The Battle for Ohio Was Closer than Expected

By Jason Priestas on September 6, 2008 at 6:01p
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Small proved Jimmy Crum correct with his 69-yard return

The good news, as it always is, is the Buckeyes won the game, and number 800 at that. But Appalachian State cemented the old axiom that anyone could win on any given Saturday, and despite being stocked with some of the finest talent in America, this team is not exempt from that, especially when you come out flat looking ahead to the epic that awaits next weekend.

If the Buckeyes are fortunate enough to win next weekend and finish things off this year, the 26-14 win will be regarded as that one scare or two that every championship team survives. In the interim, there are plenty of things to both alarm fans and bump the coaching into hyperdrive.

The fact that the 34-point underdog Bobcats took a 7-6 lead into halftime, further extended it with a defensive touchdown and then held onto it until late in the third quarter in a nationally televised game will do the team no favors in the minds of voters and the punditry. When you consider that it wasn't by way of fluke and that Ohio held the yardage, first down and -- gasp!! -- sack stat leads at the half, you may be excused for having 2nd thoughts as a fan.

Yes, the engine was out with a sore toe and Tressel kept the exotic stuff under wraps, but the play of Bobcat backup quarterback Boo Jackson should give pause when you start to wonder if the Buckeyes can beat an elite spread team. Thankfully, USC runs more of a traditional offense and props to Ray Small for delivering for Jimmy Crum -- otherwise, there'd be even more gloom in these parts.

Offense

Did we just find out how valuable Beanie really is to this offense? I admit, I thought there were enough weapons to still put up a lot of points, but there were more than a few things that stood out when he was out. The line was pwned by the Bobcat defensive line for the first two and a half quarters of the game. The Ohio kids were up to play and perhaps there was some looking ahead out of Boone and his fellow linemen, but how do you explain losing the sack battle 3-1? Give them credit for stepping up and taking over late (though some of that is genetics), but plenty to work on for sure.

Boom appeared to have the best day filling for Beanie, accounting for 50 yards on 12 rushes and picking up his first Buckeye touchdown on a one-yard run that put the Buckeyes up for good, but Tressel substituted liberally, even to the point of taking out backs that had established a rhythm. Mo Wells looked nice at times (though most of his damage was outside the tackles) and finished with 48 yards on 9 carries (5.3 a pop), but Saine continued to look tentative, picking up only 15 yards on 5 carries. He did get the 2nd Buckeye touchdown, however.

The wide receivers continue to worry. Dating to the LSU game, there have been huge stretches of gameplay where they have had trouble getting open. I know this is pure blasphemy to the Boeckman-is-the-spawn-of-Satan crowd, but maybe some of the grief he gets should be applied to the receivers. They've escaped pretty much blame free for the past few years, but if you think back even to the Florida game, they weren't getting open. Hartline (2 for 14) had a couple of drops and Robo (3 for 8) didn't appear to be himself on the day, though Small and Sanzenbacher continue to impress.

You hate to see the botched snap, but that's just football. Those are going to happen from time to time and they're best to happen when playing MAC schools instead of elite competition (LSU was good enough to overcome the one they had in the MNC game).

Perhaps what's most bothersome to Buckeye fans is that the close score kept the prized youngsters on the sideline for most of the day. Pryor and the backup line did come out for the fourth series, but that was surely a series later than Tressel wanted to get him into the game if last week is any clue. He picked up a few yards and then made a bad throw to Small on third down and that was the last we were to see of LeBron in Cleats until the final drive of the game where he electrified the crowd with a couple of nifty runs.

Still, no work for Bauserman and an offensive performance that probably didn't exactly go according to plan.

Defense

The defense turned in a mixed performance on the afternoon. On one hand, you have to love the four interceptions, the continued great play of Jermale Hines and the penetration the defensive line put forth at times. On the other hand, the Bobcat's first rushing touchdown seemed to be too easy of a play and the spread once again gave the defense problems.

They couldn't have started much better. There were some positive yards mixed in there, but the Bobcats started: punt, interception, hurt quarterback and then another punt. Then backup Boo Jackson came in and after throwing an interception to Malcolm Jenkins on his first possession, lead the Bobcats on a 72-yard scoring drive on his next possession, culminating in a 15-yard touchdown run out of Donte Harden. Boo didn't finish with the best day throwing the ball (9/25, 0 TD, 3 INT), but his ability to escape a collapsing pocket and keep the play alive had to have frustrated the Buckeye defense. If he had been even a halfway-decent passer, this game could have been a hell of a lot scarier.

But, pockets just don't collapse on their own. Lawrence Wilson, despite not recording a sack, had another monster game and is doing his best to get fans to forget about the Gun Show. His tip-to-himself pick was a thing of beauty and he'll be kicking himself for a while for not taking it to the house. Thad Gibson and Cam Heyward also turned in fine games, while Larimore and Worthington each contributed a TFL.

The linebackers turned in solid, if unspectacular games. Laurinaitis lead the team with 9 tackles and had a nifty interception off of a Freeman tip. Ross Homan finished second on the team with 8 tackles, while Russell and Freeman had 6 each. I still worry about Laurinaitis and his ability to step up and make a play in the hole or the backfield. He is around the ball on every play and has excellent technique, but it appears as if he waits on plays to get to him too often.

As mentioned above, Jermale Hines' stock continues to rise. It was his hit that put Scott out of the game and although he only had 1 tackle for on the day, he made his presence felt. It looks like he'll be a prime dime option based on the nickel looks he got today, but with Washington and O'Neal coming back from suspension and Coleman getting back onto the field today, the defensive backfield is going to get a lot more crowded.

Special Teams

Ray's return was huge and gave the team a cushion late in a close game, but the missed PAT is unexplainable. I guess these are similar to the muffed snap in that they're bound to happen from time to time, but it's just not something you see every day -- even in the college ranks. Pretorius did have a missed field goal on the day, but it was from 53, so you can't hate on a dude for that. The missed extra point did come on his very next kick after missing the field goal, so maybe that was still in his mind a little.

Also, I'd be remiss if I didn't point out Shaun Lane's nice sideline fumble recovery considering how much flak we gave him for his dropped pick-six last week.

Notes

The Buckeyes moved to 42-3 at Ohio Stadium since the start of the 2002 season... the 800th win put OSU in a club with only four other members: Michigan, Notre Dame, Texas and Nebraska... The win moved the Buckeyes to 6-0 against the Bobcats... Robiskie extended his reception streak to 26 games... Ballard's 25-yard catch was the longest reception out of a Buckeye tight end since Nicol caught a 38-yarder against Indiana in 2006... The four interceptions were the most recorded out of a Buckeye defense since they turned in four against SDSU in 2001... Gold medal winner Michael Redd was recognized at halftime.

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