It’s hard to pick what the worst part of Ohio State’s loss to Penn State last week was. Was it the loss itself, or just how the loss happened? Could it have been afterwards when we all got #mad #online? Or was it the re-realization of how insane this fanbase gets when things go wrong? (It’s always the last one)
Regardless, losing sucks, but Ohio State gets a chance to pick itself up off the mat this week with a home date against the Northwestern Wildcats.
Northwestern’s had a weird season; Beginning with their season opening loss to Western Michigan, and then this in week two:
The Fighting Copy Editors (HT: Matt Brown) have rebounded nicely, winning four of their last five, including road wins at Iowa and Michigan State. While the advanced stats don’t think too highly of them, (57th in S&P+) they should be a good test for an Ohio State team whose flaws have exposed to varying degrees the past three weeks.
So, will the Wildcats continue the Buckeyes’ frustrating run of play, or can Urban Meyer’s group rebound and kick into gear before the stretch run?
Here are five things to watch for tomorrow that may give us the answer:
One of Meyer’s favorite mantras is ‘E+R=O,’ or ‘Event plus response equals outcome.’ The slogan has found a place in the football program, and applies to Saturday’s game after last week’s loss. The Buckeyes rarely have to deal with a loss, and it will be interesting to see how such a new group responds. The good news is that Meyer’s history indicates it may be a major launching pad for the rest of the season.
If this team is anything like the ones before it, last week’s loss could end up being the catalyst to a strong end-of-season run, much like we saw in 2014, and the two game stretch to close out last year. This roster and coaching staff are more than capable —and yes, the coaches haven’t been the only problem— of rebounding and still achieving all their goals. At the very least, the loss gives them five more regular season games —plus a possible championship game— to prove they’re a worthy playoff team, unlike last years late loss to Michigan State.
While getting outplayed and outcoached by a James Franklin team qualifies as a traumatic event, this weekend’s game gives the Buckeyes an excellent chance to launch into a two-month response, and possibly repeat history.
This script is bad, imo
One of the biggest issues for last season’s offense was slow starts. The Buckeyes scored points on opening drives only three times (all touchdowns) in 13 games, compared to the seven times they either went three-and-out or turned the ball over. You’d figure that with such poor performance, they could only improve this season, right? Well....
Meyer said that OSU's opening possessions are being evaluated. They script 12 plays. OSU has gotten only 1 FG/0 TDs on first drives.— Bill Rabinowitz (@brdispatch) October 26, 2016
On those drives, Ohio State has run 33 plays for 95 yards, good for just under 2.9 yards per play. If that wasn’t bad enough, they’ve also turned the ball over three times, and —thanks to Bowling Green’s interception return for a touchdown— have been outscored on their own opening drives, seven to three. Sadly, even the three points were a letdown, coming courtesy of a Tulsa interception that gave Ohio State the ball at the Golden Hurricane 16. Unfortunately, Northwestern’s defense doesn’t provide much evidence that their fortunes will change.
The Wildcats have yet to allow points on an opening drive this season, and are very good at the start of games in general (15th in 1st quarter Defensive S&P+). This doesn’t bode well for the Buckeyes (51st in 1st quarter Offensive S&P+) and another slow start is likely in the cards.
If Ohio State’s opening possessions are truly being evaluated, though, it will at least be intriguing to see whether the trend continues, or if they’re finally able to have some early success, despite what the numbers say. I wouldn’t count on it, though.
While the coaches took their fair share of criticism this week, the offensive line wasn’t spared either, and rightfully so:
To make matters worse, the offensive line could not pass protect — especially Isaiah Prince. Out of Barrett’s 51 dropbacks, he was pressured a whopping 26 times, hit seven times and sacked six times. Prince himself accounted for 19 pressures, four hits and three sacks. If there is one weak link on the offensive line during a game, wouldn’t it be helpful to keep a tight end in on his side to help — since Penn State constantly brought a linebacker off the edge — or call a screen or a draw to that side? The pressure numbers would be even greater if Barrett didn’t pull multiple Houdini acts to avoid a sack.
Even though Prince clearly struggled the most, it was an ugly performance overall from a group that had (mostly) excelled up to that point, despite the three new starters. Maybe it shouldn’t have been a surprise.
The Buckeyes pass protection was already on the decline, and the aggressive play of Penn State’s front seven deserves as much credit as the Buckeye line deserves scorn. Afterwards, there was a lot of chatter about making changes on the line, specifically at right tackle, to which Meyer squashed with this week’s depth chart.
It’s no secret that the Buckeyes have been at their best when the line has played well, so let’s see if they can get back on track —especially in pass protection— against the Wildcats.
Keep an eye on how many carries Curtis Samuel gets. Hint: It should probably be more than two.
Through seven games, Ohio State has already played primetime matchups at Oklahoma, Wisconsin, and Penn State, with the latter two in successive weeks. For a team that was returning the second least amount of production in FBS heading into the season, going 2-1 in that trio of games is no small feat. With three of their last five games at home, the Buckeyes are not only going to get a chance to (re)prove themselves, but do so on their turf.
Meyer’s teams have a history of refocusing and playing well after a loss, and we’re probably going to see that again tomorrow. Northwestern is a perfectly fine team, but might find itself in a ‘wrong place, wrong time’ situation. If that indeed happens, the Buckeyes are set up for to control their own destiny in Columbus, with potential top-ten matchups with Nebraska and Michigan left.
Everything that was on the table for Ohio State before the season is still there as they enter week nine. There are still opportunities to amass quality wins, get into the Big Ten Championship, and impress the playoff committee. They’ve already taken care of business on the road as much as a team this young would be expected to, and now get the chance to close it out with their biggest games at home. Starting with Northwestern, the Buckeyes’ road to Indianapolis and subsequently, the playoff, goes through Columbus.