April 23, 2014

Buckeye Learnings

Well, the undefeated season for the Ohio State Buckeyes is officially over. All we are left to deal with are articles about what could have been, what should have been and what the NCAA or Ohio State could have done differently to avoid this debacle. Somewhere along the line you will find articles tying all of those pieces together in an effort to claim to know what would have been best for each situation. Put me in the camp where I think the Buckeyes got what they deserved. It is extremely unfortunate considering what came out later for other schools, but it is the bed they made regardless of the seasons’ outcome.

Given all of that, somehow the season does not really feel like it’s over to me. I get that there are no more games to be played by the Buckeyes this year, but finishing the season the way they did with two huge wins, it feels as though the ending was more of a springboard for this team than a true conclusion. The Buckeyes were not supposed to go undefeated this soon. Urban Meyer was supposed to come into this season to assess players that he largely had no hand in recruiting prior to, realize the talent and start building a winning program with his guys that fit his system under his coaching style.

Instead, he came right in and led this team to an undefeated, 12-0 season in his very first year. What the heck? How do you build on that?!

With confidence and an influx of top tier recruits, that’s how. [Read more...]

Ohio State’s one-game season

On Saturday afternoon I drove to the barbershop to get a haircut where I was greeted by the owner who happens to be a war veteran that has more opinions than there are topics. Just my kind of place. I was sporting an Ohio State hoodie and upon sitting down, he asks me if I think the Buckeyes will beat Wisconsin this afternoon. I replied, emphatically.

“I sure so. I hope that they mash them and Urban runs up the score on them too.” He then proceeded to talk about how great it would be to see this team finish undefeated in Urban’s first year coming off a 6-7 season prior to his arrival.

“I agree, but you know what?” I said, “this is a single game season and it starts and ends next week against the Wolverines. No question I would love a win today, but given the circumstances of this season, next week is all that matters.”

He steps back, “WOW! There’s a lot of hate in there. You are a true Buckeye fan.”

[Read more...]

The Buckeyes’ “Meaningless” Season

When this season began for The Ohio State Buckeyes, sadly, most of us immediately began talking about Next Year. This season was a “development year” that was going to allow coaches to identify talent, develop said talent, and create a powerhouse for years to come. It is a bowl ban year, after all. There are no milestones. There are no moral victories. There are no expectations.

Right?

Well, I do not know about you, but that was my exact mentality after the dust settled around Urban Meyer being hired while the “meaningless” season was approaching. We talked incessantly about the youth on this team and what could come of it in years to come. Most of us talked about what the coaching transition would be like and not only how it would affect the players, but affect the actual game-plans. Two games into the season, we even started talking about how awful this team looked on both sides of the ball and loss predictions came rolling in shortly thereafter. All fair and warranted points.

Problem is (if there is such a thing), we were all wrong. [Read more...]

Manti Te’o or Ryan Shazier?

Approximately 2.5 years ago, an undersized linebacker from Plantation, Florida decided to make a commitment to stay in his hometown to play football for the University of Florida. In spite of being somewhat undersized at 205-pounds, he was still a 4-star recruit with an enormous upside because of the intangibles he possessed.

Unquestionably, Ohio State was on the short list of possible schools and was a highly sought after candidate, but home cooking generally wins out. At the time, the coach that he made that commitment to was Urban Meyer. Months later in December of 2010, Urban infamously retired (act 2 of 2) putting a large question mark around the incoming recruit. Only nine days after Urban’s retirement announcement, Ryan Shazier decommitted from the University of Florida notifying The Ohio State University of his verbal acceptance, marking yet another reason for the Urban Meyer love affair.

I haven’t felt so great about being a backup plan since junior prom.

[Read more...]

The Spielmans’ Story

At this point, you have probably gotten a decent feel for the character I can be and my love for most all Ohio sports. I can rant and rave to anyone with an ear about pretty much any topic that I can possibly dream up, but always try to keep it light-hearted. I really try to find a humorous spin in anything that I can and very seldom do I show a serious side that I sometimes forget I even possess.

This is different.

The NFLNetwork has done an outstanding job with their new “A Football Life” series, rivaling ESPN’s equally as well done, “30 for 30″. The episode last night featuring Chris Spielman and his family was another one of those moving features that hit most of us very close to home. Not because he is an Ohio native or because of his legendary status at Ohio State, but because he lost the better half of his soul to cancer.

I felt compelled to write this review after reading his book because I truly believe it has its benefits for everyone. I did not write for any other reason other than that.

“When I got my first football helmet for Christmas at age five, my grandma came over to the house.’Hey, Chris’ she said, ‘you wanna play some football?’ I tackled her right there in the living room. I mean, I took her out. She bounced right up, though. You could tell she was a Spielman.”

[Read more...]

Pieces of a Buckeye Rant

Each and every week I watch the Buckeyes play and try to think of certain topics that would be interesting to cover in the upcoming days. Each and every week I struggle to come up with something of substance. It is extremely annoying. What can I say about this team that has not already been beaten to death or given a fresh perspective on? Then my A.D.D. kicks in and I realize another thing that annoys me – certain aspects of this Ohio State team…hence the context of this post. I was thinking of giving it some creative name like ‘Rini’s Rants’ but all I could think of was Peter Griffin and the “Grinds My Gears” episode on Family Guy and decided it was too cheesy.

Catering to my obvious randomness from last weeks post, I thought these were a few good discussion points:

What type of quarterback to we have in Braxton Miller?

In one of my first articles I listed a few developmental concerns with this team that I saw going forward. There were no overwhelming glaring points, but I stated that I truly believed that Braxton had the tools and ability to become a pure pocket passer to the likes of a Troy Smith, rather than a Terrelle Pryor. I felt that a lot of it is dependent upon how the coaches view his ability as well because I believe that they will play to his strengths rather than ask him to fill a role that he is not capable of filling. [Read more...]

The Baffling Buckeyes

Well, as I said last week, our little run-in with Purdue in 2002 took several years off my life and this past Saturday only aided in yet another subtraction. While the expectations are much different for this season, it was still Purdue in spite of the fact that we knew they would give our defense trouble. The thing is, the defense was actually what stood tall for the most part.

Each and every week we are learning something about this team which is great, but instead of me droning on about the same topic, there are a handful of things that stood out to me in which I thought were worth addressing.

“I’m still trying to figure this bad boy out,” Meyer said. “We won, right?”

First and foremost, the obvious star of the weekend, backup junior quarterback from Houston, TX: Kenny. Freaking. Guiton. I still cannot believe what we witnessed on Saturday afternoon given how the game had progressed. Normally I would say that Ohio State had no business winning that game and if Purdue had any sort of reasonable play-calling, I would, but they fought for that win. And somehow they did it giving up an opening 83-yard touchdown pass, a 100-yard kickoff return and 4 turnovers along with several injuries that continue to plague this team. Kenny G came into the game late in the third quarter after Braxton Miller went down and assumed a role that nobody thought he was ready for. Well, apparently not nobody: [Read more...]

The Ohio State Perspective

2002. A successful national championship season for the Ohio State Buckeyes led by Mr. Conservative himself, Jim Tressel and his trusty accomplice, Jim “Walrusball” Bollman. Both Jim’s had the same goals as any coach would – score more points than the other team and do not lose that lead. I know, real John Madden insight there but the processes involved as we all know are not the same for each coaching staff. Neither were known for taking chances offensively so when the team did take the lead, it became absolutely maddening to watch because a new playbook appeared that put the team on cruise control instead of their foot on the opponents throat. The team clearly had a lot of offensive talent. While Craig Krenzel was not exactly a top-tier quarterback, the demand for him to be was not pressing when he had surrounding talent such as Maurice Clarett, Santonio Holmes, Michael Jenkins and Chris Gamble. The team was more than capable of putting up 30+ points each game and with the incredible defense they had, winning games by a comfortable margin should seem somewhat effortless.

Yet, when you look at their schedule you find this: a 4-point win against a terrible Cincinnati team; a 5-point win against a poor Wisconsin team; an overtime win against a weak Illinois team and finally another 4-point win over Purdue that took exactly 8-years off my life (I did the math). This same team, loaded with ugly wins, won the national championship.

Was there an identifiable theme throughout all of this madness? There sure was – winning. [Read more...]

AP Poll: Ohio State up to No. 7, Ohio University cracks top 25

With thieir three-point victory over the Indiana Hoosiers on Saturday night, the Buckeyes of Ohio State University have moved up one spot to No. 7 in the latest edition of the Associated Press poll. Starting the season unranked, the Urban Meyer-led Buckeyes continue to pile up wins against conference opponents — the only other representative member of the Big Ten to make the top 25 is Michigan (23).

Joining the Buckeyes within the ranking are the Ohio University Bobcats (25), ranked for the first time since 1968, as their undefeated season continued on with a win over MAC rival Akron. Ohio’s past three victories have been by a combined 16 points, none by more than seven. An unbeaten season, however, could put Ohio in position to become the first team from the MAC to play in a BCS bowl game.

[Related: “You are completely screwed” – B1G Buckeyes]

“You are completely screwed” – B1G Buckeyes

Let me get this out of the way: Coming into the game, I thought the Buckeyes were going to lose Saturday night. Yes, in the ‘Shoe, in Urban’s first home night game with all of the recruits looking on in front of a packed house. I did. I thought that Ohio State’s banged up line-backing corps did not match up well with a very mobile quarterback in Taylor Martinez in tandem with a very shifty and quick running back in Rex Burkhead. For the most part, I was wrong. Martinez was held to 40 yards rushing and aside from Burkhead’s 73-yard run, he too was held in check.

But 63 points!?!? Though I cannot remember the source, there was a comment on Twitter that made me laugh out loud: “After seeing the score, Jim Tressel woke up wondering how in the world Ohio State kicked 21 field goals.”

As hysterical as the comment was, it really made me think about the new era that this program has entered. Good, bad or indifferent, there is no arguing what Tressel did for this university over the past decade but his coaching style is the antithesis of Urban Meyer’s. A fundamentally sound team that was capable of hanging 63 on Nebraska would have never happened under Tressel’s watch. Though under that same watch, the holes in the defense would never happen either. Buckeye Nation is now staring at a very talented and exciting, young team in the face. We all have the joy of watching this team grow up before our eyes, but remember what comes with youth – stupidity. I am not talking about the tweet from Cardale Jones, but taking chances as a football team. So the growing pains will be there and for some of the impatient, it can be quite a roller-coaster complete with pictures at the end.

With great risk, comes great reward and as Andy Staples put it so eloquently in his article following the Buckeyes win in East Lansing “You are completely screwed.” He of course is talking about the Big Ten as a whole and Urban’s innate ability to previously recruit such talented individuals in a conference much superior to the Big Ten.

[Read more...]

Know the Enemy – Buckeye Edition

The Buckeyes got their first real test on Saturday afternoon going into East Lansing and squeaking out a close win in normal Ohio State fashion. It was a mile-marker of sorts for the team, coaches and university because it was their first road game as well as their first B1G match-up that presented some big challenges. In turn, the game received quite a bit of hype. To me, the game on Saturday night is an even larger hurdle not only because of how the Nebraska Cornhuskers match up with Ohio State, but because of the history with Bo Pelini.

Before I begin, let me preface with a small tangent: as a very loyal and passionate fan, I expect, or hope for that same passion to be returned on the field or court. Whether it comes from players or coaches alike, I feel that we as fans should see that very similar passion from the teams that we not only follow, but so blindly enthusiastically root for. That may seem as though it is a very silly request considering how much time and dedication that all are required to put in before they are even considered to be a starter or a part of a coaching staff. The real answer even could be that the passion is just ingrained in the sacrifices that they make to get there and even larger to remain there. All may be true. I do not care. I want these guys to share the same anger and disappointment as I when there is blown coverage, a turnover or just an overall boneheaded move. I want accountability. I want a coach to put a fear in them so strong that it will never allow that same mistake to be made again. Although, there are limits to all of this and I believe all of this should only happen at the professional level.

Nebraska’s head coach, Bo Pelini believes otherwise and if Ohio State wins on Saturday night, we might be telling our children/grandchildren of Bo’s implosion we witnessed on live television.

Bo Pelini came out of Cardinal-Mooney High School in Youngstown and earned a scholarship to The Ohio State University where he played safety in the late 1980′s. Us Ohioans have a ton of hometown pride and really, those two facts should make him someone that we embrace. The fact is, because of him alone, Nebraska has actually quickly become one of many teams that I completely loathe. The irony in all of this is that I have heard from numerous people who have said that Nebraska fans are some of the most cordial and accommodating fans in all of college football. I have not witnessed this for myself yet, but I find that mildly amusing considering how many fans view their team and their coach.

While this game is not The Game, I view it to be something similar. Not only is the team a good match-up for Ohio State athletically, but watching Bo Pelini have meltdowns such as these add that much more to it for a guy that has seemingly no respect for anyone around him. He may appear to be mild-mannered at times during the game, but when he loses it, he clearly goes all out.

Bo Pelini even went as far as making national news when he attended lunch on the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan with naval officers, stating that one sailor would win the chance to call a play in the Holiday Bowl in 2011. A sailor named Morgan Ryan ended up winning the chance to call the play, but Pelini never honored his word. In fact, when he was questioned on why it never happened after the fact, Pelini barked at the reporter who questioned it by saying “It was a joke, ma’am!” Ryan was very understanding of the situation because it was Nebraska’s bowl game, but but there was significant uproar when Pelini tried to play it off as a joke.

Is my overall anger towards Bo Pelini justified? In my head it is. In the end, it does just become a game again after all and there a few key pieces that will challenge Ohio State this weekend.

Saturday night at Ohio Stadium always brings out the best in all teams involved. Nebraska comes into Columbus ranked 5th in overall rushing offense averaging over 300 yards per game that will undoubtedly test Ohio State’s front four which held Le’Veon Bell to a mere 2.6 yards-per-carry on Saturday. Although, the offensive schemes that this team will see this weekend will be much different because of the personnel. While Le’veon Bell is more of a traditional bruiser-style running back at 245-pounds, this defense will be facing a pair of backs both under 210-pounds and short of 6-feet tall in Rex Burkhead and Ameer Abdullah. While that may appear to be an advantage for the defensive line, their quickness will put more pressure on Ohio State’s linebackers on being able to contain them because of their big-play ability.

The other variable in the rushing attack that will keep this defense on it’s heels is quarterback Taylor Martinez who has racked up 50 rush attempts this season. Yes, it does not compare to Braxton’s 90 attempts this season but Martinez is a very real rushing threat that will certainly test the Buckeye linebackers as plays breakdown. While Taylor Martinez does not have the prettiest of throwing motions for a quarterback, he does have the highest QB rating (169.6) and the best TD:INT ratio (11:1) in all of the B1G. He is pushing nearly 1,100 passing yards on the season, so he is as much of a true dual-threat quarterback as Ohio State will see all season.

Saturday night will bring quite a few future recruits to the ‘Shoe as well, so this performance has an even deeper meaning. I have read that there may be upwards of 30 potential recruits in attendance and it will be a mixture of both football and basketball targets. For a deeper breakdown on some of these individuals, I definitely recommend checking this article out to learn more.

There were some great strides made on Saturday afternoon, but we still have not seen the true creativity in play-calling that can come from the talent on the field. The trust in Urban Meyer and his coaching staff are at all-time high after a road victory like that, but you can be sure that there is more to come. This team has a tremendous ceiling. I have a feeling that being Urban’s first B1G home game, under the lights, with a stadium full of potential recruits and a developing rivalry in Nebraska, that we will see something very special on Saturday night.

 

 

 

The Argument – Braxton’s Buckeyes

“This team is awful.”

“How can we be this bad??”

“Urban Meyer is overrated and it’s showing. It’s UAB!”

“Braxton Miller needs to run it 15+ times per game at minimum!”

Outside of a wide range of expletives, all of those comments littered my twitter feed and text messages almost verbatim (feel free to identify yourself).  I cannot act like I am above any of these outbursts because I am not. Believe me, I have had my share and will continue to as long as I am an Ohio sports fan. But please, relax. I am not going to make any friends with some of the upcoming comments, but it needs to be said.

For me, The Ohio State fan-base as a whole can be very maddening at times. The deserving attitudes, the unreasonable expectations and the recess-style temper tantrums are all common characteristics of this (and many) fan-base. The worst part is that all of this is created from within. Not only ourselves, but Buckeye Nation. We are a bunch of enablers. There can be positive news in the morning and by the evening, it is the best thing that could have happened to this entire state. The opposite is also true but most times to even more extremes. Saturday night I went to bed wondering if this Ohio State team is actually 0-4, instead of 4-0. This is THE Ohio State University, I get it.

Hate me yet? You can, but I am able to identify all of this because I am guilty of all of this. I overreact to the good and bad just the same, have unreasonable expectations and feel that this state deserves the best in everything. But please keep the following in mind: This team is very young with undeveloped talent, in a transition year due to largely a whole new coaching staff and currently under a bowl ban that will return nothing more than moral victories this season. This team could absolutely have more convincing wins, show more promise and ease our minds that next year will be the year but this team and the fans have not even dealt with the bulk of the reasons listed above.

I digress. The argument that I had was specifically regarding Braxton Miller, his (in)effectiveness to throw the ball and the Buckeyes’ lack of identity in a now floundering offense. The defense was undoubtedly part of the conversation but that is an entirely different conversation. The argument stemmed from one point that I mentioned in the beginning – Braxton needs to have a minimum of 15 carries each game for this offense to have a chance and go anywhere in the future. It is literally not possible for me to disagree more and for me, it boils down to 5 points about development and surroundings:

#1. Braxton has exactly 17 games under his belt, started as a true freshman and now on his second coaching staff in two years.

I do not feel as if this point can be overstated. Though hard to do, take all of the outside distractions away that this team has had and think just about what pure turnover can do to a true freshman quarterback and his development after an early enrollment. Braxton immediately assumed a role that he was not ready for in any form, taking away the luxury of learning the game from the sidelines for a season. In such a season, he completed 85 of 157 pass attempts for almost 1,200-yards, with 13 touchdowns and only 4 interceptions. Tack on another 700+ yards, 7 touchdowns rushing and I would say that he had a pretty good season as a first year quarterback. Far from where he and the rest of us believe he needs to get to, but a great start nonetheless.

#2. Outside of Jake Stoneburner, his receiving targets have been extremely inconsistent though showing flashes of greatness.

Corey “Philly” Brown (JR), Chris Fields (JR), Devin Smith (SO) and Michael Thomas (FR) make up the current receiving corp for the Buckeyes. That young group of receivers are learning their positions at a higher level just as Braxton is, so not only are there dropped passes, but oftentimes routes are not even run correctly. Couple that with the fact that some of this group has trouble getting off of the line promptly and you can be talking about seriously hindering Miller’s ability to be a pure, pocket passer. These things take time and patience, which most of us do not have, but it is a very, very real part of the development process.

#3. At best, this current offensive line is serviceable.

Reid Fragel, who is the only senior on this offensive line, converted from the tight end position to right tackle this season and is still clearly making adjustments in doing so. The offensive line as a whole has dealt with injuries, as well as inconsistencies at running back making their jobs that much more difficult in trying to adjust for each runners’ style. Including Braxton’s. But the real problem here is that many times the pocket collapses quickly and forces Miller to make decisions quicker than he may like to and his instincts are to do what he does best – run. As this offensive line becomes a more cohesive unit, it will undoubtedly allow Miller more time to make decisions, progressions and check-downs.

#4. Is this season, a meaningless, lost season, worth the risk of your star player getting seriously injured?

This may be the most important point of them all. As it currently stands, Braxton Miller is really the only true consistent offensive weapon that this team has. Through the air and on the ground, he currently accounts for 1,195 of Ohio State’s 1,708 total yards. What risks are you willing to take with a guy that currently provides 70% of your total offense? Is it 15+ carries each game? More than likely there is not a right answer here but in my eyes letting him develop to become more of a pocket passer, will pay dividends in the long run rather than doing what it takes to win in a lost season. The shots that Braxton was taking during the game against Central Florida were seriously painful to watch. While most were not malicious, those players were surely sending a message that he would have to earn every yard, on every single one of those 27 carries.

#5. Braxton Miller has a better chance of becoming the player that Troy Smith was, than Terrelle Pryor.

Oh this point will definitely get some backlash. Really, it is about expectations though (look at us, we circled all the way back to expectations again). Here is where the line of delineation is lost. In my eyes, I believe that Braxton has enough of the tools and coaching support that he could truly turn into a pocket passer with great wheels as a bail-out after going through all of his progressions. To me, the difference is how the quarterbacks coach, Tom Herman will choose to mold him. We watched a very raw athlete in Troy Smith 8-years ago, grow from a player that took the field as a kick returner and running-back, to become a Heisman trophy winner at quarterback. While Braxton’s pure throwing motion may not be the prettiest around right now, it can be shaped if the desire is there. Right now, that is the variable and the decision that Meyer and Herman will have to make.

This may come across as though I am a Braxton apologist. I can assure you I am not. I simply and truly believe that given the right controllable circumstances, Miller can show the college football world that the depth to his talent, coupled with the current coaching staff, can help manufacture a new ceiling for this young quarterback and ultimately, the championship we all so desperately crave.

 

*Image courtesy of www.therepublic.com

 

“He’s Different” – A Buckeye Profile

Oh Denard…you deserved this

When you stop and think about it, I find it almost surreal that as Ohio State fans we were watching a tortured Buckeye team try and claw their way back into a game against the Miami Hurricanes, one year ago, almost to the day.

Really, it had nothing to do with football.

I hate the term, but it was a ‘statement game’ of sorts for the program to prove to the football world that Buckeye Nation could overcome such adversity off the field. Having beat the ‘Canes the previous year, the only redemption this time around was about character and will. I do not mean that to sound as hokey as it may come across, but it truly was a defining time for the program: the talent was present, but underdeveloped and unprepared making the spotlight that much brighter for the young players. Not only did they have to uphold the name of such a storied university on the field, but they had to do so on a national stage while so many were hoping for them to fail.

A year later, well, not a ton has changed to be honest. The rest of the football world still hates the Buckeyes, there are still a lot of young, undeveloped players and the team is still in a transition phase with Urban Meyer and his coaching staff. Urban has received a lot of praise since accepting the head coaching job at Ohio State. A lot is an understatement, actually, but it not only comes with good reason, but because he is an Ohio native. As any city should, we love a good hometown success story. And boy do we have one in number 54, John Simon.

And you thought I was going to gush over Urban. Come on. [Read more...]

Ohio State – Hype or Hope?

Given that my last post did not exactly spark the conversation I wanted it to, I decided to take a different approach on topics to stir things up a bit. I understand that WFNY has primarily covered Cleveland sports and Ohio State has taken a back seat to it, but I will figure out a way to get ya, this I promise. You see, I do not love healthy arguments – I crave them. Unless we are talking about politics, I pretty much have a strong opinion on it and my goal is not necessarily to force it upon someone, but to get engaged in enough banter that I can be properly educated on the opposite side purely for perspective. In fact, on several occasions I have taken the opposite stance from which I believe just to hear the opinions and reasoning from someone else. I know, that is probably not healthy but if you knew me you would know that is par for the course.

So with that, I see this Ohio State Buckeye fan-base as having two very definitive sides with their football program. People who believe that they will be wildly successful right out of the gate and will accept nothing less, and those that believe that this team has an uphill battle regardless of the current coaching staff and talent. Go ahead, you are allowed to roll eyes and think that there cannot be a true Buckeye fan out there that would believe the latter, but you would be wrong. [Read more...]

A Buckeye Youth Movement

Courtesy of ScarletBuckeye.comThere is not a time that this site really captures its own name like it does right now when it comes to Ohio sports. If you are wondering, yes, I am completely aware of how cliche that sounds but look at this: the Browns are holding 15 rookies on their 53-man roster, the Cavs are the third-youngest team in the NBA and the Indians continue to be the farm system that every MLB organization has grown to love.

The same is true for the Ohio State Buckeye football team…partially for different reasons. Of course, ESPN did a great job of finding a way to constantly remind the nation of the sanctions that came down on the university, so we are all aware of how that affects the program this year. Now, not only are we all looking forward to next season for bowl eligibility reasons, but because of the promising young talent that is currently being sculpted for when it counts. To reinforce that point, 14 true freshman saw playing time on Saturday afternoon. I get that it was a blowout win over a disheveled Miami team, but take a look at the depth chart and you will quickly see how many underclassmen either start, or see significant playing time.

That said, I think it would be a great idea to not only point out a few key guys that are worth keeping an eye on, but hear differing thoughts on this topic from you guys as well (Adolphus Washington and Bri’onte Dunn excluded as obvious 5-star recruit choices). 

[Read more...]