Hours have now passed since the No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes were stopped at home by the No. 5 Oklahoma Sooners, 31-16. For the Buckeye faithful watching, the game probably left you frustrated. Now, I’ll try to make sense of what happened inside Ohio Stadium, and figure out what exactly was learned from the humbling by the Sooners.
1. Ohio State could’ve been trailing big at halftime
Once again, the Buckeyes started off slow in the first half. Unlike the Indiana Hoosiers contest from a week ago, the Scarlet & Gray’s scoring output wasn’t in the double digits by the midway point; there were barely any digits at all.
In a half that was defined by both teams inability to move down the field successfully, OU and OSU were knotted up at 3-3 after a half-hour of football under the lights. However, the Buckeyes were lucky to have that kind of score at the break. Oklahoma ran 39 plays and had 222 yards to show for it; the Buckeyes put 27 plays together for a whopping 92 yards. Also, OU fumbled the ball twice in the first half—the second fumble led to the Bucks getting those three points.
The first four Oklahoma drives went like this: turnover on downs at the OSU 36, fumble on the OSU 25, fumble on the OU 49, and a missed 37-yard field goal. It’s not too abstract of an idea to think that the Sooners could’ve pulled 13-16 points off those four drives.
A main reason for why the Buckeyes couldn’t move down the field was because the passing game couldn’t get established. J.T. Barrett went 5-for-11 in the first half for 25 yards. The longest completion was for 13 yards to K.J. Hill in the beginning part of the second quarter.
Ohio State had zero “chunk” passing plays in the first half. (A chunk pass play is a play that goes for at least 15 yards). However, they did have three running plays in the first half that went at least 10 yards, with Barrett being responsible for two of them.
Going forward, the Buckeyes can’t afford to go through the motions in the first half. The defensive line can only do so much; the offense has to be able to make some plays and put some points on the board.
2. ‘Defensive Back University’ might be losing its accreditation
Over the last couple years, the sheer amount of OSU defensive backs that have heard their name called at the NFL Draft are staggering. It seemed like if you played any part in the pass defense game plan, you were destined for big things after Ohio State.
Since the Clemson loss in the Fiesta Bowl, the defensive backs have been exposed. Against Indiana, the exposing happened again—but was written off as ‘shaking the rust’ off. With Oklahoma going to the air and pulling out over 300 yards worth of passing yardage, there is cause for concern in the OSU secondary.
Sooners’ quarterback Baker Mayfield chewed up the Buckeye defense. The Heisman hopeful completed his last 14 passes, three of which were touchdowns of 10 yards or more. Additionally, Mayfield ended the night 27-of-35 passing for 386 yards and zero interceptions. Last season, the Bucks forced a Pick-6 on Mayfield; this time around, not so much.
The Buckeye secondary also gave up seven chunk passing plays in the second half. Whether that was because they were tired is yet to be determined, but one thing is for certain: the pass defense wasn’t very effective down the stretch.
Unfortunately, Ohio State won’t get to test out the new changes in their next game against Army West Point, as the Black Knights are an option/run team. In Week 1, Fordham saw firsthand at how potent the Army rushing attack is; the Knights picked up over 500 yards on the ground en route to a 64-6 victory. Passing is not going to be the gameplan for Army, so focusing on pass defense may be put on the backburner for Urban Meyer’s squad—which might be the most important thing needing to be fixed moving forward.
3. Want someone to fight for your yards? Call Weber & Dobbins
Already, I’ve talked about two negatives from the Buckeyes’ loss to the Sooner Schooner. Now, let’s look at a positive: the running duo of Mike Weber and J.K. Dobbins.
Dobbins led the team in rushing attempts (13) and yards (72), while Weber came back off the hamstring injury and received three carries for 29 yards. Weber appeared for his first rush in the second quarter, but after his second carry, he limped off the field, and didn’t show up for another rush until the fourth quarter.
Dobbins got his first rushing touchdown of his Ohio State career via a 6-yard rush in the third quarter. As a matter of fact, he had the only OSU touchdown on the night.
When these two are healthy and utilized, the Ohio State running game might be the best running game in the entire country. Meyer said in postgame interviews that Dobbins and Weber did some “good things” on the field. In that same response, Meyer acknowledged that the play calling was frustrating and will be reevaluated. If that’s the case, then it seems absolutely plausible that Dobbins and Weber will be the brunt of the rushing game, instead of Barrett.
The Buckeye QB rushed 16 times on the night for 66 yards. Weber and Dobbins combined for the same amount of carries, but picked up 101 yards and a TD.
And now that J.T. was mentioned...
4. J.T. Barrett is less deserving of the blame for offensive woes
This one may be considered the hot take. While Barrett didn’t set the world on fire with his performance against OU, the longer this game went on, the more I felt that he wasn’t responsible for the offensive debacle.
I point to this drive in the third quarter as the reason why I came up with that take:
The score was tied at 10-10, and the Buckeyes just got the ball back after Oklahoma hit a field goal. Notice how the beginning of the drive looked really good. Three solid pickups by Dobbins was followed by a spectacular grab by Austin Mack. In those four plays, the Scarlet & Gray went from their own 25 to the OU 7.
But then, weird playcalling came up.
Two option-esque runs were called, followed by Barrett overthrowing Hill in the endzone on a rollout, led to the Bucks settling for three points.
This drive had an eerily feeling to the opening drive OSU had in the 2014 Sugar Bowl against Alabama. In that drive, Ohio State started on their own 15, and marched to the Bama 5 in just six plays. Then, it was a Cardale Jones rush to the far-side of the field for no gain. The second play: a Jones rollout and throw to Evan Spencer—who was in virtually the same spot Hill was in the Oklahoma game.
The setups were almost identical, but the end results were the same: a short field goal that could’ve easily been manufactured into a touchdown.
Play calling is just one issue for the offense. The other is a combination of the receiving corps and Barrett’s ability to throw the deep ball. While this edition of Zone 6 has talented personnel, it’s not the same as having Michael Thomas and Devin Smith snagging footballs out of the air. Barrett and the offense will need to make do with the options on the table, however, this solution gets a little more complicated as you realize that J.T. has had three different QB coaches since he’s been a Buckeye. From Tom Herman, to Tim Beck, to now Ryan Day, it can’t be easy having to adjust to a new coach’s strategies.
Harry Potter had to deal with a revolving door of teachers in his Defense Against the Dark Arts class; J.T. Barrett has had to deal with the revolving door of coaches on the offense.
With the trifecta of play calling woes, less experienced receiving corps and a constant stream of new coaches, it’s actually getting harder for me to blame Barrett for the struggles. These issues were highlighted last season, but have now come under the microscope after the Buckeyes recent string of close wins and big losses.
The solution now is to keep Barrett as the starter, and come up with some form of cohesiveness within the play calling and receivers. If that fails, then it might be time to look for another QB to start for the Buckeyes. But, that’s the doomsday scenario, considering Barrett is one of the best QBs Ohio State has ever had.