10 Things We Learned from an Uncompelling Win over UAB
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — It was not the finest performance of Urban Meyer’s coaching career Saturday, but the Buckeyes managed to pull out a narrow victory over UAB to complete their nonconference with a perfect 4-0 record.
It’s not often that a 14-point victory is referred to as narrow, but it certainly felt like it against a team Ohio State was favored to beat by five touchdowns.
Here is a look at the 10 Things We Learned from an uncompelling win over the Blazers.
1. The Buckeyes are not a great team. I think we already knew this, but maybe not everyone realized it until watching them against UAB on Saturday. It was easy to dismiss Zac Dysert as a good quarterback or justify the performances by UCF and Cal, but this UAB team is not very good. They will not win many games this year, and yet they were a touchdown away from taking the lead in Ohio Stadium with less than 10 minutes to play. This team could be rolling by the end of the year, kind of like 2005 Buckeyes, but they are going to have a hard time getting past Michigan State, Nebraska and some of the other good (is that the right word?) teams in the Big Ten this year.
2. As a runner, Braxton Miller may be unparalleled. It’s going to be an unending amount of fun to watch what kind of numbers Miller can and will put up over the course of his career in Meyer’s system. It really is the perfect offense for his skill set as a runner because it creates isolation situations where Miller has a defender one-on-one in the open field. At that point, it’s over. That guy doesn’t stand a chance against Miller’s uncanny ability to make a move and accelerate right past a guy as he grabs at the draft being left behind. It’s to the point of being so embarrassing, you almost feel bad for the other guy.
3. It’s a good thing Miller can move like that, because he is not a very good passer at this point. There is a lot of reason to believe Miller can develop into an excellent college passer. Go back and watch the first half of the Cal game, when he was putting the ball on the money, but Miller should have carved up the UAB defense on Saturday. There were at least three occasions Saturday where Corey Brown got behind the defense – just as he did to Michigan last fall – and Miller simply couldn’t throw a catchable ball – also just like Michigan. The first two were overthrown and the second was underthrown, resulting in zero catches. He has a strong enough arm and good release, so I’m going to agree with Tom Herman that it’s a result of something going haywire with his lower body. We probably won’t see him turn the corner completely until next year.
4. Jordan Hall is who he is. Hall may eventually become the dynamic playmaker to compliment Braxton Miller’s running ability, but right now Ohio State fans will just have to accept him for what he is: a decent football player with little wiggle to his game and not a whole lot else. He may still be rusty from the foot injury, but right now Hall is not a gamebreaker. He is, however, better than their other guys, at least until Carlos Hyde returns. Hall is good pass catcher who can accelerate when he gets out in space. He’s not a great guy to run between the tackles, but the Buckeyes need someone they can count on to consistently carry the load other than Braxton. Hall proved he could be that guy, at least against UAB. He ran for 105 yards on 17 carries and added two catches for 21 more yards. He didn’t have a play that went for more than 14 yards, but he gave them just enough consistency to allow Braxton to do what he does.
5. Devin Smith has a long way to go. As it turns out, there is a reason Meyer said he's hesitant to compliment players too much. Sometimes they end up turning the other way. I bet he'd like to have that compliment he gave to Devin Smith this week back right about now. Meyer told Smith he was the best player in the receiver room, but he certainly didn’t look like Saturday. Don’t get me wrong, he has more ability to make a big play than anyone else in that room, but he also has the ability to crush a drive and kill the offensive momentum with a bad drop. He did that twice Saturday – once on a key third down play and another on what should have been a touchdown. Smith got the defender turned around and the ball hit him in the hands, but he just couldn’t bring it in. Great players have to make that catch.
6. The Buckeyes need Nathan Williams to stay healthy. It will really help this team when they get Michael Bennett back, but he’s going to be rusty and probably a little passive when he first gets back out there. What they really need is for Nathan Williams to stay healthy the rest of the year. He isn’t playing mistake-free football right now and he still has a ways to go if he’s going to be his old self, but he has been the most disruptive force on the defense not name Hankins. He doesn’t always make the right play, but he gives 4-6 seconds of relentless effort and he clobbers people out there. They need more guys like that.
7. This defense is in for a long year. After four games, I think we can look at this defense for what it is. Some of the young guys will continue to progress, and they will get some guys back from injury, but this is just not a very good group right now. It wasn’t a good group a year ago, and really hasn’t progressed as much as most people expected. John Simon is playing hurt, but the real problem has been at linebacker. Ryan Shazier has a bright future, but he has got to learn to play under control. He flies around as much as anyone out there, and he’s putting up big numbers, but he’s also missing a lot of tackles they need him to make. They need him to make them because everyone else is missing tackles too. They can tinker with the scheme and switch out some personnel, they can work on tackling and they can preach flying to the football, but it’s going to be very difficult for this leopard to change its spots.
8. Christian Bryant is doing more harm than good. When he lines up a perfect hit and delivers a slobber-knocker, Bryant is as exciting a player as there is in the Big Ten. He can really bring it and he has a knack for being around the football. Unfortunately he also thinks making the big hit is more important than securing the tackle. He loves to lead with his right shoulder and the next time he wraps up a ball-carrier will be the first. To make matters worse, Bryant talks like he’s Ed Reed in his fifth year with the Baltimore Ravens. He picked up an senseless personal foul penalty against UAB and doesn’t seem to understand that this team has a lot of issues right now. The last thing they need is him mouthing off after a play.
9. Doran Grant might be the second-best corner on the team. Grant challenged Travis Howard for the starting spot in spring, and after today, I'd have to think that battle could be back on. In his first career start, Grant had a sack, forced fumble, interception and career-high in tackles to make up for the absence of Bradley Roby, who was sidelined by a shoulder injury. Howard should have had his fourth pick of the year if not for Joel Hale's penalty, but his tackling was horrendous. He gives up contain on the outside far too often and the Buckeyes really need some guys out there who are playing sound football, not just making big plays.
10. Even Meyer can’t clean up this mess in a couple months. Maybe Urban Meyer will not have the same success at Ohio State he had at Utah and Florida, but it seems unlikely. He is running one of the most successful programs in college football and he’s a rockstar to recruits. The problem is, he inherited a team with a lot of problems. It also has a lot of talent, but very little depth, especially at some key positions. Meyer can rave all he wants about Simon and Boren as the leaders, but the older guys on this team are mostly the same guys who were a part of that 6-7 team a year ago. The Big Ten is down, so Meyer might be able to navigate these choppy waters, but at some point the true foundation of a team will shine through when the pressure gets turned up.
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