Was it a blowout? We can quibble over the semantics a little bit, but the Buckeyes did have their most complete offensive performances of the season, and if they didn't kick quite as much ass as commentators would have preferred, Ohio State beat the woeful Maryland Terrapins by a comfortable margin, 49-28. A late snap miscue kept the Buckeyes from covering a big spread, and Maryland tacked on a late score to rob Ohio State of a push in the all important Maryland-transitive-championship against Michigan. Whatever.
Just in case you thought Ohio State's quarterback situation was finally settled, Urban Meyer tossed in a little wrinkle, switching to J.T. Barrett for most of Ohio State's red zone opportunities, hoping to jump-start what had been one of the worst red zone scoring units in the country. It worked, as Ohio State scored six touchdowns in six trips, and the Buckeyes didn't turn the ball over once. But some defensive miscues, especially when trying to tackle a scrambling Perry Hills, prevented this from being the true beatdown it probably should have been.
So who is up, and who is down, as we head into an emotional showdown against Penn State? Let's take a look.
Blue Chip Stocks:
H-Back Braxton Miller: Last week, we rated Miller as a Junk Bond, as Ohio State has struggled to find ways to incorporate him in the offense since the Virginia Tech game, spawning a wave of #columns. That changed in a big way yesterday.
Miller had five catches for 79 yards, including a touchdown, to go along with 11 yards on three carries. Perhaps more importantly, his blocking on the perimeter was excellent, helping spring Marshall on screens, and helping Ohio State keep him on the field. In space, there are few more dangerous players in college football, and if Miller is able to master more of the finer points of the position, it'll go a long way towards keeping Ohio State's offense cooking. After all, this is not a deep WR group after Michael Thomas all of a sudden. Ohio State needs XBRAX ONE.
QB Cardale Jones: Jones has taken some heat from Ohio State fans, and even some writers, but he really was excellent yesterday. Jones was 21/28 for 291 yards (both career highs) and two scores, and more importantly, zero turnovers. Jones consistently made good decisions, showed off his bazooka of an arm on more than one occasion, and even made a few things happen in the running game.
P Cameron Johnston: Lost in the consternation of Ohio State failing to score 60 points a game, or the defense failing to pick up dozens of takeaways is this: Ohio State's punting game is still on point. Johnston averaged a crazy 54.7 yards per punt on his three kicks, and entered the game with a Big Ten leading 46.28 yards per punt. Being able to flip the field and dominate field position will help forgive a few sins along the line of scrimmage, and allow Ohio State's formidable defensive line to be more aggressive. Johnson's a powerful, if occasionally overlooked weapon for this team.
RB Ezekiel Elliott: Coming off his superlative efforts against Indiana, Elliott's production doesn't jump off the page nearly as much, but he was still excellent. He finished picking up another 100 yard day (106 yards, 21 carries, two scores), while also adding 47 yards on six receptions, and blocking all over the field. Elliott might not necessarily be the most physically dominant running back in the country, but he might be the most complete given what he can do in the passing game as well as what he can do without the football. Zeke seems to get stronger and more powerful as the game goes, making him a powerful fourth quarter asset.
Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds: Shoot, I need to write this column, but I made it this far, I can treat myself to just one song, right?
Ah crap I've burned like 40 minutes going down the Sister Sparrow rabbit hole now. You might as well too. You won't regret it.
Ohio State's kicking game: The Buckeyes missed another field goal today, and it came at a terrible time. Jack Willoughby just missed a 44-yard field goal with under two minutes to go in the first half that would have pushed Ohio State's margin to 17 points, which, given the way Maryland was throwing the ball, might have forced them to change their gameplan enough to get that blowout going. Instead, the Perry Hills broke lose for a huge gain, and the Terps went into halftime down just seven (and tied it up on their next drive).
Ohio State needs to put the boot down when they have a chance, and it's hard to do if they can't count on their kicking game. Willoughby is just 5-8 for the season, and hasn't made a kick longer than 31 yards so far. Ohio State will need to do better.
Any Ohio State freshman making an impact on offense this season: SELL. I feel like we've had a similar conversation the past few years, about freshman stepping up and making an impact, but even though many may have had solid camps, and even though Ohio State might actually need some, it doesn't look like we'll be seeing much from the new guys. Mike Weber and Torrance Gibson won high praise early but struggled with injuries. K.J Hill has also had nice things said about him. With half the regular season in the books, and with Ohio State's toughest games still on the schedule, is there even time to break anybody else in the rotation? I'm thinking unless there are some serious injuries, just about everybody will end up redshirting.
Ohio State's ability to knock anybody out: SELL. This wasn't a close game, in the sense that Northern Illinois or Indiana were close games, and I don't think anybody outside of Prince George County thought that Maryland could actually win this game, but a few Buckeye mistakes made this closer than it looked. Ohio State gave away a touchdown late with a sailed snap. They missed a field goal. They missed a *lot* of tackles, allowing Perry Hills to turn broken plays into big scrambles. They had a few dumb penalties. Those all add up.
You can point to a few plays in each of Ohio State's last five games that if they had executed just a teensy bit better in one spot, it's a 20 point game. Given how well the Buckeyes are able to create havoc with their pass rush, forcing teams to play from behind would really play into their favor, but they have to step on that neck when they get the chance. They've missed a ton of opportunities to do that over the first half of the season. Will they get that many more over the second half?
Ohio State's two QB system: BUY. I mean, you have to right now, right? The Twitter reaction among a lot of Ohio State fans, and even a few beat writers, wasn't super positive, but it's hard to argue with results. Ohio State let J.T. Barrett work as something of a "closer" once they got close to the red zone, and the Buckeyes scored touchdowns on all six of their trips, thanks in part to Barrett's 62 yards and three rushing touchdowns on 12 carries.
Is this sustainable for the rest of the season, especially as Ohio State plays some tougher teams? Who knows? But it worked today, and the setup allowed each QB to play to their own strengths. If the egos don't get in the way, if nothing else, it shows a possible tool Ohio State can continue to use later in the season.