To quote the recently departed Al Davis, the Buckeyes did everything that they needed to in order to “win, baby, win.” Was it ugly? Absolutely. I have never been a fan of the saying “a win is a win,” because it doesn’t tell you anything about your team or the game, but in this case, I’ll take it. After having a while to digest it all and enjoy the victory, here are my thoughts about the game, as well as my initial predictions on the game and how they turned out.
Offense / Special Teams
This shouldn’t take long…we ran the ball a lot, and did it well. Boom carried the ball 23 times, Jordan Hall and Braxton Miller had 12 carries each, and Carlos Hyde had 3 carries to help close out the game. Yep, that’s 50 rushes in the game compared to just 4 pass attempts. The play calling by Bollman can be somewhat excused on Saturday due to the strong winds and, most importantly, the success that the team had running the ball. There were definitely times when a draw play or HB dive was not the call that we needed, but, for this game, it worked.
Boom Herron was a man possessed in his first game of the 2011 season. He has clearly gained a step in quickness in the offseason, as well as some strength in his legs that helped him break free from most arm-tackle attempts. However, the biggest improvement that I noticed in is carries was the ability to make cuts on a dime and add yardage to each and every carry.
The offensive line, especially Mike Adams again, did a great job of opening up the gaps for Boom and the gang, but still needs to cut out the drive-killing false start penalties. Stoneburner made another appearance in the receiving game and caught the lone complete pass of the game for a 17 yard touchdown. This brings his catch total to 12 on the year, and his TD total up to 6… the definition of a touchdown machine for our “high-powered” offense.
Ben Buchanan fought the wind all day with his 7 punts, but managed to do a great job of keeping the field position either neutral of in our favor. Drew Basil made the most of his time on the field, and pulled some kicker magic on his 43 yard field goal. It certainly appeared to be heading wide right, but had a beautiful draw on it that brought it back inside of the upright for a much needed opening drive lead in the game.
Defense / Coaching
After getting torched in the second half of the Nebraska game, this team came out fired up and it showed. John Simon and Johnathan Hankins were getting pressure on Scheelhaase on nearly every snap, and continued to dominate on the line as they have in many games this year. The linebacking core was much better in this game at wrapping up and finishing tackles, which was a huge factor in stopping the Illini offensive attack. Storm Klein came up big with a forced fumble, although it was recovered by the Illini, and Andrew Sweat did a good job of finding the first down marker and making tackles before that point.
The game might have been won in the trenches yesterday, but the excitement came from the young, OSU secondary. Although Travis Howard has been beaten by his receiver many times this year, he showed signs of improvement yesterday, including a game-sealing interception late in the 4th quarter. Christian Bryant and CJ Barnett were out for blood and it showed, just ask the Illini tight end, Jon Davis, who was the lucky recipient of a couple of brutal hits.
Perhaps the best story of the day was the battle between freshman cornerback Bradley Roby and his senior wide receiver counterpart, AJ Jenkins, the nation’s leading receiver to that point. Roby had said earlier in the week that Jenkins was the product of the system that Illinois runs and that he was nothing terribly special, and then he did something crazy, and backed it up on the field. Roby won the matchup several times, including a game-changing interception and 35 yard return that set-up an easy Buckeye score. When not picking the ball out of the air and returning it into the red zone, he was making sure tackles or deflecting passes away from the star receiver. Travis Howard came into the season as the undisputed leader of the secondary, but I say let’s break out the “Roby Island” t-shirts and be excited that we have him returning for 3.5 more years!
In all, it may have been an ugly win, at least offensively, but it did get the job done. Hopefully the playbook will expand against Wisconsin, however, or they will eat us alive…but I digress, that’s not quite here yet. On another bright note, Luke Fickell outcoached Ron Zook yesterday by letting Zook beat himself. On two different occasions I was left thinking…no, confirming…that Ron Zook is an excellent recruiter and a less than intelligent coach/person. He ended the first half by not forcing OSU to punt the ball back to Illinois by calling a timeout, and even more absurdly, he attempted, unsuccessfully to convert on a 4th down instead of keeping his comeback hopes alive with a chip-shot field goal. Yet somehow, it was the perfect end to a ridiculously weird game.
Read below for my predictions about yesterday’s game (in black), and how they actually played out (in red).
What must OSU do in order to get a win over a highly ranked opponent?
1) The Silver Bullets must hold Illinois under the 24 point threshold. Not even close on this one. The defense came out ready to attack, and the 24 point threshold (Illinois’ lucky number) was never in jeopardy. The combination of sure tackling, pressure from the defensive line, and very solid and opportunistic play by the secondary, not to mention 40 mph wind gusts, made this a big day for the Silver Bullets.
2) Contain Scheelhaase and Jenkins. Again, the Buckeye defense did a fantastic job accomplishing this feat. Scheelhaase was held to just 49 yards rushing on 16 carries, with a long run of only 13 yards. Jenkins, although he put up 80 yards receiving, was held in check and did not have any “big” plays. Holding him to a long gain of 20 yards in a game in which the Illini were losing for roughly 54 minutes was no easy task. Hats off again to the OSU secondary.
3) Taking advantage of our mismatch over Illinois in both the punting and return games in order to constantly be winning the field position battle. Surprisingly, this battle should be considered a “push” since there were practically no big plays on special teams in the return games. Also, both punters did a good job of avoiding high kicks into the jet stream and doing nothing to hurt their team’s field position.
4) Braxton or bust… Interpret this one as you’d like, but I think the fact that Miller was in the game for every snap played a major part in the team’s psyche. Granted, having the lead for the entire game limited the need for a passing game, but Miller came up big when the team really needed it both with his feet on a 35 yard run and with his 17 yard touchdown pass to Stoneburner.
My prediction: OSU 27 Illinois 17
OSU 17 Illinois 7 – Not going to lie, I’m pretty happy that I was able to predict a ten point victory, but I definitely didn’t think we’d do it with just one completion (I figured that we’d have at least 2).
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