For the first time in quite a while, Ohio State failed to carry the water for the Big Ten. The Buckeyes were favored by nearly two touchdowns, but couldn’t muster a 2nd half comeback in the first home game with fans in over 600 days… and there’s plenty of blame to go around. Early struggles on offense and reoccurring issues on defense ultimately led to the first regular season loss of the Ryan Day era.
The day appeared bleak for the Big Ten after Ohio State’s early loss, however it began to brighten up with Iowa and Michigan defeating a pair of Power Five foes. It was especially impressive how Iowa was able to dominate their in-state rival, the 9th ranked Iowa State Cyclones, in classic fashion. Michigan’s victory over an injured Washington Huskies didn’t have quite the same impact, but beating a team that was just ranked in the top 25 is far better than the alternative.
Ohio State’s Issues
If there had been just one problem for OSU, it would be easy to solve, but there isn't. Instead, here are the key issues currently plaguing the Buckeyes:
The Buckeyes were able to roll up over 600 yards in total offense against the Oregon Ducks. Generally, that is cause to celebrate, but not when it results in only 28 points. Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells believed that for every 100 yards of total offense gained, there should be 7 points corresponding on the scoreboard. The reason why that correlation is so important is it accounts for many crucial game metrics. Starting field position, turnovers, penalties, and red zone/ 3rd down efficiencies are all important stats that play a role. The Buckeye offense was an average 6/15 on 3rd down, but only 2/5 on 4th down. The 4th down statistic is of vital importance because the three failed attempts are essentially turnovers. Add QB CJ Stroud’s interception, and that begins to tell the tale. Yards without points are meaningless and while 28 points should’ve been enough to win, it wasn’t enough against Oregon at noon last Saturday.
The other three offensive issues to monitor are Stroud’s tendency to let the ball sail when pressured, the lack of a QB run threat, and the lack of misdirection in the running game. Stroud has a live arm and throws a pretty ball, but over the first two games, he has had some problems sailing the ball when feeling pressure. Thanks to great pass protection, the pressure has been rare, but as teams scout OSU, they will begin to bring more heat. Buckeye fans have been spoiled the past two years with Justin Fields, a QB who loves to play in the pocket but who can also pull the ball down and pick up big yards when needed. Stroud doesn’t appear to have the same explosion in his legs.
The offensive line is loaded with highly ranked, massive bodies, but the problem is that four of the five starters would be best suited playing tackle. Guards generally move a little better, and better movement gives them the ability to pull for counter plays that create misdirection for the defense. The Buckeye offense can line up and mash defenses as well as anyone, but a counter punch from time to time would help.
Lack of Pressure on Opposing QBs
Since 2013, the Ohio State defensive line has featured a future top 5 NFL draft pick. It was a great luxury, but the Bosa brothers and Chase Young aren’t playing on Saturdays anymore. Defensive Line Coach Larry Johnson is legendary for his ability to develop elite pass rushers, but the production has been a little thinner this season than in years past. To pressure opposing QBs, the Silver Bullets need to bring 2nd and 3rd level players (linebackers and defensive backs) to help create a numbers advantage and confuse opposing offensive lines. This will be a change in philosophy from years past, but finding solutions is the hallmark of great teams.
Mix up Coverages
Much like the defensive line, the defensive backfield has relied on elite veteran players to play only a few coverages… and play them well. Most of the coverage in the past was some form of man to man with a single deep safety, which has some great advantages, but there are some issues with it as well. Oregon found one of the main issues by running the “crack toss sweep.” By taking the WR and having him run inside and block the linebacker, offenses can essentially block two players at once, if the cornerback is inexperienced. The CB must keep his eyes on the WR, but by the time he realizes that it is a run and not a pass, he is out leveraged and unable to make a play on the toss sweep to the RB. Playing zone coverage allows the CB to play with eyes back in the backfield and renders this play ineffective.
Teams will continue to run “man beaters” plays in both the running and passing game until they feel Ohio State is playing more zone. Variety can be the spice of life… and it can be the spice of defensive play calls as well.
Iowa drops Iowa State
It was a classic Iowa victory as well as their sixth straight Cy Hawk trophy. Controlling the clock, winning the field position battle, and playing tough defense were all the ingredients the Hawkeyes needed to defeat the 9th ranked Iowa State Hawkeyes. The Hawkeye defensive line was able to apply enough pressure to force QB Brock Purdy to throw three interceptions. A defensive score by DE Jack Campbell on an Iowa State RB Breece Hall fumble, and it that was basically a wrap for the Hawkeyes.
After Iowa beat Indiana, many wondered whether the Hawkeye defense could continue to force turnovers and set up their solid but unspectacular offense. That question was answered on Saturday in a big way, and now the Hawkeyes can turn their eyes toward the College Football Playoff.
Michigan shows signs of Life Michigan QB Cade McNamara wasn’t great against the Washington Huskies, but he didn’t have to be. With Washington down several offensive weapons, the Wolverines' defense was able to hold the Huskies to 3 points through the first three quarters. Their strong defense combined with a rushing attack that racked up nearly 350 yards on the ground, and the Wolverines are making a strong case as potential contenders in the Big Ten East. Cade McNamara will need to be better if the Wolverines plan to top the Nittany Lions and Buckeyes, but there is still time to improve.