The defensive front seven physically dominated the running game, and kept fairly consistent pressure on the opposing QB.
As the game wore on, the offense's continued battering wore down the opponent's defense.
A solid, predictable start to the 2013 campaign...if you are a traditional, smash mouth SEC or Big 10 program.
As Mississippi State worked their way down the field on the opening drive of the game, Cowboy faithful could only watch as we relived the horrors of 2012...open receivers, converted 3rd downs, and dropped interceptions that would have stopped a scoring drive. Fourteen plays later, the defense managed to hold the Bulldogs to a short FG. Ok, now let's watch the offense do their thing under new OC Mike Yurcich.
Three and out.
MSU would start again, covering 48 yards in 4 plays before OSU's defense would flip the table and completely change the tenor of the game with an excellent interception by Justin Gilbert. The Bulldogs would not cross midfield with another drive until the beginning of the 4th quarter (a kick return got them in OSU territory in the 2nd quarter).
While Yurcich and company were busy working up the courage to throw the ball down the field (if we never see another screen pass until conference play, we might be ok with that), the Cowboys' defense slammed the door shut on an offense geared to cram it down their throat. OSU's defense forced 7 consecutive scoreless drives (6 punts, 1 TOD), only one of which went more than 5 plays with 4 three and outs. Two possessions resulted in negative yardage. Of the 3 long drives that ventured deep into OSU territory, the results were FG-MFG-INT. Barnett, Castleman and Company were regularly in the backfied and otherwise occupied blockers to allow the LB's to run free. The secondary was generally on point, and most completions were met immediately by a tackler.
Keep in mind that, while this is not a Bulldog offense blessed with tons of talent at the skill positions, the main strength of the team was the returning starters on offense, including QB, RB's, and the offensive line (which includes 1-2 NFL prospects). There are even a few folks that think the QB might have a chance in the NFL. The only defenses that stuffed them last season were the "big boys" of the SEC. Any win needs to be accompanied by a little "cooperation" from the opponent, and MSU complied by providing a couple of poor decisions and play calls. But I think the defense clearly answered the question about whether or not we would see a marked difference from 2012. It hit me during the 3rd quarter, once OSU made it 21-3, I comfortably thought to myself "This is over." It felt more like 35-10, honestly.
The offense answered some questions, but also presented a few more.
Predictably, Chelf got the start. Whether or not he was a victim of Yurcich getting his feet wet can be debated, but he looked uncomfortable on those first 7 plays, and the screen pass he threw at Smith's feet plus the pass to Ateman that, without his herculian effort, would have been intercepted and possibly a pick 6, screamed to me the accuracy issues Chelf had in several games last season. We knew, short of Chelf lighting it up, that Walsh would get his shot based on everything we've heard coming out of fall camp. But when J.W. came out for his third and fourth consecutive drives, those rumors were confirmed, and shortly thereafter Walsh made his own statement, single-handedly jump starting an uninspiring offense and distracting us from Mike Yurcich's obscene love affair with screen passes. Gundy removed any doubt by naming Walsh the starter for UTSA.
Jeremy Smith did an admirable job assisting, racking up 102 pretty quiet but impactful yards, showing the wisdom necessary to survive as OSU's #1 RB...instead of looking for every opportunity to punish the tackler, he chose when to punish and when to avoid. Roland provided effective relief.
The other thing that was nice to see were 2 long drives in the 2nd half that chewed up almost 10 minutes on the clock. While only producing 7 points, the deliberate and pounding nature of those possessions were a welcome sight, and allowed the defense longer breaks at a critical time in the game.
What was not a welcome sight were the offensive penalties and the drops, even from the defense who let 3 sure turnovers slip through there hands, including a guaranteed pick 6 from Gilbert. I feel like if he ever breaks that "drought" he might give us one a game after that. But the offense killed a couple of opportunities with mistakes that should be correctable, and we're reminiscent of last year's mess in Arizona. The lack of downfield success in the passing game isn't alarming to me just yet, but I'm going to want to see some evidence of it's existence over the next two weeks.
As for the other big mystery entering this season, one part of it got answered. Kip Smith proved a capable and accurate punter, with 4 of the 6 being downed inside the 20 and averaging 45.2 yds. Field goal duty didn't get much of a chance, with Grogan's only attempt at the end of the 1st half from 40+ getting blocked and nearly returned for a TD. Gundy later chose to go for it on 4th down instead attempting what would have been a 50+ yarder. Kickoff coverage was good except for the 65yd return in the second quarter, which the defense immediately snuffed. It will need to be, as non of Smith's KO's resulted in a touchbacks, nor did any cross the goal line.
All in all, a good start against a quality opponent. Enough for the team to walk away pleased with what was accomplished and confident of what needs to be corrected or improved.
The schedule now is perfect...two inferior opponents that should allow for some limited but effective work for the starters, and valuable experience for the backups. Then a break before the trip to Morgantown.
The journey has begun, and it's safe to say it will be different from anything we've seen in recent memory. Let's once again prepare to enjoy the ride.