Football | OSU Insider: Offense finishes early
Ohio State safety Christian Bryant is helped off the field late in the game after suffering a broken ankle.
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Ohio State pushes the nation’s longest win streak to 17, but a fourth-quarter offensive hibernation brought nervous late-night yawns as thoughts turned toward Northwestern.
In the polls
The Buckeyes are experiencing elevation stagnation, staying No. 3 in the USA Today coaches poll behind Alabama and Oregon, and No. 4 in the Associated Press media poll, behind Clemson at No. 3. Voters weren’t impressed by how Ohio State turned a potential runaway win into a seven-point victory. But now comes the prime-time showdown at Northwestern — yes, showdown — and any kind of win over the Wildcats (No. 15 in the coaches poll, No. 16 in AP) should at least strengthen the Buckeyes’ stance.
Braxton Miller, or at least he was for three quarters. During that time, he returned from his almost-three-game hiatus because of a left knee sprain to throw four touchdown passes as the Buckeyes built a 31-14 lead. After what he indicated was a tentative start running the ball, he wound up rushing-scrambling for 83 yards, second only to teammate Carlos Hyde’s game-leading 85. Miller was 17 of 25 passing for 198 yards and no interceptions. He was slinging it with gusto, too.
What’s not hot?
The Ohio State pass defense. All-Big Ten cornerback Bradley Roby in particular found himself on an island often with Wisconsin go-to receiver Jared Abbrederis, yet Abbrederis shook free from him and others to make 10 catches for an astounding 207 yards. That included a 36-yard TD pass from Joel Stave over the close-covering Roby, and a 64-yard wide-open catch-and-run that was a coverage bust by the secondary. A Wisconsin offense known for pounding the ball on the ground instead threw 34 passes, with Stave hitting 20 for 295 yards and two TDs while getting sacked just twice. But Roby, who had to leave briefly after getting banged up early, did get the night’s only interception.
What went right?
In the beginning, it was Ohio State’s wide-open attack. Miller had the Badgers guessing on defense, and he took advantage, as on a quick roll left and then a pinpoint 25-yard touchdown pass to Evan Spencer for the first TD. Miller’s back-shoulder throw to Devin Smith for the second TD was another example of crisp execution.
Back to the drawing board
The Buckeyes’ gas pedal isn’t accustomed to being pushed in the second half this season. That’s evident. The offense gained only 116 yards on seven possessions in the last two quarters. The only OSU score in the second half was a 1-yard TD pass from Miller to Corey Brown midway through the third quarter after the Roby interception. OSU is No. 6 nationally in scoring at 48.2 points a game but has scored just 10 points in the fourth quarter.
Senior safety and co-captain Christian Bryant was lost for the rest of season after suffering a broken ankle on the penultimate defensive play of the game. It’s likely that Corey Brown will take his place in the starting lineup, although that will be settled in practice this week.
After the Buckeyes went three-and-out and were forced to punt from their 38 with 1:40 to play, Australian punter Cameron Johnston stepped up in the clutch and boomed a 55-yarder that pinned the Badgers at their 10, where Camren Williams tackled returner Abbrederis. Four defensive plays later, the win was clinched.
Northwestern, which had Saturday off to rest up and lie deeper in wait. The Wildcats (4-0) probably have had this game circled on the calendar for a couple of years, given that they haven’t played Ohio State since 2008, when the Buckeyes won 45-10 at then-No. 25 Northwestern. The Wildcats are ranked 87th in total defense (426.8-yard avg.), but they are a creative 30th in total offense (483.3) under the leadership of QBs Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian. A bonus this week could be the possible return of running back Venric Mark, who has been out since the opener after suffering a lower-body injury.
This week’s challenge
It’s to go on the road and knock off one of only two other unbeaten teams in the Big Ten. The Buckeyes obviously have few chances in their Big Ten schedule to make a national statement. One came against Wisconsin. The next comes at Northwestern. With designs on more than a Big Ten title, they can’t afford to waste it.