ARLINGTON, Texas — Armed with an elite roster and one of the nation’s best coaching staffs, Ohio State likely will be in the College Football Playoff discussion every year for the foreseeable future.
In 2017, the Buckeyes ultimately fell short of that goal, but they weren’t that far from reaching it. In fact, a cynic might argue that if they would have simply scheduled Miami (Ohio) instead of Oklahoma, the Buckeyes almost certainly would have been a shoo-in for one of the four spots even with the ghastly loss to Iowa.
But as close as Ohio State might have been, there are some lingering issues that must be cleaned up in 2018 for the Buckeyes to reach their full potential. Here’s what the Buckeyes can improve to leave no doubt next season.
Ohio State used to step on teams’ throats, and there hasn’t been as much of that the last two seasons. The Buckeyes have more and more stayed in a shell with a big lead, and there have been times when that cost them from a perception standpoint. In a system where humans and not computers decide which teams make the playoff, narratives unfortunately matter.
Beating an undefeated team to win a conference championship should have been a huge check mark for Ohio State, but many national analysts sounded less than impressed after the game. Whether it should be that way or not can be argued, but it did happen. Why? Because Ohio State had a 21-7 lead less than 20 minutes into the game and did almost nothing from that point on.
The same thing happened in the Cotton Bowl. The Buckeyes beat No. 8 USC — the Pac-12 champs — by a 24-7 margin, and all anyone talked about after the game was how awful the second half was (no points were scored by either team) and how uninspiring the offense looked.
Trust the offense in big games
This might go hand in hand with the first point, but Ohio State needs to do a better job of letting its offense go out there and win the game. Whether that means giving the ball to the running backs or letting the quarterback sling it, something other than “run the quarterback” needs to move to the forefront of the offensive philosophy in big games.
That’s not to say it doesn’t have some place in the offense, but it rarely worked against the best opponents — especially when defenses seemed to know what was coming. Against Oklahoma, J.T. Barrett ran the ball 18 times for 66 yards. Averaging 3.7 yards per carry isn’t enough, and it’s borderline insane to do it nearly 20 times. Dwayne Haskins isn’t as mobile in general or as instinctive as Barrett was with the read option, so the Buckeyes might not have a choice but to go away from it if he ends up winning the starting job.
Ohio State made some games much harder than they needed to be in a number of different ways. In pretty much every game there were penalty problems, with many of them coming at an awful time. The Buckeyes rank 113th in fewest penalty yards per game, averaging 67.4 penalty yards per contest.
Defensively, the linebackers especially struggled with misdirection in the losses to Oklahoma and Iowa. That problem improved over the end of the year, but it will be up to some young players to ensure it doesn’t become a problem again with Chris Worley out of eligibility and Jerome Baker likely off to the NFL.
And in big games, the Buckeyes occasionally dug themselves into a hole they had to climb out of. The Iowa loss opened with an interception returned for a touchdown on the first play from scrimmage. One week earlier, Penn State opened a 21-3 lead on Ohio State. In the regular-season finale, Michigan started up 14-0 against the Buckeyes. Ohio State overcame only two of those. Limiting bad starts must be a priority going forward.