Welcome to I Got Five on it, the weekly Ohio State column where I give you five things to watch for on Saturday, but mostly just expose you to my awful Photoshop skills.
Ohio State had their best performance of the season last week, blowing out Army 38-7 thanks to the offense’s most efficient game in over two years, a rebound performance from the defense, and J.K. Dobbins’ refusal to give a damn about the troops’ ankles:
J.K. Dobbins on that drive: Two carries, 74 yards, one touchdown, MANY BROKEN ANKLES. pic.twitter.com/WU74F49r4c— Land-Grant Holy Land (@Landgrant33) September 16, 2017
Expect more of the same this week, as UNLV brings its pastry-ass defense to Columbus, in what looks like a likely blowout win for the Buckeyes.
Aside from having the coolest field design in the country, you probably recognize UNLV as the team that loss to Howard as a 45-point favorite in Week 1, in what is now the biggest point spread upset in college football history. The Rebels rebounded as well as one can hope for after losing to a Mike London-coached team, by beating Idaho 44-16, then resting last week on their bye
You know how some teams are more than the sum of their parts? The Rebels are the opposite. There are some fun individual pieces— like the super high upside of freshman quarterback Armani Rogers, and explosive-as-hell running back Lexington Thomas— but the total roster isn’t exactly put together just yet, and the defense is a little too soft in the middle. Think of UNLV as a cupcake: the frosting and sprinkles are great, but the foundation could use a bit more time in the oven to bake.
With my horrible dessert metaphors out of the way, here are five things to watch for tomorrow as Ohio State
eats plays UNLV:
UNLV won’t have the ball for 40 minutes
If you’ve ever wondered what football hell looks like, Army had you covered last week:
The Black Knights’ 18 play, 99-yard touchdown drive took damn near 10 minutes off the clock, made quite a few people mad online, and was probably the main reason Ohio State didn’t score 50 points. (Memo to the Athletic Department: SCHEDULING SERVICE ACADEMIES IS BAD. ALWAYS BAD). Thankfully, UNLV prefers to play a bit faster.
The national average for possessions per game this season is just over 13, so expect the Buckeyes to make the most out of the extra three or four times they get the ball against a much worse defense than they faced last week. The Rebels are going to have their moments on offense —we’ll get to that later— but their desire to move quickly may result in ample chances for the Buckeyes to cause three and outs and put up big points.
All J.K. Dobbins all the time
Nothing more needs to be said.
When not handing the ball off to Dobbins, it’s likely that Ohio State sticks to the run/pass options they used to great success against Army. These RPO’s are good for a number of reasons:
- They keep the defense off balance with the threat of a run or pass.
- Ohio State’s athletic receivers can get the ball quickly, and use their speed in the open field.
- They force the defense to cheat up, eventually exposing them to the deep ball (hopefully).
- They allow J.T. Barrett to make quicker reads.
The use of these run/pass options helped Ohio State to its most efficient game since 2014, and for the first time in a while, gave the offense an actual identity outside of the running game.
It’s worth keeping an eye on how committed the coaching staff is to these RPO concepts. If they don’t have success early, will they move away to something else, or stick with it for a full game? Barrett and the rest of the offense found a groove as last week’s game went on, and a second straight solid performance for the passing game will bode well once conference play comes around.
Slowing down the Runnin’ Rebels
For as many problems as UNLV has across the board, its run game is legit. The Rebels rank second nationally in rushing success rate, rarely go backwards (fourth in stuff rate), and the big runs are BIG (10th in IsoPPP). For as scary as Army’s triple option is, this group presents an even bigger challenge for Ohio State from a talent perspective.
Lexington Thomas is the foundation of the Rebels offense. The junior running back is gashing opponents so far this season, averaging a healthy nine yards per carry, and consistently breaking off big runs, like these two touchdowns against Idaho a couple weeks ago:
Limiting Thomas is priority number one for the Buckeyes, but he’s not the only threat. Freshman quarterback Armani Rogers is raw, but has the size (6’5”, 225) and early numbers (173 yards and 7.3 yards per carry), that would indicate the preseason talk of his potential as a dual-threat has some merit to it. Thomas and Rogers give UNLV a more-than solid one-two punch they can use to attack the defense through zone reads, speed options, and their own RPO’s.
It will be interesting to see how Ohio State’s run defense holds up, and what kind of havoc the front seven can cause against an offensive line that hasn’t been beaten much this season. UNLV isn’t a very good team overall, but how the Buckeyes perform against this group is going to be a very good indicator of where they stand going forward.
Can the kick coverage improve?
After a great start to the season against Indiana, Ohio State’s whole kickoff unit has been less than stellar since, culminating last week with a kick out of bounds to start second half, and then whatever this was:
The usually successful strategy of kicking short to the left, and letting a host of former four and five star recruits eat hasn’t been effective lately. Oklahoma and Army were both able to generate solid return yards and gain field position advantages that have almost always favored Ohio State.
Since they’ll probably be kicking off a lot tomorrow, it’s worth watching them cover, and whether the last two weeks were just a small sample, or if there’s a bigger problem that’s costing them hidden yardage.