Welcome to our premium postgame feature What We Learned. Here we go following Ohio State's 21-14 overtime victory at Wisconsin on Saturday to remain perfect on the season.
Philly doing his best Ginn imitation.
We learned the shades of 2002 continue
Well, minus the whole “Being able to play for the national championship” part.
The week before Ohio State met Michigan in 2002, it won in overtime on the road against Illinois. Also during that season, the Buckeyes found a way to gut out several close wins. Not two or three; more like five or six. Sound familiar?
Early in today’s game, it looked like the No. 6 Buckeyes (11-0, 7-0 Big Ten) were going to roll to an unexpected easy victory over the Badgers (7-4, 4-3). While many OSU fans thought the Buckeyes would win, it was Wisconsin who entered play as a 2.5-point favorite. But even fans who expected a Buckeye victory didn’t think it would come easy. Yet there OSU was with a two-touchdown lead in the second quarter as the Camp Randall Stadium fans sat in shock.
However, not many wins come easy for Ohio State this season and that was certainly the case in Madison. The Badgers scored a touchdown with eight seconds left in regulation to force overtime, but the Buckeyes steamrolled their way to victory in the extra session.
The offense – which had been dormant the entire second half – scored a touchdown with ease. And then the defense stepped up with a quick stop of Wisconsin’s offense as junior safety Christian Bryant batted down a pass on fourth down with a diving effort.
The 2002 team is celebrating its 10-year anniversary this season (more on that later) and the 2012 Bucks are doing their best to honor them in every way. Even OSU head coach Urban Meyer – known best for his aggressive, innovative offensive style – was surprisingly content to play “Tresselball” after the Buckeyes got the lead. It almost cost OSU, but just like in 2002, it never did.
We learned Simon was a nightmare for the Badgers
Well, the week off certainly did wonders for OSU senior defensive lineman John Simon. He was so banged up during the Penn State game three weeks ago he could barely pick himself up off the field after most plays.
A rejuvenated Simon played his best game of the season and probably his career as he dominated his man on nearly every snap and finished with four sacks and several other disruptive plays. Wisconsin began the game trying to block Simon one-on-one, but eventually decided to double team him on most plays.
Simon, known more for his run-stuffing skills than his pass-rushing, now leads the Buckeyes with nine sacks on the season.
It was also another excellent game for Ohio State sophomore linebacker Ryan Shazier who racked up 12 tackles, including two for loss. That gives him a team-leading 110 tackles and 13.5 TFLs on the year. Shazier had a great play near the goal line when he popped Montee Ball and forced a fumble. Ball had a big game with 39 carries for 191 yards, but Shazier's play prevented him from breaking the NCAA all-time Division I/FBS record for career touchdowns (he currently has 78 and did tie the record against OSU with an impressive 9-yard run).
One has to think Simon and Shazier are shoo-ins for the first-team All-Big Ten squad. You can put cornerback Bradley Roby and probably defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins on that list as well. Four players on the first-team all-league team? Well, we’ll see if it actually materializes first, but not bad for a team that supposedly didn’t have much talent on the defensive side of the ball.
We learned Philly continues to impress
What a game from Buckeye junior wide receiver/punt returner Corey “Philly” Brown who made the most out of the few chances he received. There’s been a lot of talk about the offensive linemen – and rightfully so – but perhaps no individual player on OSU’s roster has improved more from last year than Brown. He shows playmaking ability as a wideout and has now been a difference-maker on special teams in two of OSU’s biggest games: the 63-38 win over Nebraska and today.
Against the Cornhuskers, he broke off a 76-yard punt return for a touchdown when the game was still very much in doubt at 42-31 OSU in the third quarter. And today against the Badgers, Brown opened the scoring with an extremely-impressive 68-yard punt return TD. He hopped to the left and then bolted up the middle like he was shot out of a cannon. Dare I say it was Ted Ginn-esqe? Yes, yes, I do.
Brown also had four receptions for 48 yards, giving him a team-leading 52 for 574 on the season.
By the way, it was very encouraging from OSU’s point of view to see the return of sophomore WR Devin Smith as an integral part of the offense. Smith – who started the season strong but has been dormant the last few weeks – hauled in four catches for 41 yards and looked good doing it. He doesn’t have the slipperiness of Brown, but has great straight-line speed and did a good job today of going north-south and getting what he could after catching the ball. I’d still like to see sophomore Evan Spencer a lot more involved in the passing game, but it was good to see Brown and Smith step up against UW.
We learned Buckeyes didn’t go to Hyde enough in the middle part of the game
Despite playing without standout junior linebacker Chris Borland, Wisconsin’s defense seemed to have a great feel for what OSU was doing for most of the game. The Buckeyes were content to run sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller who finished with very-pedestrian numbers (10-of-18 passing for 97 yards; 23 carries for 48 yards). However, it was junior running back Carlos Hyde that was hurting the Badgers the most and he didn’t get as many touches as he should have, especially during the third quarter.
Hyde finished with good numbers – 15 carries for 87 yards and two touchdowns – but this is a game where he should have been over 100 yards. As for his seasonal totals, how does 824 rushing yards (5.2 yards per carry) and 16 touchdowns (15 rushing) sound? Keep in mind, that's despite the fact he missed two full games (and most of another) with a knee injury early in the season.
As for Miller, he now has 1,214 rushing yards on the season, but it looks like you can put a fork in his Heisman campaign ... if you hadn’t already. I don’t see a scenario where he even gets an invite to New York at this point, short of an unbelievable performance against Michigan. Oh well, there’s always 2013 (and probably 2014 too) to worry about Heisman implications for Miller.
We learned ‘The Game’ is shaping up to be a good one as usual
Ohio State will obviously be favored, but No. 21 Michigan (8-3, 6-1) has answered its glaring question at quarterback and it will be a tough game. Not only did Denard Robinson return for the Wolverines’ 42-17 rout of visiting Iowa today (although he didn’t throw a pass and actually started the game at RB), but Devin Gardner put on a show with six touchdowns (three passing, three rushing) and 351 yards of total offense (314 passing, 37 rushing). It’s clear that UM has decided to play both quarterbacks moving forward and that gives OSU’s defense something else to prepare for entering this matchup.
Gardner has performed very well the last three weeks, but do we really know how proficient he is? He’s looked good against three porous defenses in Minnesota, Northwestern and Iowa. But the bottom line is that he brings a passing threat that the Wolverines did not have with just Robinson at the helm. And now with Robinson back, they also have the explosive running element that he brings to the table (Robinson’s injury is nerve damage in his right [throwing] elbow.) I’m not a fan of two-QB systems, so perhaps this is something that will end up blowing up in UM’s face against Ohio State, but there’s no question the Wolverines feel much better about their QB situation than a few weeks ago when Joe Bauserman clone Russell Bellomy took over for an injured Robinson during a loss at Nebraska.
Gardner, the former quarterback turned wide receiver, was moved back to QB and has played better than anyone expected. He’s also expected to receive a fifth year of eligibility, meaning he will have two years left at UM after this one (listed as a junior, but you can consider him a third-year sophomore).
Michigan’s offense did take a serious hit during its win over Iowa as starting running back Fitzgerald Toussaint from Youngstown – who rushed for over 1,000 yards last year – was lost for the rest of the season with a nasty lower-leg injury. That means UM is down to senior Vincent Smith and sophomore Thomas Rawls as its top-two tailbacks. Although, there is no doubt Robinson will receive the most of the carries against OSU.
Also, while it’s void of any stars, Michigan has a solid defense, due in large part to coordinator Greg Mattison. That said, Miller as a true freshman put up 34 points on UM’s defense last year running a Jim Bollman offense. The Buckeyes have to feel good about their chances to move the ball and score enough points to prevail in “The Game.” It will be paramount for Urban Meyer to win his first game in the rivalry, especially with the contest being in Columbus.
Yes, it’s officially “The Game” week and it feels good to talk about it. It’s always the biggest game of the season for the Buckeyes. But this year, it will feel like the Michigan game plus the bowl game all rolled into one.
Add in the fact that OSU can finish with an improbable 12-0 record and the 2002 national championship team will be honored – complete with Jim Tressel making his first appearance back at the Horseshoe – and it’s going to be an incredible atmosphere next Saturday.
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