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Breaking down the disaster that was Ohio State-Northern Illinois

For the second straight week, the Buckeye offense struggled. Let's take a look at how to fix it.

Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

The Ohio State offense put up 13 points (defense had a touchdown) and 298 yards up against the Northern Illinois defense. The same defense that allowed 493 yards and 30 points to UNLV and 373 yards and 26 points to Murray State, a FCS school. This is the second week in a row where they could not run the ball effectively on a smaller, subpar defensive line and the quarterback shuffle is starting to haunt them.

After solving Virginia Tech's Bear front with excellent adjustments, Hawaii and Northern Illinois both used an odd front, which has confused their offensive line and limited their bread-and-butter inside zone and power game. Chris Ash described the two defenses as "odd, junk defenses." "Odd," meaning three down linemen and "junk," meaning blitzing from a variety of angles to create confusion.

Left tackle Taylor Decker described the Husky defense as, "(Northern Illinois has) a nose, two ends and a walkup 'Buck' (linebacker) to the boundary (short side of the field) usually, and they can blitz from all over," Decker said. "They can blitz from the (wide side of the) field and disguise it really well."

What is confusing is that they continue to run jet sweep after jet sweep into the blitzing linebacker, rather than making the adjustment to run in-between the tackles and bully defenses that they are supposed to bully.

The play calling has no rhyme or reason and it is negating the few moments where they show some sort of momentum and tempo. Zone read, bubble screens and counters have essentially been scrubbed from the playbook. We are talking about the same playbook that helped put up 49 points on a Pat Narduzzi-led defense, 59 points on an always tough Wisconsin squad and 42 points against Nick Saban and Alabama in SEC country.

After offensive coordinator Tom Herman took a well-deserved head coaching job, offensive line coach Ed Warinner and the newly hired Tim Beck were given the keys to a Ferrari, but they're on the verge of crashing it. They have an offensive line that returned four-of-five starters from the championship team, the best three-down running back in the country, two excellent quarterbacks, the most dangerous open field playmaker in the country, a true NFL-level wide receiver and a boat load of four and five-star guys on the perimeter. It is possible that they could have too much talent and only one football to go around, which is why passes are being forced into coverage and the play calls have been too cute, rather than smart.

Urban Meyer and the offensive coaching staff needs to figure a couple of things out:

  • Pick a quarterback and stick with him. He claimed in his press conference that the quarterbacks should not be looking over their shoulder because they always have to with a back-up quarterback. But how come J.T. Barrett was not taken out of last year's Virginia Tech game, after completing 9-of-29 passes and throwing three interceptions? It is different this year. Pick one and stick with him through the ups-and-downs.
  • After last year's Hokies game, defenses copied Bud Foster's Bear defense, but the offense adjusted to it and shredded it. If a team sees that Hawaii and Northern Illinois are using an odd front to disrupt the Buckeye offensive line, get used to seeing it and adjust to it.
  • Figure out the play calling. Coach Meyer needs to put the offensive playcaller, whether it is Warinner or Beck, in the coaches box. He alluded to this in his press conference, saying that, "We're looking into some of that (calling plays from the box). Ed Warinner's -- it's not like it's a demotion or something like that. And Tim's been here long enough. The way it would work I would say Tim or Dan Mullen or Tom Herman, run this, run this, and it's boom, and we're on the same page and we're going. We're not quite there yet. Also if we go jet tempo, that's got to be from upstairs, because you can't see anything from down there."
  • Get back to basics. Get back to calling inside zone, power, bubble screens on the perimeter and counter the odd fronts. Once they get the power run game going, it puts a safety in the box, which opens up play action, which is what they do best. They cannot run effective play action when they are running east-to-west all the time.
  • Limit turnovers. The Buckeye offense has committed nine turnovers in their first three games, which is unacceptable.
The positive thing is that it is still very early in the season and they have a group of elite coaches and players who have more than enough ability to turn this around.

Here is the Northern Illinois breakdown:

Cardale Jones

Designed runs Dropbacks Completions Incompletions TD pass Scrambles Overthrow Underthrow Throwaway
2 9 4 3 0 0 2 0 2
Pressured Sacked Hit during throw Pass break-up Batted at LOS Drops Intercepted TD run Defensive PI
1 0 2 0 0 0 2 0 0

*tap passes do not count as pass attempts

  • He might need to get involved with the run game more to get himself going; Jones had 11 designed runs against Virginia Tech, zero last week and only two on Saturday.
  • The negative plays began with the first pass attempt of the day, when Jones and Jalin Marshall were on separate pages. This is due to the two players recognizing different coverages. Jones was very animated towards Marshall after the play.
  • Jones followed up with a terrible overthrow that resulted in an interception. Braxton Miller found a soft spot in Northern Illinois' Cover 2 and was open for the first down. Coach Meyer explained that the pass slipped out of Jones' hand on the throw.
  • The Gleville product's day ended on a terrible interception. He forced the ball into double coverage, rather than hitting the open man for a first down.

J.T. Barrett

Designed runs Dropbacks Completions Incompletions TD pass Scrambles Overthrow Underthrow Throwaway
1 19 9 7 1 2 1 1 0
Pressured Sacked Hit during throw Pass break-up Batted at LOS Drops Intercepted TD run Defensive PI
2 0 1 3 0 1 1 0 0

*tap passes do not count as pass attempts

  • Right when Barrett entered the game, the offense started to run with tempo. The offense seems to run like a well oiled machine with him at the helm.
  • He led a great touchdown drive, capped by an excellent pitch and catch to Michael Thomas for six.
  • The offense looked in-sync on the first drive of the second half, then Barrett threw a ball that should have been intercepted, followed by an interesting run call on 3rd-and-6 from inside the 10-yard line. Why not run the ball on 2nd-and-6 when you have tempo and rhythm? The play calling is not putting the players in the best position to succeed right now.
  • On Barrett's interception, he had an eternity to survey the field, 3.48 seconds to be exact. The offensive line created the perfect pocket for him to climb the ladder and go through his progressions. It was 1st-and-10 and Barrett had three receivers in single coverage on the play. Take a shot downfield. The lack of focus and detail by both quarterbacks was mind-boggling.
  • When the Buckeye offense gets the ball on the opponent's 45-yard line with 4:24 left in the game, they need to execute and put the game away. In fact, they had the ball twice, up only a touchdown, with less than five minutes left in the game, but they could not run out the clock. Unacceptable. Especially against a porous Northern Illinois defense.
  • Also, why are they running the hurry-up offense with 20-plus seconds remaining on the play clock, when they are trying to ice the game? Where is the awareness and comfort that this offense showed in 2014?
  • This is not on the quarterback, but it is a shot at the entire offense and the coaching staff when the Huskies decided to punt the ball back to the Buckeye offense with 2:52 remaining in the game. The worst part is, that it paid off! The offense could not gain one first down to end the game. They are extremely lucky that the defense bailed them out on numerous occasions on Saturday.

Running backs/ H-backs

Ezekiel Elliott Braxton Miller Curtis Samuel Dontre Wilson
61 snaps (25 touches) 20 (4) 22 (5) 21 (3)

  • Elliott fumbled on 4th-and-1 due to a poor quarterback-running back exchange.
  • I disagree with how Miller is used at Wildcat quarterback sometimes. After Jones hit Thomas to get the offense into the red zone for the first time, Jones was quickly pulled in favor of Miller. After a tap pass to Marshall that gained three yards, Miller fumbled the snap, which killed the momentum. Whoever the quarterback is, he needs to get into a rhythm. I feel as though it ruins tempo and rhythm for the offense, when Miller is wrongly put in at quarterback.
  • Marshall needs to get into the end zone here (especially after Elliott's excellent block).:
  • Curtis Samuel is a dynamic player, but why is he primarily used outside the tackle box? He has quickness, yet he also has power and vision that should be used in-between the tackles. Samuel is a weapon that can be used sparingly on jet sweeps, but get back to basics.
  • When there is less than five minutes left in the game and you are trying to run clock, run Elliott... Please.

Wide Receivers

  • Once again, when Thomas is targeted, good things happen. He is one of the constants on this anemic Buckeye offense.
  • Speaking of Thomas, his touchdown reception was eerie similar to the catch against Alabama. He possesses excellent body control, ball skills and awareness near the sideline.
  • This is for all of the skill groups... They need to have better awareness of the sticks, especially on third down. I counted three completions on third down that fell short of the first down, due to the pass catcher not running his route past the first down marker. That cannot happen.

Tight ends

  • Nick Vannett was used early and often in the passing game. He led the team with four receptions.
  • When the offense is having trouble moving the football, line up in a two-tight end set and run the ball between the tackles. The two-tight end formation has been a staple of this offense since Meyer has been in Columbus and it needs to return.

Defensive tidbits

  • Once again, the defense was excellent. They held a respectable Norther Illinois' passing game to 80 yards and matched quarterback Drew Hare's season total of two interceptions. The defensive line was dominant, the linebackers were flying around and the defensive backs completely erased the Husky receivers.
  • Their one major blemish on the afternoon was on Northern Illinois' lone touchdown of the afternoon, where Gareon Conley and Darron Lee lost outside contain on a jet sweep.
  • Adolphus Washington did a great job forcing Northern Illinois quarterback Drew Hare to change his arm slot, mid-throw, forcing an Eli Apple interception. Once again, Washington was dominant in the middle of the defensive line. Disruption is production on the defensive line and Washington has been very disruptive.
  • Sam Hubbard has improved each week, which will ultimately keep Joey Bosa and Tyquan Lewis fresh and give Larry Johnson another weapon on the defensive line.
  • Vonn Bell has been incredible this season. His angles have been superb and he has constantly been around the football.
  • Lee bailed out his quarterback by following up Barrett's interception with one of his own. Lee used his elite instincts and awareness to read the screen, fight through a blocker and take the interception to the house. Per usual, Lee was all over the field on Saturday, making one big play, after another.
  • Gareon Conley has been terrific in pass coverage. His ball skills have been off the charts and he saved a potential touchdown, which would have cut the Buckeye lead to three, in the fourth quarter.