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 during Ohio State’s 62-14 beatdown of Maryland on Saturday.
Here are my thoughts from this second glance of the Buckeyes and Terrapins.
J.T. Barrett’s rising confidence is evident
I’ve mentioned it before, but who J.T. Barrett is playing against is far less important than how he is playing.
In the first half against Maryland, Barrett made multiple throws that he simply would not have made a month ago, period: his touchdown passes to Binjimen Victor and Austin Mack, the early pass to Johnnie Dixon that ended up in a big gain, the back-shoulder fades to Mack and Victor down the sidelines, etc. These are throws Barrett is making because for the first time since 2014 he feels confident his receivers will go catch the ball.
Barrett’s composure and cool under pressure have been his calling card at Ohio State, but suddenly you see glimpses of that Heisman candidate swagger. Rather than throwing the ball to avoid mistakes, Barrett is throwing it in spite of potential risks.
But it was only Maryland … I know. I know. But still, it’s a good sign.
I don’t know how, but Nick Bosa is better than everyone thought he’d be
As a recruit, Nick Bosa was offered by Ohio State as a high school freshman. He was a 5-star prospect throughout high school. He’s the younger brother of Joey Bosa, the son of John Bosa, the nephew of Eric Kumerow, all of whom were first-round picks in the NFL draft. He came to campus in Columbus still recovering from a torn ACL he suffered during his senior season of high school, and he played well as a freshman.
Bosa has taken all the lofty – and in some cases unreasonably high – expectations he had foisted upon him and somehow has surpassed them. That’s how he good he’s been in 2017.
On Saturday, Bosa had 5 tackles (2 for loss, his calling card) and was as generally disruptive as usual. He’s not at his brother’s level yet in terms of scheming against him, but some of that is because you can’t double- or triple-team this Bosa because it’d leave another superstar unblocked. That wasn’t the case in 2015 when it was happening to Joey regularly.
In 2017, Nick has 4 sacks and 10 tackles for loss in six games, and unlike Joey in 2015, he’s not out there on every play. He’s splitting reps and making every single one of them count with relentless pressure and energy.
Ohio State will absolutely need a dominant Matt Burrell
Losing Branden Bowen is a big blow to an Ohio State offensive line that has been playing pretty well.
Bowen, a former tackle, won the right guard job in August, beating out Matt Burrell, Demetrius Knox and Malcolm Pridgeon. He won the job because he was big, nasty and athletic, all prerequisites to succeed as a “Slob”. But winning that position ahead of the three guys he did was telling — those three other guys have been beaten out for a starting job in consecutive years; last year it was Michael Jordan who took it.
It’s going to be Burrell who becomes the starter with Bowen out until March or April, and that is in part because he’s got the “nasty” streak the Buckeyes need from the position.
If Ohio State is going to contend for a Big Ten title and a College Football Playoff berth, the offensive line must improve, and a big portion of that moving forward is how Burrell performs.
Secondary improvements are real, Damon Webb is good
Like J.T. Barrett, it’s easy to dismiss the statistical improvements from the Buckeyes secondary because of the competition level, but as a group they’re much improved from the first two weeks of the season. I mean, four games in a row without giving up 100 yards passing? I don’t care who you’re playing, that’s good.
Denzel Ward has been playing like a first-round pick and Damon Arnette and Kendall Sheffield have made big strides, especially Sheffield, who was struggling with the pass interference bug against UNLV.
Safety play has become a strong spot for the Buckeyes with the decision to play Jordan Fuller full time. He’s played phenomenal football.
However, it’s Damon Webb, who was vilified in 2016 (because he was the “worst” player in the secondary since the other three dudes were No. 1 draft picks), who has been the undeniable leader in the secondary this season. Webb doesn’t have to be spectacular – it’s not what his position calls for – but he’s got to be consistent and solid and he’s been that in spades.
So, after further review: Damon Webb is good – was good – he was just not as good as Malik Hooker, who was asked/designed to do totally different things in 2016.
Special teams issues are going to matter against Penn State
There’s no point in rehashing every single special-teams error committed by Ohio State on Saturday (spoiler: they were copious), but there isn’t any doubt that those issues will give Urban Meyer and Kerry Coombs some restless nights this week and into their off week following Nebraska.
(For the record, it’s not a “bye” week, OK? A bye week is when you’re given a game or advanced in a tournament or whatever, not just when you have the week off.)
Penn State does not have a more talented roster than Ohio State, but that game is the true barometer for where things truly are in Columbus. To beat Penn State, the Buckeyes will need to be flawless on special teams, the area that lost the game in Happy Valley last season.
The kickoff issues that are causing Meyer to lose his mind will lead to some major problems when trying to contain Saquon Barkley. Botched punts from inside your own 20 – which has happened two weeks in a row – will lead to quick scores by a good Penn State offense. If you can’t make a field goal longer than 40 yards, or aren’t confident enough to try one, you are leaving points on the field.
Nebraska isn’t a good football team, at least not in the way that Penn State, Iowa, Michigan State, and Michigan are, but one more week of “getting it right” is all that Ohio State has left before the real season begins. It’s time to figure that out.