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5 things we learned from the way-too-close Ohio State win versus Minnesota

The Buckeyes got to 7-0, but boyyyyyyyyy, there are still improvements to be made.

Minnesota v Ohio State Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. The Ohio State Buckeyes moved to 7-0 on the season after their close shave against the Minnesota Golden Gophers, and are the team to beat in the Big Ten East. There’s no question about that. What you can question, however, is their defense. As well as their rushing game/offensive line effectiveness.

Quarterback Dwayne Haskins has arranged tour de force performance after tour de force performance, and netted another 400-plus yard afternoon in The Horseshoe. If there was a piece of the offense that was shining bright, he’d be it. But, we’ve come to know that.

Outside of Haskins, we did learn some things from Saturday’s 30-14 win against the Golden Gophers. Let’s take a look at five of them, and predict where the Buckeyes go from here.

Big play Buckeyes (in a bad way)

Another week has passed, and it was another week where we crossed our fingers in hopes of the defense fixing their big play problem. Spoiler: they did not fix their big play problems.

It didn’t matter if the Golden Gophers went through the air or on the ground, they carved out highlight worthy plays either way. Running back Mohamed Ibrahim had a 157-yard, two-touchdown day on the ground, and averaged 6.8 yards per pop. Five of his 23 carries went for 10 yards or more, with the longest being a 34-yarder— thanks to a mis-played angle by a Buckeye defenseman.

Wrong approach angles were a problem against Oregon State in Week 1, and have been a problem in just about every game since then. I’m starting to sound like a broken record at this point: the defensive line does a good job (even sans Nick Bosa), but behind the line, all bets are off as to what happens. Missed tackles by linebackers and secondary members getting beat and outworked for the ball has been a theme.

Minnesota’s turnovers (two interceptions from QB Zack Annexstad, and a fumble from wide receiver Tyler Johnson) were the difference makers. The Buckeye defense can make stops (specifically tipping passes on on slant routes) but, as our own Matt Tamanini said, it’s a boom or bust approach.

I will give the Bucks the benefit of the doubt this week, as there were more injuries and scratches this week. Linebacker Malik Harrison and defensive end Jonathon Cooper were both out, leaving two more holes in a defense already plagued with them. But, at some point— and probably sooner rather than later— banking on three turnovers and inexperience from the opposition is going to come back to haunt you.

The year-after-year personnel turnover has left a gap in experience, and it’s starting to show. That takes time to resolve. And time is something OSU doesn’t really have on their side any more.

Where’s the beef rushing yards?

There was some talk earlier in the week about what the Bucks would do on short yardage situations. Would they go into a QB read-option with Tate Martell? Would J.K. Dobbins be the go-to guy? We had some of those answers on Saturday, and none of them were that good.

Short downs still have me shaking, as the Buckeyes do just enough to get the first— if they do in fact get there. On a fourth-and-2, Mike Weber got the handle and did his best to stretch the ball to the sideline before cutting up field. From the initial angle, the refs gave him three yards on the rush; I, however, think he came up short. On a fourth-and-1 in the Gopher red zone, Dobbins ran up the middle and got stuffed for a loss of one.

The running backs have shown their ability to make plays, so I’m not putting the blame on them. When searching for a problem, it’s good to look at the source; in this case, the source appears to be the offensive line. Rushers can’t do their thing if they can’t get a hole to run through. In the same breath, if they can’t give the QB time to make a decent throw, then the passing game will suffer.

While Haskins picked up 412 yards and a trio of TDs through the air, he was sacked three times. Penn State unveiled a blueprint on how to stifle the OSU passing game: send everyone you got through the O-line. While the Nittany Lions didn’t get the win, Indiana followed up with pressure, and Minnesota’s leading sack specialist (Carter Coughlin) recorded a pair of takedowns against Haskins.

But, back to what this segment was suppose to be about: why OSU’s run game isn’t as effective as it should be. In total, Ohio State had 92 rushing yards on 32 attempts. That’s not very good, considering who they have in the backfield. Maybe it is a good idea to use Martell on a QB-read every now and then. That could be a way to spring a short yardage situation into a big gain.

We’ve been down this road before with penalties

Fixing the defense’s inability to stop explosive plays is only one problem Urban Meyer and the staff have to work on. Another glaring issue are the penalties. They weren’t as bad this week, but they still made a difference.

In total, there were five penalties accepted against the Buckeyes, with three going on offense and two on defense. It was a tough day for right tackle Isaiah Prince, who on top of struggling to defend the line, was flagged for all three of the Bucks’ offensive penalties. Once for being an illegal man downfield (he was blocking someone) and twice for false starts. Ohio State can make up yards in a hurry thanks to Haskins, but you can’t put yourself behind the proverbial 8 ball time after time because of bad penalties.

On defense, both penalties were of the pass interference variety, and came on third down. I like an aggressive Buckeye defense, but too much of a good thing is bad. By being hyper aggressive on the receivers, it’s easier to be called for P.I., and sure enough, it happened again on Saturday.

Alex Grinch is in his first year on Meyer’s staff, and, like anything, will take time to adjust. I’m starting to think that I undervalued the importance of Kerry Coombs to the OSU brain trust; defenders were taking the right angle, and everyone seemed like they were going to be a draft pick with his electric personality on the sidelines. Regardless of who’s defending, turning your head to the ball helps show the referee that you’re playing the ball, not the receiver. It may also be part of Greg Schiano’s style of defense, but so far, the penalties keep getting racked up.

The false starts can be solved in practice, and being a little less aggressive on pass D will help make pass interference infractions more subjective. Meyer’s OSU teams always feel like they were/are being heavily penalized for the same stuff. Pass interference here, false start there, questionable targeting and ejections calls sprinkled in, too. Minnesota didn’t make the most out of the penalties, and they still made this game a little too close for comfort. Just like getting burnt on the big plays, eventually there will be a game where a team takes advantage of both.

Another good day for the Zone

Now for the good things from Saturday’s win.

Zone 6 showed up in spectacular fashion again, with K.J. Hill being the ringleader this time around. When you can make one-handed grabs like this and take them to the house, there’s no way that you aren’t the leader for the week.

Hill ended the game with two TDs on nine receptions totaling 187 yards. That’s a career-best for Hill, and it helps extend his catch streak to 27 games. In all seven games this season, he’s hauled in at least four receptions.

Terry McLaurin reeled in a 41-yard TD for his seventh of the season, tying Parris Campbell for most on the team. When you have someone like Haskins throwing the ball, it’s a good time to be a receiver on the OSU roster. Already, the Heisman candidate has lobbed 2,331 yards and 28 scores.

Campbell, Hill and McLaurin are just three of the many receiving weapons that the Buckeyes are continuing to develop. Austin Mack brought down a couple passes against Minnesota, and even tight ends Rashod Berry and Luke Farrell tallied some receiving yards, too.

In a record setting season for Haskins, you need a good corps of WRs and TEs. So far, Zone 6 has only improved and may get even more refined as the season goes on.

Blake Haubeil: College Kicker

As much as I hate to do it, I’m stealing Chris Collinsworth “Here’s a guy” phrase.

Entering the week, the depth chart had Sean Nuernberger as starter; on Saturday, the roster flipcard with both teams still had Nuernberger listed as starter. However, on the first field goal of the afternoon, Blake Haubeil was the one who lined up— and connected on— the kick.

The sophomore went 3-for-3 on field goals for the day, making kicks from 21, 47 and 27. Here’s a guy who came in clutch for the Bucks, and his makes paced the Scarlet and Gray out in front. If he would’ve missed his kicks, the Gophers would’ve been in striking distance. But, you can’t play the could’ve and would’ve game with Haubeil; he went out and did what he needed to do.

Now, does this mean there’s a kicking controversy in Columbus?