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Early in Ohio State’s 37-17 rout of CU, it became apparent that the visiting Buffs had lost all direction.
An OSU program battling the uncertainties of probation and worn down from a summer-long investigation remained stable by playing the same backyard-tough style that earned them seven national championships. A relentless rushing game (the Buckeyes ran 47 times for 226 yards) sped over the Buffs, who dragged behind because of missed tackles and slow reaction.
Before the season, CU’s new head coach Jon Embree printed plans designed for a run priority, throwback offense. They imagined an offensive tribute to what made their championship teams thrive.
Their vision quickly derailed upon reaching Ohio Stadium, where they were under pressure from 105,000 fans. The Buckeyes
not only ran at will, but also denied the Buff’s offense from reaching a first down until it was already 17-0.
“We have been awful starting games,” Embree said. “We script plays and we go through it and we give them the looks and we practice it. We do everything. But, for whatever reason, when the lights go on whether it’s a drop, whether it’s a missed block, whether it’s a fumble, we continually struggle starting games.”
Already trailing far behind, play caller Eric Bieniemy abandoned the empty frame of a running game in favor of Tyler Hansen’s arm. Hansen’s shiny stat-line of 238 yards with two touchdowns and no turnovers couldn’t cover up the busted reality.
CU does not have the speed or the consistent playmakers to keep up with the elite.
Hansen can continue playing shootout football, but with a stumbling run game giving him no reprieve, his offense is bound to drift back into the slow lane of Pac-12 contenders. They won’t have the balance to stay within the same stadium as up-tempo Oregon or unswerving Stanford.
“Everything we want to accomplish is still ahead,” said the senior quarterback. “This game doesn’t count towards our goal of winning the Pac-12. We’re still motivated. It hurts to lose, but we’re going to keep fighting.”
A defense that used to make quarterbacks fear the sight of black jerseys saw Ohio State’s freshman Braxton Miller look wholly composed in his first career start. Missed tackles paved an easy route for Miller and his backs. He shifted his way through tacklers, gaining more yards on the ground (83 yards on 17 carries) than the entire CU offense.
“I felt like our defense did a decent job but we did not tackle him,” Embree said. “He did a good job on eliminating losses where we should have had them for negative gains. We had shots but just couldn’t bring him to behind the line of scrimmage.”
A supposed homecoming party for three Ohio-bred Buffs turned into a bed-wetting nightmare. Stewart looked uncomfortable, even in front of family and friends, as the OSU defense stuffed his runs and stalked his screens. Deji Olatoye, from nearby Dublin, OH, lagged behind receiver Devin Smith all day. Even the usually dependable Doug Rippy had trouble shedding blockers.
At first glance, the post-game stat sheet tells that OSU outrushed CU by 150 yards. This shares something telling: the importance of recruiting for speed – a matter that Embree’s staff will have no control over until future classes sign on.
What he does control is how to adapt a faulty system around the players he does have. If he wants to spread teams on offense, he’ll need more than just a single playmaker like Paul Richardson. Though Richardson went relatively unseen under a cloak of double coverage, his receiving counterpart Toney Clemons caught his second touchdown in consecutive weeks.
Clemons says he understands his offense requires more balance if it expects to outscore future opponents.
“We have to let teams know we have two playmakers and not just one,” he said. “And we have to work on getting into a better rhythm.”
For now, the Buffs return to Boulder in midst of a serious identity crisis. A visit to Ohio Stadium granted them opportunity to look into a mirror, showing them what they’ve turned into. Hopefully this will help them realize what they want to become.
While the Buckeyes rolled by virtue of an old-school approach, Buff players and coaches were left on the ground in dazed wonder. OSU came out with a similar blueprint to CU’s and executed it at a more proficient pace.
Now 1-3, Embree’s group begins conference play bewildered and set back. A question that can’t yet be answered echoes louder, fogging his career’s vision.
How far back can this program go until moving forward?
Contact CU Independent Sports Editor Michael Krumholtz at Michael.firstname.lastname@example.org.