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September 24, 2013

THE OSU Review: Florida A & M

I'm just going to go ahead and trust that we can get through this after that weekend. So, pop a few alka-seltzers, forget UConn ever happened and read along to know thine enemy.

Contrary to popular belief and science, there was indeed another team on the field with the Buckeyes on Saturday. The Rattlers of Florida A&M showed up and ran around a little bit, but OSU could barely tell they were there.

Quarterback Braxton Miller sat out again with his bum knee, and Kenny Guiton put the finishing touches on his Twelfth Man of the Year award with silly numbers in one half of work (24-34 for 215 yards, six TDs and one INT). Six passing TDs is a school record for a single game, and the Buckeyes didn't even attempt a pass in the second half.

Honestly, there's nothing to break down here. This team continues to steal candy and score TDs with ease (which is how things are supposed to go against opponents like this), while also going for two-point (0 for 1) and fourth down (4-4) conversions whenever and wherever possible, because apparently the rulebook and Meyer's disposition actually prevent them from going for three.

The schedule toughens significantly with Wisconsin and its cheese-fed hogmollie running attack and stick-in-the-mud arm punter coming to town, so we should finally get a much clearer picture of what we're dealing with here this week. For now, we've got two weeks to emotionally eat our way back to a rational mindset and ponder why we live in a world in which we're just hoping to see in Michigan's offensive starters some of what Ohio sees in its backups.

When Ohio Was on Offense

As it stands now, the Buckeyes are exactly what the Michigan offense is not: consistent. There's serious depth at most of the skill positions, and QB Kenny G distributes the ball with ease, confidently allowing his playmakers to make plays. This was somewhat of a passing drill practice for this offense, with an entire game's worth of passing plays (34) getting called in the first half alone. Guiton had all the time in the world and found an entire depth chart's worth of receivers en route to a school-record six TD passes (none longer than 20 yards).

Turnovers, punt blocks and punt returns gave the offense incredible field position early, so drives were heavy on points and light on yardage. This team has outscored opponents 102-14 in first quarters this year. For some reason, they attempted a two-point conversion after the second TD, going with their previously used unbalanced formation with linemen and receivers split wide. The Rattlers snuffed this one out on their only moral victory of the day and what is now surely keeping Meyer up at night.

It's worth noting that Guiton almost threw a pick-six on his second pass, and then did throw an ugly pick in the end zone on a goal line rollout (he also later had an overthrow INT negated by penalty). So, you know, he's not like - perfect. As was probably expected, Florida A&M's DB promptly brought the ball out of the end zone and fumbled it right back to OSU on the three yard line, so there's that.

It seems Meyer heard the fan base chirping about not throwing to the tight ends because Guiton connected with Heuerman and Vannett early and often (six times for 70 yards and one TD). The TEs are athletic and capable pass catchers so the option is there should it become necessary going forward. Otherwise, Guiton spread the love around to 10 different pass catchers, with WR3 Evan Spencer nabbing two TDs. Freshman WR James Clark was the lone casualty in this game, going down with a bad leg injury on what was some of his first action of his career.

The second half, aka a waste of humanity's time, completely changed with third string QB Cardale Jones leading the charge and not even attempting a pass. He ran the read option with freshman RB Ezekiel Elliott, and Elliott looked impressive with 14 rushes for 162 yds and two TDs. Jones didn't get to throw at all, but he looked similar to Guiton: not necessarily an elite playmaker with his legs, but capable of distributing within the offense. Elliott is yet another talented back in a pretty crowded stable, more of the Carlos Hyde big-back variety.

Speaking of Hyde, he finally returned from suspension to great fanfare and applause - although they did not carry him out on their shoulders, which I thought was, you know, a thing. He had five carries for 41 yards and a one-yard TD reception. The coaches will likely split carries between Hyde and Jordan Hall (two TDs on not a lot of work) going forward, taking somewhat of a hot hand approach, but the competition at the position is fierce, so whoever gets to tote the rock will have earned it.

This offense has a lot of different looks and requires a defense to cover the entire field, running plenty of read option and WR screens out of various shotgun empty/single back formations, the pistol, etc. WRs are usually multiple and spread wide, with RBs largely hitting the edges on pitches and gives. Occasionally, the QB takes off or bombs it downfield.

While the O-Line is light, mobile, and built for zone-blocking, they do have some ability to pound the rock with TEs and Hyde, which is what enabled them to bleed clock late last year in the Big Ten. It's unclear how mobile Miller is going to be when he returns, so we're likely to see more of this distribution-heavy offense going forward.

I do think a defense with any pride whatsoever could disrupt Guiton (and Miller for that matter) with pressure, but he's certainly comfortable when he's got time. He hasn't exactly had much to worry about in three games of work, and with Miller likely to return as they head into the conference schedule, it's no guarantee we'll see him tested at all.

Disruption in the backfield with a front four along with solid tackling on the edges will definitely gum up the works, exchange points, and decision making for this unit, and this O-Line, while solid, is far from impenetrable. Since they conveniently avoid MSU's defense this year, we'll just have to wait and see if the Wisconsins and Northwesterns of the world can cobble any of that together.

Prediction: I'm Ron Burgundy? With the bodies Michigan has on its defensive front, along with a freshly reborn mayor of the backfield Jake Ryan, pressure should be something U-M can apply come November.

When Ohio Was on Defense

This was every bit the mismatch that the offense was, with the D only giving up 80 yards and two first downs on the day.

And you know what? There's literally nothing else worth saying about what went on out there, so let's look at some scheme and personnel.

OSU runs a 4-3, usually either "under" or "nickel over," with a one-tech nose guard, a three-tech DT, a five-tech SDE, and a weakside end they call the "viper." And just for due diligence, a primer: defensive football's numbering system (as it was delivered to Vince Lombardi via stone tablet) ascends to either side of the offensive center according to where the d-lineman line up, be it directly over that center (zero), shaded into a gap (odd number), or directly over an opposing o-lineman (even).

In this defense, as with Michigan's, the defensive linemen are shaded into gaps, with the nose generally lined up over the center's shoulder (to the strongside), the 3-tech over the gap between the weakside guard and tackle, and the 5-tech over the strongside gap between the tackle and TE (or other). The Viper wreaks havoc from the weakside primarily as a pass rusher and backside crasher, with the SDE and SAM LB on the other side. The WILL (weakside LB) and MIKE (middle LB) mind the gaps not covered by the D-Line.

The secondary is pretty straightforward and without G.I Joe names: two CBs along with a free and a strong safety.

With a great many starts and stats gone from the OSU line from last year (all four starters), this remains a serious work in progress. The DEs are largely covered, with viper Noah Spence and SDE (5-tech) Adolphus Washington looking very talented in their sophomore years (though Washington's missed the last couple games with injury).

Spence is an excellent rusher and often in the backfield, while Washington generally goes beast-mode (if you haven't completely blacked out the first half from last year's Game, you'll remember Washington beat Lewan to sack Gardner for a costly fumble in the first quarter). Behind those two, it's a little less formidable and largely inexperienced with freshman five-tech Joey Bosa (who's looked strong so far) and vipers Jamal Marcus and Steve Miller vying for time.

The real question is up the gut, as nose Joel Hale and 3-tech Michael Bennett are largely unknowns as every down starters, and DT Tommy Schutt, who got a lot of playing time last year as a run stuffer, went down with a broken leg. This has shuffled things around and put more of an onus on guys who haven't played a whole lot of meaningful minutes before this year (and still haven't against stout opponents), as well as work-in-progress backups like enormous sophomore Chris Carter (down to 340 lbs. from 400) and Chase Farris (who was switched back to defense from the OLine only recently).

The OSU coaches are very obviously trying to see what they've got and toughen up that middle, and we'll see how that's been going when Wisco runs right at them on Saturday.

Linebacker is another question mark, although All-Big-Ten WILL Ryan Shazier is an absolute tackle machine. But aside from Shazier, things are a little more dubious, with a lot being asked of longtime development project MIKE Curtis Grant and SAM Joshua Perry. These two have shown flashes of flowing well and wrapping up so far through four games, but consistency is a question and again we'll see how they handle teams that can blow up the line in front of them and get to that second level.

The secondary is the deepest, most experienced unit, with the safeties locked up by returning starters C.J. Barnett (free) and Christian Bryant (strong), both highly active with a lot of games under their belts. At corner, Bradley Roby is all-conference and generally not thrown at very much, while Doran Grant is a talented, young CB2, with Armani Reeves waiting in the wings. While there is depth and production here, tackling and wrapping up in space have been issues, as was the case last year, so there's more to prove here too to some degree, although probably more so against the run and not so much against Badger handoff extraordinaire, QB Joel Stave.

So, long story short, there's talent on defense, some of it extremely dangerous at DE, Shazier, and in the secondary. But elsewhere, and largely up the middle, there are some underdeveloped players thrust into starting roles. Some of them will probably become serviceable, while others could leave much to be desired. How it shakes out, we shall have to wait and see. But lord knows there's been plenty of garbage time to go around so far. We'll see how they do in the fire.

Special Teams

Once again, not a lot to see here, aside from a side-winding 65-yard punt return by Philly Brown. Drew Basil got all tuckered out kicking XPs, so even backup kicker Kyle Clinton got to kick a few. OSU only punted once and didn't get to return any kickoffs. Future battles for field position will be interesting to monitor, as there are capable returners on this team and a so-far-so-good kicking game.

What Does It All MEAN?

With the patsy portion of the year largely over, Ohio heads into Big Ten play as a seemingly well-oiled machine. But a lot of questions still remain: Is Miller healthy and can he outperform Guiton? How tough is this defense really? Is tackling going to be a season-long issue? Is the offense too reliant on the big play? There's a great deal that we just don't know about this team, but answers will come flooding in over the next two weeks.

The run defense will be tested when Wisconsin comes to town so I'll be watching the front seven closely to see how they hold up against tougher competition. They'll likely overwhelm the box all game and dare Stave to throw, but Wisco might be the only team in the conference with a better RB situation than the Buckeyes. If the Badgers can move the chains and keep Urban's spread on the sidelines, they'll likely have a chance in this one.

Welcome to the conference, Gary Andersen. You're one of our only hopes.

Clearly, OSU is all aflutter in looking like the Big One in the B12, but they know they haven't been truly tested yet and thankfully there is a loooong time between now and November. May Operations Interior OLine Maturation and QB Emotional Well-being commence … godspeed.

The Road to an SEC Evisceration

Aug. 31 Ohio 40 - Buffalo 20
Sept. 7 Ohio 42 -- San Diego St. 7
Sept. 14 Ohio 52 - Cal 34
Sept. 21 Ohio 76 -- Florida A&M 0
Sept. 28 Wisconsin
Oct. 5 @ Northwestern
Oct. 19 Iowa
Oct. 26 Penn St.
Nov. 2 @ Purdue
Nov. 16 @ Illinois
Nov. 23 Indiana
Nov. 30 @ Michigan

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