As the nagging injuries continue to pile up, Ohio State brushed that off and took care of business against Rutgers on Saturday evening. Are things teetering on the verge of major concern when it comes to the health of the Ohio State roster?
That and more in this week’s 10 Instant Observations…..
1. There is a fine line between injuries opening up opportunities to test your depth and build it up and actively hurting your chances at making a run. Ohio State is walking that line right now. But I continue to believe that all of these nagging injuries, while piling up at a bit of an uncomfortable rate, are going to make this team better in late October and November. I continue to believe that we are seeing the former take place, the Buckeyes depth is being tested and is passing the test. Most rosters don’t get healthier in November, but this one might, and that could be a scary proposition for the rest of college football.
2. Regardless of the opponent, it is encouraging to see how this offensive line is coming together, especially in the running game. This O-Line is getting a push upfront like we haven’t seen over the past few years. And it’s taking the pressure off of C.J. Stroud and allowing Ohio State to win games without him having to throw for 300+ yards.
3. Last season, the Buckeyes were 1-0 in games where Stroud threw for under 250 yards and that was the forgettable performance against Tulsa, which was much closer than the final score indicated. It was also a game that may have infuriated the Ohio State fan base (on both sides of the ball) more than any win that I can remember in recent history. This year, Ohio State is already 2-0 in games where Stroud goes for under 250 and was able to win comfortably by mostly keeping it on the ground today. I don’t think there’s a chance on earth that in 2021 Stroud could have thrown for less than 200 yards on ANY opponent and the Buckeyes not have had to fight, scratch, and claw into the fourth quarter to win that game. It’s a testament to the improvement on the O-Line and the improvement of the defense.
4. On the flip side, there were encouraging signs from the defense today. A year ago, it seemed every trick play, every little gimmick, led to an explosive play against the Ohio State defense. “It was only Rutgers” doesn’t apply here. Bad teams exploited the Buckeyes in those ways last season. This team is just so much more disciplined than it was a year ago. Rutgers threw the kitchen sink at Ohio State today and really had nothing to show for it. Amazing what happens when guys know what they are supposed to be doing and everyone is playing with discipline.
5. Props to Julian Fleming who has emerged the past couple of weeks and is having an outstanding junior season. This is the Transfer Portal Era. Fleming undoubtedly was being “persuaded” by forces outside of the OSU community to consider a fresh start. There were undoubtedly guarantees of playing time and touches, and being “The Man”. But Fleming put his head down, worked even harder, took a look in the mirror at things he could be doing better, and most importantly, got healthy, and here we are. A very, very high percentage of players with Fleming’s high school credentials and frustrating circumstances his first two years of campus would have bolted. It’s easy to root for this guy to find success.
6. I was wrong about Miyan Williams coming out of high school. I saw a depth guy who might be able to climb his way into a running back rotation late in his career, but never a difference maker, never a legitimate upper tier starting running back in the Big Ten. The Big Ten has a ton of good running backs right now, but Williams is in that top tier discussion and is certainly a high end starting caliber back with a potential NFL career. What a day for Miyan, tying the program record with five rushing touchdowns.
7. BUT! I was right about Tommy Eichenberg. I yelled and kicked and screamed for Ohio State to offer this kid coming out of St. Ignatius. It came a year later than it should have. Better late than never on the offer and better late than never on validating me. The new scheme and improved coaching on the defensive side of the ball has finally let everyone see what this kid is capable of. He just finds the football. One decision about an offer won’t make or break a program, but things might be a bit scarier right now on defense if not for Eichenberg’s play.
8. I don’t have too many concerns about this team moving forward on a broad scale, but who are the two best corners right now? I know, how obnoxious of me to be asking a question in an observations piece, but really, who are this team’s two best corners? Denzel Burke has struggled, and I’m a bit surprised he played today, I wasn’t sure we’d see him until after the bye to give that hand time to heal. But they are down to just a few healthy bodies right now and clubbed up that hand to get him out there.
9. On a smaller concern level, just keep it on the ground inside the 10. Didn’t hurt them today, but made for a few “tough to watch” sequences.
10. I’ll defend the fourth quarter “fake punt” all day long. For starters, Rutgers was actively trying to block that kick and overloaded the left side to accomplish it. If you are defeated and just want to get to the end of the game, play safe punt return there and that doesn’t happen, but don’t expect to continue to go all out into the fourth quarter and your opponent to just lay down for you. Two, Rutgers over the past few years has thrown everything including kitchen sink at Ohio State, so if you believe something more sinister than OSU taking advantage of an overload is going on, I’ll simply remind you that turnabout is fair play. Three, great time to execute something like that. You prepare for certain looks for Mirco to potentially keep and run and he gets one up 39-points in the fourth quarter and does the instinctual thing and probably the correct thing in that scenario. Zero risk there.
It will be interesting to see/hear Ryan Day elaborate on this in postgame, but either way….
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