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How much blame do Ohio State coaches deserve for the Buckeyes’ offensive troubles?

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It’s a difficult question to answer.

NCAA Football: Ohio State at Penn State Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

We argue a lot in the LGHL newsroom. We argue about music, about video games, about the merits of various fast food restaurants and pizza joints in the Columbus area, and which of us is funny (SPOILER: I lose most of these arguments).

But when it comes to the biggest talking points in college football, especially when it comes to Ohio State, we generally agree.

Right now, there’s some real, genuine disagreement over the question sweeping a lot of Buckeye fandom right now. How much blame should Ohio State’s coaches get for their offensive troubles?

One thing that can’t really be argued is that Ohio State’s offense is not great right now, especially the passing offense. Per the latest S&P+ numbers, Ohio State is 84th in explosiveness, and 96th in passing success rate. But you don’t need to look at a spreadsheet to see how Ohio State’s passing game struggled against Indiana, Wisconsin, and most recently, Penn State.

Yesterday, our Christopher Jason took a closer look at the film, and points the finger squarely at Ohio State’s playcalling, which failed to distribute the ball to the Buckeyes’ best playmakers (e.g. Curtis Samuel), or provide protection if a particular player was struggling, like Isaiah Prince.

Is that fair? Let’s take a closer look at some of the issues with Ohio State right now, and you can make up your own mind.

Ohio State’s wide receivers are not being productive

That Ohio State has talent at this position group is not in dispute. From 2013-2016, Ohio State signed eight WRs that remain on the roster that were consensus four-star recruits. Another exceptionally talented bunch will join the team next season, including two five-star recruits. That level of recruiting should not only lead to high levels of production, but also some semblance of depth, like it has at most other position groups on Ohio State’s roster.

But that hasn’t really been the case this season. Four of Ohio State’s top five pass catchers, in terms of yardage, are not true wide receivers. Curtis Samuel and Dontre Wilson are more APBs than true wideouts. Marcus Baugh is a tight end. And Mike Weber is a running back. Only Noah Brown, with his 19 catches for 258 yards, cracks the top five.

How much of that is a reflection on the players, coaches or scheme is unclear. It is true that the bulk of the WRs corps has been targeted much less than H-Backs. Curtis Samuel and Dontre Wilson combine for 69 targets on the season (nice, I know), while Terry McLaurin, Parris Campbell, James Clark and Johnnie Dixon combine for 49. If you throw in Noah Brown, that’s 77 targets spread out among five wideouts.

Do we blame Zach Smith for McLaurin, Clark, etc not progressing to the point where one demands the ball during games? Do we chalk up the disappointing statistical output of the group, in part, due to injuries? After all, K.J. Hill and Corey Smith are currently injured, and Clark, Dixon and Brown have struggled with injuries throughout their careers.

Are these numbers a reflection of what routes they’re asked to run? That’s harder to say, since we don’t know the playcalls, and without All-22 film, it’s hard to see exactly where each player was asked to run on each play.

Ohio State’s offensive line has struggled

Christopher made this case relatively convincingly in his article, but it was also clear to anybody who watched the Penn State game. Ohio State struggled badly in pass protection, especially Prince. Barrett was pressured 26 out of his 51 dropbacks against the Nittany Lions, was hit four times, and sacked three. Under that kind of pressure, your wideouts will struggle to get separation, and your quarterback will struggle to go through progressions.

The Buckeyes have also recruited very well along the offensive line, but don’t seem to have a ton of confident in their backups at the moment, which might explain why Prince remained in the game after struggling so badly. It’s worth noting that two Buckeyes who figured to be in the mix along the line, Malcolm Pridgeon and Demetrius Knox, are injured. Underclassmen fill the backup list at nearly every spot.

Is this a fault of the Buckeyes, for failing to develop enough offensive linemen to have options in case of injury or ineffectiveness? Is it bad luck? Is it just a reflection of facing very good defenses? Can the coaching staff do more to adjust during a game to compensate for a heavy rush? Those are not easy questions to answer either.

J.T. Barrett does not look as good

During his first season on the field with the Buckeyes, Barrett was simply sensational, finishing in the top five in the Heisman race, while helping put the Buckeyes in position to eventually with a national title. But over his last two seasons, his performances have not been nearly as strong.

Barrett’s 2016 passer rating of 150.8 is a relatively steep drop off from his 196.8 from 2014. His YPA has dropped to 7.45 from 9.03, and his adjusted GBR dropped to 67.3 from 87.1. Using the eye test, many fans would argue that Barrett’s decision-making, touch on deep balls, and overall performance have regressed.

A lot of things are different from 2014. Tom Herman isn’t the offensive coordinator anymore, and now Barrett is working with Ed Warinner and Tim Beck. He’s throwing to a group of unproven wide receivers, has a new running back, and many new offensive linemen. And hey, it’s not like Barrett has been bad. He’s still almost certainly the best quarterback in the Big Ten.

How much of that regression should be blamed on Barrett’s changing circumstances? On Beck’s coaching? On his own performance and preparation?

These things are all related, and as fans, and even reporters, we don’t get all the data or see the complete picture.

Based on recruiting and expectations, it does seem clear that Ohio State’s offense could be doing better, and if it doesn’t improve, more losses this season are likely.

But who should shoulder the majority of that blame? Well, you can make an awful lot of arguments.

We certainly are.