With the first game of the season now in the rear view mirror, the Ohio State Buckeyes are gearing up for their showdown next Saturday against the Oklahoma Sooners. But, before we get to the biggest non-conference game—and arguably the biggest game for the Buckeyes—this season, we must look back at what happened in the Indiana Hoosiers contest.
In fact, there were three big things that can be taken away from OSU’s 49-21 win in Bloomington, Ind.
1) J.K. Dobbins is real, like, real real
Throughout the summer, J.K. Dobbins received a lot of hype. When he got the nod to be the starting running back in his first game ever as a Buckeye, the expectations were high. Especially considering Mike Weber is still recovering from a hamstring injury, having Dobbins start at RB in a primetime season-opener on the road was huge.
On this huge stage, Dobbins did not disappoint. In fact, he showed flashes that he can be one of the greatest running backs Ohio State has ever had. The La Grange, Texas, native went off for 181 yards on the ground. That total was enough to pass Maurice Clarett’s 175 yards output against Texas Tech in 2002 for the most yards ever by a freshman in his debut.
Dobbins had two big rushes (one for 27 yards, another for 35 yards) that helped OSU put points on the board. His 27-yard rush put the Buckeyes deep into the redzone, which led to the Antonio Williams 1-yard rush up the middle for six; the 35-yard sprint helped put the Scarlet and Gray in chip-shot field goal range.
Moving forward, Dobbins has to be the guy Urban Meyer goes with as RB #1. The way Dobbins can spin/cut around defenders, and bust into open space is almost poetic. On average, the freshman was picking up 6.2 yards per carry against the Hoosier defense.
Weber will need to get healthy in a hurry if he wants to get his No. 1 spot back on the running back depth chart. But, if he doesn’t, then the combination of Dobbins and Weber may be the duo of the year in college football. Weber can run through defenders; Dobbins can run right past them.
Back to the main point: Dobbins’ arrival on the college football stage. If he keeps having these types of performances, especially against Oklahoma, then it shouldn’t be too far fetched to see his name as an early season Heisman contender. Given some time (i.e. a season) Dobbins may be the Ohio State version of Barry Sanders. It may seem wild to see that typed out, but for a freshman to do what he did in his first collegiate game, the sky’s the limit for Dobbins.
2) Height: the crux of the OSU secondary
For the first half, the Buckeye secondary was exposed. In fact, the exposing continued for a little while in the third quarter. This isn’t something Buckeye nation has grown accustomed to.
Why did the OSU secondary struggle against the Hoosiers? Well, size is a reason. The ace up IU’s sleeve was the fact they had wide receivers who had a height advantage on the Bucks secondary. Simmie Cobbs was the ringleader of the height brigade. Cobbs is 6-foot-4 (!) and was causing all sorts of problems to cornerback Denzel Ward, who’s 5-foot-11.
Cobbs was targeted by quarterback Richard Lagow (who happens to be a tree at 6-foot-6) 17 times on Thursday night. Eleven of those were catches, which Cobbs tallied for 149 yards and one touchdown. His touchdown grab was insane, as Ward was, literally, hanging all over him.
Simmie Cobbs have a fantastic night pic.twitter.com/QgBx1KbuPW— Ty Wurth (@WurthDraft) September 1, 2017
Lagow ended the game with an unconscionable 410 yards passing and three touchdowns. While other receivers helped get Lagow to the 400+ passing plateau, Cobbs was the biggest helper.
Cobbs is one, if not the best, receiver in the Big Ten. You know who another top Big Ten receiver is? Juwan Johnson of Penn State. Johnson, like Cobbs, comes in at 6-foot-4. Even before PSU comes to Columbus, the Buckeyes have to stop quarterback Baker Mayfield and the Oklahoma Sooners.
The Sooners have graduate WR Jeff Badet, who led Kentucky in receiving yards last season before transferring to OU. Additionally, the Lincoln Riley coached squad has a 6-foot-5 receiver in Jeffery Mead and a 6-foot-5 tight end in Mark Andrews, who’s the leading returner in receiving yards.
Somehow this Buckeye secondary will need to find a way to counter the height conundrum. The best way to do this is to force bad throws and get interceptions—something the Buckeyes did well against IU, forcing Lagow to throw two picks.
Ohio State’s secondary cannot afford to start off flat against an OU squad that’s out for revenge.
3) Running through (Zone) 6 with the woes
Throughout the night, the passing game was erratic. While Barrett did sail some passes, his rotational set of receivers were having some bad drops. The most notable of the I-can’t-believe-he-dropped-that passes was in third quarter. Barrett threw a wonderful pass in the air—maybe his best pass of the night—to a wide open Parris Campbell. Campbell had a solid two step lead on his defender...and he managed to drop the ball.
The deep pass Ohio State has waited 9 months to throw ... and Parris Campbell drops it. Then OSU fails to get 4th and 2. Turnover.— Nick Piotrowicz (@NickPiotrowicz) September 1, 2017
Campbell was targeted nine times on the night, and caught the ball six times for 136 yards and a sweet 74-yard touchdown. Though Campbell turned it on late in the game, the drops are still a problem. And it’s not just Campbell’s problem.
Johnnie Dixon dropped one pass in the first quarter, but made it up by hauling in a 59-yard touchdown strike from Barrett in the third frame.
The passing game was completely different in the second half. However, one has to wonder how much that had to do with Indiana’s defense being tired after chasing Dobbins around for 30 minutes. As the stats went final, Barrett threw for 304 yards and three touchdowns, and Campbell’s haul lead all receivers.
Playing devil’s advocate: If the Buckeye rushing game was shut down, could the passing game be established to help put the run game back in business? I would wager that it wouldn’t—which is a colossal problem to have when you’re facing some of the best teams in college football.
Next week will be another litmus test to see who will rise up from the revolving door to be WR #1 at Ohio State. But, to rise up, dropped passes can’t happen, and passes have to be catchable (and not broken up before the WR gets a chance) for Zone 6 to be a tour de force again in college football.