In almost all of Urban Meyer’s six losses at Ohio State, the offense has taken the majority of the blame for those blemishes — and rightfully so.
With just about a month to prepare for the Clemson Tigers, Urban Meyer talked about fixing the anemic passing game and finding a balance between the run and the pass. But after back-to-back three-and-outs to start the game (the second drive starting at the Clemson 33-yard line), it was clear that the team was unprepared, the offense did not improve over the layoff and the inconsistent offensive line stood no match for Clemson’s athletic and talented defensive line. For the first time since Jim Tressel’s Buckeyes fell to Meyer’s Florida Gators, it looked like the Buckeyes did not belong on the same field as their opponent.
Here is how Clemson exposed Ohio State’s biggest weaknesses on New Year’s Eve:
In those six losses that Meyer has had at Ohio State, the offensive coaching staff has received the brunt of the criticism. We can go through all of the losses individually, but I think we know them by now. What is extremely alarming is that it looks like the players are seeing the same issues as the fans, and were not happy with the decision making or play calls. We all remember Ezekiel Elliott torching the play calling before declaring for the NFL Draft after barely touching the ball in their loss against Michigan State, and then former quarterback Cardale Jones -- who played under the same coaching staff last season -- voiced his opinions on Twitter during the game.
Stop all these "JT trash" tweets, when I started last season & we struggled, it was "Cardale trash we want JT"it ain't the QB ☕️— Cardale Jones (@Cardale7_) January 1, 2017
One would have to believe that current players felt a similar sentiment re: Ed Warinner and Tim Beck, which is why the two changes occurred on Tuesday and there could be more coming down the line. Warinner and Beck seem to be well respected by Meyer, but the lack of new ideas, lack of creativity in play calling and the steep regression of J.T. Barrett has cost this group a chance of a possible three-peat and cost them their positions on the coaching staff.
Stepping away from the play calling and the guys who call the shots, two other coaches need to be on the hot seat. After developing guys like Mike Thomas, Braxton Miller and Jalin Marshall into NFL wide receivers, the receiving corps was a gigantic issue all season. Noah Brown disappeared after physically dominating Oklahoma, Parris Campbell, Terry McLaurin and James Clark never developed into consistent perimeter threats and freshmen Binjimen Victor and Alex Mack were not given a true chance to overtake the veterans. The lack of separation is on coaching, while the abundance of drops are a mental thing with the player — which could also be traced back to preparation. Smith seems like one of the more well-liked positional coaches on the team, but the lack of development in 2016 really burned the passing game.
It’s hard to put Greg Studrawa on the hot seat when he’s only been at Ohio State for one season, but it’s safe say Ohio State’s offensive line regressed in 2016. It could be an talent issue, but with multiple four stars on the two-deep, it’s easy to look at Studrawa and the lack of development. A great example of this is when true freshman Michael Jordan went out early with an ankle injury and Demetrius Knox (the fifth ranked guard recruit in the 2014 class) came in and did not look like he was prepared to be in the game. In the three games that Ohio State played an above average to great defensive line, the offensive line got flat out exposed. Keeping Warinner on staff as the offensive line coach and moving Studrawa to a consulting role wouldn’t be the worst move at this point. Warinner has developed unheralded guys in the past, coached up the dominant 2014 offensive line and seems like a vital part of Urban Meyer’s coaching staff to keep around.
J.T. Barrett’s regression
When J.T. Barrett replaced an injured Braxton Miller as the starting quarterback in 2014, his scouting report was based on the fact that he was accurate throwing the football and he was cool and calm in the pocket. Before breaking his ankle against Michigan, Barrett was seen as a Heisman finalist snub, since he put up arguably the best statistical season by an Ohio State quarterback, ever. He completed 64.6 percent of his passes, threw for 34 touchdowns and added another 11 touchdowns and 938 yards on the ground. He was always in control of the situation and it looked like Ohio State was set at the position for years to come.
After getting beaten out by Cardale Jones prior to the 2015 campaign — a competition in which the coaching staff did not handle correctly whatsoever — it was okay to give Barrett a pass on a pretty average season, where the staff decided to shuffle the two in-and-out throughout the season.
In 2016, the staff gave Barrett the keys to the offense and elected him captain for the second year in a row. From a statistical standpoint, he had a pretty good season (24 touchdowns to 7 interceptions) throwing the ball, even though the completion percentage fell to 61.5 percent. His accuracy on short to intermediate passes became erratic and he was constantly late on crossing patterns, resulting in incomplete passes on simple throws that should have moved the chains. His inaccuracy on intermediate throws then led to a complete lack of confidence on deep throws, where he constantly overthrew open targets on plays that should have resulted in six points. Even though Barrett has remained calm in the pocket, he has a tendency to hold onto the football for too long, which has led to a handful of sacks.
Barrett’s confidence is completely shot at this point and one of the coolest quarterbacks in college football just two seasons ago should now face an open competition next season against his three talented backups, but we all know that most likely won’t happen.
Overall, Ohio State’s offense was thoroughly embarrassed and exposed against Clemson and a giant ripple effect has already ripped through that side of the ball. With the talent in this program, it is unacceptable to lack execution to that degree and be out coached with such severity in a playoff game. With changes already occurring, Clemson’s domination already looks like a blessing in disguise.