Well, this game wasn't the pre-conference tune-up that everyone expected it to be. The Buckeyes played incredibly uninspired football, and looked much more like the 6-7 team from a year ago than the one fans thought Meyer would transform in year one.
While the Buckeyes have been frustrating at times so far in this young season, Saturday was by far the most exasperating effort they have put forth yet. Against a greatly mismatched UAB team, they managed just 29 total points while giving up over 400 yards of offense. To make matters worse, they also had multiple special teams blunders, meaning they fell short in all three facets of the game.
Still, fans can hang their hats on the fact that this team stands at 4-0. It's not been as pretty as we've hoped thus far, but things could be worse.
So, as usual, let's take a look at all the madness and what stood out from the game.
From what I've read so far around the internet, most have pointed to the defense as the main story in this game. They didn't play well either. Still, I didn't see them as the main story. While the 403 yards they gave up was atrocious, they did only give up nine points on Saturday. More on that in a minute.
The main story for me was the offense. Against a team that was giving up 477 yards and 44 points a game coming into Saturday, Braxton Miller and company managed just 347 yards and 29 points. That just doesn't cut it.
Let's first start with the play calling. I thought Meyer and Herman called an incredibly conservative game against a very poor opponent, something that I definitely didn't foresee this duo ever being guilty of. They had a very vanilla game plan from the onset, which could be seen in the zero designed runs for Miller in the first quarter and a half and very few looks down the field against a very green secondary throughout the contest. Many of the drives lacked diversity or solid tempo, and outside of the the last three drives of the 2nd quarter the offense didn't even seem to have much urgency.
The passing game was easily the most frustrating to me. While Braxton did lack consistency, especially early on, when the staff actually opened things up he picked apart the UAB secondary. This was most evident in the second quarter when Miller completed three straight passes for 51 yards to setup the go-ahead touchdown. The Buckeye receivers were wide open against a Blazers secondary that returned no starters this season, and it was like taking candy from a baby. Yet, they never returned to a steady diet in the intermediate passing game, which one was of the many things I didn't get.
I would be interested to look back at some of the plays Braxton audibled, as this was his first time really doing that for this team. That definitely could have affected things in the game plan.
It wasn't just on the coaches though, as the execution of the game plan was also very spotty. For starters, the offense is still not totally in sync. There are still plenty of miscommunications, ill-timed penalties and dropped passes to talk about. If this team would have cleaned up those three areas, I do think there would have been 7-10 more points on the board. I also thought this was Miller's most mediocre game of the season. While he had a couple of highlight runs, he really didn't look sharp in some of the basic areas of being a quarterback. He made several poor reads running the zone read, made other bad reads throwing the ball, and missed some simple throws. He has to be sharper than this in B1G season. Devin Smith also took a step back this week. I said last week I was looking to see if his big game against Cal was a fluke, and after Saturday I'm still convinced he has steps to take to be a top tier wideout in the conference. Jordan Hall was really the only guy that jumped out as someone who progressed this week.
What's most perplexing is the hot and cold nature of the offense overall. For some reason when the game is on the line, the game plan and execution ramp up. While some may believe that's because they are holding back for bigger games, it's definitely a sign of a young, inconsistent team.
Silver Bullets Shooting Blanks
While the defense wasn't the center storyline on Saturday, they were definitely a story. The scoreboard may have been more kind to them, but the box score sure wasn't. They again gave up too many yards, were on the field too long and allowed their opponents to have too high of a third down efficiency rating. In fact, as Matt McCoy tweeted earlier, the culmination of the last four weeks has been pretty ugly for the Buckeye defense...
Much like the week before, Saturday's game was an ugly blend of poor scheme, bad penalties, and weak angles/lousy tackling. The latter was slightly improved from the week before, but you could easily argue that it was due to the drop off in the opposition. Anyway, I could ramble on about these three areas forever, but for the sake of staying somewhat positive or not wearing you out, let me just share a few thoughts.
- I'm getting worn out with the soft coverage. For the fourth week in a row the secondary lined up 7-12 yards back from receivers, and for the fourth straight week they got chewed up underneath. Thus far this season I think the Buckeyes have easily seen 50-60 screen passes called against them, and it continues to have success. A lot of this is due to the fact that this team doesn't have the speed or tacklers in the secondary to make up the gap from where they are lining up. I understand their are some other advantages to lining up the way they are, but it would be nice if they would play press conference even a little bit.
- The defense is killing itself on third down. They just can't seem to get off the field, and I counted numerous times that UAB was able to convert on third and long. They went 7/17 on the afternoon. As Chris from 11W pointed out, third downs aren't the only problem. UAB was able to have success thanks to large chunks of yards being given up on 1st down. So regardless, whatever the down, this defense has got to find a way to get off the field. When I watched the game again, you can't pinpoint either one of these areas, each drive the defense found a different way to shoot itself in the foot. They have to correct those mistakes.
- Speaking of mistakes, I have to say that Christian Bryant's personal foul penalty may have been one of the dumbest plays this year. The Buckeyes are in a dogfight with one of the worst teams in the country and he out there talking trash. Somehow he graded out with a winning performance this week, but after that there is no way I could give him that grade.
Special, Special Teams
If you noticed, I've looked at the offense and defense, so why not look at the special teams.
What magnified the weak performance this week by the Buckeyes was the poor play in Jim Tressel's very favorite area of football. The biggest play in the game was the blocked punt on the opening drive for OSU in the game. The blocking was so poor, the punt got blocked before Buchanan even had a chance to get his leg on it. That play gave the Blazers early life and belief that they could hang with the Buckeyes.
To start the second half the Buckeyes got blindsided by an on-side kick. Thankfully, UAB was unable to convert that mistake into points or this game could have gotten very ugly or even ended with a different result.
Bottom line - two huge special teams mistakes like that can't happen in a game in B1G season for this team or they will not fare so well.
Other Things That Stood Out
- I'm still baffled by the lack of production for Jake Stoneburner. He's such a mismatch for defensive coordinators, and yet has seen the ball so few times. He had zero touches in this game, which just doesn't cut it.
- Opponents penalties and the turnover margin have been big factors in the Buckeyes being 4-0 thus far in the season. UAB killed themselves with 99 yards in penalties and were -2 in the turnover margin. Oh, and they missed a field goal, too.
- It was great to see Rod Smith getting some carries and getting a touchdown. I thought he really balanced Jordan Hall out well and definitely deserves some more carries moving forward. Also interesting - he got some critical carries with the game on the line, which considering his fumble woes shows the trust the staff had in him.
- Doran Grant really showed his value in this offense. He was easily the MVP on the defense and greatly outperformed Travis Howard with seven tackles, a fumble recovery, an interception and a sack stepping in for Bradley Roby. Nice to see there is more depth at corner than previously thought.
- Orhian Johnson continues to look good, and played well in place of CJ Barnett. In fact. I think he looked better at safety, and think he's maybe been the most consistent player in the defensive backfield next to Bradley Roby.