We have a lot to discuss. No sense in wasting time with a long introduction, let’s get right down to it. It’s Wednesday, let’s rumble!
Big Ten Championship game
I’m sitting here putting this together and still can’t belive the Buckeyes lost and the way in which it happened. I knew the Spartan defense was good, I just didn’t realize how physical they were. I knew the Silver Bullet defense was much maligned, essentially, all season but they’ve held on long enough to claim wins. Maybe the biggest shocker was that I didn’t think the Spartan offense was good enough to wear them out the Buckeye defense like they did.
Charles Davis pointed out in the late stages of the third quarter that the Buckeye defense, most notably the front four, were giving away all the tell-tale signs of a team getting gassed and worn out. I tried to deny it and hope Davis was wrong, but by the middle portions of the fourth quarter it was apparent that Joey Bosa, Noah Spence, Adolphus Washington and Michael Bennett were clearly running on fumes. As a result, Spartan quarterback Connor Cook suddenly had plenty of time to find his receivers and make solid throws.
Even when the Buckeyes brought a linebacker or defensive back on a blitz it was to no avail as the Spartans didn’t have to double team anyone up front and could dedicate a guard or tackle to taking on the blitzer. It was frustrating and discouraging. If there is a strength on the Buckeye defense it is the front four. They got beat on Saturday night.
I kept wondering why they went away from the rotations they had been using all season bringing in fresh bodies to give the starters a break? Why wasn’t Joel Hale, Tommy Schutt and Chris Carter giving the starters rest like they did all season? It didn’t make sense. Come to think of it, a lot didn’t make sense.
On the other side of the ball the Buckeye offensive line continued their dominating ways for three and a half quarters. And even late in the fourth quarter when the Spartans were juiced up and feeling like victory was within their grasp, they still battled to stalemates across the board.
I preach it on this blog and to anyone I ever have football conversations with: No matter how much the game changes, how many innovations or amazing freak athletes we see, football games are still won and lost in the trenches.
Ground attack and the “no-fly zone”
The dynamics of the Ohio State offense against the Michigan State defense were something we discussed all week leading up to the game in Indianapolis. Would the Spartans shut down the Buckeye run game? Could the Buckeyes pass on the Spartan secondary? The answer was no and no.
Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde had their way on the ground and kept up with their season averages. The aforementioned Buckeye offensive line gave them seams and the more than occasional blown wide open gaping hole to run through. Especially early on I was not impressed with the Spartan defensive line.
Of course there was a counterbalance, the Buckeyes had all kinds of problems getting the ball down the field in the air. The MSU secondary regards themselves as the “No-fly Zone” and they showed why. Even when Braxton Miller was right on the money the Spartan corners showed great closing speed to break up the play.
4th and 2, what happened to El Guapo?
With just under 7:00 minutes remaining in the game trailing 27-24, Ryan Shazier burst through the Spartan punt unit, blew up a blocking back and got his hand on a punt setting the Buckeyes up with great field position and momentum to go in for the winning score. The offense plodded along and found themselves in a 4th and 2 situation at the Spartan 39 yard line with 5:39 to play.
What happened next seemed inconceivable to most everyone watching the game. Rather than give the ball to workhouse Carlos Hyde, who had been gashing the Spartans all night between the tackles, they chose to keep the ball in the hands of Braxton Miller. Which on the surface all-in-all doesn’t sound like the worst idea. Except they ran him to the short side of the field and into the waiting arms of a Spartan defender.
I don’t need to explain the play anymore, you saw it. It’s making me sick thinking about it.
The stop gave Sparty the mental and emotional lift they needed. While still a 3 point game, it was all but over. The green offense came out and wasted no time going down the field and scoring the title clinching touchdown with 2:50 to play.
It brings up the biggest question of the night for me: What happened to feeding Carlos Hyde and watching him salt away a close game? It’s not like he hasn’t done that before, say, I don’t know, last year in East Lansing when he occupied the final 4+ minutes of clock to secure the 17-16 win over this same Michigan State team.
It’s also strange to me that after the Buckeyes rattled off 24 straight points and went up 24-17, they only handed the ball to Hyde four more times the entire night. Think about that. You just gained the lead on the nations top ranked defense, you’re grinding it out and pounding them up front, and you decide all the sudden to go away from it once you get ahead on the scoreboard, which is precisely when you are supposed to begin working the clock and breaking the opponents spirit by running it down their throats? I can’t understand what was going on in those headsets.
It’s ironic when you really think about it: The Buckeyes have now twice been on the wrong side on Urban Meyer vs Tressel-ball.
Silver Bullet secondary
This unit was gross. Moving on..
The Orange Bowl and Clemson
As you would expect, a 12-1 Buckeye team was an enticing and quick selection as an at-large for a BCS bowl. The bowl committees made their selections with the Sugar Bowl picking first and snatching up Alabama while the Orange Bowl selected second and quickly grabbed the Buckeyes. When it came around for the Orange Bowl’s turn to select again the Clemson Tigers were still available and made an obvious choice to meet Ohio State in Miami.
The game will be played on Friday night, January 3rd at 8:30 and will be seen on ESPN. This is the Buckeyes first trip to the Orange Bowl in the BCS era and only second ever trip to play in the game having previously beaten Colorado in Coral Gables at the original Orange Bowl Stadium 27-10 on 1/1/1977.
A quick look at Clemson will tell you this team is no slouch. Having spent some time last year in Charlotte among a plethora of Clemson fans, I’m pretty familiar with the team and can tell you it’s likely the most athletic team the Buckeyes have faced all season. In short, these guys can run and make you miss, they are playmakers.
Wide receiver Sammy Watkins is going to be a top 10 pick in the NFL draft next May. Quarterback Tahj Boyd is a four year starter who has been up and down throughout his career. When he’s down, he’s really down. Conversely, when he’s on, he’s deadly. The way to rattle Boyd and keep him from getting the ball to Watkins? Pressure. Bring the heat from the second the Clemson plane lands in Miami and he steps off it. Also, don’t think there isn’t something real in South Carolina stud defensive end Jadeveon Clowney’s comments about Boyd having fear in his eyes when he looks at the Gamecocks defensive front. He should feel the same way about Michael Bennett, Noah Spence, Adolphus Washington and Joey Bosa.
Defensively the Tigers are a mess. They rank 51st in the country in run defense, so expect Hyde and Miller to have their way on the ground.
We’ll have a lot more on this game in the coming weeks, but I want to say right now that the Buckeyes had better not be feeling sorry for themselves or acting spoiled about being in Miami when they feel they should be in Pasadena. This is a good team and the country will be watching along with a ton of recruits throughout the state of Florida. A tone needs to be set for 2014, what better place to start than here and now.
Wrap it up
The sickening feeling subsides more and more as the days move on. We stick together and keep the faith good things will happen. We will endure because we have to. It’s what we do and how we roll. Count on it. Until next week, Go Bucks!
Metallica track of the week
It’s been two years since the 30th anniversary shows at The Fillmore in San Francisco. Let’s commemorate one of the greatest weeks in Metallica history with the live premier of a classic instrumental. From 1988′s … And Justice For All, here is the (again) world premier of the incomparable To Live Is To Die! The last song they wrote with the late Cliff Burton. Things get emotional at the 3:40 mark, so be ready!