After two sluggish games in a row on the offensive side of the ball, Ohio State will be approaching their matchup against Western Michigan with a new sense of urgency. The Broncos have some talent, especially on the offensive side of the ball, but the Buckeyes are facing another big point spread and should still comfortably get a win. Here's five things to watch for during tomorrow's action:
Complete Game Cardale
On Wednesday, Urban Meyer named Cardale Jones the starting quarterback for what seemed like the twentieth time since the season began. Of course, with all things in this quarterback battle, it came with a caveat. So, for now, Jones is the guy. Again.
To be frank, 12 Gauge played an awful game last Saturday against Northern Illinois. He looked lost from the beginning, and only threw nine passes on the day, completing two of those to the bad guys. In his defense, J.T. Barrett didn't look much better, throwing an interception of his own, and nearly tossing a couple others. Meyer also went out of his way to explain that he thinks the problems lay more with the coaching than they do the quarterbacks.
If that's the case, I think we'll finally see Jones get a full game's worth of action, or at least similar to what he got against Virginia Tech. That would be unless he tanks, of course, and Meyer makes another switch. With that in mind though, Jones keeps beating Barrett for the job, and he deserves the chance to play through his mistakes, especially if those are more due to coaching than poor quarterback play.
The Western Michigan defense provides the perfect opportunity for Cardale to right the ship. The Broncos rank 111th and 117th in passing success rate and passing S&P+. Then again, Hawaii and Northern Illinois defense weren't supposed to pose much of a problem for the Buckeyes, either.
The boat has a leak
Spoiler: The Western Michigan run defense is bad. The Broncos were run over by Georgia Southern in Week 2, giving up 413 yards and nearly eight yards per carry. Opponents have scored 10 rushing touchdowns, and the Broncos rank third to last in rushing S&P+ nationally.
That's good news for an Ohio State running game that has struggled to push defensive lines around so far. The last two weeks, Hawaii and Northern Illinois presented the Buckeyes with odd defensive fronts, which has clogged up running lanes, and made it a rarity for lineman to reach the second level. This is a problem that Ohio State first faced last year with Virginia Tech's 'bear front,' and continued throughout the season. Expect Western Michigan to continue the trend, and try something similar to what we've seen the last two weeks.
Despite Ohio State's run game inconsistencies, the Buckeyes rank among the best in the country in opportunity rate, as running backs have excelled with good blocking, and have done well enough when it isn't there. That starts with Ezekiel Elliott. Elliott has been quietly awesome so far, making the most out of limited running lanes, and rushing for over 100 yards in each game this season. If you're someone who has been calling for Elliott to receive more touches, you'll probably get your wish on Saturday. The talent advantage and numbers say that Ohio State should be able to run all over the Broncos.
Eye in the sky
Offensive coordinator Ed Warinner has been the subject of a lot of scrutiny the past two weeks, and with good reason. The offense has looked lost for long stretches, lacking the consistency and explosiveness that were staples of Ohio State's 2014 offense.
This week, Meyer noted that moving Warinner from the sideline up to the coaching booth --where former offensive coordinator Tom Herman resided-- would be something the Buckeyes would discuss. It's hard to judge how much that really matters overall, but with how things have been going, maybe viewing the whole field will help Warinner.
Regardless, Meyer went out of his way to say that the problems aren't with the players on the field, but rather the coaching. That's a pretty strong statement after his starting quarterbacks threw three total interceptions and the offensive line got manhandled at times by Northern Illinois. This week is a big test for Warinner, whether they decide to keep him on the sideline or put him in the booth.
A test for the Silver Bullets
The offense has been so shockingly meh, that it's overshadowed how great the Buckeye defense has been. Through three games, Ohio State ranks first in defensive S&P+, a far cry from much of the first three years Urban Meyer era.
This change has been most evident in the secondary, particularly at corner. Eli Apple and Gareon Conley have made the leap, shutting down opposing wide receivers, getting their hands on passes, and not being afraid to make a play in the run game, when necessary.
They'll need each to key in on Western Michigan's number one threat, Daniel Braverman. Braverman is a do-it-all threat for the Broncos, and as our Christopher Jason notes, Ohio State will call on Conley, Apple and others to slow him:
Ohio State's team speed on defense is what will limit Braverman's east-west running ability, so he may have to run more routes as a receiver, instead of carrying the ball on the perimeter. Limiting his perimeter running ability on first down will put the defense in a favorable situation on the next two downs. Vonn Bell will also have to continue his monster play by filling once he recognizes Braverman with the football in his hands.
If Ohio State is able to contain Braverman, while slowing the Broncos other receiving threat, Corey Davis, it should be a big day for the Silver Bullets.
Let's #TalkAboutTheNoles for a second. Throughout Florida State's attempt to repeat as national champions last season, they looked inconsistent, sloppy, and like a completely different team than the previous year's. Instead of blowing out inferior teams, the Seminoles found themselves in close games, needing to make plays late. This was despite bringing back a ton of NFL-level talent. Sound familiar?
It was probably unreasonable to have the expectations for this team that most of us did coming into the season, despite all the talent, and how 2014 ended. Repeating as champions in any sport is hard. Add in the fact that these are all 18-22 year old's and it basically becomes a crap shoot. But Ohio State has a great chance to reverse its course on Saturday.
After two inconsistent weeks in a row against inferior competition, the Buckeyes have one more shot at a 'get right' game before conference play. Through three years, whenever a major problem has popped up, Meyer and his staff have found a way to eliminate it, and make it a strength. The last two weeks have been sloppy, and if his press conference was any indication, the Buckeyes are going to come out with a bit more of an edge than what we've seen lately.
The Buckeye defense should be fine. Despite the problems that Braverman and Davis present, the defensive line will create more than enough havoc to limit their opportunities through the air. As has been the case the last two weeks, what will the offense do? They're facing another lackluster defense, that on paper, should pose little to no problem. It's getting harder to keep calling for the offense to turn it around, but if there's any week it turns around, it's this one.