"Not taking anything away from their defense, because they did play really well, but penalties, miscommunications, missed blocked, things like that. It’s killing us."
The Ohio State Buckeyes could very well be their own worst enemy, especially after Saturday’s performance against Indiana. While the Buckeyes remain undefeated at 5-0, turnovers, penalties and failed conversions nearly cost them their most recent victory in Bloomington.
Following a three-turnover performance over the weekend with no takeaways, Ohio State sits at No. 101 nationally for turnover margin--the worst margin of any ranked team. One such turnover by Jalin Marshall following a large gain after a reception could have been quite costly had Indiana not opted for a fake punt three plays later from their own 16 yard line.
Unfortunately, the mistakes are not limited to turnovers, and the Buckeyes are also 101st in penalties at 7.8 per game. Even worse for Ohio State, the timing of these penalties has proven costly, including two on Indiana’s final drive which almost led to a touchdown for the Hoosiers, who were within one score of Ohio State. Another penalty earlier in the game eliminated a touchdown by running back Ezekiel Elliott.
But it’s not just struggles with such avoidable mistakes as turnovers and penalties. The offense was a staggering 2-14 on third down conversions Saturday. Worse, perhaps, is that Ohio State has scored only six touchdowns on 16 red zone possessions this season. If not for Elliott stepping up for three massive touchdown runs, it may have been a different story for the No. 1 team in the country.
The Buckeyes’ next three opponents (Maryland, Penn State and Rutgers) are unranked and have struggled this year, but Ohio State has a lot of cleaning up to do. We would expect that the No. 1 team in the country be able to roll from the start, without the growing pains and errors that plague so many teams early on in the season. But overall, it is not surprising that we are dissecting the Buckeyes’ less than stellar performances so thoroughly, given the expectations the college football world had at the beginning of the season for the defending national champs.
"It’s a recurring theme this season, Jones can’t seem to fit the ball into tight spaces when the field is shortened inside the 20. All but one of Jones’s five touchdown passes have come on throws of 10 yards or more."
It could be reasonably argued that Cardale Jones won the starting quarterback job over J.T. Barrett purely over the strength of the former’s arm. But that arm strength has not led to dividends where it counts in the red zone, where Jones has struggled mightily in the first five games of the season. He has lacked the subtlety required for these short passes, leading to a lack of conversions when needed.
And that is something that Urban Meyer is simply not used to. Ohio State finished ranked No. 13 last year in red zone conversions after a slow start to the season that included breaking in a new offensive line and quarterback. In 2013, the Buckeyes finished ranked No. 1 in the same category after finishing the 2012 season at No. 2.
The Buckeyes have scored six touchdowns in 16 trips to the red zone, which places them at No. 121 nationally, ahead of only six other teams in Division I (South Alabama, Minnesota, Utah State, North Texas, Northwestern and Charlotte).
On Saturday, the Buckeyes were 0-3 on red zone trips. While Ezekiel Elliott was able to convert three long touchdown runs, plays were ineffective within 20 yards of the end zone. Jones attempted only three passes inside of the 10 yard line against Indiana, and missed the mark on all three. Using Elliott in these short yardage situations would help to mitigate some of the inconsistent passing. On Saturday, Elliott only had three rushes in the red zone.
Perhaps the Buckeyes could consider using Barrett for red zone possessions.
"And how about those West Division standings? Iowa, Northwestern and Illinois are tied for first place. Raise your hand if you had that in the summer. (Now put your hand down, you liar)."
As Ohio State scraped by Indiana Saturday, and Michigan State held on against Purdue, many across the country began to once again question the validity of the Big Ten. TCU jumped Michigan State in both the AP and Coaches Poll, and the Spartans are now ranked No. 3 and No. 4 respectively in each.
So what does that leave for bowl projections? Ohio State, still sitting at No. 1 in both polls, would be expected to make the College Football Playoff, while Michigan State would fall out of the playoff and represent the Big Ten at the Rose Bowl. While the Buckeyes have been less than impressive thus far this season, winning the Big Ten would go a long way in guaranteeing them a spot in the playoff.
The big surprises come in the form of Iowa and Northwestern in the west, who have been impressive in their division. Iowa defeated then-No. 19 Wisconsin last week, while Northwestern boasts wins against No. 16 Stanford and Duke. Of course, Northwestern will have to go on the road to Michigan this week before returning home to face the Hawkeyes.
Minnesota and Nebraska, who had higher hopes to start the season, have fallen off in recent weeks, but Illinois has been a pleasant surprise, currently sitting at 4-1. While the Illini have a long way to go with an interim coach, they have still exceeded expectations, and might even manage to make a bowl as an at-large.