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Sunday Morning Quarterback: Ohio State edges Indiana

Andrew Holleran / Photo editor

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Ohio State outlasted Indiana for a 52-49 victory on Saturday, in a contest that felt more like a basketball game. Here’s what we learned about the Buckeyes as they struggled to put away one of the worst teams in the Big Ten.

An offensive defense
I started following college football in the autumn of 1998. As a native of Toledo, Ohio, my early years as a college football fan centered around the Scarlet and Gray. Granted, as I matured in age, my knowledge of the game matured too. But even as an 8-year-old, I think I had a decent understanding of what it took to field a good defense.

Get pressure on the quarterback, stay with your assignments, don’t miss tackles or let the other team score. You know, everything the OSU defense failed to against Indiana, and by and large this season.

I’m not sure if I have ever seen a Buckeye defense play this poorly. Statistically speaking, I certainly haven’t – The last time OSU gave up 49 points was in 1994, when they were shellacked by Penn State, 63-14.

Over the past decade, OSU has arguably consistently fielded one of the nation’s best defensive units. This year, though, the Buckeye defense is remarkably consistent in one area – they constantly give up big plays.

This theme was evident once again on Saturday, as Indiana scored on a 59-yard run and a 76-yard pass.

12-0 is still possible, but less probable
OSU’s offense was once again prolific enough to bail out the porous defense, and the Buckeyes remain undefeated with five games left to play. An undefeated season is still possible, but after watching the Buckeyes on Saturday I can’t say it’s probable.

For one, the injury bug that infested OSU’s locker room early this season isn’t going away anytime soon.

Senior linebacker Etienne Sabino broke a bone in his leg last week, and will be out for roughly a month. The Buckeyes are so thin at linebacker that they turned to Zach Boren for meaningful minutes. Yes, the same Zach Boren that has played fullback for the last four seasons.

Moving Boren to linebacker wasn’t 100 percent puzzling. The senior captain played linebacker in high school, and actually led the Buckeyes with eight tackles Saturday night.

But the move indicates that the coaches either felt Boren’s talents were wasted in an offense that seldom uses a fullback, or they have absolutely no confidence in some of the younger guys to step up. Even if it’s a combination of the two, it doesn’t bode well moving forward.

As I wrote two weekends ago, with all due respect to the likes of Illinois and Purdue, there are only two teams left on OSU’s schedule that can match the Buckeyes with talent – Wisconsin and Michigan. Both seem to be playing their best football right now, and could peak offensively when they meet the Buckeyes’ defense in November.

Confidence in Kenny
When sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller runs the ball, it’s hard not to hold your breath. There’s simply no telling what will happen next.

But somewhere in between the dazzling jukes, stunning stutter-steps and incredible touchdown runs, Miller reminds us that there is a downside to playing quarterback in this offense. The hits. The sophomore has been taking an awful lot of them this season, and after some of them, it’s hard to get back up.

Such was the case early in the third quarter, when Miller temporarily left the game after taking a shot on the sideline. Backup junior quarterback Kenny Guiton entered in his place, and the Buckeyes’ offense didn’t miss a beat.

On the third play with Guiton at quarterback, he started right as if to run an option play, and then calmly flicked a shovel pass to a cutting Carlos Hyde. The junior running back scampered 14 yards for a score, extending the Buckeyes’ lead to 14.

He’s probably not going to produce many highlight-worthy plays, but the coaching staff seems to feel comfortable in Guiton’s ability to run this offense. It’s nice to know that the Buckeyes can live with Guiton playing in Miller’s absence, at least for a play or two.

Give an extra helmet sticker to…
Carlos Hyde, who continues to separate himself as the Buckeye’s feature back.

For the second consecutive week, the junior running back had a career day. Hyde ran for a personal best 156 yards, and also caught his first ever touchdown reception on Guiton’s shovel pass.

During his time at Florida, coach Urban Meyer generally used quick, speedy running backs in his high-powered spread offense. But it makes sense that the powerful Hyde is having success in Meyer’s system.

Those Florida teams employed an element of power in their backfields; it just came in the form of former quarterback Tim Tebow. Now the roles are reversed. Miller provides the speedy, east and west running, while Hyde bullies his way through the middle.

The combination is certainly paying dividends. OSU gashed Indiana for 353 yards rushing, and currently ranks eighth in the nation in rushing yards per game.
 

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