Carpenter: An Autopsy Of Ohio State

The Ohio State Buckeyes rarely lose games. Saturday was Ryan Day’s first conference loss and only his 4th loss overall as a head coach. So, when on the rare occasion that a loss happens, it’s time to take a deeper dive to understand how it happened, why it happened and whether it was preventable. When you have the talent level of Ohio State, most problems can be corrected. However, to fix something, you must first admit there is a problem, and the Buckeyes have some problems.

Offensive Line

Ohio State has flirted with issues in their running game all season. They made the decision early in the year to essentially play with four offensive tackles. Sliding Thayer Munford and Paris Johnson inside was a great way to get the best four players on the field, but it probably wasn’t the best for the run game. Against Michigan, Ohio State failed to get a consistent push at the point of attack, and they lacked any type of interior rushing attack. That means the Guard-Center-Guard combo must move double teams and climb to linebackers. Yards were hard to come by against the Michigan defensive line all season, but with the size and skill that Ohio State has up front, they should’ve been able to create some lanes.

Scheme is the other issue that takes a hit with the four-tackle lineup. Michigan routinely ran counters and pulled their guards to gain a blocker at the point of attack. Ohio State rarely pulls their guards, which makes it easier for the linebackers to read and react.

The pass pro on DE Aidan Hutchinson wasn’t great and it appeared to get worse as the game went on. It can’t be overstated how hard it is to pass pro in a loud road environment, but the number of pre-snap penalties killed drives by putting the offense in long conversion situations. The Buckeyes have some talented offensive tackles, but Saturday was a reminder that improvement is still necessary.

The Defensive Front Seven

Not having to play run defense against a physical opponent all season finally caught up to the OSU defense. It's an attitude and mentality that are developed through those tough games. There is work to be down in Columbus this offseason, and it starts with stopping the run.

It’s tough to remember a game when a team ran the football 41 times and didn't suffer a negative yardage play, but that's what Michigan did on Saturday. The Buckeye front started out fine, but slowly got worn down throughout the course of four quarters. Jim Harbaugh was going to run the football and try to impose his will. The Buckeye defensive line began yielding ground and getting pushed off the ball by double teams. This created some inverted seams that the linebackers were slow to fill. It gave Haskins the lanes he needed to build up steam and run through arm tackles from the linebackers and defensive backs and bleed the Buckeyes for yards.

Though Ohio State brought pressure, it was rarely effective. Most of the time, it was picked up by the UM line and the blitzers were smothered. Give credit to Harbaugh. Michigan used a variety of formations and personal groupings to slow OSU and pulled offensive linemen or inserted tight ends to get extra blockers at the point of attack. It’s something OSU has struggled with most of the season, and they didn’t have extra linebackers to help match personnel. 

Drops and Chunk Plays

This might seem a little picky, but when you have wide receivers like the ones at OSU, drops are rare. No one wanted to win the Michigan game more than Chris Olave, and his drop early in the game cost the Buckeyes a potential touchdown. It would’ve been a tough grab, but it’s one he routinely makes. The same can be said for Jackson Smith-Njigba on his crossing route in the 2nd quarter -- a tough catch, but one he usually makes. The adage goes, “Great players play great against Michigan,” and for Wolverine killer Chris Olave, this mishap will be difficult to swallow.

Ohio State had five plays of 25 yards or more, which would be plenty for most teams, but not the Buckeyes. Ohio State has lived on 5- and 6-play scoring drives all season. Racking up chuck plays in succession happened regularly. Due to pressure, especially from Aidan Hutchinson, CJ Stroud didn’t have time in the pocket to let routes develop down the field. UM ran some zone coverages that Ohio State exploited underneath, but OSU didn’t attack the deep middle of the field against the 2-deep safety look. Tight end Jeremy Ruckert would’ve been a great option to attack deep down the middle, but he was never deployed. 

Emotion, Passion, Toughness

All three of these elements blend together and become known as the “intangibles.” What makes the intangibles tough to quantify is that they are, well, intangible. Unquantifiable. You can see toughness, but there’s not scale for it. You can sense emotion, but there’s no number for it. You can feel passion, but there is no gauge for it.

It was obvious that the Michigan football team was sick of losing this rivalry game. When Jim Harbaugh said, “We are going to win it or die trying,” he must have engrained it into the culture. For the last 20 years Ohio State has matched or exceeded Michigan’s level of desperation, but after a decade straight without a loss, OSU stopped feeling quite so desperate. Ohio State played with great effort, but not necessarily with the emotion and desperation that often make the difference.

The Buckeyes have been sitting at the Rivalry Buffet for 10 straight years, while the Wolverines have been eating out of the trash. After sitting at the buffet table for too long, it’s easy to forget what it’s like to starve. After Saturday, Ohio State will once again remember what it’s like to stare through the window with a hungry belly.