"(We’re) trying to give him the ball. It’s an effort to try…we’re releasing him out of the backfield, we’re flipping him the ball, lining him up with the quarterback, and we’re just not having the big hits right now and we will."
-Urban Meyer, via Doug Lesmerises, Northeast Ohio Media Group
Ohio State fans were electrified by quarterback-turned-receiver Braxton Miller’s antics against Virginia Tech just three weeks ago in the Ohio State Buckeyes’ season opener. In the last three games, however, Miller has had a total of 20 touches for 122 yards. There have been no more video game-like spin moves, or diving touchdown catches against the collective Hawaii, Northern Illinois and Western Michigan. So what has happened to cause an outstanding athlete like Miller to be reduced to zero scores in three games?
For starters, the direct snaps are not working. It throws off the rest of the offense to have a different person taking snaps, and Miller has seemed uncomfortable in the position. Plus, moving Cardale Jones to receiver—a position where it would be foolish for him to try to block—doesn’t bring a lot of benefit to the offense. When Jones is behind center, where he can pitch to Miller, the offene seems to be a little more open. After a total of eight direct snap attempts against Hawaii in week two, Meyer has backed away from these calls.
Then there is the fact that Miller is still developing as a true receiver. He has had some great blocks, but it remains to be seen if he can consistently lead the likes of Ezekiel Elliott as he pushes down the field. He also needs to work on route running and beating coverage more consistently in order to be more rounded in his position.
But (and this is the good news), the rest of the team finally came together Saturday, with Jones cemented in his starting role, Elliott able to rush for a 124 yards and the offensive line gelling together, so Miller didn’t need to be as electrifying as other players stood out. Michael Thomas had a season-high 80 receiving yards on six catches for one touchdown. Elliott, Jalin Marshall and Curtis Samuel all scored one touchdown each. Of course, Miller may be the best athlete on the field at any given moment, and Meyer will surely find a way to get him involved.
"Why Buckeyes keep winning: The defending national champions, winners of 17 straight, are the most talented team in the country."
-Eric Olson, Associated Press
In all, 17 teams have made it to 4-0 this college football season. As the defending winners of the first-ever College Football Playoff, Ohio State naturally tops this list, but needs to improve inconsistencies on offense in order to improve its status as a likely repeat for the national championship.
Less expected, however, are some of the other teams that have remained undefeated, who are likely to remain so. While some may have expected the Ole Miss Rebels to do well this season, an early win over perennial SEC powerhouse Alabama nevertheless raised some eyebrows to just how good the Rebels could be. Of course, Ole Miss has to face a much improved Florida Gators team on the road this week. Along with Ole Miss, Utah, who began 2015 unranked, has surprised the college football world this year, especially last week when the Utes defeated the playoff runner-up Oregon by six touchdowns on the road.
Notre Dame has also remained undefeated thus far, bouncing back after a series of injuries to key players, including their starting quarterback Malik Zaire. The once third-stringer, DeShone Kizer, has stepped up in the last four games, helping the Irish to get to the 4-0 mark (sounds familiar, huh?). The Georgia Bulldogs also top the list of contenders, with one of the top running backs in the nation in Nick Chubb, and a quarterback who has yet to throw a pick this season. The Bulldogs face Alabama at home this week, and have Florida at home later on in the season.
At this point in the season, it is also obvious that some undefeated teams will not remain so, due to playing other undefeated powers, or because their schedules thus far have not been well renowned. Some examples include Indiana, who faces Ohio State this weekend, and NC State. However, the big surprises for who might not stay undefeated come in the form of Michigan State, TCU and UCLA, who all have road tests against ranked opponents coming up. Michigan State has had to deal with a long list of injuries to start the season, even as quarterback Connor Cook has helped the team to 30-plus points per game. TCU’s defense is not nearly as good as last year, and the Horned Frogs had a near miss against Texas Tech last week. And UCLA is still breaking in its true freshman quarterback.
There are 24 undefeated teams in power five conferences, with seven of those teams sitting at a 3-0 record. The Big Ten has five teams (Indiana, Iowa, Michigan State, Northwestern and Ohio State) who are 4-0 heading into Big Ten play.
"We’re just not seeing it. That’s the most disturbing thing with this Ohio State team. It’s not just the quarterback quandary, it’s the team as a whole not playing with passion, not playing with the edge that made it so dangerous in the last month of last season."
-Matt Hayes, Sporting News
The Ohio State Buckeyes have fallen into the "first four out" of some College Football Playoff projections, having been replaced by such heretofore unexpected teams as Utah and UCLA. Prior to the start of the season, pundits had predicted some combination of Ohio State, Michigan State, TCU, Baylor, UCLA, Oregon, Alabama and Auburn, among others. But after just four weeks of play (most of which was out of conference), that rosy picture has been shaken up, and the unbidden of the Power Five conferences have begun to appear.
At the start of the season, few expected that Ole Miss would assert its dominance in the SEC at such an early stage. However, with a week three win over No. 2 Alabama, the Rebels have been propelled into the playoff picture as the sole representative of the SEC.
Equally surprising is the rise of Utah, which is in its fifth year in the Pac-12 conference, having joined from the Mountain West in 2011, and which has finished consistently near the bottom of the Pac-12 the previous four years. USC and Oregon started the season ranked in the top ten in the AP Poll, but both have since fallen off, with their spots being filled by Utah and a UCLA team that has proved better than expected.
Ohio State’s level of play hasn’t been anything close to what it was during its championship run last year. However, that run really didn’t gain traction until the post-season, and fans are keen to forget that the Buckeyes at one point were down to Indiana in their 11th game of the season last year. But this year, Ohio State hasn’t shown that spark that propelled them to be the last team in the playoff in 2014.
Along with Ole Miss, Utah and UCLA, Michigan State is the final player in the projected four-team playoff mix as of this week. Of course, that position has been called into question since the fall of Oregon Saturday, which dropped the Ducks out of the AP Poll for the first time since 2009.
Also waiting just outside the top four this week are Baylor, whose out of conference schedule has been abysmal; Georgia, who faces Alabama this week; and Notre Dame, who has dealt with five injured starters since the start of the season.
"If Ohio State makes it through, there will be no doubts about what kind of team the Buckeyes are and what kind of respect they deserve."
-Doug Lesmerises, Northeast Ohio Media Group
At the start of the season, Buckeye fans circled Nov. 21 on their calendars—the day of Ohio State’s presumed toughest game of the season against a Michigan State team that is now ranked No. 2 nationally. Assuming a win in that game, there was little doubt at the outset that Ohio State would win the Big Ten East and go on to win a second-straight Big Ten Championship, and likely a birth in the College Football Playoff along with it.
But things have changed since the start of September. Specifically, that game on Nov. 28—the one against the Michigan team that we usually care about—has suddenly become more than just a test of pride, and has morphed into an actual battle against a ranked opponent.
Other teams in other conferences do their best to avoid these sorts of back to back matchups. This year, Georgia scheduled Georgia Southern the week before its rivalry game against Georgia Tech, and Alabama is facing Charleston Southern before it plays Auburn.
Since Woody Hayes took the helm at Ohio State, the Buckeyes have ended their season against two ranked opponents on only six occasions. The bad news for Buckeye fans is that they have won both matchups on only two occasions. While Ohio State could be better than both teams individually, the back-to-back matchups mean two tough games only a week apart. Extrapolating forwards, and assuming wins in both games, the Buckeyes could face a formidable Wisconsin or Northwestern team. Further assuming another win and a berth in the College Football Playoff would mean two more top-ranked matchups before a national championship win.
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