Ohio State Buckeyes: Ohio State Buckeyes
2. Alabama and Florida State are guaranteed nothing in the BCS. But the gulf between the No. 2 Seminoles and No. 3 Buckeyes indicates that there won’t be any drama about who goes to Pasadena as long as the Crimson Tide and the Seminoles win out. Given that Alabama still must play No. 6 Auburn, and then, with a win, either No. 8 Missouri or No. 11 South Carolina, we may yet witness a huge public debate about the Buckeyes and No. 4 Baylor. As of now, that debate is for entertainment purposes only.
3. Here’s one thing the BCS standings might have gotten right: as Coaches By the Numbers tweeted Sunday, only three teams are 5-0 this season against teams with winning records. They are No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 Florida State and No. 3 Ohio State. You can argue that their opponents don’t play anyone, hence their records. But if it were that easy to beat that many teams with records over .500, more than three teams would have done so.
"Oh, yeah ... this is how it’s supposed to be."
THAT'S WHAT POPPED into Braxton Miller’s mind as he came to his feet slowly off the red-painted turf of the end zone, immediately enveloped in the arms of three teammates. Behind him a wave of raised arms started in the seats that lined the field and it washed over the entirety of Ohio Stadium. The first quarter wasn’t yet over and the Ohio State Buckeyes were already rolling over Penn State 14-0 in front a national television audience. The same Nittany Lions who, in their previous game, took down OSU’s archrival Michigan in four overtimes.
And they too were joining in the junior quarterback’s revelation: The Buckeyes are legit.
With 1 minute, 10 seconds remaining in the opening stanza, surely none of the 105,889 in attendance realized that Ohio State was beginning what would turn out to be a 63-14 romp, the worst beatdown suffered by a PSU squad in 114 years (darn that 1899 Duquesne Athletic Club!).
But what the Buckeyes faithful did know was that their team was making a statement, a collective message sent out by all four teams in atop the BCS standings. After an October filled with upsets, upstarts and puzzling parity, Ohio State locked arms with Alabama, Oregon and Florida State. The quartet combined to march over their opponents by a combined score of 199-55 and a 35-point average margin of victory, all in games that had been labeled as potential tripwires.
So let’s call Week 9 Superpower Saturday.
Remember when Alabama's D still had work to do? Well, it's done. Remember when Florida State still had trap-game syndrome? Gone. Meanwhile, running back De'Anthony Thomas is back for Oregon after missing a month and scored a touchdown in the Ducks' win over UCLA.
As for Columbus, the Buckeyes are finally at full strength too. Because Miller is at full strength. He came into 2013 on everyone's short list for the Heisman Trophy. But when he suffered an ankle sprain against San Diego State on Sept. 7, he quickly disappeared. His backup, Kenny Guiton, won Big Ten offensive player of the week twice in his absence.
Even when Miller returned and beat Wisconsin on Sept. 28, there was some doubt about his game, and thus his entire team. At Northwestern, in front of a national TV audience, he tossed one interception and zero TDs in the win. Against Iowa he racked up 324 yards of offense, but it was against, well, Iowa.
Through it all, Miller and his team were taking a public beating. The Buckeyes fell behind Florida State in the polls and it was their seeming unworthiness that sparked a national sports talk radio debate: If we had the playoff this year, who would be your fourth? Really, the Buckeyes?
He also said: "I just love where Braxton's at right now. I love the fact he's acting like a quarterback. I'm not disrespecting Braxton. You guys know I love that guy. But I felt like he was an athlete playing quarterback a year ago. I feel like he's a quarterback that's a really good athlete now."
There was one play in particular that led to those feelings. The 39-yard TD run. It was old-school Miller, but it was also new-school Miller, in control the entire time. As the quarterback explained matter-of-factly, but with a smile: "Coach said he wanted a running touchdown. And I gave it to him."
In the closing two minutes of the first quarter, Miller took the shotgun snap at the Penn State 44-yard line, not even bothering with what was supposed to be a hard-sell fake handoff to tailback Rod Smith. Instead, he immediately tucked and took off, so quickly that he ran into the back of 6-foot-6, 319-pound left guard Andrew Norwell.
He placed his hand on the lineman’s very broad waist and pushed off, a shove that helped launch him to the right and across the back of right tackle Taylor Decker, who was standing up Penn State D-end Anthony Zettel. Within a collapsing box only about 5 yards long and perhaps 3 yards wide, he made no fewer than three tiny cuts -- right, left, right -- and once again placed his left hand against a lineman’s back. This time it was the right guard, 6-6, 315-pound Marcus Hall, who had teamed with center Corey Linsley to drive D-lineman Austin Johnson backward 4 yards, throwing him into onrushing linebacker Nyeem Wartman and blowing open the front door.
Hall took his cue and turned up field, running over the fallen Wartman and alongside Miller … well, sort of. By the time Miller hit the 40, he was at full speed, angling right and looking downfield toward the goal line. After a stutter-step at the 10, he started cutting again -- left, right, left -- and dove into the end zone through the arms of three tacklers.
Per the clock, the play of near-perfection took 11 seconds. But to the team and its followers, it was the kind of play -- and game -- they’d waited two-thirds of a season to see. "We probably played our best game of the season," said offensive line coach Ed Warinner. "It was fun to be a part of.”
There was no probably to it. Miller accounted for 320 yards of offense and five touchdowns, three passing and two rushing. In addition to his fancy footwork, he also impressed with his willingness to plant those feet and launch quality passes, particularly a 25-yard TD throw at the close of the first half. It was crisp, on target and straight into the middle of the field.
Just as encouraging was a defensive unit that seemed to turn every decent Penn State drive into a turnover; freshman QB Christian Hackenberg was intercepted early and sacked often, including two takedowns by linebacker Noah Spence, who was headed to Happy Valley before the Jerry Sandusky scandal turned him toward Columbus.
Now the Buckeyes must travel to Purdue and Illinois, host Indiana and then venture up to Michigan to close out the regular season. They believe they sent a message in October. As for the critics, they'll still save judgment for the Big House.
BCS top 4 heard all wk they'd be challenged but Bama, FSU, Oregon, Ohio St all gonna win big. Message sent. #StoryoftheSeason
— Ryan McGee (@ESPNMcGee) October 27, 2013
2. Oregon State leads the FBS in passing offense with 420.8 yards per game, even after Stanford limited the Beavers to 271 passing yards and one touchdown in a 20-12 defeat on Saturday. What’s amazing though, is that the next four places in passing offense are Texas schools: Baylor, Texas Tech, SMU and Texas A&M. And yes, we know, every other NFL team has a Texas native at quarterback. But still, just a generation ago, all Texas high schools played was option football. It’s a startling shift.
3. When USC appointed defensive coordinator Ed Orgeron to replace Lane Kiffin as interim head coach, that left an opening. Orgeron called fellow southerner Pete Jenkins, generally recognized as one of the best defensive line coaches in pro or college ball of this generation. Jenkins, 72, who has been retired for three years, does contract work with potential draftees, although don’t call him a consultant. With the Trojans, he said, “I am a substitute teacher for the rest of the year.”
Hawk might not have been the best linebacker in Ohio State history -- that was Chris Spielman -- but the former first-team All-American and 2005 Lombardi Award winner would fit well in the defensive scheme my coaches would devise. And the hair. You have to appreciate the hair.
In all seriousness, though, having covered Hawk during the 2006 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, when he played against his future brother-in-law Brady Quinn and Notre Dame, I saw first-hand what Hawk was able to do to an opposing offense. He sacked Quinn twice that day and changed much of what Notre Dame had tried to do.
His 394 tackles are fifth in school history, and his 41 tackles for loss are eighth. His 15 sacks are 13th. He led Ohio State in tackles for three consecutive years.
The final piece is that Hawk is a high-character guy. He is an intelligent playmaker with good instincts and can make plays from sideline-to-sideline. He would be the one player from Ohio State I’d steal.
Prince showed off a slimmed down frame -- he’s lost more than 30 pounds, he said, to reach about 285 -- and dominated in blocking drills against a stout group of defensive linemen.
Prince, No. 33 in the ESPN 150, put himself in position to rise over the upcoming months.
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After all, Richmond’s team ended the season for Barnett last November with a one-point win the state-playoff semifinal round.
Barnett said he thought he earned a victory over Richmond on Sunday at the Nike Football Training Camp on the home turf of the coveted 2015 offensive tackle.
“I want to go up against the best,” Barnett said, “so I was like, ‘Come on, let’s battle.’ It went well. I got the best of him. He got me a few times, but I think I won that one.”
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Safety Mattrell McGraw (River Ridge, La./John Curtis) and outside linebacker Petera Wilson (Memphis, Tenn./White Station) hold offers from Alabama, Ole Miss and Tennessee. Wilson has also been offered by Florida, Georgia, LSU and Mississippi State; McGraw by Arkansas and Vanderbilt.
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DAYTON, Ohio -- With less than 5 seconds left in a tied game, perhaps the best pure scorer in the country came off a pair of screens that did exactly what they were designed to do: get him open.
Deshaun Thomas called for the ball -- screamed for it, waved his hands high above the 6-foot-7 inch frame that had made him essentially unguardable for the first 39 minutes and 55 seconds of his team's second-round NCAA tournament thriller -- but the pass never came.
Instead, a 6-foot-2 point guard -- who spent most of the second half turning the ball over and missing key free throws, who was being guarded by the opposing team's tallest player, who hadn't attempted a 3-pointer all afternoon and averages just 29.3 percent from beyond the arc this season -- looked him off.
To say Aaron Craft faced pressure in the final seconds of Ohio State's 78-75 win over Iowa State Sunday is to state the incredibly obvious, but that pressure wouldn't have come solely from Buckeyes fans, who would have surely blamed him for a heartbreaking second-round upset loss. Craft would have had one unhappy teammate, too.
DAYTON, Ohio -- Quick thoughts on Ohio State's 78-75 win over Iowa State.
Overview: In a matchup between one of the nation's best and most entertaining offenses, and one of the nation's most brutal and most finely tuned defenses, it was only fitting the game came down to the final possession.
And then Aaron Craft redeemed himself.
The Buckeyes and their point guard survived a sweaty-palmed nightmare of a second half, and a flurry of huge plays in a 13-point Iowa State comeback, in time to allow Craft to back up his defender with the clock winding and the game tied at 75. Rather than driving, Craft took a 3 -- it looked like another in a series of uncharacteristically poor decisions -- but it was true, it splashed, and Craft held up his hand on the follow-through as the rest of his teammates went nuts.
Ohio State had survived.
Turning point: Even at the 11:46 mark in the second half, Ohio State still couldn't pull away -- Tyrus McGee made a brilliant drop-off to Melvin Ejim, who eventually finished with a dunk, and Iowa State closed yet another lead to just one point, 52-51. After a Thad Matta timeout, Ohio State sorted through ISU's 2-3 zone and found Deshaun Thomas for a corner 3. The next four OSU possessions went like this: A LaQuinton Ross fast-break layup (thanks to a Thomas steal), Ross for 3, two Ross free throws, and yet another Ross 3. By the time it was over, the Buckeyes led 65-53.
It looked like Ohio State was ready to hammer home yet another win, their 10th straight since mid-February … which is precisely when Iowa State came alive once more. Craft turned the ball over twice and missed the front end of two straight one-and-ones, and Iowa State recovered with a trademark flurry of baskets -- two 3s, a McGee layup, and a Korie Lucious foul and finish that tied the game at 69 with 3:53 left to play.
The game swung in every direction in the final moments -- including a pivotal and questionable charge call against ISU -- and we didn't have our outcome until Craft wound the final 30 seconds to their last possible daylight before making the 3 that will likely become his signature play as an Ohio State Buckeye.
Key player: Ross. Were it not for Ross' flurry of scores in the second half -- he provided the secondary scoring Ohio State desperately needs -- it's not unfair to think the Cyclones' eventual spurt would have put Ohio State in a hole from which they couldn't have recovered. Ross finished with 17 points on 6-of-10 shooting from the field, including 3-of-5 from 3.
Key stat: The Cyclones made just 11 2-point field goals on the day but compensated by hitting 12 of their 25 3-point field goal attempts -- by far the best indication that this was a game they could -- if not should -- have won. Ohio State just … survived. What can you do?
What's next: The Buckeyes avoid being added to the list of West Region favorites undone by double-digit seeds and now look out on a comparably wide-open path to the Final Four when they travel to Los Angeles Thursday. Iowa State ends its second straight tournament in the second round, no doubt disappointed but also encouraged about the program's bright and sure to be entertaining future under third-year coach Fred Hoiberg.
With Kelly out of the picture, the four-star wide receiver is doing just that by visiting Arizona, and other programs have also been in touch.
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Ohio State killed the last one left and in the process proved that it’s suddenly alive and well as a contender again.
Limping along without a win over a ranked opponent and a little more than a week removed from an embarrassing early loss in conference play, the Buckeyes finally rediscovered the defense-first formula that has proved to work from them so many times before. And while Ohio State would have taken a momentum-building win over any ranked team in the Big Ten to help validate itself again as a national threat, there were certainly no complaints about the collateral damage a 56-53 win on Sunday at Value City Arena caused No. 2 Michigan.
A perfect start for the Wolverines is gone. Trey Burke’s player of the year candidacy hit a minor snag thanks to the relentless pressure the Buckeyes slapped on him. And with Michigan poised to jump to No. 1 in the polls after watching the other unbeaten teams fall one by one this week, it’ll likely be heading the other direction while No. 15 Ohio State reversed its slide and put itself in position to climb again.
“It’s always in the back of your mind,” Buckeyes point guard Aaron Craft said. “We hadn’t played our best when we played the better teams that we played this year, and I think we kind of just took a step back and tried to find a way to get a big win.
“Any time you can do it against a team like Michigan or in this league [is big], and you just can’t lose at home. That’s something that you really harp on if you want to be there at the end of the season, to try to win a Big Ten championship.”
The Buckeyes checked off everything on that to-do list one by one, almost as soon as the ball was tipped.
There was no shortage of passion on the court or in the sellout crowd, and Ohio State turned that energy into a huge 16-0 run that put a young Michigan team on its heels just seven minutes into the game.
The Buckeyes also tirelessly defended their home court, harassing Burke with lockdown defense from Craft that forced Michigan’s leading scorer to take 14 shots to get his 15 points while turning the ball over four times.
And the message that it was going to take a return to a tougher brand of basketball after losses at Duke, last month at home against Kansas and in an ugly trip to Illinois was clearly delivered, putting the Buckeyes right back in the mix in the rugged Big Ten.
“Our coaches, everybody, we were disappointed in our effort [at Illinois],” senior Evan Ravenel said. “We just told the team, if we come out here like that, we’re going to get beat up and beat every game in this league.
“We know what kind of team we have and know how we’ve got to play, we’ve got to play physical, grind it out, play strong defensively and we’ve got to have a good mind to win games. That’s what we did today.”
The Buckeyes didn’t exactly do it for the entire 40 minutes, struggling through a lengthy dry spell as the Wolverines dialed up the defensive pressure themselves to completely erase a lead that had been as large as 21 points to tie the game late in the second half.
But just as Ohio State had tightened the screws defensively in jumping out in front of its rival, it put itself back in control by making it difficult for Burke to get open looks -- or anybody else, for that matter, as the Big Ten’s best shooting team connected on just 38 percent of its attempts from the floor to watch its perfect start go up in flames.
“[Ohio State coach Thad Matta’s] teams have always been this way, but this one really, the perimeter defense in particular, is exceptional,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “Thad is a great defensive coach and they’ve got great defenders, and that combination is very good.
“Craft is as good as there is, as good as I’ve ever seen. He’s tremendous, he’s going to be good and you just have to applaud that and say, ‘OK, we’ve got to continue to get better, because they’re going to continue to get better.’”
The Buckeyes have some proof of improvement now.
And while the work is far from over with so much basketball left ahead of Ohio State in the Big Ten, it made sure there would be no need for a second crack at ending a rival's perfect season -- or another chance to claim its first signature victory.
Overview: The venue apparently doesn’t make any difference. Kansas has the formula for beating Ohio State anywhere the programs play.
After beating OSU at home during the regular season a year ago and in a neutral building at the Final Four, the Jayhawks and coach Bill Self continued their mastery in the series between the top-10 programs by completing the trifecta with a convincing win in Columbus, the team's first true road game of the season.
The victory keeps the hot streak rolling for the No. 9 Jayhawks, which have won nine straight and are rounding into a dangerous contender with their blend of veteran talent and a precocious young scorer in Ben McLemore. The redshirt freshman continued his national coming-out party with a dynamic offensive performance, leading Kansas with 22 points and making it look effortless at times.
The No. 7 Buckeyes weren’t able to counter with nearly as much consistency from their leading scorer, as Deshaun Thomas was flustered by extra defensive attention from Kansas and made only four shots from the field despite leading the team with 16 points.
While their defense makes them a tough out and a threat in the Big Ten, the Bucks have come up short against both ranked opponents they’ve faced this season after dropping a close decision at Duke last month.
Turning point: After it closed the deficit to a one-possession game and got the vocal home crowd back on its feet, Ohio State’s momentum and the noise disappeared almost right away. Turning to one of its veterans instead of a high-scoring freshman, Kansas delivered a dagger with a 3-pointer from the top of the key by Travis Releford with just more than 8 minutes to play in the second half.
The Jayhawks would go on an 8-0 run shortly after that deep bomb, and Ohio State didn’t have the firepower to rally down the stretch.
Key player: The star was already on the rise, but McLemore confirmed he belongs in the conversation among the best scorers in the country by answering the biggest challenge of his young career.
McLemore was a threat from all over the court, knocking down open 3-pointers on the outside and putting back offensive rebounds on the inside to keep Kansas afloat against Ohio State’s stingy defense. It hardly seemed to matter whom the Buckeyes used to try to slow him down. McLemore used his athleticism to get in productive spots and convert.
Key stat: Just like they were late against Kansas in the Final Four and in their last big test against Duke, the Buckeyes were undone by spotty shooting on the perimeter in the second half, which spoiled an otherwise solid defensive outing. After hitting just less than 50 percent of its attempts in a competitive first half, OSU made just one of its first 13 attempts from 3-point range after coming back out of the locker room as the Jayhawks pulled away. Ohio State wound up shooting 26 percent from beyond the arc and couldn’t keep pace down the stretch.
Miscellaneous: Coach Thad Matta dropped to 76-3 in his career at Ohio State against nonconference opponents at home. ... The Buckeyes had a 39-game winning streak at home against non-Big Ten teams snapped. The last team to knock off the Bucks on their home floor was West Virginia on Dec. 27, 2008. ... Kansas leads the all-time series with Ohio State 8-3.
Next up: The Buckeyes wrap up play outside the conference with one final tuneup against Chicago State next weekend before opening up Big Ten action with a home date against Nebraska on Jan. 2. The Jayhawks return home for nonconference meetings with American and Temple over the next two weeks before starting league play against Iowa State on Jan. 9.
"Perfect," he said.
It's not a bad way to put it.
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