This game ended up with the final score I predicted, but how it got there was a far more interesting case study than I had thought we’d see. Titans looked solid against a team not many expected them to beat, and while a moral victory still goes down as a loss, there were encouraging signs for the remainder of the 2017 season.
From the official box score, a look at the tempo-free stats:
|Ohio State 2016|
|Faceoff Wins||15||Faceoff Wins||10|
|Offensive Efficiency||.229||Offensive Efficiency||.467|
The Titans won the possession battle by dominating one of the country’s best faceoffs specialists in Jake Withers, but didn’t turn it into much production thanks to those age-old bugaboos of turnovers and inaccurate shooting. Meanwhile, Ohio State settled into the possession game, and made the most of its opportunities.
We’ll start on those faceoffs, since I was cautiously optimistic about Ben Gjokaj entering the year, but certainly did not expect him to go 13/21 (.619) against Jake Withers, a preseason all-conference guy who hit a .607 clip last year. That Gjokaj got 10 of those ground balls himself is a huge positive, that five of his wins came on violations can be considered either good (got in Withers’s head) or bad (didn’t dominate as much as the other guy just screwed up a lot). Either way, an upward trend for one aspect of the Titans’ team is always welcome.
The Titans lost this game in the stretch run of the second quarter. They battled to tie it up with 6:01 remaining before halftime, and even won the ensuing faceoff. That possession ended with a turnover… as did the next one after an OSU goal, and the Buckeyes won the final two faceoffs to build momentum and a 9-6 lead that had the Titans reeling despite a well-played 24 opening minutes. The opening faceoff of the third quarter when to Gjokaj, but another turnover and OSU goal cemented the Buckeyes’ dominance, and UDM was jsut playing catch-up from there.
Culprits on those turnovers were primarily attackmen Donavon Dempsey and Alec Gilhooly with four apiece. There’s always a grain of salt there – the offensive quarterbacks have the ball more, and are naturally going to put it on the turf a bit more, accordingly – but definitely something to be cleaned up. Junior Mark Anstead, the team’s leading returner, was not on the field, so hopefully having him available (no word on his status) will improve that quickly.
Those turnovers go part of the way toward explaining the poor offensive efficiency, but not as much the poor defensive efficiency, with only one turnover leading directly to a fast-break goal for the Buckeyes (though there’s something to be said for leaving the defense on the field a lot). The bigger portion of the blame for defensive efficiency falls on the penalty game, where the Titans were quite sloppy. They committed four penalties, and Ohio State converted three of them into goals. That included those to go up 4-1 and 5-1, and then early in the fourth quarter to effectively put the game away at 11-6. There wasn’t much payoff – only three forced turnovers – so UDM will have to improve.
Jason Weber had a decent game between the pipes in a tough situation, with tons of rubber (25 shots on goal, 14 goals allowed). I firmly believe he’s one of the best keepers in the country, and even against a good Ohio State offense, would expect him to have a better statistical day… as long as the defensive is doing its job in front of him. It would certainly appear that wasn’t the case.
The offensive load was pretty shared with Anstead not in the lineup. Sophomore attack Matthew Vangalen was the standout with two goals and three assists, while Sean Birney, Kyle Beauregard, and Alec Gilhooly each notched a pair of goals, as well (Vangalen’s assists, the only of the day for UDM, went to both Gilhooly’s scores and one of Birney’s, for the record).
Overall, it’s easy to find a lot to complain about in a comprehensive loss… and easy to forget that this degree of loss was probably exceeding most folks’ expectations for the Titans against a nationally ranked squad. We’ll have a better chance to see how they’ll compete against more comparable competition starting Wednesday against Michigan.
It’s the big one. Michigan heads to Pontiac for the Titans’ indoor venue at Ultimate Soccer Arenas Wednesday for the in-state matchup. If this gets canceled because of snow I’m going to throw a fit, FYI.