Another week, another win for Ohio State that, while not awful on paper, was way too close for comfort on the actual field. Ohio State’s 30-14 win over Minnesota does put the Buckeyes at 7-0, and it will almost certainly help them move to No. 2 in the national rankings with Georgia’s loss to LSU, but it also brought up more concerns about the defense, rushing attack, and well, everything we’ve been worried about all season long.
Like I said, it doesn’t look like that on paper, at least for the defense. Minnesota only scored 14 points (thanks to the 100 people on Twitter that got very chesty about this to us), none of which came in the second half. However, when you look deeper, the performance of the defense becomes far more concerning.
Minnesota gained nearly 400 yards. Their average-at-best running back had a career day. Their walk-on freshman quarterback completed 13 passes (almost all of which were on the same two route concepts) for 218 yards. Two turnovers, and two missed field goals kept Minnesota from what could’ve been an extra 20 points (both turnovers were in Ohio State territory), and in a game that Ohio State won by 16, that’s a bit scary to think about.
The rushing attack’s struggles are not as deceptive. Ohio State rushed for 92 yards on 32 attempts. That sucks, and you don’t have to go any deeper in the numbers to know that. Obviously these two issues are pretty massive ones. Not being able to run, or defend the big play has killed Ohio State all season long, and against a better offense than Minnesota’s (like next week against Purdue), Ohio State may get seriously burnt by their ineptitude.
This game wasn’t all bad though. The passing game continued to look awesome, especially later in the game, as Dwayne Haskins put on another spectacular performance. That’s why for the seventh straight week, he finds himself among the top of my stock market report, and this week, he’s joined by one of his receivers, a defensive duo, and the new star of Ohio State’s special teams.
Dwayne Haskins, QB: What is there to say about Haskins that hasn’t already been said? He put on another fantastic show yesterday, lighting up the Minnesota defense for 412 yards and three scores on 33 of 44 passing. His ability to hit open receivers, read a defense, and deliver fastballs into tight spaces continues to keep the Buckeye offense afloat week by week, and that doesn’t seem likely to change anytime soon.
That brings up an interesting topic. Should Ohio State go all in on being a passing team? With such a good stable of receivers, an awesome quarterback, and such a bad rushing attack, do the Buckeyes need to embrace an offense that looks more like Oklahoma’s than a traditional Urban Meyer unit? At this point, the answer seems like a pretty resounding yes.
K.J. Hill, WR: Every week, it feels like a different receiver is on this list after having a big game, and that’s because this receivers group is just phenomenal. Every week we know that a different receiver is capable of stepping up, whether it’s Parris Campbell with the underneath routes, Austin Mack down the field, Binjimen Victor making huge plays, Terry McLaurin delivering devastating blocks or Johnnie Dixon tracking down Haskins’ bombs.
This week, it was K.J. Hill’s turn. He’s been the most reliable receiver on Ohio State all season long, and showed that again yesterday, reeling in nine catches for 187 yards and two scores, pretty easily the best game of his career. His awesome one handed catch, his ability to adjust in the air, and his quickness to make defenders made for yet another great performance.
Justin Hilliard, LB: For the second straight week, a linebacker has made the positive part of the stock market report! After Pete Werner’s impressive showing last week against Indiana, Justin Hilliard followed it up with an equally solid performance filling in for Malik Harrison. Hilliard had five tackles, and while he wasn’t perfect, he was a much more consistent tackler, and took much better angles that his two counterparts (Pete Werner and Tuf Borland). He also had a huge deflection at the line on third down in the redzone that almost certainly would’ve been a touchdown otherwise. Minnesota proceeded to miss the field goal.
Jordan Fuller, S: Jordan Fuller has been one of the few bright spots in the back of this defense all season long, and he stepped up again yesterday when Ohio State needed him to. He picked up 12 tackles, and was the last line of defense saving Ohio State from giving up a massive touchdown on several occasions. It still wasn’t a good day for the defensive backfield, as they were killed by slant routes all game, but Fuller continued to contribute important plays.
Blake Haubeil, K: I’m not going to talk for too long about the kicker for obvious reasons, but I will say this about Blake Haubeil. He came in to fill in for an injured Sean Nuernberger, and proceeded to completely outclass him. He hit all three field goal attempts, including one from 47 yards out, just two yards shorter than Sean’s career high of 49, set in 2014. Nuernberger has only hit one field goal from more than 40 yards out in the past two seasons, and has none thus far in the season. Haubeil should be the starter from here on out.
Greg Schiano’s defense: Another week of Greg Schiano’s hyper-aggressive, man coverage based defense, another week of Ohio State being burnt underneath all game long. The Buckeyes don’t have the elite talent at cornerback to play Schiano’s system this season, and dropping linebackers into a zone across the middle feels like the easiest fix in the world, but it’s been that way all year. Nothing has changed. Schiano needs to swallow his pride and do the right thing.
Isaiah Prince, OT: I feel bad about this one, because Isaiah Prince has made excellent strides since his dreadful 2016 season, and it really seemed like he was the leader of this line so far this year. This was a really bad game for him though. He was beaten badly all day by Carter Coughlin to the tune of two sacks, three tackles for a loss, and quite a few more hurries. He desperately needed help from a running back or tight end, and never got it. We can only hope that he can get back on track for next week’s test at Purdue.
Buy: Shaun Wade at safety. After once again being burnt for a big gain, Ohio State pulled Isaiah Pryor out of the game for a few series, putting Shaun Wade in his place. While Pryor did have an interception later in the game, Wade, on the whole, had a much better game at safety than Pryor did. This makes sense because Wade is a coverage specialist, whereas Pryor really isn’t, and a coverage specialist is needed to play that roaming deep safety spot. This seems easy enough, but apparently not, because Ohio State put Pryor back in just a few minutes later.
Sell: The defensive coaching staff. Save for Larry Johnson, I’m not at all impressed with the coaches that are supposed to run this Buckeye defense. Alex Grinch and Taver Johnson have both had super underwhelming first years, Billy Davis is an awful coach who only has a job because of his friendship with Urban Meyer, and Greg Schiano refuses to change his schemes or make any significant moves to improve his defense. It’s embarrassing that these coaches make as much money as they do, and continue to put out such a poor product when they don’t have elite talent like Denzel Ward or Marshon Lattimore.
Sell: The obsession with efficiency. I understand why Ohio State values efficiency so much. It’s what they’ve been doing for years, and it’s generally much more reliable than leaning heavily on big plays. This year, however, they need to abandon the conventional thinking. Their inability to get a push up front really eliminates the ability to run the ball consistently or efficiently, and this receivers group, paired with a quarterback like Haskins who can chuck the ball a mile, are just perfectly built to churn out big plays. Ohio State needs to embrace their personnel and start looking for the big plays way more often.