I think that we can all admit that the first quarter — especially the first 8:10 of Ohio State’s win over Florida Atlantic on Saturday — was amazing. The rest? Less amazing.
It shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that there were a few growing pains on both sides of the ball in the season-opening victory; after all, both the offense and defense are dealing with tremendous amounts of turnover. The offense is breaking in a new quarterback and a rebuilt offensive line, amongst other changes; while the defense is working on a completely new scheme from a nearly completely new coaching staff.
But, that didn’t stop fans — myself included — from getting absolutely giddy in the opening minutes of the 45-21 victory. If you follow LGHL’s Twitter account (which you should, @Landgrant33), you know that we had a hard time keeping our cool early on.
HAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH— Land-Grant Holy Land (@Landgrant33) August 31, 2019
A tight end touchdown at Ohio State?
What is this world?
Notice the typo that we were way too happy to care about in this one.
This is going to be really fun. The offensive looks fantastic, and that Fields guy is fast. pic.twitter.com/pxyyJ4mH5V— Land-Grant Holy Land (@Landgrant33) August 31, 2019
But then, as they often do, things came crashing back down for the Buckeyes. The vibe of the game felt very similarly to January’s Rose Bowl victory over the Washington Huskies. While Saturday’s matchup with the Owls was never in doubt — like the Granddaddy of Them All frustratingly was — the failures of the latter portions of the game yesterday were made even more bitter by the intoxicatingly sweet successes of the early goings.
And that is where you have to pick a side, Buckeye fans. Do you take the red pill, or the blue? Are you a glass-half-empty fan, or are you glass-half-full?
While the level-headed amongst us will almost certainly say that the truth likely lays in the middle, this type of performance — which was a hallmark of the latter days of the Urban Meyer era — can often tell us more about ourselves that it can the team.
If you are someone who lives life looking through scarlet-and-gray-colored glasses, then the early performances of Justin Fields, J.K. Dobbins, Chase Young, Jeff Okudah, Jeremy Ruckert, Malik Harrison, and Chris Olvae are likely inspiring signs that things have been figured out after this offseason of change for the Buckeyes.
If this is the route that you are most inclined to go, I think that you’re probably right, at least in part. It was clear from Saturday’s game that the schematic issues that bogged down the Buckeyes in 2018 — especially on defense — would not haunt the team into 2019.
The linebackers were allowed to run down hill and play with aggression. Gone was the stubborn insistence on playing man-to-man all of the time. And, there was a positive rotation of younger players at all levels on defense.
Those changes, along with a handful of others, will only benefit the Buckeyes as the season progresses and they face off against more skilled offenses.
However, those adjustments by new defensive coordinators Jeff Hafley and Greg Mattison did not result in a perfect performance by the D; and this is where you can go if you err on the more cynical side of the street. If that’s where you live, I think that you are also likely correct.
Despite these fundamental changes in defensive philosophy, FAU head coach Lane Kiffin was still able to find opportunities to get his play-making tight ends into situations to pick up big chunks of yards. This strategy has been successful against OSU in recent seasons, especially in the 2017 debacle against Iowa.
Harrison Bryant and John Raine combined for 108 yards (Bryant had 79) on 12 catches, often against linebackers that just weren’t able to compete with the TEs’ size or athleticism. Also, while the move to a zone defense was a welcome sight for many, Kiffin’s play-calling was able to take advantage of secondary’s relative inexperience in the scheme to begin to pick up more and more chunk plays as the game went on.
A similar conundrum can be found on offense. Fields looked electric in the early going. He ran, basically untouched, for a 51-yard touchdown to open the scoring, and had clean pockets to connect on three early TD passes. The rebuilt and reconfigured offensive line looked like it had everything figured out and was ready to make way for Fields, Dobbins, et al. to have huge seasons.
That was a very good sign. Having to replace four starters on the offensive line is always challenging. Even if two of the replacements have substantial starting experience (Jonah Jackson at Rutgers and Branden Bowen in 2017 before breaking his leg), an offensive line is easily the most difficult unit on a football team to get to gel. The intricacies of their assignments and the complexities of their responsibilities necessitate that the group works as one and thinks with a single mind.
While that extra sensory connection might have only lasted for the first eight minutes of the game, it is clear from the first quarter that they have the ability to be that type of unit.
However, the rest of the game showed that there is still a long way to go for this group of o-linemen to become the road-grading slobs that Buckeye fans expect, and that the team will need to meet its potential. And, while there was a tremendous amount of turnover in the offensive line room, the man leading it is still the same, much to the consternation of many in Buckeye Nation.
Greg Studrawa has had ample talent in his group during his previous three seasons in Columbus. Guys like Pat Elflein, Billy Price, Jamarco Jones, Michael Jordan, Isaiah Prince, and others haven proven that they are capable of playing at high levels, both for Ohio State and in the NFL. But, for some reason, the last few Buckeye offensive lines haven’t lived up to expectations.
So, here we are again, do we trust our eyes from the first quarter and remain optimistic, or do we succumb to the realities of the rest of the game and give into gloom and doom? Unfortunately, there is no correct answer, or instead, perhaps both answers are correct. You must look deep inside yourself and follow your heart in order to find the perspective that feels more like home to you.
Embracing optimism is way more fun in the moment, but, it can lead to heartache if you get your hopes too high. However, giving in to cynicism might protect you from being let down in the long run, but it will also often prevent you from enjoying the good things that come along the way.
No matter which persuasion you fall into, OSU’s 45-21 victory over the FAU Owls gives you more than ample ammunition to support your side. Ohio State’s season opener was it’s own type of cruel Rorschach test for fans.
What did you see on Saturday? A bright, shiny future full of victories and championship trophies, or a long, tedious road ahead for a group of underachieving players and coaches? Whichever one you saw, it is most likely difficult to argue against.
How did the 45-21 win over FAU make you feel about the Buckeyes’ season?
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