It was the first road trip of the season for the Buckeyes when they took on Michigan State in East Lansing on Saturday. Without Miyan Williams, who joined the unceasingly growing number of Ohio State players who have missed time with injuries this year, I entered the game already aggravated. Here’s what else made my eye twitch uncontrollably in Ohio State’s 49-20 road victory over Sparty.
Right from the Opening Kick
I may be easily annoyed, but my temperature usually doesn’t begin rising with the very first play. I’ve talked about the now-traditional OSU kickoff out of bounds quite a bit in this column over the years, and it is ridiculous that I continue to have to talk about it. Jayden Fielding sent the opening kickoff out of play to the left side, and the thing looked so bad when it left his foot that I thought it might go out on the fly.
There is only one possible reason that Ohio State continues to kick the ball out of bounds when it is a rarity for most other teams, and that is because the team is trolling me. Yes, me personally. There is no other explanation that makes sense. Is it because I haven’t been responding to most of the alumni emails asking for donations? Ohio State, you know my degree is in journalism, so therefore you know I’m not making any money. Let me live my life, Buckeyes. And keep your kickoffs between the sidelines, for Pete’s sake.
Negative Pass Plays
The first drive of the game by Ohio State was nearly perfect. Nearly. There were a few imperfections. C.J. Stroud missed an open Emeka Egbuka to his left early in the drive. That was a negative. And there were also two complete passes that were negative — as in they went for negative yardage. Passes to TreVeyon Henderson and Cade Stover behind the line of scrimmage stayed behind the line after being caught. The Buckeyes didn’t block those plays well outside, and perhaps those calls didn’t properly consider (or properly read) the defense that the Spartans presented. Thankfully, those two plays did not derail the drive.
The Pick Six
Things were going according to plan early. Ohio State got a stop, scored, and then got the ball back again. But the Buckeyes handed the Spartans free points on their second offensive drive by giving Michigan State its first interception of the season and the easiest score it is likely to get all year. Stroud turned and fired without looking after reading the coverage, expecting Egbuka to be there on a hitch route, but the wide receiver was going vertical. Which player was wrong? One of them certainly got confused and made the wrong decision.
Stroud took the blame after the game, but it wasn’t so simple, as Charles Brantley initially showed he would stay in press coverage and then backed off, thereby disguising his intentions. Any way you look at it, the mistake allowed the Spartans to have a free touchdown that should never have happened. The Buckeyes will see this again now that it’s on film, so they’ll need to get on the same page.
After the Buckeyes scored to go up 14-7, the defense went back to work, and Taron Vincent blew up a run on the first play. After a short pass, the Spartans had a third-and-long situation on their own half of the field. Payton Thorne evaded the rush of the front four and rolled left, throwing deep down the left side. Cam Brown let the receiver get behind him and then interfered on a badly underthrown pass to give the Spartans new life with a fresh set of downs. Michigan State drove into OSU territory before a sack by Mike Hall Jr. and Tommy Eichenberg forced a punt.
Brown gave up another long pass play in the second quarter when he had good coverage and did a poor job of playing the ball when it arrived. There is a longstanding beef that OSU fans have about corners who don’t turn and find the ball, and sometimes the situation demands the player to focus on his opponent’s movements. But Brown accomplished neither, and he also committed a pass interference penalty that the Spartans declined due to Jayden Reed making the catch. The veteran corner then made matters worse when he stopped a play on the boundary later in the drive, forcing his man out of bounds but then unnecessarily pulling him down with a late horsecollar tackle, extending the drive.
It was the only Michigan State scoring drive against the first-team defense and if not for Brown’s actions, it could have been prevented — twice.
More Defensive Gaffes Gifted Sparty Points
It wasn’t just Brown who helped the Spartans score their first offensive touchdown. Hall sacked Thorne on 3rd-and-7 to apparently end the drive, but Zach Harrison committed a personal foul for hands to the face kept the possession alive. Harrison made no effort to remove his hands from his opponent’s headgear, and it was far too obvious for the officials to miss it. Jakailin Johnson ultimately allowed the touchdown catch, despite having good coverage. Like his teammates, he failed to either find the football or to play the receiver’s hands sufficiently to break up the pass. Reed is a good receiver and sometimes the opponent simply makes a better play.
However, Tim Walton has a lot to answer for this year with the regression in Brown and Denzel Burke, and the way the corners are playing as a unit. He also has a lot of work to do during the open week to fix some of these issues before the Buckeyes start facing better competition. I don’t think Walton is on the hot seat at this point, but with Ohio State’s reputation of putting corners in the NFL, this shouldn’t be the team’s weakest unit.
Problems Causing Problems
For the second time this season, Chip Trayanum muffed a kickoff return. It came on the opening kickoff of the second half. While neither of his drops has resulted in a turnover, it’s a small sample size to have two such mistakes. Trayanum picked up the loose ball and looked to have a decent return going, but he had stepped out of bounds at the 8. To make matters worse, there was a flag on the field early in the play for a block in the back. As a result, the Buckeyes started the second half at their own 4-yard line.
That, in turn, led to a conservative play call against an amped-up MSU defense, and Henderson took a shot with a helmet to his thigh/hip area on the first play from scrimmage, effectively knocking him out of the game. Stroud could have thrown a block (or, OK, at least have gotten in the way) but instead, Brantley flew in helmet-first and took Henderson out. Back in the day, that was called spearing.
The play by Trayanum illustrates how one mistake can set forth a chain of events that create much bigger issues. Without the ball on the ground, maybe Kourt Williams isn’t forced into desperately trying to throw an illegal block. Without that resulting poor field position, an injury to Henderson could possibly have been avoided by affecting the play call or the approach by one or both teams, based on field position.
That’s what made me give my television the ol’ stink eye on Saturday, although there were obviously plenty of feel-good moments, such as Gee Scott’s first career touchdown, Xavier Johnson’s cameo at running back, big days by all three starting receivers, and Hall’s disruptive presence on defense.
What bothered you? Let me know in the comments section below.
Next week: Ohio State vs. Open Date.