If you like easy wins, power running, and good defense then Saturday was a very good day as a Buckeye fan. For the first time since the Miami (OH) win in week one, the team put away an opponent considered to be well below Ohio State in terms of talent. Think back to games against UAB, Indiana, and Purdue, in particular, and the frustration most of us felt due to OSU playing at the level of the opposition. In spite of being undefeated, there is no doubt that this squad has not played well against "lesser" competition. But Saturday, the team came out with an attitude, and took the fight to the (un)Fighting Illini, overwhelming them with power football. On the heels of a big win at Penn State, it is obvious that the 2012 Buckeyes are getting better, and go into what may be their two toughest games on an upswing.
We could probably stop right there, because there isn't a great need for in-depth analysis of this game. It was an old fashion butt-whoopin, with OSU winning the battle in the trenches on both sides of the ball. However, less isn't always more, so I'll take time to mention a few things that stood out to me:
El Guapo Wants 1000
Carlos Hyde is running harder every week, and while he may not have the greatest vision or moves, nobody can fault #34 for his effort. Saturday he rushed for 138 yards on just 18 carries, scoring three times. In spite of missing two and a half games due to injury, Hyde now has 738 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2012, and seems determined to put together a 1000 yard year. It won't be easy, with Wisconsin and Michigan left on the schedule, but don't bet against "El Guapo." It is fun to watch him put his head down and run with reckless abandon, and his yards after contact are especially impressive.
Who would have believed that Ohio State would have the B1G's best offensive line by the end of the season? It is easy to pile on Jim Bollman, and honestly, he deserves everything he gets. There has been big-time talent on the line in recent years; they have just under-performed. But Ed Warriner has inspired this group to reach their potential, and they pushed Illinois around most of the day, allowing the Bucks to total 567 yards, including 330 on the ground.
Of great interest to me was the way true freshman Jacoby Boren looked when he subbed in for Corey Linsey, who left the game temporarily in the first quarter due to a minor injury. He played well, and in fact, the whole second team o-line looked pretty impressive in the fourth quarter. Guess it really is about coaching.
Pressure Is our Friend
For three weeks now we have seen Ohio State bring more pressure, blitzing about 50% of the time, and the results speak for themselves. Saturday there weren't a lot of sacks, but once again, Illinois was taken out of their game plan due to an aggressive effort by the Silver Bullets. Don't look at the 22 points (which include a fumble return for TD), instead look at the total yards allowed. Illinois wound up with only 170 yards of offense, and that is impressive even against a weak team.
So do I think Urban Meyer issued a mandate that has forced Fickell to quit playing conservative, soft defense? You bet I do. Thank you Coach Meyer!
Light Has Come On for Shazier
We saw the potential late last season, but early this year Ryan Shazier was just a big athelete running around, as Meyer mentioned last week. However, as the year has progressed, Shazier has started looking like a complete football player and not just an athlete. Following up his super performance at Penn State, Shazier wound up with 14 tackles on Saturday, with 2 for loss. On the year he now has 98 tackles, 11.5 for loss, 4 sacks, an interception, and 10 passes defensed. Those are All B1G kind of numbers!
Braxton Working on Passing Game
From the outset it was obvious that Tom Herman and the coaching staff wanted Brax to work on his passing which was not very strong against Purdue and Penn State. Early on it probably led to some sacks that could have been avoided had Miller resorted to using his legs, but he was standing in the pocket a little longer surveying the field. In the end, he wound up 12-20 for 226 yard and 2 touchdowns. There were also a few drops along the way, as Stoneburner, in particular, had trouble holding onto the ball. However, Braxton did benefit from a great catch and run by Philly Brown, who turned a short pass into a 37 yard touchdown, with some nifty "Milleresque" moves.
Other Things That Stood Out
*Rod Smith is like the little girl with a curl. When he is good he is very good but when he is bad he is awful. Rod is big, fast, and has nice vision. He also looked really good catching a 51-yard touchdown pass from Miller. But once again he laid the ball on the turf, and that continues to be a problem. In some ways he reminds me of a young Eddie George. Not saying he is that good, but his size, running style, and fumble problems bear some similarity to #27 in his early OSU days.
*Bri'onte Dunn played well in the fourth quarter, his first real action in a number of weeks. Some have surmised that he has been in the doghouse, and if that has been the case, then his 13 carry, 73 yard performance, which included a touchdown, may have helped him gain new life with the coaches. No doubt that Dunn has skills, running hard and hitting holes quickly.
*Long TD drives were the order of the day. The Buckeyes had touchdown drives of 79, 61, 64, 61, 50, 73, 75 and 44 yards. Didn't see too much of that last year. In addition, the '12 Bucks continue to be really good in the red zone.
*Mark May is still a jerk. When asked, just before the game, which young dual-threat quarterback he would choose, Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M or Braxton Miller, he smuggly said, "Marcus Mariota", who plays at Oregon. Well, Mr. May, you can bypass Brax if you want, but at the end of the day I will take him. And just wait until he gets more coaching and a few more playmakers.
Now Ohio State gets a much deserved week off, and will be preparing for two huge games and a chance to go 12-0!