There were some good things, as well as some not so good things, in the Ohio State Buckeyes‘ 49-26 win against the Indiana Hoosiers. Regardless, the Scarlet and Gray are off to a 6-0 start to their season and secured bowl eligibility with Saturday’s win. Getting bowl eligible, though, isn’t the target for this Buckeye squad; winning a conference title and getting into position for a national championship is what Ohio State plays for— or at least tries to.
While the 2018 edition of the Bucks reached the midway point of their regular season, they are very much on the right track to the College Football Playoff. However, unforced errors and miscues could derail them from greatness.
Here are five things learned from Ohio State’s close-but-not-too-close win against Indiana.
Haskins is Legen—wait for it—dary
Another Saturday, another “wow” performance from quarterback Dwayne Haskins. It didn’t start off as the greatest of days— he threw two interceptions— but as the game went on, the Buckeye signal-caller found his groove.
When all was said and done, he threw for 455 yards and six touchdowns. Four-hundred fifty-five yards. Six TDs. Whoa. Between the six scores and 33 completions, those both tied OSU single-game records.
The video game stats from the Heisman Trophy contender are something we’ve come to expect. Ohio State has not had a dominant passer of this magnitude in recent memory, and having Haskins lob for the second-most passing yards in a single game is wild. He’s almost a stranger in a strange land; a position once utilized mainly by a rushing QB, has now been transitioned into one that focuses on the QB’s ability to launch the ball.
In just six games, Haskins has amassed 25 TDs against just four INTs. That’s bonkers, considering the single-season TD record at Ohio State is 35— set by J.T. Barrett in 2017. Realistically, Haskins could tie (or even break) the Barrett single-season mark in the next two games. With Minnesota and Purdue on deck, I’d wager that those are five TD outings.
It’s crazy what he’s done so far, but the OSU passing ceiling could be smashed to bits by the time November rolls around. Art Schlichter held onto the single-game passing record by a mere three yards after Saturday’s victory. If Haskins keeps the momentum up, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if he eclipses the record and pushes a 500-yard performance in the air.
Zone 6 is here to stay
Beating Penn State unveiled the character of this Buckeye squad. Who was going to show up when it mattered most? Who was going to lead the team when the going got tough?
The wide receiver unit answered the call last week, and continued the trend this week. In the win against the Nittany Lions, springing blocks and stretching short receptions into huge chunks of yardage were key in the Buckeyes’ survival on the road. This week, it was creating space and making spectacular grabs.
On a day that saw Haskins ball out, it only makes sense that his receiving corps also had a big day. Parris Campbell led the unit with nine catches, 142 yards and two scores. Johnnie Dixon and Austin Mack corralled five receptions apiece; and Terry McLaurin, who caught zero passes last week, hauled in two TDs on four receptions.
Running backs J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber also got in on the receiving action, and were part of an afternoon that saw nine different people make a reception. With a pass heavy offense, the wealth of receptions (and yards) can be spread amongst the WR unit. Now that the receivers have hit a whole different level, they can expedite Haskins’ record breaking season. Whether it’s K.J. Hill, or Campbell or Dixon being targeted, you almost get the sense that something great is about to happen the second the ball leaves Haskins’ hand.
Zone 6 has not only arrived, but looks like it’s here to stay— at least for the rest of this season.
The penalty problem
Ah, yes, penalties. For another game, drawing the laundry onto the field of play has been a problem for the Buckeyes. If you missed it, our own Matt Tamanini wrote up a nice little column about the detriment of all these flags.
Nine penalties were accepted against Ohio State, with four happening on offense and five on defense. Three holding calls highlighted the offensive fouls, while the defensive penalties included pass interference, 12 men on the field, offside, as well as two holding calls of their own.
And those were just the flags accepted by the Hoosiers. There was an offsetting unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the offense— the same kind of penalty that happened last week against Penn State— and a defensive pass interference that was declined because the Hoosiers somehow made the catch for a touchdown anyway.
You can get by with 82 penalties yards against Indiana, but you won’t get by with that in a high-stakes game like against TTUN, in the Big Ten Championship, or in the Playoff semifinal. That’s not just me playing the role of Mr. Doom ‘n’ Gloom. At some point, these penalties will cost Ohio State a game.
Inside the stadium, the penalties are making fans frustrated. I was up in B-Deck for Saturday’s game, and the restlessness after penalties was palpable. Then again, the people weren’t just upset about the penalties, but the blown calls and miscues by the Buckeyes. Either way, the argument still stands: penalties are bad.
This is nothing new for OSU. Every year seems like a high penalty season. But at some point, a devastating holding call in the red zone won’t be so easy to get out of. And knowing Murphy’s Law, the potential meltdown will happen at the most inopportune time.
The way to beat Ohio State
At first, it seemed like big plays would be how you’d beat the Buckeyes. Oregon State showed it was possible, and TCU came close to pulling off the upset. But as this season carries on, it’s become evident that the key to stifling OSU’s defense is to get the ball away from the defensive line as quickly as possible. With Nick Bosa still out, teams are starting to take advantage of that.
Penn State stretched the field with the mobility of quarterback Trace McSorley for great success. Indiana didn’t stretch the field as much, but quick passes over the middle were able to move the chains, and kept them in the game for the first half. The Hoosiers signal-caller, Peyton Ramsey, went 26-of-49 for 322 yards and three TDs. For any QB, that’s a pretty good day; doing that against Ohio State, even in defeat, is a highlight of a career. At the same time, it illuminates a bigger problem for the Bucks.
Challenging the one-on-one passes has worked for opposing offenses. McSorley did it, and now Ramsey has done it, too. I feel like some of the mystique around “Defensive Back University” has been lost due to the constant talent turnover to the NFL, as well as the loss of position coach Kerry Coombs. I don’t think I fully appreciated what Coombs, as well as Luke Fickell, did for the Buckeye defense. During their time in Columbus, the Buckeyes had a vaunted defense that ran the gauntlet. Now, there are holes everywhere.
Even though Haskins is having near record setting performances every week, Indiana showed glimpses of what it takes to hang with the Big Ten East frontrunner. Rushing an extra man to get pressure on Haskins succeeded at times— and was a big reason for the two interceptions. On a fourth-and-1, Dobbins was stopped by the Indiana defense. As each contest is survived, it becomes a little clearer what it could take to bring down the Ohio State Goliath.
A little bit of breathing room
Saturday saw nothing extraordinary from the Big Ten, but the nation was a different story. The fifth, seventh and eighth rated teams in the country all stumbled. You could’ve called Oct. 6 “Separation Saturday” as contenders and pretenders were divided up. LSU lost on the road to Florida; Oklahoma overcame a huge deficit, only to lose on a field goal in the closing seconds; and Auburn effectively is out of the playoff race after losing their second game of the season.
Behind the Buckeyes, there are a slew of one-loss teams. While the Scarlet and Gray are undefeated, they get a little bit of a cushion in the event if something were to go wrong. While that may work in the eyes of the AP voters, the same doesn’t hold true for the playoff committee. Dominating each game is the only foolproof formula for admittance into the playoffs, but if everyone around you is taking a loss, it buys you a little more room to maneuver.