It was another short(er) press conference on Monday from Ohio State Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer. But, in his 16 minutes at the podium, we got another dose of insight into the Bucks program straight from the source.
Ohio State is the lone Big Ten unbeaten— they sit at 7-0— and face upset potential this weekend against Purdue. The Boilermakers get the Buckeyes in West Lafayette, Ind., in primetime, and are coming off of a steamrolling of Illinois. Meyer and the Bucks had an interesting contest with Minnesota on Saturday, before pulling away in the fourth quarter.
The run game and pass coverage are a couple segments of the OSU game that have drawn some heat from critics and fans on social media, and Meyer addressed both topics during his presser on Monday.
Let’s look at the five biggest takeaways from said conference, and dig a little deeper into what they mean in the Buckeyes’ quest for an 8-0 start to their season.
1. “I believe he’s flying back up there tomorrow to get rechecked, I’m hoping [he returns this season].”
Nick Bosa is still out after receiving core muscle surgery following the TCU game back in September. The initial timeline for his return, as reported by multiple outlets, pointed to November. With November now just a couple of weeks away, the Buckeye staff (and fandom) is inching closer to being in full-fledged Bosa watch.
Meyer confirmed that Nick is meeting with doctors on Tuesday for a checkup, which in turn will clear up the forecast for his return— if he does indeed return.
In his absence, the OSU defensive line has held its own. Chase Young and Dre’Mont Jones have terrorized quarterbacks and running backs, with the highlight coming against Penn State, when Young gobbled up RB Miles Sanders on a fourth-and-5 to, virtually, end the game.
No matter how much the Bucks’ D-line has shined, it can always shine brighter when/if an All-American returns to the lineup. Before being sidelined with his injury, Bosa had four sacks, two fumble recoveries, and one forced fumbles. Even though he only played in less than three games (Oregon State, Rutgers and part of TCU), Bosa is still second on the team’s sack list, behind Jones, who has 5.5 of them.
If November does in fact become the return month for Bosa, he’ll have a few good games to make a statement. Michigan State and Michigan are on the slate, and a big performance from the younger Bosa brother could prove to draft scouts that he’s back to his normal self: wreaking havoc on offenses as the best defensive player in the country.
2. “I did see progress. I know at times it didn’t look great. But he actually played okay. Once again that position is for the whole world to see, it’s right out there for you... That position is not finalized, we’re constantly evaluating that, as well. But injuries kind of limit you.”
This answer was in reference to defensive back Isaiah Pryor and his play against the Golden Gophers on Saturday. Since OSU has been a DB factory for the NFL, there are huge shoes to fill every season. This year, however, the pass defense has left a lot to be desired.
Big plays are being surrendered each week, and the potential for a shift in who’s starting in the secondary have begun to surface. For Pryor, he missed the first half of the Indiana game and following his ejection in the second half against Penn State due to a targeting call. In his absence, his shoes were filled by Jahsen Wint, with appearances by Shaun Wade. Against the Hoosiers, Wint was tied for the team-lead in tackles with five.
In his first full game back since the ejection, Pryor tallied five tackles, an interception and a pass breakup against Gopher quarterback Zack Annexstad. Those are impressive numbers, but the visiting Gophers were still able to get 200-plus yards through the air. A flea-flicker burned the secondary, and wide receiver Tyler Johnson hung 118 receiving yards on the OSU defense.
Wade may have only contributed three tackles on Saturday, but he also had a pass breakup, and forced a fumble by Johnson.
With Meyer saying that the starter at the position isn’t finalized, there could be changes a-brewing in Pass D for the Buckeyes.
Rondale Moore is Purdue’s star receiver. Against PSU, WRs K.J. Hamler and Juwan Johnson made highlight reel receptions. Hamler corralled a slant route and took it 93 yards for a touchdown, and Johnson one-hand snagged a pass over a Buckeye DB. If Moore starts breaking out the big receptions, we could very well see Wade or Wint come in for Pryor— or even a substitution amongst each other.
3. “Thayer is sore. I’d say probable for the game Saturday.”
At this point in the season, the championship push doesn’t just involve the production on the field, but includes the health of a team. OSU already is dealing with injuries, and last week, the mini-scroll of guys on the injured list was part of the reason for the Buckeyes’ lapses on the field.
One injury that could impact Saturday’s game with the Boilermakers involves left offensive tackle Thayer Munford. Against the Gophers, Munford got his ankle rolled up following a sack of Dwayne Haskins. With Meyer saying that’s he’s probable, the Buckeyes may have a starting LT that isn’t 100 percent. Granted, being 100 percent is subjective, and at this juncture in the season, you could make a serious case that everyone is playing with some degree of hurt.
The importance of Munford in the fold can’t be understated. He’s key on helping Haskins stay upright, and making sure that the running backs have room to run. With the latter point not living up to the normal lofty OSU expectations so far this season, anything that comes close to lessening the running attack’s already limited impact can quickly snowball into a disaster situation.
4. “I don’t want to give you a number, but there’s some pass yards that are run plays.”
Speaking of the running game, Meyer addressed the imbalance of pass yards and rush yards. With the RPO-style approach on offense, Haskins is reading the defense before making a decision with the ball. Almost like managing different bank accounts, the Buckeye offense is transferring yardage from the rushing account into the passing account. Combined with a finite amount of plays and whatever the defense shows on any given down, a pass-happy offense is what’s being dialed up. When you have one of the best passers in Ohio State history, why wouldn’t you pass the ball?
Even though it comes at the expense of the RB yards, Haskins and the pass game is what moves the ball downfield. But, Meyer did say that they make a “concerted effort” to give J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber the ball. The caveat in this is that if it’s forced, the run game becomes completely ineffective. On Saturday, a fourth-and-1 play by the Buckeyes was sniffed out by the Gophers from the start. The play was to run Dobbins up the middle, but defensive end Carter Coughlin tackled Dobbins for a loss of one.
Balance is something that Meyer has always wanted from his offense, but if it doesn’t shake out that way this season, it’s not because they aren’t trying. It’s because the defense is sniffing out the run, and they have to pass the ball.
5. “When you have 500-plus yards, you don’t score for almost three quarters, but we can play much better. I’m not disagreeing with anything. And as I made comment to you many times, and this is probably, go back 17 years, you enhance your strengths and work on your weaknesses, every team has weaknesses, and there are some things we have to work on.”
Working on weaknesses is something every great team goes through. (Somewhere, Captain Obvious nods in agreement.) But it’s always reassuring when a coach comes out and says there are weaknesses that have to be worked on, instead of burying their head into the ground and claiming that everything is okay, or going on a rant about players missing class.
Pass defense and rush effectiveness are two things, I think, that have to be addressed immediately if the Buckeyes are going to make a run to the Big Ten Championship and College Football Playoff.
We’ll have to wait and see if there is progress this weekend against Purdue.