COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio State is living dangerously.
The Buckeyes survived a slow start against Wisconsin and melted down against Penn State. And at home against Northwestern on Saturday, Ohio State let the Wildcats hang around until the closing minutes. A great run by quarterback J.T. Barrett with less than 2 minutes to go allowed the Buckeyes to run out the clock and seal a 24-20 win over the Wildcats.
While it avoided back-to-back losses, Ohio State (7-1, 4-1 Big Ten) still spent much of the game creating new questions instead of answering the old ones.
Here’s what we learned.
Five things we learned
1. Something is off: This is just an observation about the team as a whole. The offensive play-calling structure is off. The confidence is lacking. The wide receivers can’t get separation. The defense can’t get key stops. Special teams is suddenly a nightmare. It goes on and on. Right now, Ohio State isn’t as good as it was at the beginning of the season. It’s not like the Oklahoma and Wisconsin wins have been devalued. Ohio State just isn’t executing as well as it used to in pretty much every facet of the game.
2. Urban Meyer goes conservative: It was once inconceivable that an Urban Meyer-coached team would punt in opposing territory, but he did it against Penn State and then did it again (twice!) against Northwestern. One of those came from the Northwestern 36-yard line, which boggles the mind. Meanwhile, Northwestern tied the game at 17 in the third quarter after converting a fourth-and-2 in Ohio State territory. Fortune favors the bold — and the teams that give themselves four plays to go 10 yards.
3. The receivers aren’t playing well enough: It’s just a fact at this point. If a team with Ohio State’s talent can’t complete a pass more than 5 yards down the field, something needs to get fixed. The Buckeyes have a pair of ultra-talented true freshmen sitting while guys with 5 catches in four years try (and fail) to gain separation. There are almost certainly reasons for that, given how hard it is to acclimate to Division I football, but the unit has to either raise its level of play or give those guys a chance. Hoping for a deep threat to magically appear hasn’t cut it thus far.
4. Isaiah Prince will be just fine: Now that all of that’s out of the way, time for some good news for Ohio State fans. The redshirt freshman right tackle looked good for most of the game, even while going up against talented defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo. He’s a player that would be picked up by every other FBS team in the country if they had the chance, so patience might be the name of the game while he continues to try to fulfill his enormous potential.
5. The defensive line needs to show more results: Back to the bad news! The defensive line is a group of terrors, but they’re collectively not getting home enough to make an impact on the game. Tyquan Lewis had a monster sack in the first half, but for the most part Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson had plenty of time to work with.
Question answered for Ohio State
How would the Buckeyes respond to their first loss of the season? The answer, for the most part, was not so well. Northwestern matched Ohio State up and down the field, which is not a particularly great sign going forward. Even though the Wildcats entered as winners of three straight games, there’s nothing about that team that’s overly impressive. The visitors sure looked good against Ohio State, though.
How is this offense going to score against Michigan? It’s just not good enough right now from a passing standpoint to do any real amount of damage to a defensive secondary that includes All-American candidates like Jourdan Lewis and Jabrill Peppers.
One. For the first time this season, Ohio State scored a touchdown on its opening drive. The Buckeyes did it in impressive fashion, too, marching 94 yards in 9 plays and capping it off with a 1-yard run from Mike Weber. In a role reversal, it was the rest of the game and not the first quarter that gave OSU so much trouble.
What it means
If Ohio State doesn’t fix some things it won’t have to worry about the Big Ten East tiebreaker scenario. The way the Buckeyes played against Northwestern isn’t going to be good enough to run the table.