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5 things learned from Ohio State’s close call with the Horned Frogs

The Buckeyes won by 12, but trailed by 8 in the third quarter.

NCAA Football: Ohio State at Texas Christian Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

The box score shows that the No. 4 Ohio State Buckeyes defeated the No. 15 TCU Horned Frogs by 12 points. That’s a nice margin of victory. However, the box score— and numbers—have a tendency to not tell the whole truth.

With eight minutes left in the third quarter, it appeared that the Buckeyes were deep in upset territory, as they trailed these purple and black horned frogs from Fort Worth by 8 points. Then, the rally happened.

Ohio State’s defense kept them in the game, even after putting them in upset’s way to begin with. But, a win is a win, and it’s onto another oddly name mascot next week in the Green Wave. Before we focus on the late afternoon matchup with Tulane, let’s take a look at what we learned in OSU’s close shave in Arlington, Texas.

The defense is Dr. Jekyll

When the OSU defensive line gets going, my condolences to whatever offense comes up against them. Between Nick Bosa, Dre’Mont Jones and Chase Young, the frontline is a force to be reckoned with.

TCU quarterback Shawn Robinson learned that lesson the hard way on Saturday night. Early in the first quarter, Bosa fought his way past the Horned Frogs’ offensive line, and hit Robinson, who had his back to him. Making matters worse for the signal-caller was that he fumbled the ball as he was preparing to make a throw; making matters worse still, he was on his own goal line. That sack and strip led to a recovery in the end zone by Davon Hamilton, and six points for the Buckeyes.

In the third quarter, Robinson met the wrath of the defense again. He didn’t fumble on this occasion; rather, he threw an interception on a shuffle pass. Dre’Mont Jones read the play, and got in front of Robinson’s intended target, and snatched the ball right out of the air.

However, just like the Bosa forced fumble, this turnover would end in a defensive TD. Jones showed his athleticism down the sidelines, as he juked out Robinson en route to the end zone.

As the game was in its twilight stages, Malik Harrison got in on the turnover game, recording the Bucks’ second interception—and third takeaway—of the night.

For the third time this season, the OSU defensive line showed that they are the real deal. Larry Johnson has, once again, proven that he is one of the best (if not the best) defensive line coach in America. In the first marquee game of the season, the d-line sparked the team’s momentum in the third quarter. Without it, the outcome of this game would’ve been completely different. If they keep up this level of play, I don’t see how an opposing offense can win a game without stretching the field against OSU.

The defense is Mr. Hyde

Outside of line play, the OSU defense is, uh, uninspiring. The facade showed signs of cracking against Oregon State, where big rushes and receptions led to the Beavers putting up 31 points against the Buckeyes.

Against Rutgers, order looked to be restored, as the passing and rushing games were stifled. If the defensive secondary and linebacking units were stocks, I would’ve bought into them. But if I had, I would’ve faced a pretty big loss this week.

TCU showed that there is still some serious work to be done by the back half of the defense. Head coach Gary Patterson’s game plan of up-tempo plays, and stretching the field had success all throughout the night. TCU had seven chunk passing plays and four chunk rushing plays. Three of those chunk plays went for touchdowns, which includes the 93-yard rush from Darius Anderson. Not only was that rush from Anderson the longest in TCU history, but it was the longest offensive play given up by Ohio State in the school’s 129 years of collegiate football.

Robinson threw for 308 yards, and Anderson led all rushers on the field with 154 yards. Both were responsible for two TDs each.

NCAA Football: Ohio State at Texas Christian
Sophomore Surprise: TCU’s Shawn Robinson carved the Buckeye defense for 308 yards in the air.
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

If it weren’t the plays from Bosa and Jones on defense, OSU likely loses this game. Those turnovers put 14 points on the board for the Buckeyes during a stretch were the OSU offense was stagnant. In fact, that Jones pick-six changed the whole dynamic of the game, as the Bucks took the lead for good after his score.

You can’t rely on Bosa and Jones to engineer points in every game. There’s going to be a game where the defensive line doesn’t play its sharpest game. It happens. Last year, it was Iowa; the year before that, it was Clemson in the College Football Playoff.

When that game happens, how will the rest of the defense respond? Bosa missed part of the TCU game with an apparent groin injury. What would’ve happened if that injury happened early in the game before the forced fumble? Would OSU have had the ability to overcome the loss of Bosa’s presence on the field, and figure out how to win without him anchoring the D-line? My guess is that they wouldn’t have.

Our own Patrick Mayhorn pointed to Bill Davis as the cause of some of the defensive problems for Ohio State. At this point, it doesn’t matter who's to blame. If these problems don’t get solved soon, the Buckeyes may be walking out of Happy Valley in two weeks with a loss.

You can’t stop the Dwayne Train...

We are now three games into the Dwayne Haskins era at Ohio State. And already, he’s doing some pretty insane stuff. Against TCU, the Dwayne Train rolled through Arlington, Texas and collected 344 yards and a pair of scores. Those 344 yards in the air were the seventh most ever in an OSU game. This outing had two more yards than Troy Smith’s 2005 Fiesta Bowl performance against Notre Dame, and was five yards less than J.T. Barrett’s 2016 performance versus Bowling Green.

If this is what we’ve seen so far, then the ceiling for Haskins is exceptionally high. Will he pass Art Schlichter’s 458-yard effort against Florida State in 1981? Dunno. But, if he keeps launching 300-yard plus performances each week, then he may not only get close to capturing more top-10 spots in the single game OSU record books, but he may eclipse season passing marks. If he gets to that point, then the Dwayne Train may be stopping by New York City for the Heisman Trophy presentation.

...except for low snaps and dropped passes

Let’s play the “What If” game. What if Austin Mack would’ve hauled in three of the five passes that he dropped, and picked up 35 more receiving yards. That would’ve given Haskins 379 passing yards for the night—and would’ve put him into the No. 2 spot behind Schlichter for the most passing yards in a single game.

Mack had enough dropped passes that they seemed to be more regular than irregular. After the 48-yard diving pass reception on the first series of the night, the drop bug sought out Mack. Personally, I think Mack may have suffered a shoulder stinger or something of the like, because these drops were uncharacteristic of anybody in the wide receiver corps, especially him.

For the evening, Mack had four receptions on nine targets. In comparison, Binjimen Victor had zero receptions on one target. The WR portion of the offense is still a work in progress, but figuring out who should be on the field— and who should be targeted— is a priority. If a receiver is on a hot streak, keep feeding him the ball; if a receiver is having an off night, swap him out for a while and use him sparingly. Bad nights happen, but constantly keeping a struggling wideout in the game, especially on critical downs, could eventually lead to OSU getting in its own way and causing a loss.

The receivers weren’t the only problems though. Weak, low snaps from center Michael Jordan also prevented Haskins from getting the most from his day. I get that Michael Jordan is moving into the center spot for the first time in his life, and that he still has work to do, but against TCU, there were glaring signs that there is still a ton of work left to be done.

On the failed two-point conversion attempt, a low snap caused Haskins to scramble and make a throw while trying to evade the pass rush. That throw went high and away from Rashod Berry, leading to him getting flipped into the air a la David Boston.

Presumably, Jordan will get better with more reps. Whenever you move around positions, there will be growing pains. What we are seeing now is exactly that. Even Billy Price took to Twitter to defend his replacement.

Price is a Rimington Award winner, so he knows what this coaching staff can do. Penn State will be the next litmus test for how Jordan performs on a big stage. Unlike this game, the crowd will be very much in Penn State’s favor, so crowd noise will become a factor. But, I think the snaps will get more controlled.

Ryan Day can hold his own as a head coach

Well, the Ryan Day Experience as OSU head coach is over. Urban Meyer has served his suspension time, and will be back on the sidelines next Saturday as Ohio State takes on Tulane.

In these three games, we’ve seen Day react well to all of the situations thrown at him. The TCU game was a final exam for Day— and he passed. Gary Patterson is one of the most experienced and creative minds in college football, and Day was able to eek out the win against him in the Lone Star State.

Day would be an excellent candidate for the OSU job after Meyer is done. But will he wait around until that time comes? If a place like USC wants immediate success and wants to win tomorrow, they may see what it takes to get Day. Any place that is a haven for pocket passers would be lucky to have Day running the operation. If Day can develop Haskins to this level, then recruits would be flocking to wherever Day is at.

Hopefully that will be Ohio State either as a head or assistant coach, but we will have to wait to see what the future holds.