Few things are more enjoyable than the chance to be inside a college football stadium on game day. Especially at Ohio Stadium.
The pageantry of college football is unmatched in American sports. Up close, it’s awe-inspiring — especially watching it from the sideline, a way that most folks only dream about. I’m really fortunate that I get to do that every weekend.
When you’re watching from the sideline, though, there are things you’re sure to miss. That’s why it’s important to get home and watch the game again from the couch. With a nice, cold beverage.
I’m doing that now. Taking a few hours for Scarlet and Gray replay, seeing things that might have been missed at first glance with Ohio State coming back home after its bad loss at Iowa and blowing out Michigan State 48-3.
Here are my thoughts from this second glance of the Buckeyes and Spartans.
The Buckeyes arrived in a bad mood and were ready for Michigan State’s first punch
Again, as I did last week, I want to start this talking about what it looked like at the field, not from my couch.
Last week, when the Buckeyes got to Kinnick Stadium, I thought they looked almost disinterested, asleep at the wheel, maybe. They just simply didn’t look pumped up.
On Saturday, as they walked through the Ohio Stadium rotunda and down the band tunnel, that was not the case. This wasn’t a happy team full of bounce and energy, but they were focused and, well, pissed off.
Look at some of these faces.
Tyquan Lewis wasn’t alone.
OK, one more for good measure.
So, my point? There are some times when you just don’t know what you’ll get from a group of 105 kids ranging from 18-22 years old, but it sure looked like Ohio State players were coming into this game with the bad taste of the Iowa loss still in their mouths.
Kudos to Greg Schiano’s defense, as Ohio State was mentally prepared
Being pissed off is well and good, but there’s no point in pissed off if you’re not going to be poised. It was obvious from watching the first drive of this game that the Buckeyes were mentally ready for what Michigan State was going to try and do. That was not the case in Iowa.
Michigan State picked up a big 20-yard run from L.J. Scott, then converted a fourth-and-2 (after picking up 16 yards on third-and-18), a risky call meant to show that no, there was no fear of the Buckeyes in the Spartans’ hearts.
That start to the game, if they’d allowed it to, could’ve sent Buckeyes defenders spiraling after what happened a week ago. It didn’t. Michigan State took a page out of the Hawkeyes playbook, utilizing play-action to try and hit the tight end on a drag route over the middle, but Ohio State was ready for it, with Denzel Ward (who is so good and rarely talked about) under-cutting the route perfectly to knock it away.
Nick Bosa got home on Brian Lewerke two plays later for a 12-yard loss and as the Spartans walked off the field forced to punt, you could almost see it in Lewerke’s face: “We tried to punch them in the mouth, they didn’t fold, and punched us back.”
Football is as much about attitude as it is about aptitude, and on Saturday, a brow-beaten Buckeyes defense had both.
Replacing 2 starting linebackers could have been more Tuf (Borland)
It’s time for Urban Meyer and linebackers coach Billy Davis to realize that the best version of the Buckeyes defense involves Tuf Borland as the starting inside linebacker.
Who are the outside linebackers in that scenario? I don’t know necessarily, but I do know that Chris Worley looks and plays faster and generally “better” when he’s playing on the outside as he was forced to do on Saturday with Dante Booker and Jerome Baker out with injuries.
Borland stepped up and played the middle for four games earlier this season and the Buckeyes defense surrendered less than 8 points a game. The other 5.5 games? Just 29 points per game.
Yes, stats don’t always tell the full story, but are the Buckeyes best served by putting Worley back outside and Borland in the middle? I think so. From there, you rotate in Baker, Booker and Malik Harrison as the situation dictates.
A first look at a truly healthy Mike Weber
With Mike Weber finally — and fully — back from the hamstring injury that almost cost him the 2017 season, Ohio State deployed more of him than it had earlier this year. Boy, did the redshirt sophomore deliver.
Weber’s first run of the day, a 47-yard touchdown bolt, set the tone for the entire game. Coming into Saturday, the most rushing yards Michigan State had allowed to a single player was 67 (Western Michigan’s LeVante Bellamy), and the Buckeyes had two different players blow by that number in the first half. To have a healthy Weber and a healthy J.K. Dobbins means the Buckeyes can cycle them in without skipping a beat and without losing any explosiveness.
All offseason, people who saw that Weber was listed as one of the Buckeyes fastest players scoffed at that notion, but his two long dashes to the end zone should more than support that claim. He outran the entire Spartans defense on his 82-yard touchdown run, including a couple of guys with good angles to catch him. He wouldn’t have done that a year ago, and he sure as heck wouldn’t have done that weeks ago when he was still mentally nursing his injured hamstring.
Weber has been a premier pass blocker, and now he’s back to being a premier rusher as well. Weber, Dobbins and Barrett are all ready to go, and the Buckeyes can get back to the power run game that has been the hallmark of their program over the last five years … with the touch of an improved passing game as well.
J.T. Barrett was trying to be too perfect
There’s not a lot to complain about in a 48-3 win over the No. 12 team in the country, but Barrett didn’t play a particularly good game against Michigan State if we’re being honest. He was intercepted twice (that’s now 6 in the last two weeks) and each of them came as a result of him severely underthrowing receivers that had a winning position in their 1-on-1 matchups.
I was slightly concerned in the first half (Barrett took a really big shot to his shoulders on a mishandled snap in the first quarter) that he may be hurt, but that doesn’t appear to be the case. Since he’s not hurt, a bigger concern is him trying to be too perfect, something he didn’t seem to be doing during his magnificent six-game run.
If the Buckeyes are committed to running the ball to win games down the stretch, they’ll need a loose, confident Barrett to be the guy that finishes games with his arm. That means he has to just flat out let it rip. His final interception at Iowa and each of his turnovers against Michigan State were passes that were just floated to his receiver without trusting his guys to go get it.
You’ll take a 66-percent completion rate, almost 200 yards passing and 2 touchdowns all year long. You’ll take the perfectly thrown deep balls to Binjimen Victor and Johnnie Dixon (which would’ve been a touchdown if not for pass interference), but Barrett has gotten to this point by not being too loose with the football. If you’re going to throw it, you better mean it.
The Buckeyes can beat anyone in the country
But … apparently they can lose to anyone in the country — except Illinois — too. That’s what this game has shown me more than anything.
For the majority of this season, Ohio State has played uninspired, mechanical football. It played angry and aggressive against Penn State, forced to do so by its own mistakes. It played angry and aggressive against Michigan State, again, put into a corner by its own uninspired play at Iowa.
Why is Ohio State one part Jekyll and one part Hyde? Only the guys working inside the Woody Hayes Athletic Center and getting paid a lot of money to do so know for sure. There is maybe one team in the country with more talent on its roster than Ohio State, but there are no teams in the country as confusing as the Buckeyes.
It will take seven or eight different miracles for Ohio State to find its way back to the College Football Playoff, and the worst part of that is knowing that this Buckeyes team — at its best — is undoubtedly one of the country’s four best teams. If by some sleight of hand, Ohio State backs into the playoff (and I don’t personally expect that to happen), it needs to cement its identity on the way.