We are out here looking for signs.
Signs, signs, everywhere there’s signs. Blocking out the scenery and breaking my mind. Well… I am a five-man electrical band today as I am joined in a bit by the Bucket List All-Stars of Dan Rubin, Matt Baxendell, Duane Long and Jerry Rudzinski. And we are all looking for signs.
A week ago, we were worried-sick at the signs we were seeing after a tepid performance over a good UCF team; a game that resulted in a 15-point win that didn’t satisfy Buckeye Nation even a little bit. Tressel would also have won that game, but probably with a DB deflecting an end-zone reception on the last play. Last year, we would have lost, folding like a cheap suit. Sorta like last year’s embarrassment in Miami. So winning ugly is certainly a good sign, no?
Now, this week (yesterday), we played a middle-of-the PAC-12 Cal team; a team that lost their top four tacklers from last year and 5 of the top 6 defensively. They only had 5 returning starters on defense and 6 on offense. This is not your older brother’s Cal team that scared the really good teams (like USC) in days of yore. In yore new era – the now - in the five seasons since 2006, they’ve only averaged seven wins per year and haven’t finished ranked a single time. Two years ago, they didn’t qualify for a bowl game. Cal lost to Nevada two weeks ago at home and faces USC the week after us. Maybe we were the trap game? And for good measure – and for good bulletin board material – we were dissed by the Cal players. “I feel like we're more physical than them up front,” Cal defensive end Deandre Coleman said of the Buckeyes this week. “I really don't see them being that good or anything.”
Well, that should have pissed us off, right? Except Deandre was actually right. We weren’t that good or anything. That’s said in retrospect after a frog-strangling 35-28 win. And we are still looking for signs. Instead, what we saw were flags – so many that Cal had to decide which penalties they wanted and which to decline. After the game, the referee had to ice his arm down, he threw so many flags. Lots of laundry, but signs? Here was my take:
1) We got the passing game going a little bit. The stats are deceptive because of the big plays but we did get some traction.
2) We did have the big plays that a big-play offense needs to thrive.
3) We won. Lest we forget. We are now 3-0 with a pretty far-below-average team coming in next week and we should relish the fact that we are undefeated and near Top Ten and still not hitting on all cylinders.
Jordan Hall's back - that's a good sign!
4) The kids are learning and getting better. Can they get better fast enough to create an upset in East Lansing? I’ll get back to you.
5) Jordan Hall looked pretty good and he can be the difference maker we need to go along with Brax.
6) The Cal field goal kicker (we won’t say the name to protect what we assume is a nice guy). He obviously was a Buckeye at heart and that’s a good sign. ‘Cause I gotta tell you, if he makes those three field goals, we lose.
1) For the second straight game, I wondered what happened to our defense. Couldn’t stop the run, couldn’t stop the big play and we haven’t stopped the pass all year. What does that leave?
2) The game plan left, uh, something to be desired. We knew what they were going to “throw at us” and they did it anyway. We knew how to beat their Bear defense and couldn’t do it consistently. That’s discouraging.
3) The bad tackling, the sloppy play, the penalties – in those areas, we don’t seem to be learning or getting any better.
4) The fact that the team and coaches are still criticizing the fans for lack of noise. Man, that’s like the engine blaming the caboose for being late! Give us something to support and we’ll be there for you guys. Actually, I thought the fans stayed pretty solid, considering that the team disappeared completely from the middle of the second quarter until well into the fourth.
John Simon was in good form, but the rest of the front seven?
5) The defensive front was supposed to be great this season – even epic. But they aren’t playing like it unless you want to lay the blame on the linebackers for missing tackles or…well, it isn’t what we expected up front.
6) We assumed we would have both an attacking offense and an attacking defense. Right now, they are both under attack and under-achieving…
We won and I likely underestimated this Cal bunch but Cal has a unique place in my heart. Not an especially good place, at that. My ex-wife graduated from Cal. I also had a house out there in the Bay Area. God, I really miss that house.
It is hard to understand Cal and hard to fully appreciate the east side of the bay. Football has never been the campus obsession in Berserkely. That would mostly be a strange form of obsessing over free speech, tying oneself to trees, tilting at windmills and acting all-entitled because, I guess they just don’t know any better. And the women? We used to say “by and large, are bi and large” Hey – this is a school where “The Big Game” is Stanford, a school that now beats them like, well…like a cop beating a malnourished student chained to a tree.
Well, I am still looking for signs. I thought a sharp game against Cal would show me the way. I thought it would remind us of our legacy and start the glory train running. Ohio State does have a history with the Cal Bears, believe it or not. In fact, OSU's first two bowl games were against the Golden Bears in Rose Bowls at the conclusion of the 1920 and 1949 seasons.
That was then. This is now. UAB comes in at noon on Saturday with their 114th in the nation rushing offense and last in their country scoring defense. Maybe we can see some better signs then. Until Saturday, hey, be careful out there…
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Spanning the College Football Globe: The Facts and the Pub
Before moving on to the next item, be sure to read the signs!
Game review by Dan Rubin, Bucknuts Publisher:
Consistently inconsistent. Has there ever been a team that looks so different series to series? On offense and defense?
Let's not kid ourselves. Cal is just not a very good team. They have talent, sure, but nobody could have watched the Bears' first two games and thought they would give those in the Shoe such a scare.
But 3-0 is 3-0. Better to learn your lessons - see tackling, form - while getting a W. So cue the Heisman hype-RGIII comparisons for Braxton. Too soon? Go look at the Redskins quarterback's sophomore stats. The run 5 had in first half where he juked three dudes in a phone booth before rocketing down the sideline to paydirt is the type of highlight that would fit the late-season gathering at the Downtown Athletic Club. In Braxton I trust.
Devin Smith is symbolic of the offense. Highlight followed by easy drop. Still, you score 35 points and that should be enough. It's the defense that actually has me flummoxed. That was a LOT of snaps for Simon, Hankins, Goebel and Williams. Probably too many. Fatigue clearly set in with that group. Getting Bennett back will be key because the defensive staff must not trust the pups enough yet to give them considerable, meaningful burn.
The silver lining for the D is the mistakes made are totally correctable. This was not a talent issue. This was partly schematic, partly fundamentals (or lack thereof) and partly fatigue.
The other overwhelming positive is the Buckeyes play in the Big Ten. Which brings me to my weekly gander at our conference brethren ...
**Oh, Sparty. Wow. Way to make Notre Dame fans feel like it's the late 1980s. For some reason, Dantonio's crew lays at least one huge egg each season. Three points at home vs. a mediocre Notre Dame outfit on national TV? That is going to allow the national media to run with the 'Sparty being Sparty' narrative. Depending on how Michigan State looks against the Buckeyes in two weeks, it may be accurate.
Brian Kelly's Fighting Irish showed us that Mark Dantonio's Spartans are not who we thought they were.
**As for the rest of the conference ... ugh. Ball State over Indiana? Did Paris McCurdy have a big game? That's the kind of effort that gets mentioned in the first few paragraphs of the story about a coach being fired.
Our boy Bret must also be feeling the heat. Maybe they were two or three plays from being a BCS title threat last season. That won't be an issue this time around. They've played a JV schedule thus far and looked like a freshman team doing it.
The rest of the conference either beat up a directional school or turned in a lackluster effort. Which brings us to this ... despite the inconsistency, there is really no question Ohio State is the class of the conference right now.
The game in two weeks will prove it.
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Third and Long
Thoughts on yesterday by Duane Long, Bucknuts analyst
I do not know what we have. When we started the year, I said this team would go 12-0. Every week I come closer to wanting to back off that prediction. I still believe Ohio State has the most talented team in the Big Ten, but I also continue to see a work on progress.
Braxton is making plays but is still a work in progress.
How do you have this much pressure and still give up 28 points?
The answer is we are still seeing a team that does not consistently tackle well.
Tackling is something that should be a given. It's s in the mindset. It is a commitment to a task. We are still seeing high school tackling from this group. That is not going to work at this level. Look at the Cal touchdowns and you see big plays. If you watch the replays, you don't see well-blocked plays. You see individual effort by some Cal players and you see poor tackling from Ohio State. The 81-yard touchdown run was pure Keystone Cops as far as tackling is concerned.
Last week I defended a better week for the safeties. It was a poor week by the safeties in game one. This effort trumped that poor showing. I will need to go back and watch this one again to see who was worse between C.J. Barnett and Christian Bryant. I suspect Barnett will be the lower graded player as I can't recall a good play from him to offset any of the bad ones like I saw with Bryant.
We are still a work in progress on offense, but it is much more understandable because of the youth. Miller and his top receivers are all sophomores, with the exception of Stoneburner.
Growing pains are still evident. I think the changes are not helping. Forget about the similarities in the spread offenses. They are different enough and offenses are complex enough, terminology changes alone can create enough confusion, that we may not see this offense be what it can be until next year.
Miller is still very much a work in progress as far as reading defenses and making the right decisions is concerned. My biggest offensive concern is the running backs. This was supposed to be a strength going into the season. We were not worried about it. Not one back has stepped up and looked to be a difference maker.
Bax’s Public Breakdown
(Well, yesterday’s game, that is…) by Matt Baxendell – The People’s Champ
I think this game can be summed up with one word: Phew.
Where to start? First of all, I can't remember a game from Ohio State where we had such poor tackling on defense. It all began on Cal's first touchdown drive when Curtis Grant allowed a Cal runner to wriggle free and turn a 2-yard gain into a 26-yard gain. From there, we had virtually every player on defense miss out on bringing down defenders, most egregiously whenever Bigelow touched the ball for the Bears. Remember his whirling, spinning, how-hell-did-no-one-tackle-him 80-yard run in the third quarter that turned the game from potential blowout to impending challenge? Remember when he tied the game at 28 in the fourth quarter on an untouched vaunt where both Ryan Shazier and Christian Bryant simply whiffed?
We can debate scheme until our faces turn blue but if we tackle that poorly again against ANYONE, we'll be lucky to waltz away with a win again.
The other thing that I really didn't understand defensively was why we were simply sitting back in zone defense after displaying a much more aggressive and productive pass rush. The Buckeyes had six sacks but still allowed Maynard to complete 70 percent of his passes? I'm sure I'm not the only one who thought it was bordering on insanity to see Keenan Allen being covered by our safeties and linebackers when we have two of the rare corners in America who can go with him stride for stride. I suppose we have to take things incrementally and be very pleased with the play of the D-Line, but the secondary still has a very long way to go. Luckily, there aren't many (if any) Keenan Allens in the Big Ten this year.
Another thing that was just flat-out bad was the penalties Ohio State took in this game. Actual exchange on the TV broadcast at half:
Q: "Coach Meyer, how do you avoid the stupid penalties?"
Meyer: "Stop being stupid?"
Unfortunately for OSU, the stupidity really didn't abate and we were ultimately flagged for 11 penalties costing over 100 yards! That's just begging to lose a football game. Coming on the heels of last week's yellow flag festival, this was as concerning as anything we saw on Saturday.
Finally, the offense had a strange day, to say the least. 35 points is a perfectly good output against a Pac 12 team, but it was another bipolar showing from Braxton and company. The first five possessions, we either scored a touchdown or were only stopped because drops by wide receivers bailed Cal out. When it was 20-7, I was sure we were looking at a point total approaching 50, but then things just went radio silent almost immediately! While Cal was busy putting in a yeoman's effort to take the lead, Ohio State only had 25 yards of offense in the third quarter!
I think we learned today that Braxton has to be able to complete his passes to really make the offense hum. In the early going, he was completely on point, starting 8 for 11 with two drops. Then he fell into a funk over two quarters that saw him miss open receivers. When we finally got things going again, what was the catalyst? A couple completions in a row that spread Cal's defense out and the next thing we knew the running game suddenly worked again as well. It was no coincidence that the Buckeyes picked up 14 points in the fourth quarter once we became a two dimensional attack again. If we can put up 35 points while essentially taking half the game off, the potential is tantalizing.
Bottom line is (to quote Urban) that we won the frickin' game. But all our nitpicking after the Miami and UCF games suddenly seems completely reasonable, now doesn't it? In a year where the Big Ten is shockingly bad---undefeated teams: Ohio State, Northwestern and Minnesota---it still seems tough to envision this team putting together a 12-0 record when some of the same mistakes keep appearing every single week. They'd better fix things soon with Michigan State and Nebraska looming to start Big Ten play after next week's fluff contest against a really bad UAB team.
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Views from Jerry Rudzinski:
I think our defense looked physical. They were heavily penalized and missed some tackles, but they played hard and fast. Shazier, Hankins, Roby, and Simon are just so good. The defense clearly walked in the stadium with one thing in mind - get to the quarterback. They made the aggressive play-calls. It was beautiful when we got to him, and it was ugly when we didn't get to him or the offense countered with the right play call. All in, I'm excited about this 2012 defense despite some explosive plays coming from the Bears. Let's hit that sweet spot between the two philosophies that float around the call-in shows ("run-stopping bend but don't break" and "send everyone wearing something scarlet or gray").
Brad Roby has been looking good.
I am not in the camp that claims penalty-free football is always a good thing. Of course I hate silly delay of games or false starts, but a Buckeye receiver "maybe" grabbing a little jersey while blocking downfield could mean six points. Penalties happen when teams are aggressive. Penalties happen when the pressure from coaches and teammates is so great to produce. All that said though, our Buckeyes won't win key games if we have that many flags thrown. That was uncomfortable to watch about 20 minutes into the game.
I am in the Jordan Hall camp. He brings a nice dimension to the offense and he does the little things right. His block on the 2-point conversion is just another reason why that guy is a must-have for this 2012 squad.
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Notre Dame’s Leper-icons…The Frightened Irish have spent the last 20 years in college football’s Purgatory accomplishing the following:
1) They have played in three BCS bowl games since (and lost them all). In addition, they have lost at least five games each year in the past five seasons.
2) The brain trust has hired a succession of buffoonish coaches (Davies, Willingham, O’Leary (five days), Cheeseburger and now Kelly)
3) They were able to turn a string of top five recruiting classes into outside-the-top-25 teams.
4) While publicly gloating over their own television contract, the school ended up making less money than the lowliest B-10 football program (downstate’s Indiana Hoosiers)
Jack Swarbrick's perfect geographical fit for Notre Dame is apparently anywhere the Big Ten ain't.
5) All the while, they worked hard at spurning the Big Ten, their natural geographic and football tradition fit.
The spurning reached closure this past week as Notre Dame formally embraced the idea of their “natural fit” with the ACC and such promising rivalry schools as North Carolina, Duke, Georgia Tech, and Wake Forest while still staying “independent”. That football independence allows them to still get hammered each year by USC and Stanford (higher entrance requirement, better football and cuter coeds) as well as playing a couple of the military academies, whose football prowess peaked right after World War II.
Geographically, the nearest new ACC opponent is Pitt, 340 miles away. Remember that Notre Dame AD Jack Swarbrick termed the ACC partnership as “a perfect geographic fit for us”. Based upon that analysis, you now understand why the AD’s office has yet to find the perfect coaching fit for them!
As the Wall Street Journal surmised, “They pulled the ultimate Casanova move of reaping the benefits of belonging to a BCS conference without sharing with the ACC the loot from its own lucrative television contract. Not only is ND getting free milk, it also doesn’t have to clean out the barn.” This does give them a shot as an “automatic qualifier” for the Orange Bowl even though there’s that awkward possibility that they could play a member of their own conference.
Hey Big Ten – quit scheduling them already! And after last night’s beat down in East Lansing, maybe that would be a good thing all around…
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Tattoos versus home invasion…At least someone turned him in so it’s not that big a deal. Also this past week, Michigan sophomore defensive end Frank Clark pleaded guilty to one felony count of second-degree home invasion. He had admitted to entering a dormitory on June 14 -- coincidentally, his 19th birthday -- and taking a Macbook Air laptop before returning to his own room. He said he did not have permission to enter the room or take the laptop.
Clark was suspended for the first week of Michigan's practice this fall and for the season-opening 41-14 loss to Alabama. He also was reinstated for last weekend's win against Air Force and recorded four tackles. Brady Hoke defended his decision to reinstate Clark with the legal decision still pending, saying that the lineman has "paid a lot of consequences internally."
Abandon hope, all ye who enter here…
“Internal consequences.” Well, say no more. With Hoke, Michiganders are going to see “eternal consequences”. May they all burn in hell in the end like we guessed…
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Short Sports Reports and Retorts
News, views and re-views…
1) Stat of the year?...Talk about your one-man gangs (or one-dimensional attacks?). How about this for the unlikeliest stat pairing in quite a while: In Michigan’s squeaker win against Air Force, Denard Robinson had 426 total yards of offense. Michigan’s total offensive yardage as a team? 422 yards. Now, think about that…
2) The long and the short of offensive coordination…We had to suffer through a decade of Jim Bollman, and his multiple bad games, right? Well, contrast that sufferance to Wisconsin and offensive coordinator Mike Markuson, who was fired after his second game at Wisconsin! Brat Bielema must not be as tolerant as Tress…
3) Dollar investments and SEC change…Tennessee has invested heavily in coaching over the last decade. Lane Kiffin took them for a bunch of millions and then hired his own father there for a million more. That lasted nearly a year. The Vols are still paying the price for the Lane Violation.
But that’s just the latest in a series of mistakes in Knoxville. They are also paying off contracts to fired Phil Fulmer, dismissed basketball coach Bruce Pearl and baseball coach Todd Raleigh. For all these frivolous follies, they then “bought out the contract” of athletic director Mike Hamilton. What was left then in the vault? Well, despite over $106 million in revenues last fiscal year, what was left was a four million dollar hole for athletics. That is really going to cut into player payments and future football success for Tennessee in the SEC…
4) From your friends at ESPN…The ‘Spinners took a look at the ratings for its game telecasts in their 56 metered markets from 2000 to 2011. The results show the Top 25 markets from 2011, how the markets compare to this year’s Top 25 teams and overall trends from the past 12 years. How “adhesive” are some markets to their team? Well, Birmingham, AL and Columbus, Ohio, are the only markets to finish in the highest-rated spot as well as in the top five all twelve years. Birmingham was the top-rated metered market every year except 2001 when Columbus knocked the Alabama city to second.
Lane Kiffin is still proving to not be worth the trouble for Tennessee.
Columbus was the second highest-rated market in 2010, 2005, 2003 and 2000. Btw (a little hometown pride here – ahem…), Dayton finished 11th last year – in the nation – as a loyal market to its team, The Ohio State University.
5) Figure eight…Vanderbilt announced eight captains this year for its football team, including the placekicker. Seems that everyone wanted that on their resume in case they were going for Rhodes scholarships, we are guessing…
6) More crazy eights…Most of you (except me, of course…) are aware that Ohio State has eight home games this year. I don’t know the last time that happened but we go back to our traditional seven at home and five on the road for the next 3+ seasons. Btw, we actually have seven of our first eight games in front of a home crowd this year if you include the game we play at our “home away from home” in Bloomington, Ind. on October 13…
7) The daunting Domers and their schedule this year…After opening on the road in Dublin, Ireland (a home game), the Frightening Irish schedule this year seemed to get noticeably tougher. While we feast on the high-carb diet of the Big Ten, the O’Brien Bunch gets to play Stanford, BYU, at Oklahoma and at USC. They are between Michigan games (State and their little brothers) in this eight day period and they did get some luck of the Irish that Pitt and Miami (FL) and Boston College and Wake Forest are all down this year. Time to pick a conference? They will play against five ACC teams in the future? Three military academies or three Big Ten schools? Maybe not much difference…
8) And other scheduled conflicts…OK, the Domers get what they deserve, but who has it in for Ole Miss? Based upon the Coaches Poll pre-season rankings, they play the #1 and #2 teams; and also #6 and #10. And they play them all on the road! Home schedule? Well, that’s #15 and #25. Maybe they should check out a move to the Big Ten or the ACC, too…
9) The pride of Pennsylvania…(If that’s not an oxymoron). By the way, do Nittany Lions form a pride? Well, that pride is certainly shot and wounded. After the first two weeks of play, who was the best team in Pennsylvania? Was it Pitt or Penn State? I would have selected Temple and they were just 1-1. Maybe Duquesne?
The pendulum has swung mightily and Pitt and their pendulum were near the bottom, having lost to Youngstown State at home and then they come back yesterday and shock the world by pounding over-rated Virginia Tech. They are Penn State. And that’s the problem…
10) Give it to me stat…And here’s what you get at the bottom of the Bucket:
Always good advice and we are happy to pass it along…
**** Troy Smith, arguably and statistically OSU’s greatest quarterback, came in as a run-oriented athlete playing QB. As a sophomore, Smith’s whole season totaled 339 rushing yards and 8 TD passes. Braxton had that many yards in his first two soph games! Now, to top Troy’s 30 senior-year passing touchdowns, Brax has to run less and look up the field more. Maybe his four TD passes yesterday will get him on track…
****Speaking of a “run of great quarterbacks”, top this: California’s coach Jeff Tedford is always noted as a developer of great QB’s. Check out the list of Aaron Rodgers, Kyle Boller, David Carr, Trent Dilfer, Joey Harrington and Akili Smith. All were Tedford pupils and all were NFL first-round draft picks.
****Despite Denard Robinson having over 800 yards total offense in the last two games alone, who is the Big Ten rushing leader? That’s right – Braxton Miller. Not just amongst quarterbacks but overall. Not Montee Ball or Le’Veon Bell or Robinson but Brax…
****After playing three teams that live off the pass, and after holding Miami to negative yardage rushing in the first game, the Bucks are an unaccustomed 31st in the nation against the run.
****And after getting virtually no pressure on the quarterback for the first two games, the Buckeyes now lead the Big Ten in sacks.
It’s been that kind of a year so far…
The Bucket is now closed – please come again!
We might get a week off next week (well, we do have to play against UAB but why split hairs), but the Bucket will be back to cover the world of college football – centered in Columbus, of course…