COLUMBUS, Ohio — There may not be a worse opponent for Ohio State to face right now than a service academy team that runs the triple option. And yet, that’s exactly what the Buckeyes will face when Army visits Ohio Stadium on Saturday.
Ohio State will win, of course. That matter was settled via the past few recruiting cycles. The Buckeyes are a 30-point favorite, and there’s almost no conceivable scenario in which Army walks out of The Horseshoe with a win.
But in the wake of the loss to Oklahoma, there’s probably nothing Ohio State and its fans want more than a beating, and it’s not a guarantee they’re going to get one. Here are a few reasons why this game probably won’t be a cathartic response to a rough week.
After a disappointing loss, it’s human instinct for players to want to take out that frustration against what should be an overmatched opponent. Against Army, though, being overly aggressive plays right into the hand of that offense.
“You have to play assignment football,” defensive coordinator Greg Schiano said.
There will be misdirection and fakes, and trying too hard is the surest way to fail at getting them off the field quickly. It takes an emotionless discipline and focus to stay within your own responsibility at all times.
Particularly troubling is the fact that Oklahoma succeeded against the Buckeyes thanks in no small part to missed assignments and overreactions to play fakes.
“Catching yourself not focusing on your responsibility, that’s when you saw a couple of those hits (for big yardage),” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. “That was the biggest issue, guys trying to do too much. I’m going to go stop this play instead of cover my guy and take my eyes off my guy for a second, and that’s where you saw a couple of those guys squirt loose.”
The Buckeyes will have to fight that urge against Army, which may not be easy if they’re feeling pressure to make up for last week.
Army’s offensive line is not large. Three of the starters are 6-foot-2 and weigh less than 300 pounds. But the Black Knights have the potential to ruin a defensive line’s day thanks to one weapon in particular — cut blocking.
Undersized offensive lines will often have players hit defensive linemen low to knock them down, a frustrating tactic that pass rushers have to be ready for at all times.
“Physically, you’re going to get cut,” Schiano said. “You have to make tackles, you have to get off cut blocks. In a regular football game you’ll have a couple cuts. In this game there could be 40 cuts, or attempted cuts. You have to practice differently.”
Ohio State’s defensive line is one of its greatest weapons, but it’s going to have to change its approach to account for something it almost never sees.
No defensive back redemption
Ohio State’s defensive secondary wants nothing more than a shot to redeem itself. The Buckeyes exited the second week of the season ranked dead last in passing yards allowed after finishing No. 6 in 2016.
“We need to get better,” Schiano said. “That’s really my only focus.”
Improvement comes with reps, but the Buckeyes won’t be getting any this week. Army has 17 passing yards on the season, having attempted 10 passes in two games. Ohio State’s passing yards allowed will improve, but the Buckeyes will have little chance to actually test themselves. It probably means another game without an interception, which will be disappointing for a secondary that could use a big play.
Perhaps the most miserable part is that one missed assignment could mean a huge play through the air for the Black Knights on the rare occasion they do pass, meaning the defensive backs will have to avoid the steady stream of runs dulling their focus.
Obviously Army’s differences on offense offer the most chances to cause frustration, which is why the above segments have focused on the defense. But the Ohio State offense could be impacted.
The Buckeyes’ struggling offense could use as many chances as possible to work through its issues, but that might not happen against Army. If the Black Knights are moving the ball, their run-based offense eats up a clock like nothing else in college football. Ohio State has run 155 plays this year. Army’s opponents have combined for 114. There won’t be as many chances, especially if the defense needs time to get in a groove against that unique look.
Just imagine the howls from the stadium if Ohio State has a three-and-out or two in the first half, knowing that the ball might not come back until half a quarter or more has bled out. Ohio State has the playmakers to keep the outcome from being in doubt, but it’s unlikely the victory is going to be fun or redemptive along the way.