COLUMBUS, Ohio — A loss tends to expose much more than a win, so Ohio State found out plenty about itself on Saturday night at the Horseshoe.
There is still a lot of football ahead of the Buckeyes, and the 31-16 defeat at the hands of Oklahoma won’t impact their chances of winning the Big Ten in any way. But if Ohio State is going to duplicate the bounce-back run to the national title of the 2014 squad, it will need to keep these lessons in mind as it regroups for a nonconference matchup with Army this week.
1. Pound the ground
The way J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber were slicing through the Sooners, there was a point even into the third quarter where it looked as if Ohio State could win without even needing to attempt another pass. But for whatever reason, the offense got away from that terrific tandem of rushers and the game unraveled for the Buckeyes. There is no excuse for Dobbins and Weber combining to finish with 16 carries — two fewer than quarterback J.T. Barrett by himself. Despite not appearing to be fully healthy yet due to a sore hamstring, Weber averaged almost 8 yards per touch and Dobbins was consistently moving the attack by churning out 5.5 yards on his 14 carries. Barrett took plenty of blame, but abandoning the tailbacks might be the single biggest culprit in the loss.
2. Don’t blame the defense
Considering how easy Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield made it look to move the football and lead an explosive offense in the second half, it might be tempting to point the finger at the Silver Bullets. There continues to be some growing pains in the secondary, no doubt about that. The defense held a returning Heisman Trophy finalist in Mayfield out of the end zone entirely in the first half, only for that effort to be squandered by an Ohio State offense that couldn’t produce a touchdown either. Players such as Chris Worley, Nick Bosa and Sam Hubbard were relentless. Had they gotten some scoring help from their teammates on the other side of the ball, odds are the Sooners would have had their options in the playbook limited or had trouble getting the football back. This game was similar to the Fiesta Bowl down to the final number of points allowed, and eventually superstars such as Mayfield or Deshaun Watson are going to get their points. The offense has to lend a hand to a talented defense.
3. What about the secondary?
There was no reason to hit the panic button after the season opener, when Indiana threw a huge test at a young secondary with 68 passing attempts. Maybe given Mayfield’s credentials, that’s still the case for the Buckeyes after the second game of the year. But sitting at No. 122 nationally is a sobering reality for the defensive backs after the Sooners finished with 386 yards through the air — a long way from the “Best in America” label the unit aspires to and lived up to last season. It seemed that based on all the talent the Buckeyes had recruited in the defensive backfield that everything would be fine, despite losing three first-round draft picks from the 2016 team. There has been an early reminder that kind of transition isn’t easy.
4. The QB situation
Coach Urban Meyer shot down any possibility of making a change at the most important position on the field, but it’s remarkable that it’s even a topic of conversation for the Buckeyes at this point. Quarterback J.T. Barrett is on the brink of breaking the Big Ten record for touchdowns accounted for, but for the second time in three big games, he didn’t produce a single one with his name attached. Another opponent challenged Ohio State to beat a defense with Barrett’s arm, and he wasn’t able to do it. And while Meyer appears to have no appetite for making a move with a completely untested freshman behind him, with the schedule letting up for a stretch, maybe it’s time to at least get Dwayne Haskins some game reps.
5. The specialists are getting the job done
Obviously Meyer would prefer never to need a kicker or punter, but he appears to once again have a couple of solid options when Ohio State has to call on them. Sean Nuernberger seems to be back in form after making all three of his field goals against the Sooners, which could be useful down the road in tight matchups. And while Drue Chrisman’s approach appears quite different from that of his Australian predecessor Cameron Johnston, he’s showing the same knack for pinning opponents deep with his punts. The freshman dropped all four of his attempts inside the Oklahoma 20-yard line, averaging nearly 46 yards on those attempts. The kicking game appears to be in good shape for the Buckeyes, although that probably isn’t the kind of silver lining they are looking for as they go back to work to prepare for Army.