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 comfortable and somewhat predictable 38-7 win against Army on Saturday. I’m settled in with that beverage and ready to rock and roll.
There’s a lot to try to digest, so let’s get to it.
Ohio State offense finds the edge
The Buckeyes came out of the gate looking like an offense with a plan. After struggling early to identify itself against Indiana – and for the whole game against Oklahoma – you saw some different things out of the Buckeyes against Army.
I don’t want to say it looked like more like what it expected out of a Kevin Wilson-run offense, but it looked more like a Kevin Wilson-run offense. The Buckeyes stretched the field from sideline to sideline, utilizing the bubble screen to wide receivers as a de facto running play throughout the game. That’s how you get your quarterback into a rhythm early in a football game, and that’s how you open up a defense for the interior running game.
Three separate times Ohio State wide receivers were called for questionable holds, but that’s OK. It was a consistent offensive attack that helped Ohio State run 27 plays and collect more than 200 yards in the first quarter, a major turnaround in scheme from a week previous, competition-level be damned.
We also saw, for the first time this year, Ohio State using Parris Campbell in a similar way to how Curtis Samuel made his money a year ago. Campbell had 8 touches, including 2 carries, and flashed the speed that makes him the Buckeyes’ most dangerous offensive weapon not named J.K. Dobbins.
What made the offensive output – 586 total yards – even more impressive? Army did everything it could to keep Ohio State off the field. After that 27-play first quarter, the Buckeyes had the ball just once in the second quarter and that was after an 18-play, 99-yard, 9:37 drive by the Black Knights. That is 9:37 of game clock, but real time it was more than 29 minutes of waiting for Ohio State. After that Buckeyes drive, which ended in a field goal, Ohio State then had to wait out another 10 minutes of real time to end the first half, a 20-minute halftime, and then another 20 minutes of real-time during a second-half opening drive for Army.
And the Buckeyes scored in just two plays after that. Two possessions for Ohio State in almost 1 hour and 20 minutes of real time and they stayed in rhythm offensively.
Tuf Borland steps up, but linebacker questions are real
The player of the game for Ohio State defensively was Tuf Borland, a redshirt freshman linebacker from Illinois who was thrust into the lineup unexpectedly when Chris Worley had to leave the game with a foot issue.
Borland has been raved about by Buckeyes coaches and players throughout the offseason, but until you’re taking meaningful snaps, it’s hard to know exactly how someone will respond. Borland responded very well, with a team-leading 12 tackles. His presence in the middle was a stabilizing force for a unit that was on its heels a little bit in the second quarter, half because of exhaustion and half because of Army’s unique brand of offensive football being executed at a very high level.
With Worley, Jerome Baker and Dante Booker all returning for Ohio State this year, the expectation was that the linebackers would be a strength for the Buckeyes, but that’s not been the case. Booker played only sparingly on Saturday, mostly in mop-up time, against Army as the Buckeyes went with three safeties almost the entire game to support the run-stuffing cause. The safeties, led by Erick Smith, played a pretty good game, but if you’re like me, you’re wondering if it’s a bad omen for Ohio State that in a game where you know your opponent is going to run it 98 percent of the time, a veteran linebacker such as Booker was relegated to such meaningless time.
I get that the safeties would be better prepared to stop the occasional pass attempt (Army threw just 8 times) but after struggling mightily against Oklahoma and now being virtually held out against Army, you start to wonder if Booker isn’t on the verge of being usurped in the lineup once again. A year ago, when he was injured in the season opener against Bowling Green, that opened the door for Jerome Baker to become a full-time player for Ohio State. Now, with Borland’s big game and his knack for being in the right place as the Mike linebacker, maybe Chris Worley moves back outside opposite Baker full-time.
Either way, Malik Harrison, Keandre Jones, Baron Browning and others are going to need to find meaningful snaps over the next four weeks if this group wants to improve as a whole heading into the real schedule that starts in late October.
Mike Weber is going to be important
I know that everyone is still salivating over J.K. Dobbins – and they should be, because he’s really, really good – but I can’t help but think that at some point, Mike Weber is going to be very needed by Ohio State.
Even if it’s just like he was used in the fourth quarter against Oklahoma, with a hamstring that still wasn’t right, Weber’s capabilities as a pass blocker far surpass Dobbins’ at this point. And when teams such as Penn State come rolling into Columbus, someone has to be able to help protect J.T. Barrett in the pocket.
Against Army, Weber had just 4 carries and didn’t look nearly as explosive as he did in his 3 carries against Oklahoma, but adrenaline and a big stage sometimes lends itself to a bit more juice. That said, Ohio State needs to find balance between its star running backs because there’s going to be a moment when Mike Weber is needed to be full strength and full-speed ahead.
Wide receivers step up, but is that on Ohio State or Army?
I have no doubt that Ohio State has more talent at wide receiver on its roster than any team in the country does. I realize fully the flak I catch when saying that because that unit has struggled mightily to find consistency over the last two seasons, but on Saturday we finally caught a bit of what they’re capable of.
The Buckeyes completed 27 passes to wideouts on Saturday, spreading the ball to seven players at the position. K.J. Hill, who for my money was the top wide receiver on the roster in 2016, showed off his hands and quickness on the bubble screen, and it looks as if the Buckeyes are beginning to see the player Austin Mack is truly capable of being.
For most of the day on Saturday, there was separation in the secondary and the ball was caught when it was thrown.
But was that just a result of playing a severely out-talented Army team or the beginning of growth by Ohio State? Either way, you need confidence to be consistent, and a big game against the Black Knights should help grow it.
A glimpse of the future
So Dwayne Haskins played, as expected, though not nearly as much as expected or as much as Ohio State probably wanted. I actually think the Buckeyes coaching staff would’ve preferred to see Haskins and Joe Burrow on Saturday, but the opportunity just didn’t present itself.
Anyway, Haskins can throw the ball around the yard a bit, and that’s not a surprise. His arm talent has been raved about for months, and he came out of the gate firing darts, completing all 4 of his pass attempts and doing so in rhythm and on time. Considering all the hype, pressure and expectations, the fact that Haskins was able to do that, even in a “game over” moment, was pretty great. The hardest thing about going from a practice star to a game star is doing it when all the eyes are on you, and he certainly looked like he’s capable of being “next” in Columbus.
Early in the game, Trevon Grimes got his first playing time for Ohio State and he just looks, I don’t know, different from other Buckeyes wide receivers. As he gets worked into the rotation more and understands his role in the blocking game more, I think you’ll see the next wave of “Zone Six” more often. If you’re able to get to a point where Grimes, Mack, Hill and Binjimen Victor are on the field together, you’re looking at some serious potential at the position. No doubt that group, playing with a gunslinger such as Haskins, could make fans impatient if the offensive fails to click over the next few weeks.
There isn’t a roster in the country, other than Alabama’s, as talented as Ohio State on paper. If the Buckeyes think those young guys can play, from now until Oct. 28 is the time to find out. Let it rip.