as to why this defense was so poor.
As explained in the preview post to this game, Cal runs a lot of plays and throws the ball often. Cal ran 90 plays, to Ohio States 87. The defense started off the game really hot. The first few possessions Cal had, I thought Ohio State played its best defense I had seen all year. They were flying to the ball, and when they got there, they were angry, and looking to slam something to the ground. Once Cal got over the shell shock of the Buckeyes opening blitz, Goff got more comfortable, and the Bear Raid began to take its affects on the Buckeyes. Their offense began to get in to rhythm, and the Buckeyes defense began to feel the affects of that rhythm.
The corners started the game very well. They got to the ball carriers, on Cal’s quick screens, and got them down quickly. As the game went on, the secondary began to get fatigued and lose focus. They would miss tackles, along with a couple of interceptions. They would make a few good plays, followed by one or two bad ones. At times it looked like the best secondary in the country, at other times it looked like an area of concern for this defense.
Of course, when you face a team that throws the ball as often as Cal, and you face a good quarter back like Goff, your secondary will get exposed somewhat. This average performance will become a blessing in disguise for the Ohio State secondary. Coach Coombs will use this game as motivation, to get this secondary better. Missed tackles, missed interceptions, and shredding blocks will be the three areas of emphasis, that the Buckeyes secondary will need to improve on.
One area of this defense that does not need to be given as much concern as several people, including myself, thought, is the Buckeyes front seven. Ryan Shazier had another Ryan Shazier esque game, recording 11 tackles, with 1 sack, and 1 forced fumble. Curtis Grant had a few sightings, as he provided quality support in run defense. Joey Bosa had another impressive performance, recording 5.5 tackles, with 2 tackles for loss. Noah Spence seems to be picking up steam, as the season goes on, recording another sack in this game, accompanied with a couple more quarterback hurries. Even without Adolphus Washington, the line seemed to hold strong throughout the game.
They did give up 132 rushing yards, but that was to five different Cal runners. So, good pressure on the quarterbacks, good run defense, what needs to be worked on? The inside push will need to be better against teams that run the ball better. The later the game went the less effective our inside lineman were against the Cal run game. However, once we get Washington back, expect Bosa to be rotated inside at times, which will give the Buckeyes some more depth on interior. Hopefully, if Michael Hill and Chris Carter keep developing, this run defense will keep getting deeper, and stronger.
Overall, if I had to give a grade to the defensive performance, it would be a B-. Inconsistent play in the secondary, with a few stupid penalties, and missed tackles held this unit back from a higher grade.
For the offense I would give them an A+. No sacks allowed, accompanied with great balance, and great point production, its hard to argue with an A+.
For coaching, I’d give Tom Herman an A for how well this game was called. It got a little too vanilla for me in the end, but he stuck to his guns and again, he did a very good job of keeping the offense balanced.
On the defensive side of the ball, I’d give Luke Fickell a C. The secondary played way too soft at times, especially with the ability of Grant and Roby. I feel like if they would have let this defense stay in its base nickel, the majority of the game, there wouldn’t have been as much inconsistency shown. Often times I feel like Fickell, and the defensive coaching staff, out think themselves, which make the players over think, and react to the offense, instead of dictating what the offense does. However, I am not a supporter of the “Fire Fickell” campaign that goes on on Twitter. I think he is a good defensive coordinator, who gets more out of his players as the year goes on. This weak it was a combination of good players playing average, and smart coaches being too complex, that lead to a less than impressive defensive performance.
All that being said, this team is slowly coming together. The offense, with Kenny Guiton or Braxton Miller at the helm, is ahead of the defense at this point, but the defense is closing quickly. The Buckeyes still need more consistent play from the defense as a whole. They also need Braxton to get back to full health, and get him up to speed with the rest of the offense. Braxton still has a long way to go with making more consistent, correct, reads as the quarterback of this offense. He will get Carlos Hyde back against FAMU, which I think will make him more comfortable. Once Braxton gets in to a flow with this offense, which I think he will, and the defense plays with more consistency, this team will be the national title contenders we have been expecting.