On Monday, Urban Meyer spoke to the media, and reviewed what went wrong in the stunning 55-24 loss to the Hawkeyes, a loss that effectively removed the Buckeyes from the national championship hunt. However, the Scarlet and Gray are not out of the running for a Big Ten Championship; this weekend’s game against the Spartans will be for control of the Big Ten East.
But, Saturday is still days away, and there is work to be done for the Buckeyes. Let’s breakdown the four biggest takeaways from Meyer’s Monday press conference, and see what nuggets of information we uncovered as we head into Week 11 of the season.
“Talked to him. He came up, apologized. It was unique. It wasn't an open-field type thing. He was just lunging at the ball is what he told me. There was no intent is what he told me.”
If one phrase could be used to describe what happened in the upset last Saturday, it’s this: what could’ve gone wrong, went wrong.
One of those things that went wrong was the first half ejection of defensive lineman Nick Bosa with this roughing the passer (targeting) penalty on Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley.
Bosa gets to Stanley just after he releases the ball, but just long enough after the release to draw the penalty. Bosa getting tossed from the game hurt the Buckeyes—but it certainly didn’t cost them the game.
In total, OSU committed nine penalties, ranging from the targeting call, offsides, holding, and pass interference. The total amount of real estate surrendered due to those penalties: 95 yards. Whether the repeated calls against the Buckeyes were due to frustration or a lack of discipline, that remains to be seen; but in the case of Bosa, Meyer said that there wasn’t any malicious intent on the hit. (Stanley even admitted after the game that he thought the Bosa hit was just another “football play”.)
Penalties have been a problem all season for Ohio State. Against Penn State, the Buckeyes committed 10 infractions for 79 yards. In the Oklahoma loss back in September, another 10 penalties were called against OSU.
On Saturday, penalties helped Iowa keep drives alive, which ultimately helped them pull off the upset. Now that another tally has shown up in the loss column — but from a game the Buckeyes should’ve won — things may change. I’ve subscribed to the notion that you tend to learn more from a loss than from a win. That’s not just a football theory; that’s a life theory.
Meyer knows that penalties played a supporting role in the loss, but maybe because the team just kept on winning, it wasn’t that major of a problem. The season isn’t lost just yet, but if the Buckeyes reenact their Iowa performance this week against Michigan State, they’ll be lucky to cling to a top-shelf January bowl game.
“So we watched it closely. Obviously today's a big day to get going on the next game. But I felt like he forced it, especially right before the half. That was a devastating one. We're not a sling 'em type group, we're a highly efficient throwing team. And he's been great up to this point.”
If there was a playbill that listed the cast of reasons for why Ohio State fell apart against Iowa, penalties, as mentioned earlier, would be in a supporting role. One of the lead roles would’ve gone to J.T. Barrett, and his ill-advised passes in the first half.
It was mentioned in the postmortem on Sunday morning, but Barrett’s interceptions in the first half were from, uh, not great throws. The first one was a pick-out-of-nowhere on the first play of the game—and was returned for a touchdown. His second ill-advised throw of the half was in the waning minutes of the second quarter. This throw went to a well-covered Marcus Baugh, and was brought back deep into OSU territory.
While Barrett struggled in the early part of the season to find his rhythm, he never really made throws like that when the game was still in reach. Before throwing those first half picks, Barrett was on a roll since the Sooners loss; 22 TDs and zero INTs, on top of a 75 percent completion rating was what Barrett brought into Kinnick Stadium.
Four passes wound up in the opposition’s hands against Iowa, a career-high for Barrett. Those turnovers proved costly, as Iowa put 17 points on the board via interceptions.
In the past, Mark Dantonio and his Spartan bunch have feasted on Buckeye miscues. Whether it be playcalling or turnovers, MSU found ways to create opportunities to win games. Kinnick Stadium is, actually, a tough place to play when the crowd is amped up. Road games in the Big Ten are hard, too. However, following that kind of loss we all just witnessed, Barrett and co. can’t afford to have another game full of miscues—especially with this upcoming game at home.
As Meyer said, the team is “high efficient” in the air, but they seemed to deviate from that in the recent loss. Everybody has bad games. In fact, a really, really, really bad game is probably going to happen at some point throughout a football player’s career. The important thing is what blossoms from the low point? Does Barrett shake off the loss, or dwell on it?
“I think J.K. is our starter, had a couple of nice runs. Those are things we talk about. But once again I think coach Alford does a nice job. He should have more than six carries, but we got behind and started throwing it a lot...And like I said, just the way the game materialized in that third quarter, there wasn't a whole lot of runs after that point. But those are certainly conversations J.K. deserves the ball.”
Another question stemming from Saturday: Why wasn’t J.K. Dobbins used more? Meyer answered that question on Monday by saying that he should’ve had more than six carries.
Four of Dobbins’ rushes came in the first quarter—and they went for an impressive 47 yards. In the second quarter, the freshman had one carry for zero yards; in the third quarter, one carry for a whopping four yards. In comparison, Mike Weber had five carries for 27 yards, with all five of those handles coming in the second quarter.
This was almost Penn State 2.0, a game where Weber saw a lot of the action in the second quarter. (Except, the Buckeyes won that game.)
It wasn’t until the 2:30 mark in the third quarter, when Iowa went up by three scores, that running the ball wasn’t an option any more. Unlike the Nittany Lions, who played, essentially, prevent defense in the fourth quarter in Columbus, the Hawkeyes clamped down on the Buckeye passing attack. Kirk Ferentz and his staff knew what was going to happen because OSU wasn’t going to hand the ball off; if anything, the only run plays OSU was dialing up were read-options.
Being too predictable on offense has been an achilles heel in recent Ohio State losses. On top of that, the management of the running backs in big games/when games are on the line has been one of the biggest criticisms, too. Two of those losses, the 2013 Big Ten Championship and home finale of 2015, were to Michigan State.
If there was ever a time to use Dobbins, this week would be the time—especially if the Buckeyes are having trouble moving the ball without him. Meyer said J.K. deserves the ball, so it’s time to dial up some plays that use him. The coaching staff could avoid questions about the use of Dobbins when they were winning. But now after a loss, and after going on record saying that the La Grange, Texas native should’ve gotten the ball more, the staff needs to back it up.
If not, things may unravel even more.
“He's really throwing the ball. He threw for 400 yards. Have not watched a lot of them...he's thrown for 800 yards the last two games. They're not -- used to be kind of a 70/30 run/pass. It's not that right now.”
Now let’s focus the attention to what Sparty brings to the table. Like Ohio State, Michigan State enters this weekend’s game with a 7-2 (5-1 conference) record. In non-conference play, MSU got toasted by Notre Dame, 38-18. However, Brian Lewerke has done some pretty good quarterbacking over the course of the first nine games. He has 2,270 passing yards and 16 TDs, while also running for a few hundred yards, too.
Felton Davis, Lewerke’s main wide receiver target, is tied for the most receiving TDs in the Big Ten (8).
Meyer said that MSU used to be a run oriented team, but times have changed. Against Penn State, a game that took nearly seven hours to complete because of a weather delay, Lewerke threw for 400 yards and two scores. Felton led all receivers in receptions (12) and yards (181). Two weeks ago in an overtime loss to Northwestern, Lewerke lobbed 445 yards and two TDs. So, when Meyer said that he’s been really throwing the ball, he’s really been throwing the ball.
Pass defense was a problem against Iowa, and that has the potential to be the storyline again this week. Luckily (or not), the Buckeyes now know that they’ve been exposed—and the journey to correcting those mistakes have begun.
We’ll find out just how far they’ve come by Saturday afternoon.