COLUMBUS, Ohio — At halftime of Ohio State’s 24-20 win over Northwestern on Saturday, the Buckeyes’ marching band trotted out a makeshift coffin featuring Michigan’s unmistakable ‘Block M.’
“R.I.P.,” it read while sitting next to similar flags featuring the logos of opponents Ohio State has already beaten this season.
The Ohio State marching band counting its chickens before they hatch? pic.twitter.com/3GDfAF11r5
— Ben Axelrod (@BenAxelrod) October 29, 2016
It may have just been a Halloween-themed halftime show, with no malice toward Michigan truly intended.
But if the Ohio State offense doesn’t get back on track between now and Nov. 26, the Buckeyes could find themselves on the wrong side of a horror show of their own with the Wolverines.
What first appeared to be an aberration has since become an alarming trend when it comes to the OSU offense. For the fourth time in as many weeks, the once-high-powered Buckeyes failed to reach their potential, only increasing the cause for concern in Columbus as a potentially season-defining game against the Wolverines nears.
Against the Wildcats, Ohio State (7-1, 4-1 Big Ten) did what it needed to do and as a result, it will remain in the playoff picture. But it’s hard to imagine this unit making a so much as a dent against a top-ranked Michigan defense, considering the damage — or lack thereof — Ohio State failed to inflict against a Northwestern unit that entered Saturday’s showing ranked 70th in the country.
In particular, the Buckeyes’ passing game continues to be a problem. Facing a Wildcats pass defense that entered Saturday ranked in the triple-digits (111) nationally, quarterback J.T. Barrett completed 21 of his 32 attempts for 223 yards.
Those numbers aren’t as impressive as they might appear. Only one of Barrett’s completions accounted for more than 19 yards on Saturday. And not one of his passes resulted in a touchdown.
As a result, Ohio State spent all four quarters on Saturday fending off arguably the least-impressive opponent it’s faced in the past month.
If this is how the Buckeyes’ passing attack fared against Northwestern, what will it look like when it’s All-Americans like Jabrill Peppers and Jourdan Lewis lining up across the field? Ohio State may very well be good enough to continue to out-talent its opponents for the next three weeks — as it did on Saturday — but that won’t happen against the second-ranked Wolverines.
At least not if the Buckeyes can’t make the most of the promising signs they did show on Saturday. On its opening offensive drive, Ohio State drove the ball 94 yards in 9 plays with a balanced attack reminiscent of the Buckeyes’ first four games of the season.
All of Ohio State’s issues from the previous three weeks appeared to be solved. It took all of one play for Curtis Samuel to touch the ball. Barrett found Noah Brown for an early reception. Parris Campbell carried the Buckeyes 24 yards on a creative reverse. The use of tackle Branden Bowen as a blocking tight end provided the offensive line with the help it needed. And that was just in that first drive.
The goodwill wouldn’t last long, though.
By the time halftime had arrived, the boo birds inside Ohio Stadium made their first appearance of the 2016 campaign.
It wouldn’t be their last.
The boos grew louder as Samuel was stalled on a predictable option play on the second snap of the fourth quarter. On the Buckeyes ensuing drive, however, their passing attack would finally show signs off life. Two plays after Barrett found redshirt freshman K.J. Hill for a 34-yard gain, Samuel found the end zone on a 3-yard run for what would prove to be the game-winning score.
Funny how that works out.
On Saturday, that was enough, but the Buckeyes almost assuredly won’t be as fortunate with a similar output four weeks from now. Simply put, Michigan is a different beast — a team that Ohio State’s ‘A-game’ might not even be enough to beat.
One side of the rivalry is on the rise, while the other seems stuck in a rut.
The good news for the Buckeyes is there’s still time left their passing attack to get on the right track. And as the first four games of the season showed, the talent on Urban Meyer’s team is definitely there.
As for the “R.I.P.” sign aimed at the Wolverines? It may have been best for the band to leave it in the locker room.
When it comes to Ohio State’s current outlook for ‘The Game’ and the race for a potential playoff spot, it’s the Buckeyes who are the ones who find themselves on life support.