Everyone wanted to know how the Buckeyes would respond after being shell-shocked in Camp Randall by the Badgers. Would we see an angry team ready to fight or one still hungover knowing their dreams of a national championship were likely out the window? Well, Saturday this team responded in a huge way with a 49-0 drubbing of Purdue. While it didn't heal all the wounds from the week before, this team proved to everyone how resilient they really are.
1) "Boom" is living up to his name.
One of the few high points from the Wisconsin game was Boom Herron, who picked up right where he left off against the Boilermakers. The opening drive featured five rushing attempts for Herron (for 45 yards), while Pryor attempted not a single pass. It was an obvious statement from Tressel that he wanted to return to physical play and to establish a running game that has been MIA for much of the season when things mattered. The drive would be capped off by a 10 yard rushing touchdown around the left side as Boom dove and extended the ball across the goal line.That drive helped him have a great first half, as he saw little action in the second half and finished the day with 74 yards and two touchdowns (4.6 avg).
Right now he is running the ball with authority, and proving why he's the No. 1 tailback on this team. While I don't see him as a vocal leader (and I may be wrong), the guy leads this team with his physical running style. I think it sets a precedent for the offensive line and the rest of the offense.
All the other backs saw a little bit of action in the blowout, including Brandon Saine. In fact, this was the first time Saine looked like he could be an effective ball carrier since Marshall. He finished the day with five carries for 41 yards. Jordan Hall also saw some carries with the first team, but didn't do much with his opportunity. While he did punch in a score, he only mounted 13 yards on eight carries, and looked soft after the way we saw Boom toting the rock. Berry and Hyde also got some carries in garbage time, and as always, they made a statement for some meaningful playing time.
2) Defense and special teams make a comeback.
After one of the worst defensive and special teams performances in Tressel's tenure, both units rebounded in a commanding performance Saturday. The defense smothered Purdue all game, allowing just nine first downs and 118 total yards. This all started on the defensive line, who looked like a different group of guys than the ones we saw get pushed around in Camp Randall. Cameron Heyward (5 tackles, 1 TFL) was playing like man possessed, and John Simon and Dexter Larimore looked great on the interior. Nathan Williams, who sat out the opening series as Solomon Thomas got the start, responded by playing in a much more physical way than what we saw from him against the Badgers.
As solid at the defensive line played, it was actually a few players in the back seven that grabbed the spotlight. Ross Homan and Christian Bryant both missed the game and their replacements played as good as we could possibly expect. With the Buckeyes in nickel coverage most of the game, Andrew Sweat took over for Homan, while Hines moved over to the Star for Bryant with Aaron Gant replacing him at safety. Interestingly enough, Sweat (8 tackles, 2.5 TFL)and Gant (6 tackles, 4 solo) would lead the team in tackles. It was Gant's performance that was really the surprise of the two, as the the fifth year senior has never really put it all together. I wasn't in attendance to see how he looked reacting in coverage, but I was impressed with how sure of a tackler he was all afternoon.
As for special teams, they deserve some major props, even if it was just Purdue. Not only was the kick and punt coverage the best it has been all season, the turnover they recovered led to the Buckeyes second touchdown early in the game. From that turnover on it was obvious that Purdue was going to have zero chance of making this a game.
The Buckeyes two-headed receiving monster was in full effect as Dane Sanzenbacher and DeVier Posey were both very active Saturday. Sanzenbacher led all receivers with four catches for 86 yards with one touchdown, and passed both his receptions and receiving yards total from last year. I'm going to hate to lose him when this season is over. Posey also had a very similar game, grabbing four balls for 84 yards with a touchdown. Posey took a ton of criticism this week from Buckeye Nation and responded with the kind of performance we expect from him each week.
The other player of note at WR was freshman Corey Brown. This last week it was leaked that the staff was impressed with his speed and athleticism, and planned on using him more. In fact, if you remember he saw a deep throw come his way from Pryor last week against the Badgers, but he was well covered and the throw was under thrown. This week the staff got the ball in his hands quickly on an end-around that went for 18 yards. He also two catches for 38 yards, including a spectacular touchdown grab that may have been the play of the game. With the upcoming schedule the Buckeyes have, a No. 3 wide receiver is pretty much a necessity, and it appears the staff may have found their guy. Guys like Chris Fields, Grant Schwartz and Taurian Washington have never stepped up the way anyone had hoped, and it's nice to see the staff look to the young talent for quality play. Now if they can just give Jaamal Berry a few reps with the first team...
4) Terrelle Pryor and the offensive line.
Pryor had a very Pryor-esque game against Purdue. At moments he showcased improved passing skills, while shredding the Boilermaker secondary. Then on other occasions he looked inconsistent with poor throws and struggles handling the pass rush. Overall it was a good day for him (16/22, 270 yards, 3 TD, 2 INT), there were just a few plays that left me scratching my head. The one that really baffled me was the interception that ended his day. On a slant across the middle Pryor was way behind Dane due to some pressure, throwing the ball directly to the defender. Not the kind of throw you see from a supposed Heisman candidate. While he is great against the pass rush when he can escape, he still has a lot to work on when it comes to standing in the pocket and handling pressure.
As for the offensive line, they, like their counterparts on defense, came out angry. I loved the way they blocked on the opening drive as Tressel played smash mouth football and imposed his will against Purdue. In many ways, it felt like we came out and did exactly what Wisconsin had done to us seven days earlier. The second drive the offensive line didn't look near as sharp as the offense went three and out, capped off by a Ryan Kerrigan sack. I was worried about him heading into the game, especially after the way J.J. Watt ripped the offensive line apart, but after this sack Kerrigan was kept in check for the most part. A lot of this can be credited to the offensive play calling, that actually used his superior pass rush ability against him. This had to be something the staff spotted on film, because after the sack they dialed up a bevy of runs and screens to Kerrigan's side to neutralize his impact as a pass rusher.
All in all...
While the Wisconsin game is going to sting for awhile, this team responded exactly how we could have hoped. I made comments last week that I expected this team to come out in a big way in the coming weeks, and like all the Tressel coached teams before them, they did. With Minnesota next week, all eyes will be focused on the final three games of the year. If this team gets healthy, and that's a big if, the game at Iowa should be the only remaining contest that has the potential to trip the Buckeyes up. Ohio State has looked awful on the road this year, especially Pryor, which has to be fixed because I believe the showdown at Kinnick Stadium could ultimately define the overall success of this season.