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Sunday Morning Quarterback: Evaluating Ohio State’s win against Wisconsin

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Columbus, it’s time to party like it’s 2002. Well, almost time at least.

Your Buckeyes still have to beat Michigan next weekend to cap off the program’s first undefeated season since 2002, when the Scarlet and Gray won 14 games and the national championship. 

The 2002 squad was notorious for squeaking out wins in close games, and Ohio State seems intent on honoring that team’s 10-year anniversary with an eerily similar season.

In 2002 and 2012 OSU entered the season ranked outside the top 10 and was largely an afterthought when talking about the nation’s top teams. Yet week after week they won, sometimes convincingly, but more often by prevailing in nail biters.

Such was the case again on Saturday, as OSU overcame Wisconsin in overtime, 21-14.

The Buckeyes almost took its connection with the 2002 season too far on Saturday, as the coaching staff channeled its inner “Tressel ball.”

It was surprising to see first-year coach Urban Meyer’s staff call such a conservative game. And it was even more shocking how it went about doing it.

Sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller never got it going as a runner, but the staff seemed intent on making it happen for the Heisman hopeful.

Miller averaged just 2.1 yards while receiving a team-high 23 carries. Meanwhile, junior running back Carlos Hyde averaged 5.8 yards per touch, yet only carried the ball 15 times. Hyde received eight carries on first down, and averaged 6.5 yards on those attempts. Miller averaged less than three yards on his 12 first-down carries.

It was as if the coaching staff was trying to jam a square peg into a round hole, with a circular block lying right beside it.

OSU’s inability to move the ball forward on first down set up many third-and-long situations. As a result, it punted a season-high nine times. Had Hyde received just a few more first-down touches, that number could have dropped dramatically.

But thanks to some superb defense, clutch special teams, timely offensive production and a little bit of luck, OSU was still able to come away with the win. Just like in 2002.

Put a fork in it

OSU’s undefeated season is still intact, but the same can’t be said for Miller’s Heisman candidacy.

Though he’s had a spectacular season, it was always unlikely that Miller would walk away with college football’s most coveted individual award. There was simply too much working against the sophomore. He plays on a team ineligible for postseason play, in a weak conference against a weaker schedule.

Still, there was an outside chance that Miller could receive a late surge with statement performances against Wisconsin and Michigan. He effectively ended that hope with a clunker on Saturday, throwing for a season-low 97 yards while looking lost running the football.

Surprisingly enough OSU still has a chance to win the Associated Press national title, which not long ago seemed more of a long shot than Miller winning the Heisman.

The Buckeyes still need plenty of help to be chosen as the AP’s top team. Without a bowl game it will be out of sight, out of mind after next weekend, and that will hurt its cause. Not to mention there will be a definitive winner in a game designed to crown a national champion.

Yes, OSU has to hope for chaos. But chaos is the name of the game in college football, especially in November. Last night alone the No. 1 and No. 2 ranked teams, Kansas State and Oregon, lost when they were heavily favored to win. There’s still plenty of November football to be played, with the possibility of more contenders falling at the hands of underdogs.

Is it likely to happen? No, but it’s certainly possible. And just the fact that we are mentioning OSU and national championship in the same breath this season is fairly remarkable.

Give an extra helmet sticker to…

The entire OSU defense.

Yes, it allowed more than 200 yards rushing. Yes, it surrendered the game-tying score in the final seconds of regulation. And yes, its play redefined the term “bend but don’t break.”

The Buckeye defense had plenty of shortcomings on Saturday. You can blame just about every one of the members of the Buckeye offense.

OSU’s offense managed a meager 36 yards in the second half, while never sustaining a drive of more than 3 minutes. By the end of the fourth quarter the defense was absolutely gassed. It was unfortunate that they conceded a score to send the game to overtime, but it could have been much worse for the Buckeyes.

Senior defensive end John Simon terrorized the Wisconsin offensive line, matching a career-high with four sacks. Sophomore linebacker Ryan Shazier made the play of the season, forcing a fumble on the goal line and preserving a late OSU lead. Junior safety Christian Bryant recovered that fumble, and also broke up a pass in overtime to win the game.

There were some great individual efforts from OSU’s defense on Saturday. But as a whole, the unit played its most complete game of the season, in a contest in which it was needed the most. 

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