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 doing what it needed to do en route to a nice, easy 38-point win over Illinois.
Here are my thoughts from this second glance of the Buckeyes and the Fighting Illini.
To Parris with love
Wow, does the Ohio State offense look different when the threat of Parris Campbell is present.
It’s not that Campbell is the featured player — because he almost never is — but every time he touches the ball there’s a chance that something big could happen. The Buckeyes get much more dangerous when they have that extra element to spread out the defense on perimeter. It’s hard to defend Campbell, J.K. Dobbins, Mike Weber and J.T. Barrett in the running game no matter what, but it’s harder when you add in the run/pass option stuff that the Buckeyes have used the last few weeks.
(Except against Iowa for some reason, where they decided to do nothing at all.)
Kevin Wilson and Ryan Day have done an excellent job of spreading around the football in recent weeks, and getting Campbell back makes a dangerous unit downright scary.
Doing what has to be done
So many times in games against significantly inferior opponents — especially on an emotional day like Saturday was in Columbus — there’s a tendency to come out a little flat.
The Buckeyes certainly didn’t do that against Illinois. Whether it was knowing what was coming with the weather — and Urban Meyer acknowledged in his postgame news conference that it was an issue — Ohio State came out of the gate with the pedal to the metal.
A 28-point outburst in the first quarter, on four possessions totaling about 7 minutes of game clock, was as efficient and explosive as it could be. Yes, Illinois is very bad at football, but this is Ohio State playing more against itself than anything. This is about coming out and executing the game plan and dominating.
Great teams blow out teams they’re supposed to blow out. When Ohio State is at its best, the Buckeyes undoubtedly are a great team.
I am not personally a believer that playing Illinois the week before Michigan is a good thing. While I know that a slugfest against a team such as Michigan State or Wisconsin can physically wear you out, I think there’s something positive in the “strain” a week before your biggest rivalry game, to keep you focused.
The Buckeyes did everything they had to do in order to make the most of the hand they were dealt, though. That’s a sign of a mature and focused team.
Urban Meyer sent a real message
As good as Ohio State played in the first quarter and a half against Illinois, there was a chance for Meyer to send a very real message to his second-team players, and he didn’t miss the chance to do it.
Almost immediately upon removing J.T. Barrett and the starting offensive line, the Buckeyes got sloppy, even before the weather did.
Meyer, knowing he couldn’t let his team’s performance become worse, inserted Barrett and the rest of the Ohio State starters back into the game.
While standing there on the sideline in the pouring rain, I thought to myself, “What in the world are you doing, Urban?” That feeling was exacerbated by watching Marcus Baugh come up limping on the first play following re-entry. But after re-watching the game, I couldn’t agree more with the decision.
Yes, it was risky, but for a team that just two weeks ago gave up 55 points to a bad Iowa Hawkeyes offense, it was necessary. You can’t sit idly by while your team, which miraculously finds itself back in College Football Playoff contention, gets lackadaisical and uninterested in a game when you can put up some necessary style points.
After the game, Meyer said he was trying to avoid the game turning into a “clown show,” and while that may have appeared dramatic, I don’t think it was. In fact, I think the biggest message sent was to Dwayne Haskins, who has been sort of anointed as the Buckeyes starter for 2018, but was pulled after some sloppy play.
Haskins, though, took it in stride and bounced back, playing much better the second time around, including a beautiful touchdown pass to Binjimen Victor in the pouring rain. If you want to be the man in Columbus, you have to take every snap seriously, and I imagine Haskins will take that away from this game.
To show that Ohio State deserves to be the first two-loss team in the CFP, you can’t leave anything to chance and Urban Meyer made sure his team didn’t.
Getting out healthy was a priority
In a game like this, Ohio State really has two goals: win big and get out healthy.
They did that, it seems.
Yes, Jordan Fuller missed the Illinois game with a leg injury, and a few players — most notably wide receiver Austin Mack — seemed to be hobbling off the field a few times against Illinois. But the Buckeyes are heading into The Game in Ann Arbor as healthy as they can be.
On offense, there’s no Branden Bowen, but with Campbell back from concussion protocol-induced absences, there are no other key injuries on offense. Dante Booker is still out on defense, but Jordan Fuller will be back for Michigan and Damon Arnette played the entire game against Illinois after missing the second half versus Michigan State with a bruised leg.