Sunday, November 6, 2011

Ohio State-Indiana Recap: Buckeyes Escape Hoosiers Upset Bid; Keep Big Ten Hopes Alive

By Special Contributor Chris Holloway

For the past 10 years, the month of November has brought unbridled joy and success to the Buckeyes.

They have lost just twice in November since 2003, and closing out the season with four consecutive wins has been the hallmark of this program since that day in 2001 when Jim Tressel took over as head coach.

Since 2005, the squad has lost just a single November game -- a Juice Williams powered Illini victory in 2007 -- that marred an otherwise perfect regular season.

The tradition of winning games in the weeks before Thanksgiving did not falter on Saturday as Kevin Wilson brought his 1-8 Hoosiers into the Horseshoe. Indiana had not won against the Buckeyes in 16 straight tries -- their last win coming in 1988.

There was not a single pundit that believed that Indiana could break this losing streak, especially after the abrupt dismissal of DeMarlo Belcher -- the team's leading receiver -- for violation of team rules.

With Belcher gone, the receiving corps for Indiana looked even bleaker than that of their opponents, as they were without their top two receivers.

The Buckeyes were not without their missing pieces either. Jordan Hall, the do everything back, injured his ankle during the last kick return against Wisconsin, and missed the game.

Jamaal Berry was involved in an altercation before the contest against the Badgers. During the week, he was officially charged with several counts and was suspended indefinitely. In the backfield, they would not be missed, but where their absence would be most felt was in the kick return game.

In normal situations, with Hall out, Berry would be in the mix to return kicks. Since his suspension, there was speculation as to who would be returning punts and kickoffs. Thoughts drifted to anyone from Chris Fields to Dan Herron to Rod Smith, who had been practicing with both the linebacker corps as well as the running backs. In the end, it was Devin Smith, the receiving hero from a week ago, that would end up with kick return duty.

Neither team figured to throw the ball all that much in this game, given their shortcomings in the passing game. Braxton Miller may have saved the day with his arm a week ago against the Badgers, but most would agree that it was an anomaly.

We all know that Miller has the potential to be a finesse passer, but so far he has not been given the chance as the Ohio State coaching staff has opted for a more conservative style of play.

On the opposite sideline, true freshman quarterback Tre Roberson was showing glimpses of greatness in the opportunities that have been presented to him. A dual threat QB in his own right, Roberson had the ability to make plays with not just his feet, but his arm as well. This would become evident to the Buckeyes early on.

Taking the field for the coin toss, the Hoosiers won and elected to receive. Drew Basil, with shades of his last kickoff against Wisconsin, booted the ball out of bounds on the opening kickoff to give Indiana the ball at the 40-yard line. After a run-heavy drive that took the Hoosiers to the Ohio State 18, Indiana was forced to settle for a field goal to give them the early lead at 3-0.

Devin Smith returned the ensuing kickoff 17 yards to the Ohio State 26. The decent return was marred by a drive that only gained 20 total yards, with 15 of those coming on a penalty. A collective groan was heard as the drive ended in disaster when Braxton Miller fumbled the ball at the 46, with Indiana recovering.

A Tre Roberson pass for 11 yards to Kofi Hughes and a 16-yard run up the gut by the true freshman QB set up a five yard run by Stephen Houston for the first touchdown of the game. The Bucks now trailed 10-0 and horrible thoughts of Purdue 2009 and Illinois 2007 began to creep into the minds of the Buckeye faithful.

Those thoughts were quelled for a moment as on the very next drive when Miller broke free and in just a few strides, set the school record for longest rushing TD by a Quarterback -- scampering 81 yards to the house and cutting the Indiana lead to three.

The Silver Bullets recorded the first of their three and outs after the kickoff, assisted by an Indiana penalty, and Ohio State took back over on their own 41. As they began their next march down the field, the offensive line showed some weakness in the trenches. In all, the Buckeyes allowed six sacks on the day, two of which came on this drive.

Miller did show some shades of passing acumen when he hit fullback Zach Boren for a 22 yard strike, only to be sacked again. The Buckeyes settled for three to tie the game when the second quarter began.

If the fourth quarter of the Wisconsin game was the Clash of the Passing Games, then the first half of the Indiana game was classic Tresselball.

The kickers for both teams were the story in this half, hitting their field goals and MVP Ben Buchanan pinning the Hoosiers deep within their own territory on seemingly every punt. Basil and Ewald combined for three field goals in the second quarter -- the only scores in the period -- and at halftime the teams went to the locker room tied at 13 apiece.

Just before the break, there was shock and confusion at the tactic that Coach Wilson employed, calling successive timeouts with little time on the clock, only to kneel the ball down and let the clock run out. Given that Ohio State would take the ball in the second half, the decision by the first year head man was a head scratcher. Perhaps he feared the pick six, or perhaps communication was an issue.

Whatever the reason, the Buckeye coaching staff had to feel a little underwhelmed at the outcome of the first half, and the choruses of boos did nothing to dispel the notion that they had to come out stronger in the second half.

They were not expecting to be tied going into the break, much less being exposed on defense as they had been. Indiana seemingly had the middle of the field occupied on short routes, and were able to connect on just about every short or mid-range crossing route they ran.

Ohio State took the ball to start the second half, and Boom Herron promptly broke off a 40-yard run. The celebration was short lived, however, as Braxton was sacked yet again and then intercepted by Webb, the second turnover by the freshman QB.

It seemed as if the Bucks could not get anything going unless it was a breakaway, big play. The defense, porous at times, found their real steel and managed another three and out. Pines punted, and Ohio State took over at their own 48, giving them magnificent field position.

On their first play, Braxton took off for a 13-yard gain, followed by runs of 20 and 15 by Herron -- the latter ending in the endzone to give the Buckeyes their first lead of the game at 20-13.

Indiana responded in-kind on their next drive, with Roberson hitting Hughes for with a 34-yard strike, and just like that, the game was knotted again at 20.

Miller and crew then had their most sustained drive, going eighty yards down the field, using the rushing attack that everyone figured them to use almost exclusively.

Carlos Hyde, who was complaining on Twitter about his lack of carries and playing time after the Illinois game, provided the bulk of the yards on the drive -- even though his longest run of the day to that point was negated by a holding call on Corey Brown.

After another breakdown in protection led to yet another sack, Braxton responded by taking the rock to the house on a 20-yard run that saw him waltzing into the end zone. Ohio State was back in the lead, 27-20, and they would not relinquish it again.

The Hoosiers had control of the ball when the final period started, and took it down the field to the Ohio State 18. On 4th and 9, the Indiana field goal unit came out, only to have a false start penalty levied against them. Ewald, whether shaken or just frustrated, pushed the football wide left with just nine minutes and change left in the game.

All Ohio State would need to do was eat away at the clock to secure their third consecutive Big Ten win. Those hopes were nearly dashed briefly however, as Herron fumbled on the first play, with Miller recovering.

Boom came off the field, apparently shaken up a bit, and El Guapo came on. Hyde and Miller joined up to grab the first down at the OSU 35, only to have Miller sacked once more, and the drive stalled. Buchanan came on to punt, and booted the kick to the Hoosier 28.

Coach Heacock's defense looked for another three and out, only to be stymied by a Roberson pass to Hughes that kept Indiana's hopes alive.

Roberson rushed for another first down to the Ohio State 44, but on the very next play, was intercepted by Travis Howard. Howard read the route beautifully, stepped up to the ball, and returned it 15 yards to the OSU 42 yard line.

After a 4-yard gain by Hyde, he broke through the middle of the defense and steamrolled his way down to the Indiana 7.

Boom came back onto the field, rushed right for five, and Hyde showed why he should be the short yardage bruiser by punishing his way through the Hoosier defense for a two-yard score.

The Buckeyes ended the game with three 100-yard rushers on the day -- just the fourth time in school history that feat was accomplished. The last time this had happened was in 1989 against Northwestern when Dante Lee, Scottie Graham, and Carlos Snow each eclipsed the mark.

The lead was now a more-comfortable 14 points with just two and a half minutes remaining. All of the Buckeye touchdowns had been on runs. Braxton posted two; Boom found the end zone once after having his streak of consecutive games with a touchdown snapped against Wisconsin, and of course, Hyde and the final nail in the coffin for Indiana.

Ryan Shazier and company produced their last three and out, with big #10 coming through the line to sack Roberson and Michael Bennett recording his own sack just two plays later to force the turnover on downs.

With a minute and 40 seconds left on the clock and Indiana out of timeouts, the Buckeyes lined up in the victory formation for three consecutive kneel downs, and the clock ran out to give Ohio State a hard fought win -- one that kept the hopes of an appearance in the inaugural Big Ten Championship Game alive.

The Buckeyes continue to need a bit of help to make it to Indianapolis, but you have to figure that the scandal currently swirling around University Park will have an effect on the Nittany Lions as they prepare for the most difficult stretch of the season.

A loss against either Nebraska or Wisconsin, coupled with Ohio State winning the rest of their games would see the Buckeyes in the Promised Land.

Iowa showed what we already knew -- Michigan can be beaten -- as the gave the Wolverines another Big Ten loss.

As long as Ohio State can avoid looking past Purdue as they almost did Indiana this week -- which isn't exactly a guarantee this season (remember 2009?), they nearly control their own destiny.

While the game wasn't even close to being the blowout that many expected (and yes, that HD predicted), and the team kept the fans on a razor's edge the entire game, what matters at the end of the day is the win.

Now, with six wins in the regular season and three left to play, the Buckeyes are officially bowl eligible. Where they end up come bowl season is almost entirely up to them.

Prepare, execute, and limit mistakes, and this team could be headed to the Rose Bowl for the second time in 3 years.

After an offseason of scandal, strife, and a sea of change in the locker room, nothing could be sweeter than smelling roses on January 1st, 2012.

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1 comment:

  1. Nothing would be sweeter than going to the rose bowl and winning. What a way to start a new year and end a turmoil riddled year. It would silence the haters, doubters, and ESPN. The team has to buckle down, roll up there sleeves, and bring it every down from here on out. Go bucks!


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