The Buckeyes' dream game plan for the Michigan State game probably went a little something like this: put some early points on the board to force Brian Hoyer to beat you in the air and then pin your ears back on defense and come after him.
Easier said that done when you consider the team was coming off a lackluster win against Purdue in which the offense didn't cross the goal line, but that game plan became reality reality in front of 75,000 dazed Spartan fans. They witnessed the maligned Buckeye offense come out and score touchdowns on three of their first four drives while watching their own team suffer two three-and-outs and a lost fumble in the process. Just like that, it was 21-0 Buckeyes and we weren't even out of the first quarter.
The defense then got in on the act, recording fumble returns for touchdowns out of both Gibson and Hines and the Buckeyes finally got that one game where everything seemed to click. They would go on to scoop up five turnovers on the day and when the offense and defense get it going, you get scores like 45-7 Ohio State. Over the 20th-ranked team in the country. In their house.
Take nothing away from the performance of the defense, because they played their top game of the season, but it was the legs of Pryor and Wells along with an inspired effort out of an offensive line that really set things up today. The least popular residents of Franklin County all week, Boone and the boys responded with their most complete game of the year. They were solid on pass protection and the left side in particular played a huge role in allowing Beanie to collect yards like you collect MP3s. Consider Ballard's mission at the beginning of the week accomplished.
Speaking of Beanie, another game and another typical performance out of him: 31 carries, 140 yards and two touchdowns. I counted no fewer than five stiff-arms and his Beanie Hop was pure Buckeyegasm for the faithful. The 28-0 halftime lead contributed to his season-high number of carries as the offense slowed down behind a more than 3-1 run to pass ratio. You pray that he doesn't seriously re-injure the toe, but it also feels good to know he can put in a game like that right in the middle of Big Ten season.
Pryor didn't exactly light things up in the air, completing just 7/11 and he appeared to struggle on a few reads, but he more than made up for that with his ground work (12 for 72). After the opening kickoff pinned Ohio State inside its own 10, he ripped off a 32-yarder to help flip the field position advantage and then a drive later his 18-yard touchdown run put the team on the board to kick-start the scoring.
LeBron in Cleats is starting to develop a potent stiff-arm of his own and and he surely earned some respect from teammates after lead blocking on Beanie's reverse field run and a later play to Smith. Most importantly he turned in another performance without a turnover.
With just seven completions, the receivers probably didn't get the type of work they wanted -- especially when three of those went to tight end Brandon Smith, but the ones they caught were memorable. Robiskie was a late option for a catch in the back of the end zone for the Buckeyes' second touchdown and following a Spartan three-and-out, Hartline answered. On a nicely-executed play-action, Pryor hung a bomb up a little short to Hartline on the right sideline. After slowing for the ball, he went up above two Spartan defenders to pull down the catch and emerged to fall just one yard short of the goal line.
That said, there wasn't an abundance of arial fireworks and that's okay. I liked seeing a tight end actually lead the team in receptions and I noticed a lot of good blocking out of the receivers. From a playcalling perspective, it did look like the coaches threw some more wrinkles Pryor's way. I maintain that a lot of that stems from the play of the line -- longer developing plays were off the board last week with the unit playing like it was. One more thing: that read handoff between Pryor and Wells is getting better with each game. On at least two plays, the cameras had no idea who had the ball. The Death Star handoff will be fully operational soon.
There's little doubt that the on-field leadership out of Malcolm Jenkins and the youth infusion have really sparked the Buckeye defense. Ever since the 2nd half in Madison, this group has been playing like we envisioned the moment that Laurinaitis, Jenkins and Freeman announced that they would be coming back for their senior seasons. From Laurinaitis stuffing Ringer on the very first play of the game to the two touchdown returns out of the youngsters, we got to see a little bit of that old time Buckeye defense. The kind Dantonio had. It was a beautiful sight.
I'm trying to pick out a defensive play of the game, but I'm struggling. Do you give it to Coleman for getting juked onto his rump, getting up to punch the ball loose and springing a Donald Washington fumble return in what was then still a close game? What about his diving interception on the sideline? Or what about Jenkins for his sack-fumble and his interference on Ringer during Gibson's 69-yard return? (I especially liked that the Jenkins/Gibson play came after Spartan backup quarterback Kirk Cousins had raced out to his roaring start, completing his first 10 attempts. It was almost like the defense said, Enough of this shit.)
Laurinaitis was everywhere, finishing with 11 tackles and a sack. Gibson, Denlinger, Rose, Williams and the rest of the defensive front helped hold Ringer to a season-low of 67 yards and got to the quarterbacks. Thad is just continuing his trajectory and Williams had two plays that really stood out: his hustle from the backside to track down Ringer on a mid-range run and his monster block on Hines' 48-yard fumble return score with 15 seconds on the clock. The clowning got so bad that even Brian Rolle got in on the action, recording an interception to end the game.
What's more encouraging is that it looks as if Heacock is starting to favor man coverage. The proof is in the pudding, so to speak, with five takeaways and stuffing the nation's leading ball carrier. If the Buckeye defense plays like this next weekend, Penn State could be in for a rude awakening.
Outside of his muff and near turnover on one return, Ray Small is turning into a nice little weapon returning punts. He has sure hands and the moves and speed to make the first and second guy miss. As much as Tressel loves the battle over field position, this has to warm his heart somewhat. Flash is looking like a complimentary option on kick returns (muffed catch of his own and all).
The most refreshing aspect of the victory had to have been the fact that the Buckeyes only tried one field goal. That came in the fourth quarter when Pettrey hit a 40-yarder. That's normally Pretorius range, so you have to wonder if kicker won't be the latest position to see a change at the top (though the depth chart -- which is quickly being rendered misleading at best -- seemed to indicate otherwise earlier in the week).
Rehring was a surprise starter at right guard... Cool Game Moment #1: Malcolm Jenkins making plays on the punt team - with one minute to go in the game... Many props to the Buckeye secondary for focusing on becoming ball hawks and then going out and doing just that... Robo's little brother looks like a big-mini Robo... No called options this week?