One Loss Isn’t Reason To Flush 2014

By Jeff Rapp, September 7th, 2014

So Ohio State fans were peeved that their beloved Buckeyes dropped three spots in The Associated Press poll from No. 5 to No. 8, showed up in record amounts for OSU’s home opener with Virginia Tech and … disaster.

Or so it appeared.

The Buckeyes allowed their visitors to score first, evened the count, fell behind and caught up again, then proceeded to look like lost lambs down the stretch in a 35-21 loss to the unranked Hokies.

It looks bad, feels bad, and certainly doesn’t help the seasonal outlook or the reputation of the Big Ten on a night when Michigan State’s vaunted defense was shredded and Michigan’s allegedly improved offense was completely shut down.

It’s cause for depression and at least a declaration that the season is going to leave you flat.

Well, don’t be so sure.

Yes, Ohio State has issues and no I’m not going to try to pretend that those problems will evaporate overnight or that the Buckeyes will get right back in the national championship picture. A, they won’t and B, they probably were never in it.

Also, what the Ohio State coaches and players have to overcome wouldn’t just be Band-Aided by the presence of Braxton Miller, so let’s just get that notion out of our heads.

Still, there are reasons to believe the Buckeyes are going to be very good again pretty soon and that this season is not lost at all.

For one, I’m not down on J.T. Barrett. The kid showed decent poise and composure playing under the lights and he was pretty slippery when running the football. As for a 9-for-29 passing performance that included three interceptions, well, let’s break that down a bit.

Ohio State receivers failed to help out the lad and dropped at least four catchable balls. Corey Smith, who was all the rage in the offseason, couldn’t get on the same page with Barrett and couldn’t seem to pull in catchable footballs.

Also, one of Barrett’s picks was very late in the first half on a third-and-20. I can’t fault the youngster for trying to make a play there. The final one clearly was the fault of Smith, who was supposed to break off his route.

The sacks also aren’t the doing of the QB, though it would help if he had a little more experience and recognition.

The Buckeyes fell behind and then had to deal with the blitz packages of Bud Foster, who is simply one of the best defensive coordinators in the business. They didn’t abate even when the Hokies were protecting a 28-21 lead and could have backed into a soft zone like just about every other team in the country would have employed.

Virginia Tech is to be commended for its aggression and loyalty to its identity, which leads to the next point.

The Buckeyes are young in several key areas and still trying to see what they can become and who their key players are. They are without their leading rusher (Carlos Hyde) and leading receiver (Philly Brown) of the past two seasons but Miller was supposed to help them through that until reliable skill men emerged.

They still might, likely will – the play of wideout Michael Thomas, for example, was very encouraging – but the problem is the Buckeyes didn’t play FAMU and Cal the last two weeks. They faced Navy and Virginia Tech, two teams that likely will crack the top 25 at one point or another. In fact, the coaches poll that came out Sunday had Virginia Tech (2-0) at No. 19 – ironically one spot ahead of Ohio State (1-1),

As for those who are playing the blame game with the defense, that unit was not up to snuff in the first half and needs some work. However, the effort was outstanding throughout the second half and the defenders came up with some key stops and big plays, including an interception by free safety Vonn Bell and a forced fumble by Joey Bosa.

Virginia Tech scored right after the Buckeyes tied the game at 21 and frenzied Ohio Stadium but once again the field was shortened for the Hokies, this time because of a kickoff that sailed out of bounds. Tech hurt the D with a couple misdirection plays and regained the lead with a TD catch by Bucky Hodges, a talent 6-6 tight end who used to be a quarterback.

Yes, the Hokies have skilled players as well, And highly rated recruits. And good coaches. And a strong football tradition.

So where are the Buckeyes coming up short? Well, offensive line, for one. This group simply hasn’t jelled and is too leaky on the interior. In the second quarter, the Buckeyes not only were suffering penalties and mistakes up front, they also looked unsure of themselves and didn’t fire off the ball.

That will come. The coaches may still need to experiment at right guard, but that will come. And when it does, the tight ends actually will become a viable part of the passing attack, something that is yet to happen.

At receiver, the coaches continue to shuttle in six players. Time to tighten that up. As my on-air cohort, Earle Bruce, likes to say, it you have six receivers you have none.

The continuity isn’t there and Barrett doesn’t throw enough passes to allow that many guys time to get comfortable. Is Evan Spencer just a glorified blocking back at this point or is he worthy of being targeted more than once a game? Can Jalin Marshall do anything other than (try to) catch balls 1 yard from the line of scrimmage? Have to figure that out fast.

At tailback, Curtis Samuel looks like the best running option but how can we tell when he takes four or five handoffs? Is Rod Smith in the equation or not?

I have no doubt that Bosa is a stud, probably the best player on this team now that Miller is out. But he could use his partner in crime, Noah Spence. That will happen next week when Spence’s three-game suspension ends.

Raekwon MicMillan will impact the linebacking corps at some point, probably in the next few weeks. Josh Perry is set up for a big year. Darron Lee’s hustle is commendable. There is talent in the secondary, for sure.

Like it or not, it’s going to take a few weeks to see it come to fruition.

Ohio State put on a good side show Saturday night. More than 107,000 people crammed into a revamped Horseshoe, a new tunnel, smoke and pyrotechnics, LeBron and Orlando in the house, a wave from Archie, music blaring, pump-me-up videos, The Best Damn Band In The Land.

The only problem is football still goes back to blocking and tackling, coaching execution and seizing of momentum. At times, the Buckeyes were guilty of poor showings in all those areas. In fact, if someone who hadn’t followed anything in the preseason had flipped on the game and were told that one of the teams is a top-10 outfit and the other is young and talented but without polish or a team identity, they would have watched the game unfold and assumed the visitors were Team A and OSU was Team B.

Ohio State probably isn’t going to reclaim the national spotlight or convince its detractors for a while. Games against the likes of Kent State, Cincinnati, Maryland and Rutgers aren’t going to inspire.

But someone has to win the Big Ten, and it’s my estimation that the Buckeyes still are as likely as anyone to do it. And as the leaves change color and the conference becomes even more disregarded, greatness still could bubble in Columbus.

The Buckeyes have had plenty of seasons – 1982, 2005 and 2009 come to mind immediately – where they lost early and were playing like an elite team at the end of the season. It could happen again.

When co-coordinator Luke Fickell was asked to assess the defense after the loss to Virginia Tech, he looked the gaggle of reporters surrounding him in the eye and said repeatedly, “I like our group. I like our kids.”

He said it with the expression of a man who knew his statement may come across as coachspeak, but I have every reason to believe him. There is no in-fighting that I know of, the Buckeyes didn’t lose because they are ignorant or don’t trust their coaches or aren’t good enough.

They just have a few too many areas that need developing right now – and they will develop.

So come down Off the Ledge, Buckeye fans, and enjoy what still could be a very fun ride.