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What went wrong for Ohio State against Iowa, and how do they fix it moving forward

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Where did it go wrong for the Buckeyes? (Spoiler: just about everywhere)

NCAA Football: Ohio State at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

It was cold. It was loud. It was not a good day to be a Buckeye at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday. Outside of participating in the Iowa Wave — the newest tradition at Hawkeye home games that involves waving to the neighboring Children’s Hospital in between the first and second quarter — there weren’t too many bright spots for the Scarlet and Gray.

From the start, quarterback J.T. Barrett threw a Pick-6 on the very first play of the game—and seemed to come back down to earth after having the brilliant performance against Penn State last week. The defense was torn to shreads by Iowa, a team that isn’t really known for hanging 50-plus points on the scoreboard.

In one of the worst losses in the Urban Meyer era, one has to ask the question: where did it all go wrong for the Buckeyes? Last week, there was quite a bit to unpack in the comeback win against the Nittany Lions. The same goes for this week, however, instead of a win, it’s a monumental loss we’re reviewing.

Instead of doing a ‘things we learned’ article, this one will be a little bit different. Let’s examine five things that went wrong for the Buckeyes against Iowa, and see how they can fix those problems moving forward.

The pass defense was, uh, not great

Entering Saturday, the OSU defense was one of the best in the country. They had the 12th best total defense in the country, giving up 302.5 yards per game; and the 18th best scoring defense in the land, spotting only 18.2 points per game to opponents.

You wouldn’t have known that by looking at the boxscore after the Iowa game.

Hawkeye QB Nate Stanley had himself an afternoon, throwing for 226 yards and five (!) touchdowns on 20-of-31 passing. Tight end T.J. Hockenson hauled in five catches for 71 yards, which was enough to lead Iowa in receiving. On top of that, he caught two of Stanley’s TDs.

Stanley was able to stand in the pocket and make passes down the stretch. It seemed like whenever the Hawkeyes utilized a rollout, someone was able to make a sliding catch for a good chunk of yardage. In total, six of Stanley’s passes were considered chunk plays (a pass completion that went for more than 15 yards), and all them came in the first three quarters. That was a big reason for why Iowa controlled the time of possession with 34:51.

Also not helping the Buckeyes’ cause was the early ejection of Nick Bosa. The defensive lineman was tossed from the game after being penalized for roughing the passer/targeting in the second quarter.

Was it targeting? Yes. Bosa left his feet and led with the crown of his helmet. While it wasn’t a hard hit, it was a hit nonetheless. It was a bad penalty for Bosa to commit; he’s one of the best D-lineman on the team, and the game was tied up at the time. After the ejection, Iowa outscored Ohio State 38-7.

Getting pressure on the quarterback is what the Buckeyes did best against Penn State. Remember how inefficient Trace McSorley and the Nittany Lions were in the last couple possessions? Iowa found a way to make sure Stanley had time to make decent throws to either the sideline or down the field. I like to believe this was just a one-off, really bad performance from the Buckeye defense, considering what we saw last week.

Kirk Ferentz and his son, Brian, the offensive coordinator, put together a masterclass performance on what it takes to beat Ohio State, a team that has multiple former head coaches on staff.

With Michigan State looming, making sure their QB doesn’t have time to scramble around in the pocket will be a big factor in making sure back-to-back losses don’t happen for the Scarlet and Gray. Additionally, better play from the secondary will go a long way in making sure the pass game doesn’t get established. The Hawkeyes had a combo attack of Stanley’s ability to throw and Akrum Wadley’s ability to speed past the defense on the ground. Limiting one of those attacks makes the play calling more predictable—and easier to stop.

Forced passes opened the door for big mistakes

Iowa’s offense was able to move the ball down the field to score points. When you get gifted interceptions deep in OSU territory, it becomes even easier to put points on the board.

J.T. Barrett made some critical errors in the air against the Hawkeyes. The first of those mistakes happened on the very first play of the game. Amani Hooker housed a Barrett throw, and returned it 30 yards for a score.

Entering the game, Barrett was seen as Mr. Reliable. Since the Oklahoma loss, the last game he threw an interception in, he rattled off 22 TDs and a 75 percent completion percentage, all without throwing an INT.

After the first pick, Barrett appeared to regain his composure by dialing up two nice TD completions to Terry McLaurin and Johnnie Dixon. The receivers created space, and Barrett made a perfect throw to ensure the points. However, the Hawkeye defense adapted.

A late interception in the closing minutes of the first half gave Iowa the ability to go into halftime with a 31-17 lead. Both first half picks were on Barrett, but the second one was more egregious than the first.

Marcus Baugh was never really open on the play. And to make it even worse: there were two defenders covering him. That was a momentum changing pick to close out the first half, but the Buckeyes had chances in the second half to atone for their mistakes.

In the second half, OSU’s inability to move the chains in the air signaled the end of national championship aspirations. Underthrown footballs, a swatted pass at the line, and pass breakups all attributed to a bad day on the road. Barrett threw two more interceptions in the second half—we’ll look more in-depth at those in a little bit—and ended the game on 18-of-34 passing for 208 yards, 3 TDs and 4 INTs. It was by far the worst game, interception-wise, Barrett has had as a Buckeye.

I think the panic button got pressed too soon in Kinnick Stadium. Forced passes, and trying to do too much too soon came back to haunt the Buckeye offense. Last week, the environment played a factor in Ohio State getting the win against Penn State. This week, the environment played a factor in a Buckeye loss.

Kinnick Stadium is no joke, that place got loud—especially on third down. Stalling out and turning over the ball, especially on the road, will doom you. Seven Buckeye drives ended in either a three-and-out or turnover. In three consecutive drives in the third quarter, the Buckeyes had three-and-outs. That is a perfect recipe for ensuring a loss.

In the past, Barrett has proven he can make good throws. They just didn’t happen against Iowa. While he may have lost any chance at winning the Heisman, there are still three big games left on the schedule: Michigan State, Illinois and Michigan.

A win against MSU puts OSU in the driver seat to win the Big Ten East. Illinois will be the last home game for Barrett, and includes a chance to keep Illibuck in Columbus for another season. And Michigan is, well, Michigan. Each of these games have meaning, so spotting teams an early touchdown or two isn’t really what you should be striving to do.

Barrett can’t do it all by himself

A quarterback is only as good as his offensive line and receivers. The O-line played well against Iowa, only allowing one sack and a quarterback hurry. However, the receiving corps was a different story.

Parris Campbell, the Buckeyes No. 1 WR, didn’t make the trip to Iowa due to an injury sustained against Penn State. Last week, KJ Hill shined in the absence of Campbell; against the Hawkeyes, Hill was contained to three receptions for 41 yards.

Baugh caught a pair of passes for 15 yards. He also had a pair of dropped passes, too.

McLaurin’s first quarter TD catch at the 12:42 mark of the quarter was his last reception of the game.

In the beginning of the fourth quarter, Barrett targeted Austin Mack for a pass. While the throw was on target, Josh Jackson wrestled the ball away from Mack, collecting the Hawkeyes’ third interception of the day.

A few minutes later, an intended pass to Binjimen Victor was picked up deep in Iowa territory. This one looked like a miscommunication, as Victor wasn’t ready to make a play on the ball.

The first two interceptions were on Barrett, however, the last two, not so much. Both Mack and Victor are underclassmen, and at times this season, the WR portion of the offense has been a work in progress.

Pivoting away from the receiving game, the leading rusher for the Buckeyes was—you guessed it—Barrett.

Mike Weber had five carries for 27 yards, and J.K. Dobbins had six carries for 51 yards. The kicker: Dobbins had two total rushes in the second and third quarters, after picking up 47 yards on 4 carries in the first quarter.

We are now in the second week of asking “why wasn’t Dobbins used more in a big game?” Against Oklahoma, that question could’ve been sidestepped. At this point in the season, we know what Dobbins is capable of doing. Meyer said that he doesn’t micromanage who gets the ball. After seeing how this has played out in the past couple of weeks, he might have to intervene.

Barrett can’t be the lone wolf in making sure the Buckeyes move the ball down the field. He needs help to do it. Receivers dropping passes, mismanagement on the running game, and conservative play calling when the game hangs in the balance won’t do it. Michigan State has been, at least in the Meyer era, a team that has caused trouble for Ohio State. Two years ago, OSU lost at home to the Spartans due in large part to playcalling that relied too heavily on the read-option, and not enough on Ezekiel Elliott. History has a chance to repeat itself, but instead of Elliott, it’s Dobbins.

An established run game makes it easier for the passing game to get going, which makes it easier for the offense to move down the field. (I could go on for two paragraphs about how each aspect of the game helps one another become more efficient.)

That’s exactly what Iowa did. Wadley was able to average 5.9 yards per carry, and ended the afternoon with 118 yards. With the run game opening up the passing game, and vice-versa, it really isn’t surprising that the Hawkeyes dropped 55 points on the Bucks.

In conclusion, this what Ohio State needs to do from here on out to avoid another Iowa meltdown:

  • On defense: put pressure on the QB, and make forced throws; prevent passes down the middle of the field.
  • On offense: don’t force throws—save that on your final drives when you absolutely have to make those passes; put Dobbins in the game, and give him the ball; limit dropped passes
  • On special teams: limit kick returns. That was something the Buckeyes did well against the Hawkeyes.