Time to Step Up: What the Bucks Will Need in LA

9 09 2008
Beanie will need to do what he does and open things up on the ground

Beanie will need to do what he does and open things up on the ground

It’s no secret that the match-up of the week (possibly the entire regular season) will be Ohio State against USC this Saturday in the Coliseum.  What appeared two weeks ago to be a dominant Ohio State against a USC team that would not be as strong as they had been in recent years will now in fact be a #1 ranked firing-on-all-cylinders-and-taking-no-prisoners Trjoan team against a Buckeyes team that so far has only succeeded in underwhelming fans and critics alike.  Any questions about Mark Sanchez’s knee injury have vanished and the Trojan defense looks strong as ever.  The Buckeyes have failed to execute as expected against two overmatched opponents and star Beanie Wells has been injured.  Will the Trojans continue their streak of non-conference domination?  Will the Buckeyes’ O be able to get traction if Beanie doesn’t return to carry the load?  We’ll find out four days and four hours from now.

If one thing is certain, it’s that the Buckeyes- who now will enter the game as a 10-point underdog- will need to step up their game and play a tough one if they want to stay in it.  In their first two games we have seen a lack of boldness on play calling, freshman-caliber mistakes, and more missed catches than a schoolyard game of monkey-in-the-middle.  The running game at this point is a bit of a question mark.  There is no doubt that Beanie will play, but lips have been tight as to his condition.  Even if he is at 100%, which he will certainly need to be, there is always a possibility that he could re-aggravate the toe injury.  He will already be targeted by a hungry USC defense – lead by stars such as standout linebacker Rey Maualuga.  If Ohio State want to open up the ground game, Beanie will be the guy to do it.  Unless we were missing something on Saturday, we saw that the rest of the running backs on the OSU depth chart could not take his place altogether.

Rey Maualuga wont be the only hurdle in the Buckeyes path.

Rey Maualuga won't be the only hurdle in the Buckeyes path.

There has also been rampant speculation about what we have so far seen from Ohio State.  The prevailing notion seems to be that the coaching staff have been deliberately refusing to show their hand so that USC won’t have any film to study and won’t know exactly what we plan to throw at them.  I, for one, hope that this is the case because we sure won’t be gaining many yards with the sort of “vanilla” offense that OSU typically runs.  Trying to run it up the middle every 2nd or 3rd play won’t go over too well in LA.

Another hot topic is what to expect true freshman QB Terell Pryor.  Again, unless we haven’t really seen him utilized to the best of his ability, he won’t be a factor.  So far we have seen that although he can run well, he lacks the sort of “touch” he needs, a la Todd Boeckman.  It’s great if the guy can run, but pre-designed take-the-snap-and-run-to-the-outside plays won’t be fooling anyone.  If Pryor proves that he can pass well and (usually) run when he is under pressure, he could emerge as a threat.

Speaking of emerging as a threat, we have finally seen some razzle-dazzle out of WR Ray Small.  His combination of speed and agility (something we haven’t seen since Ted Ginn, JR) is exactly the sort of thing the Bucks will need if they want to spread the out that tough USC defense.  Hartline and Robiskie have both proven reliable, but they have never had the ability to burn the defense when they hit open space in the same way as Small can.  He spent much of season struggling against a leg injury, so expect better things out of him this year.

Prediction Time

Ohio State will struggle out of the gate.  Expect the first couple of posessions to be short.  Maybe not 3-and-outs, but not scoring drives either.  The defense will be hungry, perhaps too hungry- USC’s O will capitalize on miscues and exploit their weaknesses well.  If the OSU D can step up, execute, and keep USC bottled up, the offense may be able to make things happen.  This will absolutely key: if our defense doesn’t slow down USC’s offense, our offense will struggle.  If both the offense and the defense struggle early on, expect USC to tear this one wide open.  They will do their best to get us out of it quickly because they know that if we can hang with them, we will eventually gain momentum and give them a run for their money.

Boeckman will struggle.  He will do well if the O-line gives him enough time, but he will overthrow his receivers on the deep passes.  He will throw at least 2 INTs.  If he can establish a rhythm he will produce results.  However this is doubtful since USC’s D-line will be tough to hold back.

Pryor lacks big-game experience but may still yield results.

Pryor lacks big-game experience but may still yield results.

We will bring Pryor out in the Red Zone, using 4 and 5 receiver sets.  Don’t expect this to burn USC’s defense though.  His first couple of series will be key because we haven’t seen how he handles big time pressure.  If he can keep his cool and execute, he will produce.  If Boeckman struggles, we may even bring him out at midfield.

Beanie will play and he will do his part, but he will be too high of a priority target to be able to have many big runs.  He will probably average 2-3 yards per carry.  Don’t expect the offense to capitalize on USC’s D focusing on Wells.

The defense will do well early on, just like they did against LSU in Janurary.  They won’t be able to keep it up and eventually USC will open things up, but not enough to run away with the game.

Ultimately, OSU’s demonstrated weaknesses will outweigh their strengths.  USC will win by two scores.

Of course this is all given the assumption that Tressel & co have more up their sleeve than we know.  But given Ohio State’s recent record in “big” games, don’t hold your breath.  If the Buckeyes escape, it will be by 7 points or less.


What was that, Hart?

18 11 2007

Today was going to be the day. The day that a stellar Michigan team, led by returning seniors Mike Hart, Jake Long, and Chad Henne as well as a slew of others was going to beat Ohio State. After years of sub-par performances and blown opportunities, they were finally going to kick the Buckeyes’ asses. On their way to a BCS Championship game, no less.

At least, that’s what today was supposed to be coming into this season. Hart Henne and Long stayed at UM for an extra year instead of entering the NFL draft because they had something to prove. They had things to accomplish. Above all, they had a score to settle.

Ah, what a difference 12 weeks have made. Michigan, after screwing the pooch in weeks 1 and 2, has capped off a mediocre season with a loss to their arch rivals in Scarlet and Grey.

Today’s victory over the Wolverines tastes especially sweet given the trash talk coming from tailback Mike Hart ever since last year’s loss to the Buckeyes. Running a measly 44 yards on 18 carries against a stout OSU defense, Hart delivered one of the worst performances of his career (and Michigan delivered one of their worst performances against the Buckeyes). Granted he isn’t fully healthy and hasn’t been for much of the season, but then again the same is true of Beanie Wells.

So now that it’s over, what will Mike Hart have to say about today’s game? I hope that for once, he may actually have learned to keep his mouth shut.

I believe this photo sums Hart’s experience today perfectly. Eat it, Wolverines!

Buckeye Hangover

11 11 2007

After last night’s unexpected loss to the Illinois, I (like everyone else in Buckeye nation) have been asking myself what happened. The answer I keep coming back to is that we simply couldn’t stop the spread. It’s that simple, folks.

I thought that after last year’s national championship game debacle against U of F, we had learned a few things about the quickly proliferating spread option attack. Apparently we needed another lesson, as was made abundantly clear last night. A fair amount of blame should be placed Todd Boeckman’s three interceptions as well as the officiating crew’s terrible job (and it was terrible), but the fact remains that play after play, they ran right over us. 3, 5, 7 yards or more at a time, they ran right over us. It was January 8th all over again and we let it happen. We have seen all season what Illinois was capable of, and we failed to stop it.

That being said, if there is one Big Ten team that I would want to lose to this season it would be Illinois. They are no pushovers– this was not as huge of an upset as some might think– as they have proven against Wisconsin, Penn State, and Michigan what they could do. The narrow loss to Michigan was the result of Illinois’ own mistakes: penalties and turnovers. Had the Illini played a cleaner game, they would have easily bested the Wolverines as well. They are a quality team and they came to Columbus to play.

I am, of course, disappointed to see our national championship hopes dashed but we were arguably not ready to face a team like LSU. With all the criticism the Big Ten has been receiving for its lack of quality teams, I am in fact glad to see a new contender in the conference. We need more strong teams like this upstart Illinois squad if we want to get respect nationally. Not to mention the fact that playing crappy teams like this year’s MSU and Northwestern teams is just plain boring to watch.

I say congratulations to Ron Zook and his team. You played a tough game and you beat the #1 ranked team in the land.

Of course next year, the gloves are coming off. 11/15/08 the Buckeyes are coming to Champaign, and we’ll be out for blood. You can bet on it.