Few things are more enjoyable than the chance to be inside a college football stadium on game day. Especially at Ohio Stadium.
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. I’m really fortunate that I get to do that every weekend.
When you’re watching from the sideline, though, there are things you’re sure to miss. That’s why it’s important to get home and watch the game 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 getting its doors blown off, 55-24 – yes 55-24 – by Iowa on Saturday.
Here are my thoughts from this second glance of the Buckeyes and Hawkeyes, and it’s not great.
Energy was lacking from the start
First things first, and I know it isn’t in the spirit of the game re-watch since it’s an observation from Saturday itself, but from the moment Ohio State arrived at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, it just felt different. There was a lack of energy evident in reading faces and watching pregame warm-ups, etc. It just never felt like the Buckeyes were emotionally ready for the contest. Yes, a few players here and there were their normal selves, but the usual “hype” – the dancing, the joking, the almost-too-loose attitude – was nowhere to be seen.
In some ways, that’s probably by design, especially on the road, in a tough environment to play in. It’s probably that “cool” attitude that helped the Buckeyes quickly put the 7-0 deficit behind them when the Iowa home crowd was in full throat.
But, when Iowa didn’t back down and the Hawkeyes offense continued to befuddle Greg Schiano’s defense, that lack of energy hurt Ohio State. They tried, I am sure, to just flip the switch and get it back, but when Iowa brought the fight to them, there was nothing in the tank for Ohio State.
To put it bluntly, from the moment that Jamarco Jones and Demetrius Knox were hurt in the second quarter, Iowa physically kicked Ohio State’s butt, on both sides of the ball. The outcome of the game, from that moment, seemed like it was never in doubt. It didn’t feel like last week against Penn State, despite the contention that Ohio State had a great week of practice, etc.
The Buckeyes, down 31-17, needed to stop Iowa on its first possession of the second half. Blake Haubeil’s kickoff and the ensuing coverage pinned Iowa at its own 4-yard line to the start the half and the Ohio State defense forced a three-and-out on the back of a big-time third-and-1 stop by Jalyn Holmes. Go back and watch that play, and I promise you that you won’t see the celebration/energy from the Buckeyes you saw a week ago in the same situation.
Iowa punted, the Buckeyes took the ball at their own 42-yard line, needing just 58 yards for a game-turning touchdown and instead sashayed up to that pivotal drive and went three-and-out.
Why was Ohio State not emotionally ready for Iowa? I assume some of it was a hangover from the Penn State game, but if coaches and players can’t motivate themselves for a chance to win a national title, and in that Kinnick Stadium atmosphere – which was great – then I don’t know what to tell you.
J.T. Barrett was bad, but – again – this is not a J.T. Barrett issue
On the surface, it’s easy to look at the 4 passes J.T. Barrett threw for interceptions and his just-over 50-percent completion rate and – as fans usually do in a loss – blame the quarterback for the offensive struggles.
That’s fair, honest. Barrett seemed to be pressing on Saturday, trying to be too perfect when it was clear that the offense wasn’t in the rhythm it needed to be. In some ways, I think perhaps he’s a victim of his own recent success; the J.T. Barrett of a year ago would not have even tried to make the throws that led to his first-half interceptions. Yes, the second one was very bad, maybe the worst in Barrett’s career, but it’s hardly a play that ended the Buckeyes’ day.
But alas, my point is this: Barrett struggled, but this loss falls squarely on a coaching staff that did not have its team prepared. On offense, Ohio State once again abandoned its running game – a crazy, maddening and recurring problem in almost every one of Urban Meyer’s losses with the Buckeyes. And though the deep ball was working in the passing game, Ohio State reverted to the short passing game and Barrett in the running game. Antonio Williams, who played one offensive possession, had just 2 fewer carries than J.K. Dobbins and 1 less than Mike Weber, who combined carried the ball 3 fewer times than Barrett.
All the discussion in recent weeks about the offense finally opening up went right out the window the minute that Iowa stood back up after what Ohio State had hoped would be a knockout blow: Johnnie Dixon’s 44-yard touchdown to bring the score to 17-17. Iowa punched back, and the Buckeyes offensive game plan folded.
On defense, questioning whether a game plan ever existed is probably fair. If it did, it was not executed by anyone as Iowa – yes, the same team that only scored more than 17 points once in the last month – did whatever it wanted against Ohio State from the first minute of the game to the last. The Hawkeyes didn’t do it with anything unusual, either. Yes, they broke tendency and threw the ball a little bit more, but play action to the tight end and to the fullback mixed in with a pretty simple lead-zone run game was all they had to do to eliminate the Buckeyes defensive line and its linebackers.
This wasn’t unexpected. This is who Iowa is, and who they’ve always been. Ohio State was not ready, and that’s a very tough pill to swallow because the talent gap between the Buckeyes and the Hawkeyes is wide. This was a mental toughness test and Ohio State failed. The only thing more confusing than not knowing how it happened is knowing it happened one week after the Buckeyes refused to quit against a team better than Iowa.
Halftime adjustments are nowhere to be seen
In the loss to Oklahoma, and in the loss to Iowa, it’s hard to point out a single adjustment made in the game plan during the intermission. Each of those games – though concerning in the first half – were salvageable when the team broke for the half, yet both games resulted in one team making changes. That team wasn’t Ohio State. The Buckeyes only trailed by 14 in the first part of the second half against Iowa, yet J.K. Dobbins and the running game were forgotten. The defense never adjusted and the linebackers especially, a group that struggled mightily against Oklahoma and Iowa, never seemed to be in the right place.
Safeties Jordan Fuller and Damon Webb, who each had some struggles against Iowa, shouldn’t be forced to make double-digit tackles, with most of them being of the solo variety. Ohio State’s linebackers have proved to be extremely susceptible to the play action, and they’ve shown no ability to cover a tight end. With Michigan State and Michigan – and maybe Wisconsin – coming up, it’s hard to feel positive about what’s coming because that trio of teams will do a lot of the same stuff against the Buckeyes.
Why hasn’t this situation been fixed yet, and beyond that — is it too late to be fixed now? In three games against decent opponents in 2017, the Buckeyes have given up just under 42 points a game and in the three losses they’ve suffered in their last nine games? They’ve been outscored 62-20 in the second half and 117-40 overall.
Ohio State is far too talented to find itself in that position.