So that was fun. We said earlier in the week that Ohio State needed an opportunity, just one chance to show that they were capable of stringing together four consecutive coherent quarters before going into the belly of the beast in the always, well, mad, Madison, WI and then play host to a certain team from The Mitten.
They got it and boy did they make the most of it. Ohio State wasn't perfect, far from it, and Urban Meyer would surely tell you no less, but while they may still very much be a work in progress, they're an enjoyable to watch work in progress that you have to feel better and better about each week you watch them grow as individuals and collectively
Passing game? Ye of little faith. Depth at running back? No Jordan Hall, no problem. And remember all the wide receiver induced existential dread going into the 2012 season? Doesn't even feel real at this point, now does it? The Illini entered Ohio Stadium 7-for-11 in the House that Harley Built. They left Saturday Urban experienced:
Trumpets and violins I can hear in distance
I think they're calling our names
Maybe now you can't hear them, but you will
The Fighting Illini post-fight win via submission SMR is as follows:
Blue Chip Stocks:
Ryan Damn Shazier, LB
Another week, another must buy for the Buckeyes sophomore linebacker. The stud OLB, originally recruited by Meyer at Florida as well, accrued 14 tackles (11 solo), along with a career high 2.5 tackles for a loss. Whether wearing #48 or #10, there's no doubting what you're getting week in, week out with who's quickly becoming one of the elite linebackers in the Big Ten. This stock is dominating the Butkus Award futures market right now as well, so buy low-ish while you still can.
The Ohio State running game
As tempted as I was to put both Braxton Miller *AND* Carlos Hyde here individually, the two deserve a mountain of praise as a collective unit. And that's to say nothing of Rod Smith and Bri'onte Dunn who also had their own moments of brilliance against a hapless Illinois defense. Carlos Hyde has his best game of the year (and continues to show what an effective change of pace he can be from Miller), and well, what is their left to say about Ohio State's sophomore Heisman trophy candidate? Braxton Miller is potentially headed to New York City twice in the next two years. Who else can you say that about nationally? As a unit, they slashed and dashed for a combined 330 net yards. At times, they feel not even fair. Buy buy buy.
Zach Boren, LB
I'm not sure what's more baffling, Zach Boren's ability to pick up the major linebacker role at a premiere college football institution like Ohio State's in only a little more than a month or that this kind of thing doesn't happen more often in similar situations. Sure, Ohio State's MASH unit defense isn't the norm, but for teams that aren't Alabama and go 3 deep with 4/5-stars at every position in lieu of an injury/eligibility issue but do have a surplus of athletes with senior leadership experience, you'd think some experimentation along these lines wouldn't be as rare. Maryland's playing a scout team linebacker at quarterback this weekend probably doesn't fit the mold.
None the less, Boren has 29 tackles in just four games on defense and made a huge play on Illini starting running back Donovonn Young to force a punt while the game was still more in question. He's not going to set the world on fire, but he's been more than solid enough to make us forget Storm Klein was ever allowed back on the team in the first place.
John Simon, DE
Simon would be a gimme Blue Chip if not for an inconsistent body of work during the 2012 season. Certainly some of that was due to playing thanklessly through injury, but the Simon on display Saturday against Illinois was the one Urban Meyer had promised us basically all spring and summer: an unblockable, relentless beast of an end. Simon was only formally credited with 1 tackle, 1 sack, and 2 quarterback hurry ups on the day, but anyone watching all four quarters noticed Simon in the back field on almost every play. He made everyone lining up around him better and can't be credited enough for his on field leadership skills.
Buy: Braxton Miller as a passer I never agreed with the cynics who saw Miller as a liability in the passing game. The trope that he wasn't where he needed to be as a thrower like he was Terrelle Pryor or something (who honestly was also underrated as a passer) was never based on anything other than opposing team wishful thinking and intellectual shortcuts. Miller makes some bad reads here and there and still doesn't always put the right level of touch on the ball, but he's more advanced than his doubters would otherwise have you believe. The several key laser passes he darted around the field to the likes of Nick Vannett and Corey Brown should help convince you otherwise.
Sell: Braxton Miller as a 20+ times per game rusher. Not only should the continued progression of Carlos Hyde and the emergency of Rod Smith limit Miller's need to do this, but if Ohio State continues to play with fire, for all his best Marvel's Wolverine impression against the Boilermakers, Miller and the Bucks are bound to get burned.
Buy: Christian Bryant against the run The Buckeyes' junior safety had four tackles on the afternoon and seemed to help keep Illinois honest when he needed to come up and make a pop on opposing receivers/ball carriers.
Sell: Christian Bryant in pass coverage Penalties, whiffs, big hits gone awry. Despite being undersized at strong safety (Bryant was a corner mostly in high school), he still seems to lack the kind of drop back coverage skills you'd want from a safety of his nature (particularly whenever he sees action in a Star type roll). He's got a long way to go under the tutelage of Kerry Coombs and Urban Meyer before he's even in consideration as an all-conference type.
Buy: Bri'onte Dunn Speaking of futures, if you want to get in on the ground floor for a guy that's going to be a real difference maker in 2013 and 2014, invest in Dunn now. On 13 carries he bested Braxton Miller's production Saturday night with the same number of carries. He also scored a late garbage touchdown. There'll be plenty of more meaningful ones to come in the not too distant future.
I never expected this Ohio State to go 10-0. Hell, I have no idea if they can actually go 11-0 or 12-0. But given how Wisconsin and Michigan have played on their respective seasons as a whole, I'm feeling more and more every day like it's a real possibility. Urban Meyer's inaugural go in The Game is going to be an out and out war with Brady Hoke and co., but first year coaches in the series tend to seemingly have the edge. As long as Miller stays healthy, whether Michigan has Denard Robinson or not, you have to think that the Buckeyes have a really great shot to get payback for last year's loss.