MotSaG Look at the Quarterbacks

Typically, the Buckeyes have made do with the NFL model of quarterback management: have one prize horse who gets the most attention, followed by a competent backup or two for those rainy day scenarios. The approach looks good on paper, and works in the NFL because the pool of potential superstar QBs from which the NFL draws is rather shallow.

College football has generally had the inverse problem. Predicated on seniority, there’s always a good chance that the prize horse (Zwick, Boeckman, Bauserman) will not have an athletic advantage over his backup (Smith, Pryor, Miller). High school stars may fizzle out, while average players blossom into excellent leaders.

Having a full stable of high-potential quarterbacks is a rarity for any college football team, let alone Ohio State. And yet, this is the luxurious position OSU is in for the 2013 season.

Key Losses:
None of note. (Unless you count Braxton’s Fauxhawk.)

Last Year’s Performance:
In 2012, OSU was ranked 117th nationally in passing attempts (good enough for Dead. Last. in the B1G). Braxton Miller’s 48.7% accuracy on 3rd-downs was lowest among B1G quarterbacks.

In addition, Meyer told the Toledo Blade that he deliberately held the Buckeye offense to a scaled-back playbook in 2012. Therefore, Braxton had to run a conservative attack, passing for just over 2000 yards with 15 TDs and 6 INTs.

And yet, Braxton Miller was Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, and the OSU offense overwhelmed opponents with 37.2 points per game on average. Doesn’t that seem odd?

Those who watched Braxton blossom last year know why. OSU went 12-0 and had the 21st ranked offense in FBS because he added another 1300 yards and 13 TDs on the ground.

Expectations for 2013:
The last time expectations were this high for quarterback performance was in 1998, when Joe “the Iceman” Germaine returned for his last year along with OSU greats David Boston and Dee Miller. That team led the nation in most offensive categories all season long – and had it not been for an unfortunately timed fumble against the Spartans, that OSU team would likely have been the first national champion of the BCS era.

Whether it’s a fair expectation or not, college football fans and pundits alike expect nothing less from OSU in 2013. The rushing ability that Braxton Miller and Kenny Guiton bring to the table has obviously remained unchanged. The big difference this season is that the OSU QB will be surrounded with experienced weapons – healthy running backs, slot receivers, veteran wide receivers (that aren’t under suspension!), great tight ends, and Scary Talented Unknown Freshmen.

Scary Talented Freshman
(Example of Scary Talented Unknown Freshman)

The question remains: Will Miller’s 58.3% completion percentage be good enough to leverage all those weapons? If you ask the experts… yes, affirmative, absolutely, positively, aye, YES. What experts, you ask? How about the one who’s worked with Andrew Luck, Cam Newton, Ben Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers, and Johnny Manziel?

“Braxton has one of the biggest arms in college football,” Whitfield said. “I know people see his speed and his playmaking ability. But I am talking about, he’s got rare, rare arm talent.”

This is completely consistent with the assessment made by other observers:

Urban Meyer told the Columbus Dispatch:

“I love Braxton Miller. Him and Tom Herman have something really special going right now. You can see it on the field. You can see his maturity.

Combined with that athletic talent is a brand new offense that will be unveiled in a couple of weeks. Meyer has indicated that he plans to abandon last year’s training wheels and institute a true spread attack. The scaled-back playbook has been shredded. In regards to a recent practice session using the new offensive approach, Meyer said:

“We completed more balls in a third-down scrimmage scenario in a 10-minute, 16-play deal than maybe we did all of last year. And a lot of that had to do with [Miller]. He’s better, he’s more comfortable, he understands things, he’s more patient.”

The implication is, of course, that Braxton will not be running as much this season. This is an important point to note for those who will be comparing his stats from 2012 – if your baseline includes his performance as the team’s primary rusher, you’re going to be disappointed. Meyer wants RBs and H-backs rushing whenever possible. It’s entirely possible that Braxton has a more successful season than last, yet ends up responsible for fewer touchdowns overall.

QB Depth:
Backing up Miller, of course is “Smooth Jazz” Guiton, who has always had the ability to back up Miller on an athletic level. However, as a senior, Guiton possesses the maturity and expertise in the program most needed to step in at a moment’s notice with as little of an effect on the offense as possible.

QBs battling for the #3 spot are Cardale Jones and JT Barrett. Technically, the #3 spot belongs to Jones – he had it last year – but he made a large mistake last year that didn’t endear him to the coaching staff.

Barrett, on the other hand, is a high school phenom who is impressing coaches with his leadership. He enrolled at Ohio State early, and as a young unknown, happened to be in the room when Dontre Wilson and James Clark came on their official visits. The story has become OSU coaches’ lore, but it goes like this: When Wilson and Clark came by, he interrupted the coaches – again, he had only been in the program a few weeks at that point and interrupted them – and gave the recruits a lecture straight out of a Hollywood movie. Tom Herman:

“He goes on for 5 or 10 minutes on why he chose this place over others and he’s going on about winning multiple championships, what an Ohio State degree can do for you, and playing for this coach and school… For me to witness that, it got me choked up a little bit, because you can’t teach that.”

With the fact that Guiton will be leaving this season, along the extreme likelihood that Braxton will as well, Meyer has one season to get either Jones or Barrett ready for prime time in 2014. Time will tell.

But 2013 will be the Braxton show. If Miller can stay healthy, and if he has progressed as much as the coaches and pundits have indicated, there should be no question that he won’t repeat or surpass the bar of success he set for himself last year.

OSU vs. Indiana Recap – It’s the Special Teams, Stupid

Take a deep breath, everyone. Calm down.

There is a lot of overanalysis going on regarding OSU’s 52-49 edging of lowly Indiana. Most of it is being aimed at the defense. Superficially, this seems appropriate – OSU fans should never believe it acceptable to give up 49 points to Indiana.

But the problem with focusing on that single point is that it involves overanalyzing some not-so-significant issues while ignoring more pressing ones.

What is being called a “defensive breakdown” was, in reality, a series of aberrant, unlikely events that occurred over the final 2:25 that included more factors than just the defense (I’m raising an eyebrow at you, Special Teams).

Yet armchair analysts are trying to frame the team’s struggles this season on a few minutes of low-likelihood garbage-time occurrances.

Refresh your memories to the end of the fourth quarter: After 58 minutes, OSU had hung 52 points on the Hoosiers, and given up 34, which is precisely what Indiana averages per game this year. The game was completely in-hand, and both teams had assumed a garbage-time mindset. OSU was sending in lots of young players, and Indiana pulled its QB to give the freshman some experience. All were waiting for a very long day to be over.

But then the following unbelievable-never-will-occur-again-in-CFB-history-sequence-of-events occurred:

  1. Indiana converted on a 4th and 5
  2. The officials enforced a phantom 15-yard penalty
  3. The officials enforced another phantom 12-yard penalty
  4. OSU defense gives up a TD
  5. Indiana attempts an onside kick
  6. OSU’s special teams fail to recover the kick; it goes out of bounds, drawing a flag from the officials
  7. The officials confer, pick up the flag, and controversially decide that Indiana recovered the onside kick legally (replays seemed to show otherwise)
  8. OSU’s defense stops the Hoosiers on the ensuing drive for a 4th and 10
  9. The officials enforce a controverisal offsides penalty on Hankins, giving Indiana yet another chance
  10. OSU defense gives up a TD and 2 point conversion
  11. Indiana attempts another on-side kick; fails

In the above list, please review and see how many times the defense is actually mentioned. Yes, they gave up the TDs, but in at least one of those cases, those came after actually stopping Indiana. Only some questionable officiating and very unusual circumstances kept the OSU defense on the field.

It’s also worth noting the context – at well over four hours, this was (unofficially so far) the longest game in OSU history. The team had spent the day in Indianapolis and driven to the stadium for a late start. The game went exceedingly long. It was after midnight, they were exhausted, they were in garbage-time mode, and yes, they had become complacent.

I guess the above comes off as if I’m white-knighting the Silver Bullets. Maybe I am a little. I just think it’s a bit unfair, given all the circumstances, to generalize an entire “character” for this defense based on 2 minutes of a lot of weird and aberrant events that are likely to never happen in conjunction with each other again.

Does the defense need to improve? Absolutely. I completely agree with the notion that this is the weakest defense OSU has fielded in at least the past decade or two, particularly in the linebacker corps. Injuries have decimated the veterans, and OSU is simply not that deep this year.

The Biggest Problem
Would we view things differently if OSU had beaten Indiana 55-32? Well, it was the special teams, not the defense, that caused it to be 52-49. For this game, a blocked punt, missed FG, and missed onside kick were responsible for at least a 17-point-swing in the final score.

Yes, OSU blocked a punt as well on Saturday, but the special teams don’t get to use that to avoid criticism for their overall weak play this season. Fixing the issues on special teams will have a more prounounced impact on scoring ratios than what most people realize. Blocked punts, missed FGs, long returns, etc. are giving opponents touchdowns and short fields to play on, and that is making the defense’s job even harder.

The team is 7-0 going into a stretch of very winnable games. OSU is very likely going into Beaver Stadium at 8-0, and probably going to be hosting Michigan at 11-0. Say whatever you want about the Big 10’s down year, it has five teams nationally ranked in the top third of total offense – OSU, Nebraska, Indiana, Purdue, and Michigan. If OSU holds even two or three of those teams to average or below average points, that’s a positive thing to say about the defense, not a negative one.

The defense needs to improve, and if OSU simply doesn’t have the personnel to pull it off, then Meyer will get players that can. It’s a fixable problem. Fortunately, OSU has the perfect opportunity to spend the year getting a lot of young players some valuable experience for next year’s title run.

Indiana quick reaction

Deeper analysis is still to come, but a few items to consider in the meantime:

  • The offense performed exactly as expected. While Braxton and Hyde are obviously getting the majority of the attention, the main reason OSU’s offense is clicking is due to the beastly play of the young line. Barring major injuries to the key players, it’s very likely that we’ll continue to see this level of production through at least 2013.
  • Will the coaches go back to Jordan Hall once he returns from injury? The offense didn’t start clicking until the power rushing game became a factor with Hyde and Smith.
  • Speaking of injuries, before we overanalze OSU’s defensive weakness, we should keep in mind how decimated they are by injuries. It goes beyond not having Williams, Sabino, or Klein tonight, among the others who are not playing. When your team has to use its fullback to play linebacker, your coaches are offically scraping the bottom of the barrel.
  • That aside, kudos to Zach Boren for not only stepping in, but stepping up and doing his best. He’s been a selfless player for his entire career at OSU, and this should go a long way to setting a great example of leadership for the younger players.
  • 4 dropped interceptions.
  • Special teams continue to struggle. It is what it is. Don’t expect much improvement for the remainder of the season.
  • We hereby nominate the officiating crew with the Helen Keller Trophy for the worst officiating since the 2007 Illinois game.
  • Indiana has made one statement after another for the past two years. They have finally seen the light and invested heavily in their football program. They have good coaches, are getting good recruits, and have massively improved facilities. They deserve credit for this.
  • Best wishes to Jerry Kill.

More to follow later.

Preview: Indiana Hoosiers

The season is half over, gentle readers. Let’s hope that OSU plays the second half of its season like it plays the second half of its games. If so, the rest of the Big 10 is in serious trouble.

This week’s sacrificial lamb: The Indiana Hoosiers.

When Indiana has the ball

Interestingly, the Hoosier’s worst offensive performance this year was a 24-point outing against FCS Indiana State in their season opener. Since then they’ve been averaging 35 points a game, including 27 points against the Big10’s leading defense.

Put simply, this offense can move the ball very efficiently when it’s sufficiently motivated to do so. To do this, Indiana utilizes the short passing game, otherwise known as “Fickell’s Kryptonite.” At 7.1 yards per completion, they match up almost identically to Miami (OH), California, and UCF – all teams that had no problem taking advantage of OSU’s weak linebacker play and soft zone cushions.

However, past performance may be misleading in this case. The OSU defense of the past two weeks has found an identity that wasn’t present in those early games. Lost in the noise of the offensive explosion last week was the Buckeyes’ solid defensive performance against the Big 10’s leading offense. In particular, OSU’s linebacker play has improved.

On paper, the Hoosiers offensive gameplan matches up well against the Buckeyes. Should they overcome the psychological aspects of being a major underdog, they could cause OSU some headaches.

However, none of this matters because…

When OSU has the ball

This season, the only thing that has stopped the OSU offense has been its own mistakes. Those mistakes have come in two forms: psychological, when they just don’t care and start slow; and turnovers in or near the red zone, which have ended at least half a dozen scoring drives in the first six games.

Even through those faults, however, Braxton & Co are averaging 39 points a game. Last week the offense scored 49 points in three quarters, and did it without breaking a sweat.

The Hoosier’s 99th ranked rushing defense will not present much of a challenge to Ohio State.

If we assume that OSU will come out lethargic again, as they have in four of their six games, Indiana may be motivated to make it interesting going into the half. But we all know how this one ends:

OSU 56-24

What say you?

Why the statue came down

You’ve likely noticed that the MotSaG crew has been rather restrained on the PSU Scandal. Last year, we addressed our outrage in our Failures of Courage column, and left the sordid situation alone to ferment on its own.

Today the (in)famous Paterno statue was torn down. If you listen to most PSU fans, the removal is an overreaction and a kowtowing to the MSM’s unfair scapegoating of Paterno for the scandal. But these fans aren’t thinking big-picture: the removal had nothing to do with that at all.

The Paterno family jumped on the opportunity to draw more attention to themselves by issuing a statement. Paraphrasing part of that statement:

“Tearing down the statue of Joe Paterno does not serve the victims… Despite this obviouslyflawed and one-sided presentation [of the Freeh report], the University believes it must acquiesce and accept that Joe Paterno has been given a fair and complete hearing. We think the better course would have been for the University to take a strong stand in support of due process so that the complete truth can be uncovered… It is not the University’s responsibility to defend or protect Joe Paterno. But they at least should have acknowledged that important legal cases are still pending and that the record on Joe Paterno, the Board and other key players is far from complete.”

Leaving aside the obvious smoke and mirrors (‘hey everyone, forget that Freeh released emails proving Paterno perjured himself and lied to everyone for 12 years, look over here! something shiny!!’), it misses the entire point of why the statue HAD to be moved to a “more secure location.”

The statue wasn’t torn down to serve the victims. It wasn’t torn down to “keep Paterno from due process.”

It was torn down for PR purposes only.

Had the statue remained, it would have required security officers to guard it 24/7. Otherwise, it would have been vandalized, abused, and had funny and/or obscene pictures hung on it for eternity. It’s really that simple.

It was a lose-lose situation: Leave the statue for the angry mobs to deface, with imagery forwarded through the Internet at can-has-cheeseburger speed and on TV every Saturday; or guard it and suffer the negative PR of metaphorically defending a man who covered up pedophilia just to win football games. Lose-lose.

Also, keep in mind the context: the statue was removed one day before the NCAA hands down its “unprecedented” sanctions against PSU. You don’t think the administrators weren’t worried about the statue’s well being in whatever wake of anger will flow through State College this week?

The BOT removed the statue because otherwise, the statue becomes Paterno’s legacy. They’re doing the same thing they did when they fired him – protecting PSU’s brand, not Paterno’s.

Not Finishing How He Started

After ESPN’s now-infamous LeBron graphic hit the net, we started combing through our video archives and discovered this gem:

(Ed. note: Not really.)

That’s cute, Michigan

H/T to Ramzy for the idea.


Eddie George Not Resting on his Laurels

Former OSU running back and Heisman winner Eddie George has a new career: Shakespearean Actor.

George dons the toga to star in Julius Caesar, now playing at the Nashville Shakespeare Festival.

After retiring from the NFL, Eddie pursued his dream of becoming an actor. He worked with acting coaches to refine his skills and eventually landed the role of Caesar.

Via NPR:

Denice Hicks of the Nashville Shakespeare Festival knows some of those fans will come out to see Julius Caesar because of him, but, she says, “he’s a really strong actor — really, really strong.”

“And,” she says, he has “a charismatic stage presence. There is no other actor who could play Caesar the way he could.”

George’s Caesar sports a bald head and a toga. He looks confident without being cocky. While he’s relaxed and soft-spoken offstage, onstage, his voice booms.

Audience member Sherry Lawler isn’t a football fan, but she says George has a stage presence that’s reminiscent of a famous actor in an iconic role.

“He reminds me of Yul Brynner in The King and I,” she says.

Below is the All Things Considered profile on the former Heisman winner. Those heading to the Nashville area can buy tickets on the NSF site.


Failures of Courage

“Hey, Paterno’s been fired.”

The salacious and horrific nature of the allegations were notable enough, but their presence in the context of the PSU program was what elevated the story to stratospheric-levels. Paterno and PSU had built a “brand” of integrity and honor unrivaled anywhere else in major college sports. To see such a well-perceived institution involved in the most heinous of acts drew attention beyond that which would normally occur.

Humans notice when an ivory tower crumbles. In other words, we’re suckers for when the self-righteously high and mighty are humbled.

Buckeye fans had a small taste of this when our goody-two-shoes Senator Sweatervest was forced to resign, and the blue-and-white disciples of all things JoePa were first in line to serve up a dish of crow.

OSU supporters were subjected to the faux righteous indignation of a school and its fans that boasted ethical integrity while ignoring their own shortcomings: brutal physical assaults on guest fans, “urine bomb” attacks on opposing schools’ marching bands, 46 players racking up 163 criminal charges from 2002-2008 alone, and even murder, just to name a few.

That the players and fans were engaging in all these activities at the same time their coaches and administrators were allegedly engaging in and covering up pedophilia is all you need to know about the real Penn State culture versus the false, idealized Penn State brand.

But reality rarely matters. Humans like to see high-profile figures fall because that allows us to assuage our own internal resentment towards social hierarchies. Yes, the same cognitive process at the heart of the Occupy Wall Street movement is what causes human beings to crave seeing their mighty opposers fall.

That tendency also causes a rational blindness that makes humans tend to support their own ivory tower inhabitants, regardless of whether support is actually deserved. What’s more inappropriate than large crowds rioting in support of Joe Paterno?

Now, perhaps one can argue that Joe does deserve support; perhaps he does deserve acknowledgement of his legendary status and of his role in college football history.

But the difference is that those of us disconnected from the fanatical fervor are rational enough to know that there is a time for such things, and that time is NOT NOW. Those mobbing acolytes are doing nothing but disrespecting Sandusky’s victims. They should be ashamed.

Years from now, when the anger wears off and the maturity of adulthood has deepened, will those rioters realize that they were knocking down lampposts and turning over news vans in defense of the right to cover up pedophilia?

The same shame should be felt by the thousands of anonymous Internet supporters of Penn State and Joe Paterno. Posting in forums, you can tell who they are as they White-Knight their Grand Leader with reasonings like: “hey let’s all remember these are only allegations;” “Paterno didn’t do anything illegal, here, he’s just a scapegoat;” “We’re protected from NCAA violations, not like Tressel;” and the absolute worst, “obviously I feel bad for the victims BUT…”

It’s sickening.

In fact, one can argue that this type of devotion reveals an even-more-damning question: do these supporters share a certain level of responsibility here? The primary motivation for the alleged coverup was the protection of the Paterno and Penn State brand. That brand has now been exposed as a toxic illusion. But was Penn State nation (as a generalism) playing the role of “enabler” to some extent?

The JoePa Tower can’t be built without the mortar of abject irrational support.

He had to go. Not only for the moral aspects of it, but he gave the PSU Board of Trustees no choice. They are chartered with protecting the university, and Paterno had become a terrible liability to them. They did everything they could to keep him from speaking: they canceled his press conference, they surrounded him with protection, they ushered him into cars and chauffeured him to practice. They bent over backwards to keep him quiet.

But it was more important for Paterno to be heard than to protect his university. He was visibly upset that his press conference was canceled. He opened his windows at night and chatted with the crowd. And finally, after the Board was initially willing to discuss his retirement at the end of the season, he issues a statement saying “I wish I had done more.” Six words that will cost the university millions when they are (rightfully) used by the victims’ lawyers in the years to come. But just like in 2002, Paterno thought of no one but himself.

And it’s only just beginning for the PSU Board. Yesterday’s news that the Federal Government was initiating an investigation, on the basis of potential violations of the Clery Act, was likely the straw that broke the camel’s back.

For those suggesting that six decades earns the right not to be fired by phone call, consider that a simple phone call ten years ago might have ended all this before it began.

So while we rack our brains trying to figure out how this all will end, perhaps remembering the bigger picture can be a useful exercise:

It’s just a game, folks.

It’s a game. Played, coached, and watched by human beings. And as human beings, we all share responsibility for one other.

We all have the responsibility to protect innocence. We all have the responsibility to control our level of support for the leaders of any institution we patronize. We all have the responsibility to act courageously, even in the face of awkwardness, danger, or self preservation; because it’s the human thing to do.

Jerry Sandusky fails at humanity, for obvious reasons. But Mike Mcqueary, Paterno, Tim Curley, Gary Shultz, and many others failed as well. They failed to courageously defend the innocent.

In contrast, the victims that came forward (and the loved ones that supported them) have real courage. Courage to willingly suffer through the indignity and pain of reliving the most scarring event in one’s life, over and over again in front of strangers, grand jury members, and other authorities. To voluntarily subject yourself to that indignity, all in order to prevent other people from encountering the same suffering as what you endured, takes authentic human courage.

Against that, Paterno & Co. and their rationally-blind supporters are nothing more than cowards. These same hypocrites recite the stanza from the PSU alma mater: “May no act of ours bring shame/to one heart that loves thy name.” (Unless someone’s legacy and agenda gets in the way, apparently.)

At its core, this misery is due to greed and a failure of courage. Greed in one form or another: for personal satisfaction, for power, for money, for status, for 409 wins, for legacy. And cowardice: for being more afraid for oneself than for the innocent, for being more afraid of losing friendships and influence than doing what was right, for fear of being found out that your brand was a sham all along.

So go home, Paterno & Co. And go home, you irrational mob of Paterno acolytes who think a game is more important than anything else. Just go home, sit, and quietly ponder what it means to be human.

Maybe that’s good advice for all of us.