Victory alone is not good enough this week.
The Buckeyes need to win convincingly and look good doing it against UAB.
Despite what you may be thinking, that necessity has nothing to do with impressing pollsters or demonstrating conference strength.
Too many times in the past I have found myself saying: “Well, they didn’t look good last week, but they were just holding some things back for the big opponent this week.”
As it turns out, that is something a homer thinks.
I’ve never pretended not to be an Ohio State homer, but I also try to learn and be realistic.
The reality is that if you don’t look good the week before a big game, you’re probably not going to look good during the big game.
If you don’t look good during the big game, you’re probably going to lose.
Week 2 – Ohio State 24, Ohio University 16
Week 3 – Ohio State 3, Southern Cal 35
Week 1 – Ohio State 31, Navy 27
Week 2 – Ohio State 15, Southern Cal 18
Week 2 – Ohio State 27, Toledo 22
Week 3 – Ohio State 6, Miami (FL) 24
As you can see, there is a clearly established pattern of “bad” victories leading directly into even worse losses the next week against a better opponent.
I don’t think many fans would argue that Ohio State looked particularly good in their wins over UCF or Cal.
That leaves this week’s game against UAB to look good before the test against the Spartans.
First, let’s get UAB out of the way.
They are 0-2, they lost to South Carolina 49-6 last week, they are 123rd in the nation in ‘points against’ at 44 a game, they are 110th in the nation in ‘points for’ at 17.5 per game, and they are 117th in the nation in rushing yards at 80.5 per game.
They might be decent at passing and are 30th in the nation at 282.5 yards per game in that department.
If you want to get nervous about something before this game (like most Ohio State fans seem to love doing) that is where you should focus your ‘negative Nancy’ energy.
UAB is not a good team and I am now going to totally ignore them for the rest of this preview.
Here are the things I want to see from Ohio State.
Braxton Miller and his receivers need to do a better job getting and staying on the same page throughout games.
Nothing derails a drive like a dropped first down catch or a missed throw to a wide open receiver. The Buckeyes have seen plenty of both in the last two games.
The offense looked good for approximately 1.5 quarters against Cal before things got sloppy to end the half and totally went off the rails in the third quarter.
It would be nice if the offense can extend that first 1.5 quarters to a majority of the game against UAB. It would certainly help build confidence before the biggest test of the season against Michigan State’s defense on the road.
The area that will benefit the most from more confidence will be the vertical passing attack.
The main problem (as I saw it) against Cal was that when things were bad the offense focused almost entirely on attacking the edge of the defense (especially in the third quarter) and neglected attacking down the field.
When the offense did attack down field they missed on some golden opportunities to gain some big yards through no fault but their own.
Moving forward, it will be about balance.
Michigan State (and others) won’t be able to stop Braxton Miller entirely, but they can certainly slow him down enough to win games- particularly if Miller is leading a one dimensional attack.
Once the offense can consistently have success down field in the passing game, in the middle with the power run game, and on the edge with Braxton Miller option runs and quick hitting passes, things will look a whole lot better.
As I said, we saw that for a little over a quarter against Cal.
Taking the next step against UAB will be crucial if the Buckeyes want to get through the front loaded Big Ten schedule unscathed.
I won’t be winning any originality awards by saying that the tackling needs to get better on defense.
The biggest part of getting better will be the players knowing when to be aggressive (stripping the ball, going for the big hit or interception, selling out on the pass rush) and when to play more conservative (wrapping up on a tackle in lieu of the big hit or strip, maintaining your gap assignments in lieu of the pass rush).
In the first two games I got the impression that the defense focused a little too much on being conservative.
Against Cal I got the impression the defense overcompensated for the first two games and were overly aggressive.
The benefits of that aggression were six sacks but the negatives were painfully obvious as well.
Finding a balance will be crucial.
There are some very young elements on the defense that are still learning these lessons, particularly the linebackers and along the defensive line.
They have an excuse for the mistakes but not for very much longer.
I still think this defense has the potential to be very good.
That said, they will obviously need to take some big steps forward this week before the Big Ten schedule starts.
Michigan State looked absolutely pathetic on offense against Notre Dame, but Nebraska will present a big challenge.
The performance this week on both sides of the ball will be the first step towards meeting those challenges.