What we learned last week: The Ohio State football team actually has more weapons than it knows what to do with, and Kenny Guiton really can run the Buckeyes for an extended period of time if necessary.
Throttling a team that played as poorly as San Diego State did (despite expectations of making a bowl this season, as the Aztecs did in 2012) does not call for too much jubilation, but it was an aesthetically pleasing win that perhaps some needed after the ugly opener against Buffalo.
I was surprised about how much handwringing the 20-point win against the Bulls caused, although maybe I shouldn’t have been.
Concern about style points for Ohio State when it comes to the national title race will at some point be legitimate, but I don’t think the Buffalo game was bad enough to cost the Buckeyes in the long run (An ill-informed discussion on ESPN College GameDay might prove me wrong, but I’m not sure how much their heart was really in it. They’ve got an extra hour to fill this year, after all). The Buckeyes will get plenty more chances to shine against inferior foes this year, and anyway going undefeated should do the trick because the odds more than one other team in a power conference does that are very low. But I am getting away from the point.
When five-star sophomore Brionte Dunn can’t get off the bench, the backfield must be pretty talented at Ohio State. Rod Smith, Warren Ball and even true freshman Ezekiel Elliott all look like they can handle toting the rock between the tackles while Jordan Hall and Dontre Wilson exploit seams on the outside.
Tight ends Jeff Heuerman and Nick Vannett both got into the act in the passing game, and they showed some versatility as they moved all over the variety of formations Urban Meyer and offensive coordinator Tom Herman used throughout the day.
Veteran receivers Devin Smith and Philly Brown combined for 13 catches for 119 yards, though both could have had larger days if they could have broken a tackle or two on short passes.
Guiton surprised with his nimbleness running the option, where he proved decision making really is an underrated skill because he seemed to have SDSU guessing what he would be doing a lot of the time. I think he’s historically been considered a little bette runner than he actually is, but he provided another example that space can be as important as speed when it comes to making plays in a spread offense.
While they are telling the truth when the coaches say they don’t have to call different plays (other than the quarterback power Meyer described in the preseason as essentially single wing football) for Guiton than Braxton Miller, the senior backup is more of a facilitator. That can work for this offense because there are so many options worth facilitating, with more perhaps on the way before the season is over.
Regardless of who is in the game, the quarterback in Meyer’s offense has the No. 1 task of making sure the player with the potential to do the most damage ends up with the ball. Sometimes that is him if the defense is preoccupied with the running back, but it can also be the receiver with one-on-one coverage downfield or the quicksilver Wilson on the outside with a pair of blockers in front of him.
A bounce-back performance by the offensive line was important, too, as confidence can be key to developing chemistry. There were times the playcalling got a bit predictable and they were running into a stacked box, but I never saw anything that seemed to qualify as a missed assignment – an unblocked defender who should have been accounted for messing up the play.
Overall, it was a good step up from week one.
What can we expect to learn this week:
Can the Buckeyes take their show on the road and replicate it? The first week, while not worth worrying about long term, did show that for all its talent this team is still raw.
The ceiling might be high, but it won’t be reached by going through the motions between now and November.
Taylor Deckers don’t become Reid Fragels overnight (neither did Reid Fragel, for that matter). David Boston might have scored the first couple of times he touched the ball in college, but he did not become a reliable weapon in the passing game until the second half of his freshman season. The latter could be worth remembering as the packages including Wilson, a fellow Texas native, gradually expand and he is trusted to do more this season.
For a period of time in the offseason I started to think California could present a formidable challenge with a new coach and (theoretically at least) BCS-conference caliber players, but so far I haven’t seen a lot to indicate that is the case – at least as long as the Buckeyes show up in Berkely with their business suits on.
How Ohio State attacks the Bears spread offense should be interesting.
The game plan against San Diego State was praised for appearing more aggressive, but I’m not sure I would read much into that. The explanation for tighter coverage could be as simple as facing a two-back offense lets them feel more comfortable locking in and attacking because there is less space to worry about.
Obviously the return of Bradley Roby helps, too, as it put an All-American candidate in the boundary and moved the team's 2nd-best CB to the field instead of the No. 3 guy, but pressing a two-back team and pressing a spread team are two very different propositions.
The Buckeyes played a large amount of base defense and looked good doing it this past Saturday. My sense before watching it on tape again is Curtis Grant played more aggressively, and having a full game of Ryan Shazier helped, too.
Leverage and tackling continued to be strong, and Joey Bosa was very impressive at 5-technique in place of Adolphus Washington. He is a powerful athlete who attacks.
This week it is back to the spread world – so prepare to be frustrated by how the defense reacts – but worry more about points allowed than yards. They'll likely concede a fair amount of short passes, especially in front of Doran Grant, who will be in the roll Armani Reeves was against Buffalo as the field corner. His job will be to make a sure tackle to assure a short gain because he will probably be playing off the line of scrimmage. Then they'll see how patient and efficient Cal can/is willing to be with its approach.