Few things are more enjoyable than the chance to be inside a college football stadium on game day. Especially when it’s the chance to watch Ohio State.
The pageantry of college football is unmatched in American sports. Up close, it’s awe-inspiring — especially watching it from the sideline, a way that most folks only dream about. Because I’m really, really fortunate that I get to do that every weekend.
When you’re watching it from the sideline, though, there are things you’re sure to miss. That’s why it’s important to get home and watch it again from the couch. With a nice, cold beverage.
I’m doing that now. Taking a few hours for Scarlet and Gray replay, seeing things that might have been missed at first glance during Ohio State’s shocking 31-16 loss against Oklahoma on Saturday. I’m settled in with that beverage and ready to rock and roll.
There’s a lot to try and digest, so let’s get to it.
Oklahoma has a game plan, but does Ohio State?
Almost immediately on Saturday night, the Buckeyes defense was on its heels.
Similar to the first 20 minutes of the Indiana game 10 days earlier, we saw an aggressive, pace-setting Sooners offense push its tempo on Ohio State offensively.
Quarterback Baker Mayfield, like Richard Lagow in Bloomington, was crisp with his decisions and quick with his release. The Sooners appeared to focus on misdirection, play-action and any other variety of confusion on every single snap. They had a great game plan and not only stuck to it the entire game, but executed it at a high level.
Then there’s Ohio State. For the second straight week, the Buckeyes offense came out of the gate without any real pace, without any real “plan.” The coaches suggested they wanted to spread Oklahoma out and because of that, they would focus on the running game early. If that was the plan, it seemed to be abandoned in favor of slow-developing, long-winding routes from receivers in a non-existent passing game very early.
All offseason the keywords around the Buckeyes offense were “rhythm” and “tempo.” Yet, for three of their four halves this season, there’s been nothing close to that. There is no pressure being placed on their opponents, and the power run game, which is truly the best Buckeyes offense, has has been ignored 75 percent of the season to this point.
What is this team’s offensive identity?
Mike Weber’s return, J.K. Dobbins’ success, return to the mean
Most people, when watching this game, had the same thought I’m having now.
Why the heck does coach Urban Meyer continue to rely more on a J.T. Barrett-led ground game whenever it’s a big-game time in Columbus? The Buckeyes offensive line played pretty well against the Sooners, picking up more than 6 yards per carry when J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber got the ball.
But they only got the ball on the ground 16 times between the two of them. Barrett ran it 18 times.
The only time the Ohio State offense had its way with Oklahoma was when when Dobbins and Weber led the drive. Barrett is a sensational runner but not when he’s the main guy running it. Not when his designed runs are inside the 10-yard line, right into the teeth of the defense on some sort of quarterback delay or whatever it is Meyer’s offense has run over and over in the red zone the last two weeks.
Tom Herman, Tim Beck and now Kevin Wilson all have run Meyer’s offense. It’s clear that the constant reverting to the mean — a QB run-heavy, let’s not risk any mistakes offense — is Meyer’s call.
It’s hard to criticize much about Meyer. His career record speaks for itself, but the Ohio State offense has to evolve into a consistent two-way threat and utilize the other four or five playmakers on the field — other than the quarterback — or these types of games will become more and more regular.
Outside one week, inside the next
At Indiana, the Ohio State cornerbacks were tested early and often. Though they struggled early, especially Damon Arnette and Kendall Sheffield, the defense shored itself up in the second half and forced the Hoosiers to adjust their approach.
What helped make that second-half adjustment against Indiana especially successful was the Hoosiers had no semblance of a run game and because of that, the Ohio State linebackers could be very binary in their approach: blitz or drop in coverage. Jerome Baker, Dante Booker and Chris Worley didn’t fear the run and didn’t have to concern themselves with play action, etc.
Oklahoma took advantage of that right off the bat. Mayfield, Trey Sermon and the Sooners had the Buckeyes linebackers off balance all night and they never adjusted. Play after play, all three linebackers bit on play-action over and over, leaving the middle of the field open for Mayfield, which was bad.
What was worse is that the linebackers looked so concerned about the play-action and misdirection in the second half they weren’t aggressive at all against the actual run.
Oklahoma did what good teams do; they attacked the Ohio State defense from the inside out and did it with tempo and rhythm.
The recipe for beating Ohio State is out there. Most teams don’t have the physicality to pull it off. Oklahoma did. Penn State and Michigan do, too.
The Buckeyes have a month against subpar opponents to figure out how to fix it.
J.T. Barrett was bad, but these issues run deeper than 1 player
I have been a vocal supporter of J.T. Barrett as Ohio State’s quarterback, but that shouldn’t be confused with the idea that he’s playing great football. Barrett has struggled mightily throwing the football each of the last two seasons, hesitating to trust his receivers and holding the ball too long because of it. He gets happy feet in the pocket and has a tendency to throw the ball too hard and too high, something I think he does because of how often he’s been forced to the throw under pressure the last two years.
Whether or not your opinion of Barrett is rooted in facts and objectivity, or blind rage calling for his head, doesn’t matter: everyone agrees he needs to play better. Including him. Including Meyer.
That being the case, Meyer isn’t going to bench him. Can you imagine Meyer benching Tim Tebow? It’s kind of like that, only this version of Tebow seems to be running the John Brantley version of the old Florida offense.
As inconsistent as Barrett has been — and I think the bulk of the problems on Saturday fall on him and the offensive play-calling — the game against the Sooners is as close to an all-systems failure as you’ll ever see.
The offense was bad. The defense was bad, especially the back seven, and then in fourth quarter the whole 11.
If Saturday is an accurate barometer, there’s a lot to fix in Columbus. Maybe replacing J.T. Barrett is a part of that solution, but it’s definitely not the only, and maybe not the biggest, problem Ohio State faces.
Even the best fall down sometimes
Ohio State fans have seen this script before.
After a bad loss to Clemson in the 2014 Orange Bowl to cap the 2013 season, the Buckeyes struggled out of the gate in 2014 against Navy before an overwhelmed Barrett fell flat against Virginia Tech in Week 2.
That season ended OK.
Urban Meyer’s three national title seasons all included a loss, actually.
But, this feels different right now because these offensive flaws have proven to be more than an anomaly. Dating back to the 17-16 win at Michigan State last November, the same issues have appeared in each game and with each recurrence, the likelihood of a change declines.
The Buckeyes simply can’t afford another game like this. Meyer has avoided the spotlight of blame for the most part in each of his seven losses at the helm for Ohio State. That won’t last forever among a fan base that expects perfection, no matter how unrealistic it is.
The final thought? Ohio State has five weeks until Nebraska, and seven weekends until it hosts Penn State in what will be a program-measuring contest between Meyer and James Frankin.
If Meyer is who people think he is, one of college football’s greatest-ever coaches, he’ll get things fixed — and quickly.