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Monday, November 16, 2015

Everything Ohio State after a 28-3 Win over Illinois


Zeke Elliott is now just 204 rushing yards away from passing Eddie George for 2nd place on OSU's all-time list.
Playing in a likely-haunted Memorial Stadium, Ohio State methodically defeated Illinois, 28-3, improving to a perfect 10-0 behind Ezekiel Elliott and another stout effort from the Silver Bullets. 
The victory stretched Ohio State's national-best winning streak to 23, served as the school's 30th consecutive regular season conference win and improved Urban Meyer to 28-0 in the months of October and November during his Buckeye tenure. 
With the Illini properly handled Ohio State has finally made it past what felt like a 10-game preseason slate. Finally, things get real as the Buckeyes begin the stretch run against Michigan State next weekend kicking off a gauntlet that – if all goes well – will also feature a trip to Michigan, the B1G championship game and two tests in the College Football Playoff. 
Of course, looking too far ahead can spell disaster so before focusing our attention solely on the Spartans here's one last look at Five Things from Ohio State's decision over the Illini in Champaign. 


The offense once again leaned on the broad shoulders of Ezekiel Elliott and as usual he delivered.
After a pedestrian (for him) first half produced nine carries for 47 yards (5.2 ypc) and zero touchdowns Elliott took over the final 30 minutes rushing for 134 yards and two touchdowns on 18 totes (7.4 ypc) giving him a final stat line of 27 rushes for 181 yards. 
Zeke was especially dominant on OSU's second possession of the 2nd half with the Buckeyes holding a 14-3 lead. As part of an 11-play, 75 yard drive, Elliott carried it seven times for 50 yards (7.1 ypc) including a one-yard touchdown plunge effectively putting the game out of reach at 21-3 midway through the 3rd quarter. 
The 181 yards served as his second-best outing this year and made it 20 straight games rushing for at least 100 yards tying him with some guy named Eddie George for second place all-time in school history. 
Elliott's big day also saw him move into third place on the program's all-time rushing list with 3,565 yards putting him just 204 yards from passing George for second place. Finally, Zeke's two touchdown jaunts gave him 36 for his career slotting him fifth in the school's record book. 
Amid all the accolades, the expectation is that Zeke's workload will only increase as the real season starts Saturday. As such, I looked back at last year's first 10 games and noted Elliott recorded 185 touches (167 rush, 18 rec) during the span. This year, Zeke already sits at 220 touches (220 rush, 24 rec). 
Elliott obviously doesn't look tired – he's still doling out punishment as a runner and blocker with great vengeance and furious anger – but this could be something to watch as Ohio State moves forward. 


With the kind of success Ohio State has enjoyed this year and certainly during Meyer's tenure in Columbus glaring weaknesses have been the exception to the rule. 
Chase Farris has struggled with consistency as Ohio State's starting right tackle.
Earlier this year there was significant worry about Ohio State's run defense and the depth at wide receiver could be better but right now the chief concerns are Chase Farris at right tackle and the inconsistency at place kicker. 
I hate to single out individual players in a negative way but Farris was flat out awful yesterday. He committed a false start for at least the second week in a row, this one turning a 4th and 6 into a 4th and 11 though Ohio State still converted late in the 1st half. 
The flag however was nothing in comparison to his pass protection which has been a real issue for the better part of the season. He gave ground so easily yesterday that J.T. Barrett often couldn't even get to his second progression before Chase was almost backed up directly into him.
With Michigan State's Shilique Calhoun coming to town, Ohio State's staff will have to come up with a game plan to keep him from camping out in the OSU backfield. I certainly don't envision tight ends Marcus Baugh and Nick Vannett having another combined four reception afternoon as they will likely have to stay on the line of scrimmage and help Farris deal with Calhoun among other strategies. 
At kicker, Urban burned Sean Nuernberger's redshirt vaulting him past Jack Willoughby on the depth chart this week and Nuernberger responded by missing a 24-yard field goal in the 1st quarter. 
Through 10 games the duo has made just seven of 12 field goal tries (58%) with a long of 39 yards. That sounds not good. 


Darron Lee gets most of the love when folks talk about Ohio State's linebackers but yesterday I thought both Joshua Perry and Raekwon McMillan had strong afternoons. 
McMillan led the defense with 14 tackles including two for loss including half a sack while Perry added nine stops, a quarterback hurry and his own half sack. 
In an interesting twist the linebackers played a lot of man coverage matched up against wide receivers yesterday. Typically, that should be an unfavorable matchup and while a handful of passes were completed they often weren't chunk plays and on many both McMillan and especially Perry had tight coverage on smaller, faster players. 
Who knows how much the staff will use a similar strategy going forward but I was encouraged by the pass coverage efforts from these two. With Michigan State boasting a strong passing attack and Jack Rudock's recent improvement for Michigan, the back seven's collectively ability to defend the pass will go a long way toward entering the B1G championship game at 12-0. 


With Ohio State's passing attack ranked in the bottom half of the B1G for a slew of reasons the one constant has been outstanding play from Mike Thomas. 
CantGuardMike, indeed.
On a day when the Buckeyes mustered just 150 yards through the air Thomas accounted for more than half of it with six grabs for 76 yards and a touchdown. 
Thomas was especially impressive on Ohio State's second possession of the day as he hung on to a 22-yard reception over the middle after taking a big hit from a rotating safety and one-upped himself on the very next play snatching a 24-yard touchdown near the front left pylon giving the Buckeyes a 7-0 lead. 
On a team with marginal pass protection and revolving quarterbacks Thomas has recorded a touchdown in seven of the last eight games and in eight of 10. 
Saturday's effort gives him 45 receptions for 651 yards for the year. If Thomas can continue his current pace and Ohio State reaches the title game he'll finish at right around 976 receiving yards. 
That would be short of becoming just the fifth 1,000 yard receiver in school history but anything over 946 would give him a top 10 single-season in Buckeye lore. 


Illinois came into yesterday's game averaging 144.3 yards on the ground. 
On 25 carries against the Silver Bullets they managed 20 rushing yards or 0.8 per carry and earned just four first downs via running plays. 
Ohio State's three sacks for -22 yards helped deflate the Illini's rushing total (62 Rush Yards Gained) but the improved effort from the Silver Bullets to stop the run the last few weeks can't be overlooked.  
Looking at the last five weeks Ohio State's rush defense has turned a corner. Five games ago they surrendered a ridiculous 253 to Maryland followed by another 195 to Penn State. From there however they yielded 104 to Rutgers before holding Minnesota to a paltry 33 yards ahead of shutting down Illinois. 
Obviously Ohio State's defensive line has been a huge key to the resurgence as Joey Bosa is playing his best football since arriving in Columbus alongside the steady play of Tyquan Lewis and Adolphus Washington. 
McMillan has also been more impactful in run support over the span aided by improved play from OSU's trio of nose guards and Vonn Bell continues to look like the school's surest tackler since Mike Doss. 

Ten Things We Learned from Ohio State's 28-3 Win Over Illinois

1. There is finally some triple option at play. Maybe.
The Buckeyes teased the triple option early in this game when they went with Ezekiel Elliott and Braxton Miller in split backs and the give went to Elliott up the middle with Miller and J.T. Barrett executing a bit of a fake of a possible pitch. The next move, of course, is to employ the read element into the triple option.
It would seem to me that a defense having to pick their poison between Elliott up the middle or facing a Barrett and Miller duo out wide could cause problems. Urban Meyer wants more big hits in the running game, and if the receivers can hold their blocks, those big hits could come from a defense being forced to commit to stopping the inside game and then having to deal with Barrett either keeping it or pitching it out to Miller.
Either way, no matter how it turns out, having Barrett on the trigger of a triple option involving Ezekiel Elliott and Braxton Miller is worth the price of admission. Though it would be pointless just to do it once or twice. Or never do it at all after teasing it on Illinois. And these are all thoughts going through Mark Dantonio’s head right now because Ohio State had to go and show the triple option that they may or may not bother to use ever again.
2. The Buckeyes haven’t needed to be complicated and may not need to be.
It was a pretty simple offensive attack on Saturday, and if simple is working, there isn’t usually a need to get complicated. Pounding Ezekiel Elliott up the middle has yet to lose a game, so why not keep at it? There was no reason to do anything more than the Buckeyes did on offense on Saturday. Style points aren’t necessary for an undefeated Ohio State team. And anyway, they still won by more than Notre Dame did against an even worse Wake Forest team.
Though it makes you wonder — can this version of the Buckeye offense even get complicated? If they are as good as the individual talents that populate this offense, however, they shouldn’t have to get complicated. But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t turn things up a notch when the time comes. If simple isn’t working, then simple eventually gives way to stupidity, and Urban Meyer’s offense has never really struck me as stupid.
3. The linebackers were attacked in the passing game with good and bad results.
Illinois really did a fantastic job of spreading the Buckeyes out and attacking the linebackers in the passing game. The Illini didn’t win every battle, which is a plus for the Buckeyes, but they would have certainly won even more if Wes Lunt was remotely accurate. This would have been a much closer game if Lunt could have hit his open receivers. I would expect offenses to follow suit moving forward, just as they have done successfully against Michigan’s linebackers. The difference between the two, however, is that Ohio State’s linebackers are better. That doesn’t mean they can’t get beaten in the passing game, however.
4. Urban Meyer is going to do everything he can to keep from having a game decided by his kickers.
If Ohio State was down by two with 50 seconds to play with a fourth-and-1 from the 20-yard line, do you think Urban Meyer would attempt a field goal or go for it? The fact that he would even have to think about it is a problem, and coaches hate having to think about stuff like this. As such, he isn’t even going to want to be put into this kind of decision, so I assume he will do whatever he can to avoid the football math that would allow this. I imagine his two-point conversion chart will have a “How to avoid the game coming down to a field goal” column on his spreadsheet.
5. Michael Thomas is a tough, tough dude.
Michael Thomas took the biggest hit of his Buckeye career in the first quarter of the Illinois game. He then spent a minute or two getting his wind back and then he went out there on the very next play and beat his man in a one-on-one situation because that’s just what he does.
Anybody can take a hit, but it’s the knowing that the hit is coming and still holding onto the ball that makes a player tough. Thomas knew he was going to get hit, but he also knew that he was going to get hit whether or not he caught the ball, so he decided to go ahead and catch it.

6. The missed tackles aren’t going to make the coaches happy.
Urban Meyer likes to talk about how last year’s team had the fewest missed tackles in the nation, and so it is not going to go unnoticed when his defense misses a handful of tackles against the Illini. This has been a few weeks in a row with a couple of bad misses. The good thing, however, is that the missed tackles still stick out and don’t just blend in with all of the other missed tackles. They are still few and far between, but that doesn’t mean Chris Ash, Luke Fickell, and Urban Meyer are going to be cool with it. It only takes one bad miss to lose a game.
7. Joey Bosa is the forgotten man, somehow.
We don’t often learn anything new about Joey Bosa anymore because we’ve seen him do what he does for three years now. You know how people who live next to a major national landmark say they’ve never been to the landmark or never visit it? That’s sort of like covering the Buckeyes and not bothering to write about Joey Bosa in some form or fashion. After all, it’s all been said already.
But that doesn’t mean we should ignore what he does. You’re only going to see him for five more games at most as a Buckeye, so go ahead and soak it in because you may not ever see another one like him. And that goes for me as well, as I sit and think about what I should be writing and almost forget to include Joey Bosa. What he does is extraordinary, and yet it is commonplace to those who have watched the Buckeyes.
It’s like living next to the railroad tracks. Eventually you can’t even hear the sound of Joey Bosa destroying backfields anymore because you’re so used to it.
8. The pass blocking concerns are real.
The statistics say that J.T. Barrett was only sacked once, but they don’t necessarily tell you the number of times he had to avoid a rush before he could properly get set to throw the ball. The Buckeye offensive line has had trouble with speed rushers this season, and they’re about to run into some pretty solid pass rushers the rest of the way out.
The offensive line also had trouble picking up blitzes on Saturday, and that will need to be addressed as well. Urban Meyer said that his team will spend an awful lot of time focused on pass protection this week in practice, and for good reason. If they can give Barrett a little more time, then the play action that Meyer so desperately wants to rely upon can actually be utilized.
9. Nothing is ever easy at Illinois.
Even when the Buckeyes win by 25 points — which they have done their last two trips to Illinois — things aren’t exactly simple. Scoring 28 points isn’t nearly as impressive as the 60 points they scored in Champaign back in 2013, but the three points they gave up this time around is a whole lot better than the 35 they allowed two years ago.
A championship team shouldn’t ever need 60 points to win a game, so the ability to score that many points isn’t nearly as important as the ability to hold somebody to three points. It’s not as flashy, but there’s something to be said for a team that can win a game with only a couple of scores.
But ultimately none of this matters because what happens at Illinois has no real reason for happening and to compare it to anything else is comparing apples to orangutans.
10. Vonn Bell is fun to watch in the open field.
I like watching football when a swing pass is thrown into the flats to a slot receiver and a safety comes flying in to eliminate the play immediately. Vonn Bell is pretty good at that and he rarely gets exposed for being in too much of a hurry.
Bell is considered a ball hawk, but that doesn’t just mean interceptions and scooping and scoring. It also means lining up ball carriers and receivers and stopping them before they get started. We hear about getting playmakers “in space”, but having a guy like Bell out there with them confines that space greatly, rarely leaving room for any kind of significant gain.

PLAYOFF PULSE: Scratch off Stanford; Baylor in big trouble

Scratch Stanford off the list of College Football Playoff contenders. Actually, just make it the whole Pac-12.
Baylor is in big trouble, too. And the Bears' loss could be Notre Dame's gain.
The Cardinal were felled by a familiar nemesis Saturday night, losing to Oregon 38-36 in a game that left the Pac-12's playoff hopes in a precarious position. A couple of hours later, Utah was upset in overtime, 37-30 by Arizona, leaving the Pac-12 with no team with less than two losses.
Stanford (8-2) had been rolling since losing its opener against Northwestern, but now the Cardinal have likely been relegated to spoilers. They finish the regularseason against No. 6 Notre Dame (9-1), which was fourth in the latest selection committee rankings.
Last year the Big 12 was the Power Five conference left out of final four. Barring some very bizarre events over the last few weeks of the season, the Pac-12 is most likely to get left out this season.
The best the Pac-12 can do for its championship game would be 10-2 Stanford against 10-2 Utah.
Good news for the Big 12, where the focus has flipped from the Lone Star state to the Sooner state.
Baylor had its unbeaten season ended at home by Oklahoma, 44-34.
"Go into their backyard on a night like tonight and play this way, you know, we're one of those teams that has a chance," Sooners coach Bob Stoops said.
Baylor and TCU were the favorites coming into the season, but now it looks as if Bedlam will decide the Big 12. No. 12 Oklahoma (9-1) plays No. 5 Oklahoma State (10-0) in Stillwater on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.
The Cowboys came from 17 down to rally for a 35-31 win at Iowa State.
The Bears (8-1), with their flimsy nonconference schedule, had been in unbeaten-or-bust mode this season. Oklahoma was their first major test, and Baylor failed. The Bears go to Oklahoma State next week and still play TCU and Texas. There is time for things to break the Bears way, but not many chances for quality wins. Meanwhile, TCU barely got by Kansas on Saturday, and star quarterback Trevone Boykin left early with an injury.
Those Big 12 developments have to help Notre Dame. If the Irish can run the table and finish 11-1 with victories against Stanford and USC and a two-point loss at Clemson, they have to like their chances against an 11-1 Big 12 champion. Remember, Notre Dame opened the season by hammering Texas, the team that beat Oklahoma.
NEW NO. 1?
At the top of the playoff rankings, Clemson, Alabama and Ohio State all won, but the results could give the selection committee reason to reconsider its No. 1.
The Tigers have held the top spot the last two weeks, but came out a bit flat defensively in a classic letdown game against Syracuse. A week after beating Florida State at home, Deshaun Watson and Co. never could pull away from the Orange in a 37-27 victory in the Carrier Dome.
"I know everybody thinks that we should just show up, go out there and kill everybody by 50 points, but that's la-la land," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said.
Alabama (9-1) had no such troubles bouncing back from its showdown game last week against LSU. Derrick Henry and the Tide pounded Mississippi State 31-6 in Starkville, Mississippi.
Though it should be noted: The SEC West looks very much like Alabama and a bunch of other teams. The Tide certainly pass the eye test, but its good wins keep getting dinged. LSU might be the only SEC West team left in the rankings on Tuesday night, and the Tigers just got beat at home by Arkansas.
As for the Buckeyes, their 11-week tuneup ended with another ho-hum victory, this on a 28-3 smothering at Illinois.
At last there are some big games ahead for Ohio State. Next week, No. 14 Michigan State visits Columbus, Ohio. The following week, Ohio State is at No. 15 Michigan.
The Buckeyes have rarely been threatened by mostly so-so opposition on their way to 10-0, but they have also rarely looked like the juggernaut many expected this season.
The College Football Playoff selection committee slotted the Buckeyes at No. 3 in its rankings, a nod to their unbeaten record and maybe a case of the panel having a hard time wiping from its collective memory last season's impressive championship run by Ohio State.
Doesn't matter. All Ohio State's warts will vanish with victories against Michigan State, Michigan and then Iowa in the Big Ten championship game. There would be no question about whether the Buckeyes would get to defend their title in the playoff.
1. Clemson
2. Alabama
3. Ohio State
4. Notre Dame
5. Iowa
6. Oklahoma
7. Oklahoma State
Clemson, Alabama, Ohio State, Oklahoma.
AP sports writers Stephen Hawkins in Waco, Texas, and John Kekis is Syracuse, New York, contributed.

Buckeyes keep blowing teams out, so why the hate?

Ohio State is undefeated. In fact, Ohio State hasn’t lost a game since last September. Ohio State has 10 wins in 10 tries this season and the No. 3 ranking in the College Football Playoff.
So why all the hate?
The Buckeyes rolled over Illinois on Saturday, crushing the Illini to the tune of 28-3. That kind of blowout is typically cause for celebration, and it probably was inside the Ohio State locker room. But on social media and in the opinions of pundits across the country, the nearly four-touchdown win earned nothing but criticism.
Expectations have caused problems for the Buckeyes this season. Every time Ohio State hasn’t been winning a game by 40, every time a drive stalls, every time a bad pass is thrown, many in the college football world deem the team to be broken, to be undeserving of its ranking and to be “not that good.”
And it’s true that, at times, the Buckeyes have certainly not played up to their potential. The ugly performance against Northern Illinois comes to mind.
But the problem is the word “potential.” After defeating Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon in three straight postseason games last winter en route to a national-championship win, this team was predicted in the preseason to be one of the best in recent memory. With three star quarterbacks, a favorite running back, a great offensive line and a top-flight defense, this was expected to be one of college football’s super teams, a team that would bulldoze every challenger that got in its way, swatting the opposition away like a fly.
That isn’t exactly what’s happened. But it’s also not that far off.
No, Ohio State doesn’t put up the eye-popping point totals each week like Baylor does. But the Buckeyes still score an awful lot, 36.4 points per game, leading the Big Ten in scoring offense.
No, Ohio State doesn’t have far and away the country’s best defense. But it has one of the country’s best defenses, ranking second in the nation in scoring defense (13.8 points allowed a game) and ninth in total defense (298.4 yards allowed a game).
No, Ezekiel Elliott isn’t running away with the Heisman. But he’s certainly one of the frontrunners, ranking third in the FBS with 1,425 rushing yards. His 181 yards in Saturday’s win marked his 15th straight game with a triple-digit rushing total and moved him into third on Ohio State’s all-time rushing list.
That all seems pretty good.
Then there’s the biggest marker by which folks seem to be directing their complaints. Ohio State isn’t dominating its opponents, they say. Well, actually, the Buckeyes have won their 10 games by an average of 22.6 points. That’s better than three touchdowns. A three-touchdown deficit is a pretty tough thing to overcome, and the Buckeyes are boasting that, on average, on a weekly basis. Ohio State has scored 34 points or more in seven of its 10 wins, scoring 28 in two others. Only two wins have come by fewer than two touchdowns.
It’s not dominating in the hyperbolic sense of the word, perhaps, and no one is arguing that Ohio State has been the most dominant team this season or that it’s a team without flaws. But one thing the Buckeyes don’t deserve is constant criticism for not living up to impossible expectations. No, it didn’t turn out to be one of the most eye-popping seasons in college football history, but it still has a very good chance of ending in a national championship, which would be a second straight for those scoring at home.
No, Ohio State doesn’t have one of college football’s hardest schedules. But most of the games Ohio State was supposed to win in blowout fashion, it has won in blowout fashion. Plus, the final two weeks of the regular season will pit the Buckeyes against two ranked teams in Michigan State and Michigan, and if they win both games, they’ll likely meet an undefeated Iowa team in the Big Ten title game. Win all three, and there might not exist a team that can boast a better resume.
The truth is that Ohio State has blown out opponents plenty this season. And just because the games aren’t over in the first five minutes doesn’t mean the Buckeyes are undeserving of their ranking. We’ll see in the coming weeks if Ohio State is capable of doing the same against higher-quality competition.
Until then, Ohio State is 10-0.

1. Clemson
3. Alabama
4. Oklahoma State
6. Iowa
7. Oklahoma
8. Florida
10. Baylor
11. TCU
13. Houston
14. Michigan
15. Stanford
17. LSU
18. Utah
19. Navy
21. Wisconsin
22. USC
23. Oregon
25. Ole Miss

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