The last few weeks have been uninspiring for the Ohio State offense, and today the my are facing a team that is riding high off of their second huge upset of the season. If the Buckeyes want to avoid being the latest victim of the Spoilermakers, they need to check these action items off of my handy dandy to-do list for today’s game.
Establish the F*<king Running Game
I know that Ryan Day is a passing-focused offensive coach, so it is no surprise that his teams tend to lean into the throwing game, especially with a wide receiving corps the likes of what Brian Hartline has assembled for the Buckeyes.
But, football is a complementary game, and if you are too hyper-focued on one aspect of your game, that allows your opponent to focus on it as well, and that is what we have seen over the last few weeks from Ohio State. Now, I will admit that both Penn State and Nebraska are very good defenses, especially against the run, and they did a lot of things to limit the explosiveness of TreVeyon Henderson. However, if Day is the offensive mind that many Buckeye fans believe him to be, he needs to figure it out, because what we saw against the Huskers last week just isn’t going to cut it down the stretch and into the postseason.
Last Saturday against Nebraska, OSU had 405 passing yard to just 90 rushing yards; that is not anything approaching an attempt to be balanced. The Buckeyes threw the ball 54 times to 30 rushing attempts. Now, people who are much smarter than me when it comes to the football have said that there were multiple RPOs called that led to passes, so even if you take away nine of those throws, there was still 50% more passes than rushes.
Henderson is way too good to be limited like that (especially with the odd, Urban Meyer/Jim Tressel run it up the gut repeatedly play-calling). Now, I do think that part of the running game issue stems from the oddly constructed offensive line.
The all-tackles line seems to have been fantastic in pass-blocking so far this season — second fewest sacks and sacks per game allowed in the Big Ten so far — but they just haven’t been impressive in run blocking. Whether it is needing to fire off the line, or guards getting to the next level, the dominant line play that many expected just hasn’t been there consistency when it comes to the running game.
So, like most things in football, this is a collaborative effort, and everyone from Day to Henderson to the line needs to step the f*<k up and get this running game in gear, or they won’t need to worry about a College Football Playoff berth.
Keep George Karlaftis Away from Stroud
Speaking of the offensive line, they might facing their biggest individual challenge of the season today as potential top-10 pick in the NFL Draft George Karlaftis will be coming off of the end.
While his numbers haven’t been dominant this season — mainly because offensive coordinators have thrown everything at him in an effort to slow him down — he has averaged 0.83 tackles for loss per game so far this year. Karlaftis has the potential to be an absolutely dominating presence in a game, and if the line doesn’t keep him at bay, he could cause lots of problems for C.J. Stroud.
Like I said above, OSU has been pretty good this year in preventing sacks and TFLs, but Karlaftis presents a unique challenge; he is a legit potential No. 1 pick and has an insane blend of speed and power and can completely throw off an offense’s game plan.
Whether or not the Buckeye front can keep Karlaftis out of the backfield could go a long way to the offense finding some consistent rhythm for the first time in weeks.
Take the yards they give you, C.J.
We all know what I’m talking about here, as we’ve all yelled it at the TV a dozen or more times this season.
I get the hesitancy (be it from quarterback or coach) to have your QB1 running the ball too much, especially when that is not his forte, so I don’t mind there not being a plethora of designed runs for Stroud on Day’s weekly call sheet. But, Stroud needs to be willing to take yardage when the defense gives it to him, especially when the play breaks down.
We’ve seen it time and time again this season, where Stroud is able to escape the pocket and roll out — usually to his right — and the defense drops back to prevent a pass. But, despite having a wide-open patch of green in front of him, Stroud opts to make a throw instead. Sometimes that results in an electric completion, but sometimes it ends up in an incompletion, or worse yet, in an incompletion.
And, again, I appreciate Stroud always keeping his eyes down field while extending the play and looking to connect with one of his cavalcade of receiving stars, but sometimes discretion is the better part of valor, and Stroud just needs to make the easy play.
Unless it is third or fourth and long, if the defense is giving you five yards, take the five yards. Not only will you shut the fan base up in the moment, but you will also help the offense stay on schedule. So please, for the love of Woody, take the flipping yards.
Don’t let David Bell beat you
I don’t think that anyone with eyes and a brain will argue with the idea that Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson, and increasingly Jaxon Smith-Njigba are the best wide receiving group in the conference, and likely the country. But, as we’ve seen with Jason Dotson from Penn State, there are other talented pass-catchers in the B1G, and the OSU defense will be faxing another today.
Purdue’s David Bell has put up insane stats in their two biggest games of the year, and both came against top-notch defenses. In the Boilers’ upset win over Iowa, Bell went for 240 yards and a touchdown on 11 catches and then last week against Michigan State, he added 217 yards and a score on 11 catches.
Bell leads the Big Ten in receiving yards (1,003), yards per game (125.4) and receptions per game (8.0) and even though the Buckeye secondary has been surprisingly strong this season, he will undoubtedly be the focus of the Purdue offense; one, because he’s very talented, and two, because the Boilermakers are one of the worst rushing teams in the country… literally.
Coming into the game, Purdue is 128th out of 130 in the country in terms of rushing yards per game (76.78). So, obviously, they really on the pass. They are currently eighth in the country passing yards per game (332.6) and total passing attempts (404). They are also second in the B1G in ypg (behind only the Buckeyes).
Individually, Bell has a nearly 22-yard lead over Dotson for the Big Ten lead in receiving yards per game and currently rates as fourth in the country with 125.4 yards per outing.
Because Purdue can’t run to save their lives, Ohio State doesn’t need to completely shut Bell down, they just have to contain him. The goal should be to limit his deep receptions and yards after catch. If the secondary can keep him in front, and not allow six-yard completions to turn into 26-yard completions, they should be able to keep Purdue from finding the end zone at will.
Ohio State 42, Purdue 17