1. Last season, Minnesota was down 17 points with 10:08 left in the game; at the 1:19 mark, they were attempting an onside kick for a chance to tie the game. Last night, Minnesota was down 21 points with 14:42 left to play; at the 2:03 mark, they were attempting an onside kick for a chance to tie the game.
2. Last night, Alabama beat LSU 30-16 at home. The Tide held the Tigers to 54 yards rushing on 26 attempts (2.1 ypc). Last night, Ohio State beat Minnesota 28-14 at home. The Buckeyes held the Golden Gophers to 33 yards rushing on 26 attempts (1.3 ypc). So who will get credit for having the great victory? Granted, LSU was undefeated and ranked top-5 in all polls and Minnesota was a 4-4 team. But LSU had struggled in several games this season and proved themselves to be a one-dimensional team, while Minnesota had a highly-rated defense and played #8 TCU and #17 Michigan to within one score. The Minnesota win was a quality win, but the Buckeyes will get zero credit for it from the national pundits.
3. LSU running back Leonard Fournette began yesterday as the Heisman frontrunner; Alabama held him to 31 yards on 19 carries (1.6 ypc) and a late, meaningless touchdown. TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin was also garnering a lot of Heisman hype; Oklahoma State, not known as a defensive juggernaut, forced him into four interceptions including a pick six and a near pick six (down at the one-yard line) and stuffed him on a crucial 4th-and-goal from the one-half-yard line. Ezekiel Elliot began the day with 1,130 yards rushing (142 yards per game) and 13 touchdowns; against a top-25 Minnesota defense that was selling out to stop the run, Zeke had his 14th consecutive 100-yard game (26 carries, 114 yards, 4.4 ypc) and a nifty 15-yard touchdown run. So who leads the Heisman race now? Alabama's Derrick Henry, of course. S-E-C!
4. For the Ohio State offense to be effective, it needs a quarterback who can: (a) run the ball; and (b) hit the deep pass. Cardale Jones had runs of 19 yards (to convert 3rd-and-18) and 38 yards (to convert 3rd-and-9 and score the game-clinching touchdown), and passes of 44 yards (to Jalin Marshall) and 45 yards (to Braxton Miller). So why did the Buckeyes' offense look so anemic last night? I don't know. Maybe the Buckeyes need to throw deep early in the game instead of attempting to run Zeke into stacked boxes.
5. It's pretty clear by now that the Buckeye offense bogs down when the coaching staff forces the ball to Braxton Miller. After his brilliant 54-yard touchdown run against Virginia Tech in the season opener, Braxton has done very little from the wildcat formation as opposing defenses realize that he is simply not a threat to throw the ball. If Miller can't get touches in the normal flow of the offense (jet sweeps, downfield passes), then he shouldn't be getting the ball at all.
6. Minnesota is the last team to hold Ezekiel Elliott under 100 yards rushing. Last season, Zeke had 18 carries for 91 yards (5.1 ypc) and no touchdowns. However, J.T. Barrett went crazy on the Golden Gopher defense, with 17 carries for 189 yards (11.1 ypc) and an 86-yard touchdown run.
7. Quite frankly, the Buckeye defense made Mitch Leidner (64th in passing yards, 98th in passing efficiency) look like Brett Favre. Or John Elway. Or Aaron Rodgers. I'm not sure which comparison is most apt, but you get the point. Last night, Leidner was 27/44 (.614 completion percentage) for 281 yards, 2 TDs, and an INT. Leidner will never be confused with Cam Newton, but he consistently escaped pressure in the pocket (the Buckeyes managed only a single sack on the night) to complete passes to wide open receivers.
8. Leidner's favorite target was the diminutive K.J. Maye (5-foot-9, 190 pounds), a marginal talent who entered the game with 39 receptions (just under 5 per game), 408 receiving yards (45.3 per game), and 3 touchdowns. Last night, Maye lit up the Buckeyes with 10 receptions for 116 yards (long of 57) and a touchdown.
9. As mentioned above, the Buckeye defense completely snuffed the Gophers' running attack (26 carries, 33 yards, 1.3 ypc), which was a positive sign. The defense also got a 16-yard pick six from Vonn Bell, his second touchdown of the year (he also had a 14 yard fumble recovery versus Hawaii).
10. Jalin Marshall had a good night returning punts, with 5 returns for 64 yards (12.8 average), a long of 33 yards, and no scary plays.
11. Last season, the Buckeyes punted just 48 times in 15 games, for an average of 3.2 per game. This season, the Buckeyes have already punted 41 times in 9 games, for an average of 4.6 per game.
12. Last night, Cameron Johnston had 7 punts for a 40.3 average, 3 downed inside the 20-yard line, and a touchback. Not his best effort.
13. Jack Willoughby missed another field goal last night, this time a 35-yard attempt that was nowhere near the mark. On the season, Willoughby is 7/11 (.636 accuracy, 102nd in FBS) with a long of just 39 yards.
14. So what's wrong this year? Or is the glow from those national championship rings blinding our hindsight? Here's a chart comparing common opponents from the 2014 and 2015 seasons:
So against common opponents, the 2015 Buckeyes are clearly outperforming the 2014 Buckeyes, with 7 more points scored, 41 fewer points surrendered, and most importantly one more win.
Ohio State Opponent 2014 Score Result 2015 Score Result Virginia Tech 21 - 35 L 42 - 24 W Maryland 52 - 24 W 49 - 28 W Rutgers 56 - 17 W 49 - 7 W Penn State 31 - 24 W 38 - 10 W Indiana 42 - 27 W 34 - 27 W Minnesota 31 - 24 W 28 - 14 W Totals 233 - 151 5 - 1 240 - 110 6 - 0
15. Some more evidence that this year's team is outperforming last year's, even though it sometimes doesn't seem like it: Through the first nine games of the 2014 season, Ezekiel Elliott had 149 carries for 863 yards (5.79 ypc, 95.9 ypg) and 3 TDs. Through the first nine games of the 2015 season, Zeke has 193 carries for 1,244 yards (6.45 ypc, 138.2 ypg) and 14 TDs, quite an improvement.
16. Michael Thomas's numbers are almost identical from last season to this. In 2014, Thomas had 31 receptions for 538 yards (17.4 ypc, 59.8 ypg) and 7 TDs through the first nine games. In 2015, Thomas has 37 receptions for 575 yards (15.4 ypc, 63.9 ypg) and 7 TDs through the first nine games.
17. In terms of personnel, the main differences between last season and this are Devin Smith, who provided a consistent deep threat; and Jeff Heuerman and Evan Spencer, who provided excellent blocking in the running game.
18. And let's not forget, last season the Buckeyes did not really turn on the jets until the last five minutes of the Michigan game when Ezekiel Elliott scored on a 44-yard touchdown run and Darron Lee scored on a 33-yard fumble recovery three plays later. The Buckeyes were able to carry that timely momentum into the post season and it propelled them to a national championship. Maybe something similar will happen this season. Until then, a win is a win is a win.
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