The weekly press conferences are done, so that means one thing: we’re getting closer to the start of Week 3 of college football. With Ohio State’s Urban Meyer having his press conference on Monday, and Army West Point’s coach Jeff Monken holding his talk with the media on Tuesday, we now have both coaches’ words on what to expect on Saturday afternoon.
Let’s breakdown the four biggest points from Meyer’s presser, and the three biggest points from Monken’s presser.
1. “Coach Schiano has coached against wishbone teams. I have, too...You need to spend every waking moment from here until the foot hits the ball to prepare against the wishbone.”
After playing against two highly efficient passing teams (the Indiana Hoosiers and Oklahoma Sooners) the Buckeyes go against an efficient running team in Army West Point, who utilizes a variation of the wishbone offense.
What is the wishbone? The wishbone offense is a three running back set that has a quarterback that can handle the ball on pitches/options. This kind of attack causes problems for the defense, as teams rarely see it.
In the past two games, it was the OSU pass defense that was subject to the stress test; now, it’ll be the rush defense’s turn. So far, the rush ‘D’ for the Buckeyes ranks second in the Big Ten, giving up an average of 60.5 yards per game. Even better: only one rushing touchdown has been allowed by defensive coordinator Greg Schiano this season—a fourth quarter, three-yard TD in the Oklahoma game.
Army put up 513 rushing yards against Fordham in their first game of the season. (Granted, it was Fordham. But, 513 yards is 513 yards.) The last time Ohio State played a Wishbone-esque team was Navy in 2014. At halftime of that contest, which was played at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, the Midshipmen led the Buckeyes, 7-6.
If allowed, this offense causes headaches. Luckily, if there is a headache happening for the Buckeyes defense, it won’t be in the secondary. The utilization of the triple option offense by Army has led them to only pass the ball for a whopping 17 yards this season.
Having disciplined personnel on defense is a good way to manage the Wishbone offense. Speaking of disciplined players and sticking to their assignments...
2. That was the biggest issue, guys trying to do too much...I'm going to go stop this play instead of cover my guy and take my eyes off my guy for a second, and that's where you saw a couple of those guys squirt loose.
A breakdown in the secondary led to Sooners’ QB Baker Mayfield’s 386 yard passing night against the Buckeyes. Throw in an additional 104 yards on the rushing attack, and you have 490 yards worth of offense surrendered.
Meyer pointed to guys trying too much as a reason for the Sooners’ ability to make plays. If Ohio State’s defense tries too hard against Army, and guys start trying to stop the play instead of covering their assignment, then Army has a real shot at pulling an upset.
With the Wishbone (or any option-based offense), guarding the quarterback and the pitchmen are imperative if you want to shut down that style of play. When guys start anticipating the pitch and go into action before the pitch takes place, that’s how trouble starts for the defense.
Covering the guy you’re supposed to cover will be the name of the game on Saturday afternoon. Acknowledging the fact that guys were doing too much against Oklahoma is a good sign for Meyer’s bunch, as they will be working to make sure it doesn’t happen again this week.
3. “You take all the intangibles, the tangibles, everything, then you make that decision.”
In regards to figuring out how the starters are named, Meyer talked about how the decision boils down to the intangibles, tangibles and everything inbetween. With an insane amount of criticism finding its way to the offense—with an exceptional amount focused on J.T. Barrett—and the defense, knowing what it takes to be a starter may be helpful down the line.
Dwayne Haskins has been the named floated around as the guy people (and recruits) want as a quarterback for the Bucks. However, Meyer noted earlier in Monday’s press conference that Haskins will go onto the field when he is game ready, or he shows that he can help them win. At this juncture for the QB #1 spot, someone with the intangibles and tangibles to be named starter would be none other than Barrett. He stands alone as the only Buckeye to be named captain three times, and carries a 27-5 record as starting QB.
If other positions start faltering, then the metrics outlined by Meyer may help determine what the picture may look like if a new starter is announced.
4. “Yeah, it's a six-man rotation. There's not a differentiation from 1 through 6, and I think they're going to be all fine players. They're continuing to grow.”
As Barrett takes the brunt of the blame for the offense, the rotation at wide receiver is still happening for the Buckeyes. Meyer noted that the six-man rotation at WR is still in place. Already, there have been miscues and missed catches by receivers. Against Indiana, Parris Campbell missed a wide open pass that would’ve been a touchdown; against Oklahoma, a bullet pass from Barrett skimmed off the fingers of K.J Hill in the end zone, leading to OSU gathering only three points after making a push deep into the Sooners’ redzone.
While the rotation is a work in progress, more wrinkles can get ironed out against Army. Between the Black Knights and UNLV Rebels, Meyer and wide receivers’ coach Zach Smith have two games to figure out how to stop the miss throws, dropped passes, and deep ball. After that, it’s on to the Big Ten schedule.
The rotation is not a bad idea, especially when there isn’t a solid No. 1 WR like there was in years past. A few years back, an overwhelming majority of OSU observers could point to Devin Smith being the guy at wide out; another year it was Michael Thomas.
Ohio State doesn’t have that guy, yet. So it’s worth trying to figure that conundrum out now, rather than late in the season. Once teams figure out that the deep ball isn’t a viable threat, and that the receivers are prone to making drops or running the wrong route, then defenses will begin to really clamp down on Barrett and the passing game. We already saw what happened against Oklahoma. If a solution isn’t sought soon, then the same kind of output isn’t too far out of the realm of possibility against Penn State, Iowa or Michigan.
5. “In the last seven games where we haven't had a turnover we're 7-0...We did that last week. And I really think that was the stat of the game. We had no turnovers and they had two.”
The first four points dealt with the Urban Meyer presser. Now, let’s pivot the final three things learned to the Army HC. Monken pointed out that winning the turnover battle is a huge stat to have in your favor. Looking at last week’s game against the Buffalo Bulls, he is 100 percent right. In that game, Army forced two fumbles as Buffalo was driving in their territory. Having the change in momentum was huge, as at the time, the Bulls were leading, 17-7, and turnovers occurred on their last drive before halftime and the first drive after.
Army didn’t cough the ball up, and was able to overcome the deficit in the fourth quarter courtesy of two, 1-yard rushes from junior fullback Darnell Woolfolk.
Keeping possession will be one of the biggest (if not the biggest) key to the Black Knights game plan. If they can recreate the turnover outcome they had with the Bulls against the Buckeyes, then keep your finger over the alarm—we may have the beginning of an upset brewing.
On the flipside, if Ohio State can create a fumble on a bad pitch/option, then this game can get busted opened real quick. Don’t take my word for it, just look at the history books. When Navy held the lead against OSU a few seasons ago, a fumble recovery by Darron Lee went 61 yards for a TD. Even though quarterback Keenan Reynolds would lead the Midshipmen to a touchdown on their next drive, the fumble proved to be costly.
Winning the turnover battle will keep the Black Knights in the game; if Ohio State wins the battle, then it could be a rout in The Shoe.
6. “We certainly felt like we needed to have everything that we got in our offense prepared for the first two games to have a chance to win...Coach Schiano has seen this offense several times and we have stood on opposite sidelines.”
Greg Schiano came up in Meyer’s presser, and it showed up again in Monken. If anything from school has taught me something, it’s this: if something gets repeated, it’s probably important to know—and will be on a test.
Ohio State’s test on how well they defend Army’s variation of the wishbone/triple option offense this weekend may have gotten easier with the addition of Schiano on staff. When he was the head coach in charge of the Rutgers Scarlet Knights, Schiano went up against the Black Knights in the 2011 season. Rutgers won, 27-12, and having a successful experience of playing Army helps.
Monken wasn’t the man in charge at West Point in 2011, but the option strategy has been relatively the same. The effectiveness of the Army offense this season has produced two wins at home. Going back to last season, the win streak is up to five games, including a big win against rival service academy Navy last December.
Preparedness is a necessity when going up against a program like Ohio State. With Schiano having seen how the operations work with the Army flexbone attack, there may be a series of plays the Black Knights haven’t run yet in their first two games, but will this Saturday. Even though Monken’s record at Army is 15-23, he’s 10-5 in the last 15 games.
7. “Rhyan [England] means a lot to our defense. He's a really smart player, and he is the guy that makes sure everybody is where they need to be on the back end.”
Army’s defense will be tested, too, this weekend. Free safety Rhyan England will be the impact player for the Black Knights. The senior is one of the most experienced guys on defense, starting in 31 games throughout his time at West Point.
In the last two weeks, the Ohio State passing game has struggled to get off the ground. (Last week, Barrett didn’t even throw a touchdown. He only needs to be responsible for two more TDs to tie the Big Ten record currently held by Drew Brees).
Locking down on the OSU receiving corps and deflecting passes away will be instrumental for the Black Knights defense. Knowing that Mike Weber and J.K. Dobbins will be getting touches—and probably a good chunk of yards per carry—makes shutting the passing operation down even more important. With Meyer still reevaluating the play calling on offense, OSU is still going through a learning phase before the Big Ten schedule arrives.
It’s not too wild to assume that the Buckeyes try different things in the passing game, and run different routes to see what they can/can’t do with the receivers and Barrett. But one thing we do know is that the deep ball can’t be fixed over night. When OSU played Navy, an 80-yard TD pass from Barrett to Devin Smith helped the Buckeyes pull away from an upset in Baltimore. There is no Smith this season, and “chunk” passes have relied on receivers creating their own space; Johnnie Dixon and Campbell did just that against the Hoosiers when they turned medium range completions into long TDs.
Experience is irreplaceable. That’s why England is the most important person on the field when the Black Knights go on defense. If he recognizes the schemes being run by the OSU offense, and can help move the personnel around to stifle Barrett’s passes, this game will once again be dominated by a run-first mindset for the Buckeyes.