I wonder what it’s like to play the favorite at home four straight weeks against teams you’re expected to not only beat but beat handily? Does that put pressure on a young football team learning a new system and at some point make them begin to feel confidently complacent yet nervously unsure at the same time?
This is in no way an attempt to make any excuses for the myriad of problems the 2012 Ohio State Buckeyes face nor to defuse the complaints being lobbed at them from its die-hard fan base. It’s just a question of mindset and trying to imagine what goes through the head of a 18-20 year old college athlete playing at the most popular university in the country.
B1G a welcome sight?
For the last 5-6 years we’ve had it shoved in our face weekly just how bad the Big Ten has become. Quite honestly, I’m really tired of hearing about it and beginning to not care. If Michigan can’t beat Notre Dame and Nebraska can’t beat an upstart UCLA team in the Rose Bowl and Wisconsin can’t beat anybody, what’s it matter to us? I’ve said it for a few years now and it needs repeated: Just win the games on your schedule and things will fall out how you deserve. Win them all and If you still can’t get in the BCS title game or upcoming playoff, be honest with yourself, look at your schedule and realize it’s likely you didn’t deserve it anyway. Besides, what is Ohio State going to do, leave the conference? But, more on the B1G overall later…
Coming in to this weeks game against Michigan State in East Lansing (ABC 3:30) all the lingering issues from the games with UAB , California and UCF can be put to rest. It’s time to start fresh. It doesn’t mean those problems don’t still exist (tackling, angles, dropping passes etc) it just puts the focus elsewhere. Instead of pounding it in players heads all week about how poor the tackling was, Coach Meyer’s staff can now use it as a tool to sharpen senses and focus on the task at hand: Beating Sparty. As an example: Instead of spending the week repeating the same fundamental issues over and over until they’re blue in the face, Luke Fickell can simply throw in during practice “And if you think you’re going to tackle Le’Veon Bell the way you tackled Joe Schmo from UAB, we might as well not even get on the plane!” Nothing more needs to be said. The message is clear. Get it together or you will fail.
You also have to keep in mind that there really isn’t time for fundamental and technique work during the week. Sure, maybe a very little bit, but not enough to make it a focus or emphasis and give it the time it may deserve. That’s why starting Big Ten play should be the best thing to happen to the Ohio State Buckeyes fundamentals, techniques and on field focus. No longer can a missed assignment be made up for with athletic ability. They can’t simply rely on strength and speed alone to catch a running back from behind. Despite what you think of the league as a whole, the talent in the Big Ten is better than what Conference USA or the middle/lower realms of the PAC 12 bring to the table, at least in the case of programs like Michigan State and Ohio State.
Folks, it’s real now. And they know it. Going on the road to play a conference rival with College Gameday in the parking lot and people actually suggesting you are the underdog does a lot for focus. It causes some young players to grow up while others crumble. Urban Meyer isn’t worried about his team tackling this week, though he may say otherwise. If he’s doing his job the way we’ve seen him in the past, he knows his guys are going to show up focused and aware of what changes need to be made fundamentally long before they step on the field Saturday. He knows that the realization that they are no longer supremely talented in comparison to the opponent is gone, whether it was rightfully perceived or not in the previous four games. And if they don’t? They’ll crumble.
Fickell Under Fire
Feelings toward Luke Fickell took a dramatic turn throughout Buckeye Nation this week after the team again made terrible tackling attempts and looked out of place in key spots. I’ll touch on this briefly because I’ve always been critical of those who are critical of coaches, especially defensive coaches.
This game is essentially “read and react”. Fickell calls for a base set up front and a coverage for his defense, they see how the offense lines up and they react. Guys shift to different spots, stunts are determined to be “on” or “off”, coverages are adjusted based on receiver packages, linebackers make calls to each other based on the coverage Fickell called and how things look in the backfield… and this all happens in the time frame of the offense breaking their huddle and jogging to the line of scrimmage. In those 8-12 seconds, anywhere from 20-30 decisions are made collectively (and I may be shorting that number) amongst the guys on the field, not to mention the instructions now being shouted from the sidelines from decisions made based on what the staff has picked up in those same 8-12 seconds. Here’s my point: When the offense decides to go with a basic run in an obvious passing situation, it easy to look at the coach who called the play and say “What in the world is he doing?!” To look at Luke Fickell and Everett Withers and easily try and say “What in the world is he doing?!” is not nearly as possible. Too much changes in response to the offense.
That said, I’d like to see more press coverage just like the rest of you. And I believe against Sparty this week you will simply based on the match-ups and style of offense that they run. What I really want to see is more disguised blitzes from safeties and linebackers. That is something that is pretty easily identifiable from the couch or fiftieth row of The Shoe.
It appears the last two weeks against Cal and UAB that the called runs for Braxton Miller have been significantly cut. Watching him in the pocket it also appears that a concerted effort has been being made in practices for him to hang in the pocket longer and let the play develop before bailing and putting on his “XBrax360″ moves on some poor defender. Against inferior defenses I completely understand. However, against Michigan State this week, armed with the confidence to hang in the pocket when needed and make audibles when required, I expect Braxton to be Braxton. Simply: Brax on Brax on Brax.
It should be noted that Etienne Sabino played maybe his best game as a Buckeye last week. He gets a lot of flack from fans, even me. His ability to cover the position formerly occupied by Marcus Freeman of “in the right place doing the wrong thing” (thanks again to my buddy Greg Waller for that analogy) hopefully is waning. But, this is a “big boy” running back he’ll see on Saturday. Better bring those feet when attempting to tackle Mr. Le’Veon Bell on Saturday, Bino.
On the season Philly Brown is leading the team with 20 receptions (233 yards, 1 TD) , followed by Devin Smith with 17 (272 yards, 3 TD’s) and in third is Jake Stoneburner with 7 catches (92 yards, 3 TD’s). It would be nice to see them spread the ball around a little more to Stoneburner, Evan Spencer (5 catches, 70 yards) and Zack Boren (4 catches, 35 yards) in the flats.
Carlos Hyde is said to be a full-go. If Jordan Hall has shaken most of the rust, seeing him begin to play the “Percy Harvin” role with more carries going to Hyde and emerging Rod Smith will make for a much more dangerous offense.
Speaking of Rod Smith, is anyone else hoping he gets whatever has been keeping him off the field squared away so that he’s on it a lot more? Growing up a Buckeye fan, nothing is more exciting than a big, bruising tailback that keeps pounding away at a defense. We’ll see one this week in Le’Veon Bell… could Rod Smith fill the same role Bell is filling in East Lansing for Ohio State?
As Ohio State Goes, So Goes the B1G
I said there would be more on the B1G as a whole later on in this post. I may be in the minority on this, but I’m tired of worrying about the “strength of the Big Ten” and it’s national perception. You know when the Big Ten will begin getting its once good name back? When Ohio State starts regularly beating ranked, quality non-conference opponents and winning bowl games and national titles.
You see, when there’s a juggernaut in the room, everyone with an ounce of pride tries to match up to them and compete with them. Right now, Ohio State is not the juggernaut it has been of recent years and nobody in the league is willing to step up and take the label. The competition has grown lax in trying to compete with the leagues “superstar” program and is scheduling garbage and losing to it in the non-conference.
When Ohio State is up, the Big Ten is up. So it also goes when they struggle. Once Urban Meyer starts getting his players into the program and begins laying 40 point beatings on the Wisconsin’s and Illinois’ of the Big Ten, everyone else will be forced step up their game because they’ll be challenging the juggernaut in the room once again or they’ll drown in its wake. Experts believe that once Brady Hoke gets his players in the system at Michigan and gets a quarterback that fits his offense, they too can be a juggernaut in the room. That only makes the league better. It also makes beating them mean something (other than shoving it in their face) on a national level once again.
Wrap It Up
I like our chances at MSU this Saturday. Something about being on the road and facing a hostile environment that makes young, talented people rise to an occasion. I hope I’m right! See you next week!
Metallica Track Of The Week
The Big Ten stinks? Sad but true. Here’s “Sad But True” from the Big 4 dvd live in Sofia, Bulgaria!