Indiana must be dealt with, but the Buckeyes impressively took down one contender in Penn State, and Michigan continued to be Michigan under mad scientist Jim Harbaugh, falling to “Little Brother” Michigan State.
Columbus – It is just two weeks into the Big Ten season – and pardon the reference to the white stuff the first week of November – but Ohio State already has a shoveled pathway to the front doorway that is the East Division championship.
The previous two seasons the public had to wait until the third week of November during a 12-game regular season to find out that the Wolverines were grand imposters against the Buckeyes.
People still get excited when the Wolverines show some spark the first weeks of the season. Some were falling all over themselves saying that they finally had a big-game quarterback in Joe Milton. Poll voters put them at No. 13 after a 49-24 wipeout of Minnesota opening day.
With leaves still on the trees, though, here’s what happened against their “Little Brother” on Saturday, and at home yet: Michigan State 27, UM 24.
The Buckeyes all but ended any shot Penn State had of winning the division with a convincing 38-25 schooling on Saturday night.
The Nittany Lions have two losses and seven weeks remain before the postseason.
Ohio State will drop two games only if there is a wave of COVID-19, or if quarterback Justin Fields is injured.
Yes, yes, the Buckeyes have games remaining against an Indiana team that has turned back the clock to 1967, when it came from nowhere to win the conference and get to the Rose Bowl, and Michigan State before the game that used to be the big one against Michigan.
But, geez, coach Ray Day’s play calling and Fields carrying out his plan with that huge line and all those thoroughbred receivers against the Lions looked like seven-on-seven in July.
Fields was the college version of Pat Mahomes in throwing for 318 yards and four touchdowns on 28 of 34 passing. Receivers Chris Olave caught 111 yards worth of passes and Garrett Wilson 107. The offense was 10-for-12 on third down and 2-for-3 on fourth.
The running game that mostly slogged around against Nebraska made a broad jump of an improvement. Master Teague did look like the quicker and more agile player that he said he would be coming out of Achilles rehabilitation in running for 115 yards one touchdown on 23 carries.
Teague’s total might could have been in the 150-yard range had he not been the good soldier and run between the tackles when Ohio State was trying to kill the clock and the defense knew he was coming.
There will be questions about a secondary that gave up a number of sizable pass plays, particularly to wunderkind Jahan Dotson. But Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford is an accurate and sly passer and he was in a desperation mode.
Cornerback Shaun Wade was all over Dotson when he was victimized by two catches that you see on Sunday in the NFL.
The defensive line has an athletic and relentless starting four in ends Jonathon Cooper and Zach Harrison and tackles Tommy Togiai and Haskell Garrett. Tackle was supposed to be a question, but Togiai and Garrett were at their bull-rushing best against the Lions.
It would help that those four get a blow now and then by capable backups. Depth is to be determined, and one would anticipate line coach Larry Johnson developing the backups.
This translates into what looks to be an unbeatable mix in a Big Ten that looks to be down. Then again, the ACC and Big 12 look pretty weak, too.
The Buckeyes task is to eliminate the small crap that cost it dearly in the College Football Playoff semifinal loss to Clemson last season in the Fiesta Bowl.
Fields must complete that lob to Wilson in the end zone on the goal line on third-and-one late in the first quarter. He overshot his man and Blake Haubeil missed the 20-yard field goal wide right for zero points.
Center Josh Myers can’t snap a fastball into Fields’ grille on first-and-goal at the 1 resulting in a 13-yard loss. Luckily for him, Ohio State scored seven points anyway.
There was an illegal formation penalty in the red zone. A team that has designs of winning a fourth straight conference championship and second national championship since 2014 can’t be penalized nine times for 80 yards.
What’s with all those personal fouls? Yikes!
Teams such as Alabama and Clemson eat up that stuff and burn your backside.
But this was Week 2 and to get this result against Penn State, however weakened by injuries and an opt out, was impressive.
As for the Wolverines, coach Jim Harbaugh continues to reek as a game manager. His wildcat formations on the goal line have been failures since his first season. This time, he took a hot quarterback off the field in Milton for gadgetry. The result was Hassan Haskins getting his lob to the tight end tipped on what should have been an easy score.
Harbaugh still doesn’t get video review, either. Unbelievably, he didn’t take a timeout during the Spartans’ winning touchdown drive after a 15-yard catch by Ricky White for a first down on third-and-seven at the UM 49 or a 31-yard completion to White to the 3. They sure looked to be clean grabs, but both times the ball was moving in his arms when it was close to the ground.
The Wolverines don’t have any semblance of a running game and those cornerbacks, particularly Vincent Gray and backup Jalen Perry, are in over their heads.
The prelude to the actual kick was something only Harbaugh would try. The place-kicker approached the ball and stopped dead in his tracks in an attempt to confuse Michigan State’s hands team. The real kick gave coverage personnel no chance.
That team down south, on the other hand, probably beat itself up during film review for the penalties, overthrow on the goal line, bad snap and not scoring more than 50 points. There were two fumbles, but neither was lost.
That path to the front door only needs a little rock salt to make the walk that much easier. The mantra is for the Buckeyes to mask up, sanitize those hands and keep doing what they are doing.