Preliminary not-quite-kneejerk stuff
So. Here we are. One day after the totally ultimate biggest game of the century of the year of the week. Yes, I was at a wedding reception back home in Michigan when the game kicked off. Yes, I broke down and left at about 8:35 EST, and watched the rest of the game at my parents' house. As such, I didn't watch the battle with my usual, uh ... "peeps," and have only thus far talked to Todd about the game -- aside from Reader Joel drunkenly calling me after the first touchdown of the game, repeatedly shouting "San Antonio Gonzalez!!!"
I'd love to be able to post promises about "in-depth analysis" and "formation breakdowns" or whatever, but there are myriad reasons why I can't: 1.) When it comes to sports, I am superstitious to an admittedly ludicrous degree -- the first three OSU football games I ever taped all turned out to be losses, each varying in levels of unexpectedness (The last one? Homecoming 2001 vs. Wisconsin. Things have worked out well since then, no?), and I haven't even thought about doing it ever since. Hence, I have no "game tape" to look back on or anything. 2.) Not that it would do any good, since, I mean ... I know dick-all about football (at least compared to basketball). Hell, I subscribe to the SMQ "My PS2's a better teacher than Bob Davie could ever be" school of football-wise learnin'. Lastly, 3.) Others already do it way better than I ever could.
However, I shall not remain silent. In the humble words of the immortal Jimmy Chitwood, "I got somethin' to say." Sort of. My one-day-later thoughts on what was a yooge win for the Buckeyes in Austin:
Okay seriously, if I read one more fucking review of the game from the MSM where they compare Troy Smith to Vince Young I’m just gonna … light myself on fire, or perform some other blandly hyperbolic Sports Guy-esque act of masochism. Troy never even crossed the line of scrimmage in this game! The comparisons between the two essentially go like this: “Black quarterback blah. Wear #10 blah. Blah blah played each other last year blah.” But I suppose in a sportswriting culture where the wildly racist moniker “The Tiger Woods of Poker” flourishes, this isn’t so surprising.
But back to Troy. The guy played a fantastic game, and while a certain ROAD WARRIORING defender probably made the two biggest plays, Troy controlled the contest from beginning to end. The progress he’s made over the last year or so is astonishing: at the end of 2004 and early last season, he used his mobility to escape from daunting situations, tucking and running for positive yardage. Now, he primarily uses his feet to buy himself more time in the pocket, constantly keeping his eyes downfield. With the receivers we’re trotting out this year, that’s probably even more deadly for defenses than Troy taking off on the ground. With the offensive line performing as well as they are, if Troy can buy himself an additional 3 or so seconds on top of the copious protection he’s already getting, you can pretty much guarantee that someone is gonna be open downfield.
As for the rest of the O: San Antonio Pittman remains supremely unheralded, and I couldn’t be happier. One of the OSU blogs we link to o’er thar on the sidebar said before the game that Pittman had been called “underrated” so many times by so many people that he was almost in danger of becoming overrated. After the Texas game, where he had scant few carries but was largely effective when given the ball (16 rushes, 75 yards – stats almost identical to those of Jamaal Charles for the game, begging the question of “Why do people think our running game was so bad when we didn’t try it all that often?”), the only lingering questions most of the media still has about the Bucks center on our “lack of a running game.” Make no mistake: the goal was to move the ball through the air, with a few runs mixed in to keep the D honest – an almost complete reversal of the bulk of Tressel’s tenure here (and it showed, as the Texas defense seemed legitimately flummoxed at times, not expecting us to pass so much, but I’ll touch on that later).
Nothing can be said about the receivers that hasn’t already been pointed out numerous times: they good. I was leery of “Teddy Inge: #1 Receiver” before the season, but he’s stepped up big-time, and the attention he’s getting makes legitimate threats like San Antonio Gonzalez and Brian Robiskie even more dangerous (and Roy Hall hasn’t even played a snap yet!) I touched on the O-Line but it can’t be said enough: best of the Tressel Era thus far. Aside from a few mistakes by Alex Boone, making something like his third career start at night, on the road, in friggin’ Texas game, they did yeoman’s work against a superb D-Line.
This was a little more iffy to me, specifically the linebackers. I know that Laurinaitis had 13 tackles and that he did legitimately make the two plays that were the two biggest reasons the Buckeyes won the game, but this group as a whole is still marginal at best against the run. The gaps are just not getting filled the way we’re used to seeing from an OSU linebacker unit, and the guys still aren’t getting off blocks well. Also, as has been commented on by just about every OSU blog already, John Kerr is toast, which I suppose should delight the Caveman. I never even noticed him in the game, never caught a glimpse of a red “52” coming close to making a play. Ross Homan seems to be the heir apparent. Marcus Freeman is good, not great, and I thought Curtis Terry saw an inordinate amount of time; maybe I’m crazy. These guys will be good, but I’m just not sold on them yet. Still, though: 12 points to Northern Illinois, and 7 to Texas. They’re doing something right.
Speaking of doing something right, the DL is as good as I hoped they would be. They reacted better to screen and swing passes this week, and they got consistent pressure on McCoy. The less said about the infuriating “helmet-to-helmet” penalty the better, but I just want to point out that SMQ likened it (at the very bottom) to last weekend, when a similar play happened in the ND-GT game: Quinn was drilled as he was running out of bounds, but the hit was clearly before he got out-of-bounds, so the officials had to scramble and say it was “helmet-to-helmet.” SMQ is right in saying that this is an off-putting, NFL-like “protect the QBs at all costs” trend, one I hope we don’t see any more of.
As Tressel predicted, we played an assload of guys on defense, young, inexperienced guys, on the road, at night, against Texas (I still can’t help saying that). They gave up yards, but they made the plays when they had to. Tons of commentators talked about how OSU has “answered the questions” about the defense, but I saw us getting gashed by the run a bit too often for me to be comfortable (still, though: seven points!), and it probably would have been worse had it not been for…
The DBs. “All-new,” as was pointed out ad nauseum by everyone before the season started, plainly ignoring the fact that Malcolm Jenkins was the #2 corner opposite Youboty for most of the second half of last season. Against No.Ill. they were rarely tested in the passing game, and were pitiful in run support, failing to shed blocks, taking bad angles and tackling poorly. Pretty much all of that was fixed in the Texas game, the good tackling being the most obvious improvement to me. Even when the LBs got beat, the secondary always cleaned it up, bottling up every potential big run (save one) at the 8-12 yard mark. They were much better reacting to screens, most notably when Antonio Smith blitzed, read “screen,” then immediately reversed field over toward the sideline and tackled the Texas running back just as he was catching the ball. Again, we didn’t see them challenged downfield very much, but because of the nature of television coverage we have no way of knowing if this was primarily because they were covering the receivers or because of conservative playcalling by Texas. The latter is undoubtedly part of the equation, but I have no clue how big. Also, I’m still scared of how they can deal with stretch plays, which we will almost undoubtedly see against Iowa, Minnesota, and Michigan.
Update: If you still feel that the defense "answered questions" or whatever, take a look at this analysis of the game, featuring video of every non-special-teams play from scrimmage in the entire game. The main defensive trends you'll notice from the replays are: 1.) Laurinaitis, despite getting heaps of praise nationally for the two yooge plays he made, really didn't have that good of a game, especially in run support (but ESPECIALLY Bart!). I'm having a hard time figuring out where those 13 tackles came from. 2.) The corners were excellent in run support, for the most part. And 3.) I think Texas threw the ball more than 5 yards downfield maybe 4 times in the game. Take all this for what it's worth, but check out the replays; if you got giddy about the D after Saturday night, this'll probably change your perspective at least a little. (HT: BC.)
Todd and I talked about this, but I was shocked by how unprepared to deal with our passing game Texas appeared to be. I saw Mack Brown say on SportsCenter that they prepared a lot for Troy Smith’s scrambling and for last year’s ever-present “If we’re in the red zone, we’re running the QB on a draw or sweep” gambit. And I guess that’s understandable, but … I still don’t know what to think. Is this more a “WTF, Mack?” or a “Huzzah, Tressel!” situation? We passed like crazy against No.Ill., but Brown and OMGene Chizik apparently felt that Saturday’s game would be more of a return to conventional “TresselBall” (Speaking of that, I forgot to mention that A.J. Trapasso’s yoogeness in this game cannot be overstated. He was positively Andy Boom-esque in the way he flat-out reversed field position. On the other hand, the placekicking still scares me, and is probably the one aspect of the team I’m most scared about.). They paid dearly for their miscalculation.
Colt McCoy is good. He’s very good for a freshman. In the future, I can totally see him becoming great. But he’s not there yet. Still, anyone who pins this loss on him is stupid.
Pinning it on Texas’s playcalling, on the other hand … that may hold some water. The guys over at Burnt Orange Nation have been harping on this almost literally since the game ended, but the question must be asked: why did Texas throw so much, especially since the running game appeared to be working? Now, I didn’t see the level of dominance on the ground that they apparently did (Really, our DL got “pushed around” by their OL? Really?), but McCoy put the ball in the air more times than Troy Smith. With a rushing attack (Rush ‘N Attack?) that averaged over 6 yards per carry for the game, what’s with all the throws?
What does all this mean for the Cincinnati game?
Probably nothing. In what I hope will be a multi-TV Saturday on Evan’s couch (Seriously, have you SEEN all the games that are gonna be on? I’ve got half a stock right now just thinking about it!), the game will naturally get our full attention, but it should be a blowout serving as a tune-up for the next weekend’s matchup against a frankly bizarre Penn State team that I just don’t know what to do with. Should be good times.