Trying to draw conclusions from the first game of the college football season is tricky under normal circumstances. Players are rusty and bundles of nerves. Full playbooks aren’t always deployed. And hey, the first game is often a glorified scrimmage against Eastern State Tech, of Paycheck Game, Minnesota.
But Ohio State played a real team last night, a conference team, on the road. And I think you could justify just about any big takeaway you wanted from it.
At the end of the day, the scoreboard doesn’t lie. Ohio State beat the Hoosiers 49-21, covering the spread against Indiana for the first time in seven games, and torching what projected to be an above-average defense for nearly 600 total yards. Beating a likely bowl team, on the road, by 28 points, is pretty good, no matter the circumstances, or the names on the front of the jerseys.
But perhaps that scoreboard doesn’t really tell the full story. After all, this was an Indiana football game. The Hoosiers led at halftime, and if we’re being honest here, they controlled the game in most facets. Indiana was even leading with about five minutes to go in the third quarter.
But, as my colleague Jason Kirk wrote this morning, “things like size, speed, raw talent, the weight of all human history, and Calvinist predestination kicked in.” We’ve seen this movie from Indiana a few times before, after all. Parris Campbell housed a 74-yard catch less than 30 seconds later, Johnnie Dixon won a 59 yard touchdown track meet a few minutes later, and the overwhelming advantage of Ohio State’s defensive line choked away any remaining upset hopes. At the end of the day, the Buckeyes left town with a conference win, and a slew of impressive looking box score numbers.
So, I guess the question is, are you an optimist, or a pessimist?
If you’re an optimist, there’s plenty to like here. True freshman J.K. Dobbins absolutely exploded onto the scene, jump-cutting his way to 181 yards, an Ohio State record for a freshman debut, a performance that could launch a full-blown RB controversy should Mike Weber return to health quickly. Ohio State’s maligned passing game from last season accounted for 304 yards and three touchdowns, and six different Buckeyes all caught at least two passes.
And Ohio State’s defensive line, billed as perhaps the most talented in the country, did not disappoint, forcing a game-clinching fumble, obliterating Indiana’s running game (before garbage time, the Hoosiers rushed for -2 yards, which, in my professional opinion, is bad), and making a living getting in Hoosier QB’s Richard Lagow’s face. You could also argue, perhaps convincingly, that some of Indiana’s offensive success, especially in the first half, was just a result of their talented WRs playing a little out of their minds, a level of success that wasn’t sustainable and didn’t reflect poorly on Ohio State.
If that’s what you want to take away from last night, I won’t argue with you. All of those things are true!
But there’s also a pessimistic case here too. Ohio State’s offense lagged last season because of offensive line inconsistency, WRs failing to achieve separation, and inopportune drops, and lo and behold, all of those things still bothered Ohio State, especially in their languid first half. Despite an impressive final box score, J.T. Barrett also missed just enough throws to fail to silence the haters on Twitter dot com. And Ohio State’s secondary got dunked on repeatedly by Indiana’s passing game, one that dropped 420 yards on a unit full of elite recruits and potential NFL talent.
Now, that number is going to be inflated, since Indiana couldn’t run the dang ball at all and also ran a gazillion plays, but it’s safe to say that secondary performance doesn’t hold up to the standard set over the last two seasons. And, let’s not forget, Oklahoma has pretty good QB and a few wideouts of their own.
Personally, I think many of the flaws presented here are probably fixable for Ohio State, given the youth still at wideout, defensive back, and heck, even part of the offensive line, and outside of Oklahoma, there may not be too many teams on this schedule built to attack the Buckeyes just like the Hoosiers did last night. But hey, that Oklahoma game is next on the schedule.
You want to see positives? Negatives? Just some confusing ink blot? Go right ahead. It’s all there, in the film and in the numbers, if you want it.
The only indisputable takeaway, in my humble opinion? Big Bob Landers got robbed.
We don't care that they ruled it an incomplete pass. Here is a GIF of Robert Landers RUMBLING into the endzone pic.twitter.com/Xr6tvkzSeT— Land-Grant Holy Land (@Landgrant33) September 1, 2017