Ohio State is coming off a 20-12 win over Penn State on Saturday, improving to 7-0 this season. Following the tough game against Penn State, the Buckeyes should have an easier time in games before battling Michigan in Ann Arbor at the end of next month. After hitting the road to take on Wisconsin and Rutgers over the next two weeks, Ohio State will return home for games against Michigan State and Minnesota before the showdown with the Wolverines.
Even though Ohio State has a couple of wins against top-10 teams this season, there is always room for improvement. This year in college football feels even more wide open than normal. so while there might be some areas for concern, there is a little more margin for error than some past years. Aside from Michigan, which has still yet to be tested since they have played an incredibly soft schedule so far this year, every team in college football has some issues that are concerning. Georgia will be without Brock Bowers for a while, Washington has had some inconsistent performances, Florida State is still unproven, and there are other questions out there for all the teams contending for a spot in the College Football Playoff.
Today we want to know what concerns you the most about Ohio State this year. This question isn’t meant to make Buckeye Nation think the sky is falling, since Ryan Day’s team is still going to play a huge factor in this year’s CFP. Since no college football is playing perfect football, we just want to address a concern about the team this year. Hopefully over the next month, Ohio State will be able to work on some areas that have been lagging so far this year, since the Buckeyes will have to be near perfect to beat the Wolverines in Ann Arbor.
Today’s question: What has concerned you the most about Ohio State so far this season?
We’d love to hear your choices. Either respond to us on Twitter at @Landgrant33 or leave your choice in the comments.
Brett’s answer: Injuries
Unfortunately, injuries are part of the game. There is no way to avoid injuries, you just have to hope the injury bug doesn’t hit your team too hard. Ohio State has struggled over the last few years with injuries to key players. Last year the Buckeyes had to deal with injuries to Jaxon Smith-Njigba, TreVeyon Henderson, and Miyan Williams. This year Henderson and Williams have both missed some time due to injury, while Emeka Egbuka and Denzel Burke were unavailable for Saturday’s game against Penn State.
Ohio State was able to beat the Nittany Lions without Henderson, Egbuka, and Burke. It is going to be a lot tougher to do the same to Michigan if those three aren’t able to play. The injury issue Henderson is dealing with is especially frustrating since he missed so much time last year with a foot injury. Following a stellar freshman year, Henderson has had a hard time consistently staying on the field over the last two years. The running back’s bad luck with injuries over the past couple of seasons is the only reason why he isn’t in the conversation as one of the best running backs in the country.
Hopefully what Emeka Egbuka is dealing with doesn’t turn into an extended issue like we saw with Jaxon-Smith Njigba last year. There is a difference in the type of injuries between the two players, as well as at what point of the season they happened. Last year it was a little easier for Ohio State to deal with the loss of Smith-Njigba since the Buckeyes not only had Marvin Harrison Jr. and Egbuka to pick up the slack, as well as an experienced starting quarterback in C.J. Stroud. This year could be a little tougher since Kyle McCord is in his first year as a starter, and could use another trusted option aside from Harrison and tight end Cade Stover.
When it comes to Denzel Burke, when he is on, there are not many cornerbacks in the country that are better. Luckily for the junior, it sounds like the injury issue he is dealing with isn’t one that is going to keep him out for an extended amount of time. Ohio State was able to get strong play from Jermaine Matthews Jr. and Jordan Hancock on Saturday, which eased some of the sting from not having Burke on the field. With an upcoming schedule that doesn’t have much to worry about when it comes to opponents throwing the football, Ryan Day can afford to be cautious with Burke returning to the field since having him as close to 100 percent as possible for Michigan is a lot more important than having him over the next few weeks.
There are going to be more injuries that pop up between now and the Michigan game. There is no avoiding injuries in football, you just hope those that do happen are as minor as possible. If only every Buckeye was like Marvin Harrison Jr. and could shake off what looked like a season-ending injury in a matter of minutes like the wide receiver did in the second half against Notre Dame. Until then, we just have to hope Ohio State has some injury luck this year since the Buckeyes have the talent to contend for a national title, but one injury could change everything.
Matt’s answer: Offensive line run blocking
As it has been since before the season started — honestly, since before last season even ended when they didn’t hit the initial portal window hard enough pre-playoffs — my biggest concern is the offensive line, but with a caveat. I have been generally and genuinely pleased with the pass protection from this group. It hasn’t been perfect, or at times pretty, but on the whole, it has been solid. They are tied for 41st nationally allowing 1.71 sacks per game — again, not great, but honestly better than I anticipated.
So, while I will put that in the acceptable-to-positive category, the thing that is still making me nervous is the run-blocking. I know that it takes time for offensive lines to gel, so I am in no way saying that they can’t get to where they need to be, but they just really aren’t there right now.
I never want to put too much credence into Pro Football Focus’ college grades, but currently, OSU’s starting offensive lineman are grading out at a not-so-nice 69.74. The team as a whole — factoring in backups, running backs, tight ends, etc. — is actually at 72.3, good for 16th nationally. Again, I don’t know what — if anything — that means, but watching the games, it’s pretty clear that they are still struggling to find their footing... sometimes literally.
The Buckeyes have the 101st-ranked rushing offense in the country with 127 yards per game, and only modestly climb up to 93rd with their 3.85 yards per carry average. Of course, that is not all on the o-line, it also is on the backs themselves, other offensive players, and the coaches, but it is certainly a collective effort led by the line that is currently falling far short of a championship level.
The injuries that Brett talked about certainly play a significant factor in the rushing output, but the starting five linemen have been healthy all year, so at some point, it would be nice to see them break through and start to grade the road enough to give Henderson, Trayanum, Williams, Hayden, whoever gets the ball room to run.
I don’t actually believe that you have to be an incredibly balanced offensive team to win a national title, but I think the legitimate threat of a running game is pretty important to what Ohio State wants to do on offense, so since they haven’t been able to do that yet, I am more than a little concerned.