Thoughts on a shaky second win: Toledo

Written September 13th, 2011 by Jim

Following a win over Akron that left many giddy with anticipation for the rest of the season, Saturday’s 27-22 victory over Toledo brought expectations crashing back down to earth for Buckeye fans.

Are the Buckeyes the juggernauts we saw in week one? Are they the lackluster group we saw in week two?

How terrible is Akron? How good is Toledo?

The good news is that over the course of a season, a young team like the Buckeyes can improve from one week to the next.

This team may need to improve more than we would like this week, but they are certainly capable of it.

Is the team better than what they showed? Were they looking ahead? Were they overconfident?

And, of course, the question on everyone’s mind, why didn’t Braxton Miller play?

Unfortunately, these questions are impossible to answer after only two games.

It will take the rest of the season to fully sort them out… and even then the debates will rage well into the offseason.

Regardless of the questions, the bottom line is you take the win and move forward.

Hopefully the team learned about themselves, what they need to work on this week, and how they can improve each day.

Here are my expanded thoughts on the game.

Offense

Joe Bauserman is who we thought he was. His strength is running play action-fakes, finding the open intermediate routes, or, more often than not, hitting the check down receiver or throwing it out of bounds in the face of pressure.

Toledo’s game plan to stop Bauserman didn’t take a rocket scientist (get it?) to plan and it didn’t take the ’85 Bears to execute.

Load the box to stop the run, blitz on every down to pressure Bauserman and attack the slow developing ‘Dave’ play, cover the flats and the check down receivers and dare the Buckeyes to throw it down the field.

Get used to this game plan from defenses because they will do it every play until Ohio State shows the ability to counter it.

With Bauserman at QB, the prospects of successfully doing that seem iffy at best.

At the same time, give Toledo credit because when Ohio State did go downfield, the Rocket DBs made some very nice plays.

If Bauserman can’t attack teams vertically, is Braxton Miller the answer? It is entirely too soon to know for sure, but one thing I do know is that with superior arm strength and accuracy, Braxton should be able to stretch the field better than Bauserman.

This was the most frustrating thing to me about Miller not getting in the game.

The receivers were seemingly open down field, but Bauserman was not able to get the ball to them.

I believe that Miller was and is the better option to take advantage of those opportunities.

At the same time, I understand why Miller didn’t play on Saturday; after all, given how well Toledo’s secondary played, taking advantage of opportunities downfield could lead to turnovers.

In a close game, Fickell didn’t want to risk a costly turnover from the most inexperienced QB on the team.

What is Fickell’s offensive strategy? From what we witnessed on Saturday, I think not putting Miller in goes back to a fundamental strategy from the coaching staff.

The offense was playing not to lose, rather than playing to win games.

Tresselball is alive and well.

This may be an overreaction after one tough game, but if that offensive strategy continues, Coach Fickell may be playing with fire when it comes to his future as head coach of the Buckeyes.

What was the coaching staff thinking against Toledo? The Buckeyes did try various ways to stretch the defense sideline to sideline (pitches, reverses), but none were very effective.

I believe this was due to Toledo loading the box and focusing on the flats in coverage.

These two things limited the rushing game up the middle, on the edge with sweeps and reverses, and took away Bauserman’s favorite spot to throw when under pressure.

If Toledo can do it, most of the teams left on the schedule can do it as well.

This brings us back to stretching the field vertically as the best way to take advantage of opposing defenses.

Hopefully the players weren’t the only people learning from this game, and the coaches can find some better ways to attack defenses in the future.

Defenses, that, by the way, will be very prepared to stop a Bauserman led offense.

I truly believe a better vertical passing attack is the answer.

If Bauserman is incapable of leading that vertical attack, well, I think we all know what solution I would advocate.

Stepping up when it matters most.

Everyone focuses on the QBs, but the WRs share the blame as well. Let us not forget that the QB, whoever it is, is passing to a very young and very inexperienced group of receivers.

There is a reason that Jake Stoneburner is the favorite early target this year and Dane Sanzenbacher was the leading receiver last year… being where the QB expects you to be is over half the battle in the passing game.

It is easy for a fan to see a QB throw an incomplete pass, but it is next to impossible to see if the WR ran the correct route on a given play.

The offense needs to improve. That much is obvious.

A win is a win; now let’s see some improvement next week.

Buckeye pessimism will be in full force this week on that front.

Defense

The defense struggled on the perimeter. I am stating the obvious here.

The players that we thought would have a big game were disappointingly quiet throughout.

Defenders had difficulty shedding blocks on the edge and the defensive line was not getting pressure on the QB.

Were the defenders taken by surprise? Were they looking ahead? Are the Rockets just that good at running their offense?

The defensive line eventually started pressuring the QB late in the game (shout out to John Simon), saving the victory, but the struggles on the perimeter are a clear concern until proven otherwise.

Eric Page is the real deal. The defense came out flat, there is no doubt about it, but at the same time, Toledo WR/KR Eric Page will likely be playing on Sundays.

I take my hat off to him for an outstanding performance.

The defense is not the same without Nathan Williams on the field. I think that was made very clear on Saturday.

Was this a wakeup call for the defense? Outside of several big plays, the defense played fairly well, especially considering how little help they received from the offense- but they need to play better.

Hopefully they learned some lessons from Toledo and can grow and get better from the experience.

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