For the second straight week, the Silver Bullets started slow but came up big in the 2nd half, and with the Ohio State offense clicking on all cylinders, that was more than enough to pull away in a 34-24 win over the Iowa Hawkeyes yesterday afternoon in a dank Ohio Stadium.
The win improves OSU's winning streak to 19 since Urban Meyer came to town and moves the Buckeyes to 7-0 overall and 3-0 in the B1G.
Forced to overcome a halftime deficit for the 2nd time in three conference games, the Buckeyes outscored the Hawkeyes 24-7 over the final 30 minutes, dominating both lines of scrimmage and leaning on the athletic superiority of Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde.
The duo combined for 473 of Ohio State's 495 total yards and 251 of the 273 rushing yards, also having a hand in all four touchdowns.
Before we look ahead to what the Buckeyes must do to shore up the continued inconsistencies on defense as they march toward perfection, let's reflect on Five Things that rose to the surface in yesterday's grounding of the Hawkeyes.
CRIME OF POSSESSION
It's no secret the strength of this team is the offensive firepower. Of course, it's hard to score when you don't have the ball.
Yesterday, the Buckeye defense was exposed during the 1st half by a purposeful dink-and-dunk attack that was hell bent on slowly marching down the field in a dual effort of scoring points while keeping the OSU offense from being able to do the same as they waited along the sideline.
The plan worked for a half as Iowa possessed the ball for a whopping 18:05 of the game's first 30 minutes, largely due to their success on 3rd down. The Hawkeyes converted six of their first seven 3rd down tries, stretching across their first three possessions, leading to a touchdown, field goal and another touchdown. They would go on to convert 7/9 for the entire half, limiting the Buckeye offense to just three possessions for a combined 11:55 of clock.
As we've grown accustom to seeing, the linebackers were getting exposed in coverage by tight ends and running backs, often times off solid play-action and as we haven't grown accustom to, the defensive line was struggling to create any type of push up front. The result read 222 yards of offense, a 17-10 deficit, and a sellout of pitchforks at the internet store, all being vigorously shook in the direction of Luke Fickell.
And rightfully so.
But football is a game of adjustments and to the staff's credit, the Silver Bullets came out looking like a different unit in the 2nd half.
The group keyed the noted 24-7 scoring surge over the final 30 minutes, holding Iowa to 153 total yards, buoyed by stopping them three times in four tries on 3rd down.
Doran Grant killed the first Iowa possession after halftime with blanket coverage on a slant that had no chance on 3rd and 9. The OSU offense scored on the ensuing possession to take a 24-17 lead.
Grant also destroyed Iowa's third possession, causing an incompletion on 3rd and 6 as he came hard on a corner blitz forcing a high throw. The OSU offense scored on the ensuing possession to take command at 34-24.
Following Drew Basil's field goal, Tyvis Powell ended any hopes of an Iowa rally as he picked off Jake Rudock on 3rd and 4 from the Iowa 43.
Sparked by the success on 3rd down, the Buckeyes allowed Iowa to possess the ball for just 6:55 of the 2nd half, affording Meyer and Tom Herman the ability to slowly and methodically suffocate Iowa's chance at an upset.
Without question, Ohio State's weakest links reside on defense but I give the collective group credit for rising to the challenge in the 2nd half.
Bad news for the rest of the league: Braxton Miller looks 100% healthy.
With a bye week to build strength in a knee slowed by an MCL sprain, in addition to conquering the mental hurdle associated with the injury, Miller was simply fantastic.
Finally, we got a chance to see his confident, slash-and-dash running style complement his off-season improvements in the passing game. The results read 22 of 27 through the air for 222 yards and two touchdowns with another 102 yards on 18 carries via the ground.
I'll be curious to see what Ross thought later this week because I felt Miller showed some improvement in his read option decisions. When he did run the ball, whether on a read, a designed keep or via scramble, he finally looked fearless when making his cuts, yet smart enough to keep his head on a swivel, avoiding any big and/or unnecessary shots.
The 102-yard rushing performance was actually the first time he eclipsed the century mark since going off for 134 on 25 carries (2 TD) some 357 days prior in Happy Valley.
Through the air, Miller was just as impressive. He did an outstanding job of leading his receivers on the run especially on the quick-hitters out of the backfield which allowed those plays to reach their potential. He consistently took what the defense gave him, throwing lasers on out routes and slant, and smartly made sure he didn't overthrow Philly on the wide open 54-yard touchdown strike.
Miller completed a ridiculous 81% of his attempts and upon examining the incompletions, he really made just one bad throw all day.
His first incompletion came via a tipped pass at the line. The defensive lineman did a nice job diagnosing the play and Andrew Norwell did a poor job of getting into the defender's chest. The next incompletion was nearly a touchdown as Miller gave Evan Spencer a chance to high-point the football right at the goal-line but the defender made a nice play. The third incompletion came on Jeff Heuerman drop. The fourth was his only poor throw of the day as he badly missed Philly high and wide on a 31-yard post route. His final incompletion was a throw-away coming at the end of a wild scramble on 3rd and 6 from the Iowa 8-yard line.
I fully expected Braxton would blow up in this game thanks to the week off and he did not disappoint. The question now, which I think he will overwhelmingly and positively answer, is if he can build some consistency from a dual-threat perspective – staying healthy along the way.
Maybe it's just because I'm a big fan of the dude but I loved how Miller used tight end Jeff Heuerman yesterday.
The junior of Naples, Florida hauled in a career-high five catches, good for 38 yards, and was even targeted a sixth time but he flat out dropped the ball.
Meyer talked at length after the game about how Ohio State dialed up a ton of pass plays on 1st down instead of the usual read option or Hyde give and he was pleased with the results.
Interestingly, Heuerman was targeted five different times on 1st down including three times on the first play of a new possession. Miller found him in the flat for nine yards on OSU's opening possession which resulted in a field goal.
On the opening drive of the 2nd half, Miller found Heuerman on 1st and Goal from the Iowa 4-yard line for a three yard gain to set a Hyde plunge, tying the game at 17.
On the next OSU drive, Miller connected with Heuerman for a 15-yard gainer on 1st down and the Buckeyes eventually found the end zone, and their first lead of the day at 24-17.
Two possessions later, Miller hooked up with Heuerman on 3rd and 1 for nine yards, extending a drive that culminated with a field goal dagger giving Ohio State a 34-24 lead with just over five minutes to play.
It's unrealistic to expect Heuerman will be targeted six times per game going forward because of variables including the matchups from week to week combined with the plethora of weapons at Miller's disposal but I'm increasingly confident that Heuerman will absolutely deliver when called upon. Props to him for a terrific performance.
O PUTS ON A SHOW
The Buckeye offense didn't get much playing time in the 1st half yesterday (three possessions, two scores) as the Hawkeyes used a ball-control offense to keep Miller and company on the sidelines but once the Silver Bullets made some adjustments providing the Buckeye offense a few more possessions in the 2nd half, the Buckeye offense unleashed a methodical beatdown on Iowa's stout defense.
Trailing 17-10 and looking to make a statement out of the locker room, the offense ran off 13 straight positive yardage plays capped by a Hyde 1-yard run to tie the game. Miller was a perfect 4/4 passing on the drive as Ohio State chewed up 75 yards and 4:42 of clock.
After an Iowa punt, Miller went back to work connecting on 5/5 throws for 48 yards including a 14-yard touchdown strike to Devin Smith while adding another 24 yards on the ground, giving the Buckeyes a 24-17 lead. The 11-play drive ate up 84 yards and 4:41 of clock, and coupled with the opening drive, gave Ohio State 24 positive yardage plays.
Following a coverage breakdown in the Buckeye secondary that triggered a game-tying 85-yard touchdown strike by Iowa to tie the game at 24, the offense went right back to work marching 75 yards in 10 plays featuring a couple Tecmo Bowl efforts from Miller and Hyde.
Facing 3rd and 7 from the Hawkeye 28, Miller dropped back, flushed right, reversed course back left, patiently waited for blockers, and jogged nine-yards for a key conversion. On the very next snap, Hyde did him one better. Sweeping right, he cut hard up field off a nice seal block, took a shot from Iowa safety Tanner Miller that spun him around, regained his balance, again started up field, leaping from the 4-yard line to pay dirt to cap a 19-yard touchdown run giving Ohio State a 31-24 lead.
The 10-play, 74-yard drive devoured another 4:06 of clock and gave Ohio State 32 positive yardage plays on 34 snaps to open the 2nd half.
After the Bullets forced another punt, the Buckeye offense went back onto the field with designs on putting the Hawkeyes to sleep and did exactly that. Miller converted two key 3rd downs, finding Heuerman for nine yards before running for 12 yards to move the chains and Hyde pounded out 40 yards on the ground before a Basil field goal provided the game's final margin.
The drive saw Ohio State run another 10 plays for 64 yards while taking 5:21 off the clock. With all but two of the plays generating yardage, the Buckeyes capped a four possession run by achieving positive yards on a ridiculous 40 of 44 snaps.
A PHINE PHILLY
It seems like Philly Brown has been a Buckeye for about as long as Ty Law was a Michigan Wolverine. During Philly's tenure, it feels like too much time was spent talking about what he isn't instead of what he is.
I thought Michael did an outstanding job of putting Brown's career in perspective a few days ago and yesterday, Philly once again found ways to be a difference maker in another Buckeye victory.
Before I get to the good stuff, I must be fair and balanced by saying Brown also made what could have been a huge mistake yesterday as he killed Ohio State's last drive of the half. Facing 4th and 10 from the Hawkeye 26-yard line, Miller came up with a sick scramble to move the chains but a completely unnecessary block in the back by Brown negated the play. On the next snap, Miller wasn't able to connect with Spencer and the possession ended with a whimper and OSU still trailing 17-10.
Other than that, Philly did work. He hauled in a modest three receptions but totaled 72 yards including a 58-yard touchdown, tying the game at 10 apiece early in the 2nd quarter. The play came on a busted coverage but Philly did what he was supposed to do in making the uncontested grab capped the play with a great effort to find the left pylon for six.
OHIO STATE 34, IOWA 24
Brown's best work of the day, however, came in the leadership and blocking departments.
With the team a bit out of sorts as Iowa punched the defense in the mouth, Brown consistently worked the sidelines barking at teammates and circling with the receiving corps. Post game, Meyer gushed in his presser about how Brown has filled the leadership void created by Christian Bryant's injury and how that represented such seismic growth in Philly from as recent as a year ago.
Even with those contributions, it was his blocking in the 4th quarter that was truly difference making.
Post game, Carlos Hyde raved about Philly's block near the goal line that enabled Hyde to even have a shot at scoring via his jump from the 4-yard line to cap the fantastic play. While that block was definitely the one that most will notice, it was Philly's ability to hold his block at the line of scrimmage that allowed Hyde to sweep right and cut just inside Brown's block to get that play started. Sticking with the play, Brown held that block, released once Hyde passed him, then ran downfield to make the more sexy block that everyone is talking about this morning. Truly an outstanding effort from an outstanding dude.
On the very next possession, Brown was back at it as his block sprung Hyde's 28-yard dash down the left sideline to set up Basil's field goal to cap the scoring. Taking on an outside linebacker from the slot, Brown completely erased 6'3", 277 lb. Tommy Gaul, giving Hyde the crease he needed. Again, it wasn't talked about afterward but it was most definitely the individual play that sprung the big gainer.