What we learned last week:
Ohio State can play average on the road and win by 25 points, and the BCS computers might still be the Buckeyes’ worst enemy.
Carlos Hyde’s two long breakaway runs in the fourth quarter skewed the score somewhat, but I still think it was relatively representative of the difference between the two teams.
That is particularly true when considering the state of the Ohio State defense because of injuries. Having already lost veteran safety Christian Bryant earlier in the season, the Buckeyes went into play Saturday without two starting linebackers in its base defense and the No. 1 and 2 options in the middle of the nickel set.
While I saw at least a couple of people lamenting the struggles of the Silver Bullets and 35 points were more than I expected them to give up, Illinois deserves credit for having a pretty good offense. Nathan Scheelhaase lacks the consistency to be a great player, but he is talented and can make plays with both his arm and his feet. He has several serviceable options to throw to, and Donovonn Young and Steve Hull could play for a lot of teams.
The Buckeyes enjoyed an advantage on the edge with their pass rushers, and they took advantage of it, but Illinois showed some fight despite being clearly outmanned.
I also felt like Ohio State tried to get a little too fancy coming off a bye week, especially with new faces in the defensive lineup. I have not had a chance to go back and watch again yet, but my impression was the Buckeyes were better off when they stuck with their four-man line and played it straight up against the varied attack of the Fighting Illini.
Offensively, the Buckeyes exhibited their clear advantage up front, but I felt they waited too long to do it. Tom Herman admitted Monday he might have underestimated the impact of the wind on the passing game, though he stressed that was not a total excuse for Braxton Miller’s inconsistency.
Miller certainly looked like a different guy than the ultra efficient player he was in the previous few games, but I don’t think it’s time to sound any alarms. On the bright side, he looked great when he tucked it and ran, be it on the zone read, a scramble or a designed run.
We already knew how good Carlos Hyde can be, and he gave a hint about how he is continuing to improve by revealing some of his success came from being able to anticipate where some of his holes might be thanks to film study. The future obviously seems very bright for him, though he has some unfinished business before his Ohio State career is over.
As for those computers, they not only lack respect for what the Buckeyes have done on the field, their formulas don’t seem to jibe with the Big Ten’s brand of football in general. All four Big Ten teams in the BCS top 25 this week have lower computer averages than poll averages, and that is dragging them all down accordingly.
That’s interesting to note given all the concern about the national perception of Ohio State, which is third in both human polls that are part of the BCS but fourth or worse in all but one of the six computer rankings.
What we can expect to learn this week:
Although another trouncing at the hands of Wisconsin didn’t show it, Indiana offers a greater challenge to the Buckeyes than did Illinois.
I actually feel like it’s been forever since I was able to write that about two teams on this schedule, but here we are.
Kevin Wilson’s team has a two-headed quarterback attack, two good running backs (though one is injured) and an improving offensive line. The receivers have been a strong point for quite some time, so this will be an interesting test to the Buckeyes in a lot of ways.
Indiana might not have very good timing, though, as bouncing back from a physical beating like it received from Wisconsin is never easy, and I got the impression from the Ohio State players and their head coach they did not feel like they left it all on the field at Illinois.
They were happy for a 25-point win, but Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes stressed they saw plenty of things to fix in Champaign. That is consistent with the type of attitude the team has had all year, and I don’t think it’s an act. They know they have no margin for error, and they have prepared and played like that for most of the season despite more than a few injuries.
Ohio State defenders might feel like they have something to prove this year after getting embarrassed in Bloomington last season, too, and it might be worth remembering Indiana also played Ohio State tough at Ohio Stadium two years ago.
That was not a vintage Buckeye team, but memories of some success might serve the Hoosiers well on this next mission in enemy territory.
Beyond that, it will of course be interesting to see what develops across the country.