Buckeye Nation is still reeling and licking its wounds from the loss to Oregon on Saturday. Many want to blame the defense, and there’s definitely plenty of reasons to throw stones at the silver bullets, but it goes deeper than that.
We decided to dissect some things that contributed to the loss on Saturday, highlight what went wrong, and then diagnose whether or not the issues we saw are fixable. There’s still enough talent on this team to where there’s a possibility of running the table, and frankly, that’s what it’s going to take in order to reach the program’s third straight College Football Playoff appearance.
So, here we go. Here are five glaring issues from Saturday and whether or not we feel good about the ability to improve in those areas.
NEXT … Missed assignments in the running game
Issues being in the right spot in the running game
It’s one thing to get beat on a play once, but two, three, and four times is a problem that goes deeper. A team can surprise you with game-planning or a different set or formation that you’ve not seen before. That’s why teams often have success early on, then the defense settles in.
But that didn’t happen against Oregon. The Ducks kept running a crack-back play on the left side of the offensive line and OSU never adjusted. The wide receiver crashed inside and the DB went with him, leaving nobody setting the edge on multiple occasions. In that case, the cornerback has to stay outside or the linebacker has to get around the block out on the edge, or you see what we saw multiple times Saturday. It was off to the races.
Is it fixable?
Yes, but it will take time. With the health issues in the secondary and inexperience at the linebacker position group, the back seven looks lost as it tries to kind of work on the car while driving. I’ll be real surprised if another team has the type of success the Ducks did with this principle because it’s going to be drilled in, but you can bet teams will try.
NEXT … Lack of pressure from the defensive line
The defensive line is not getting enough pressure
One way to combat issues on the back-end is to be really good on the defensive line. That’s what we were expecting from the Ohio State defense this year. You felt good about a talented front’s ability to win the line of scrimmage, get pressure on the quarterback, and buy some time for the back-end to improve.
That has not happened through two games. Despite a lot of high-end talent on the edge, Zach Harrison, Tyreke Smith, and some youngsters are not getting anything going off the end consistently. Most troubling in film study is watching Harrison’s slow reaction to the ball being snapped. He’s often the last to react and that’s not good when you’re trying to beat your man on an island.
Is it fixable?
This might be the most troubling development we’ve seen. Haskell Garrett has the credentials in the middle, and we expected Harrison to really take a step forward this season. If it doesn’t happen this year, will it ever? We’re not saying Harrison is a slouch, but that game-wrecking edge rusher Ohio State has been known for just isn’t there. The defensive coaching staff might have to dial-up more blitz packages with the hope that some of the younger guys like Jack Sawyer and J.T. Tuimoloau develop and improve into that.
NEXT … Where was the running game?
Running the ball shouldn’t be this hard
Look, I know the offense has evolved a bit under Ryan Day and there’s simply going to be more aggression down the field. I embrace that and I think we all do. But you can look at almost any game Ohio State has played over the last 20 years and when the Buckeyes win the rushing battle, they almost always win the game. That was way out of whack on Saturday.
C.J. Stroud through for over 400 yards through the air, but OSU lost the rushing battle 269 yards to just 128. Oregon gashed the Buckeye defense for 7.1 yards per carry as opposed to just 4.1 for Ohio State. Even more than that, it seemed to take longer in the game before OSU found its ability to be effective on the ground.
Is it fixable?
Yes, but this feels like more of a product with the level of competition. Oregon was good up front and you won’t see that level of play from most teams Ohio State plays. The rushing game will be fine in most games, but there does need to be more of a concerted effort to stay with the rushing attack by the coaching staff. The Buckeyes could have worn down the Oregon defense much earlier in the contest. What really matters is if OSU can improve and be better against quality competition down the road.
NEXT … The inability to convert third and fourth downs
Keeping the chains moving has to be better
We mentioned already that Ryan Day is always going to be aggressive. Ohio State went for it on fourth down five times Saturday. We are sure that Jim Tressel was curled up in the fetal position somewhere.
Of those five, the Buckeyes only converted on two of them. The ones earlier in the game were the most critical, especially down in field goal range. Ohio State didn’t convert three times in Oregon territory during the game. If it gets points out of least two of those, the game could have been entirely different. The Buckeyes also only converted 6-of-14 third-down conversions, and that won’t get it done against the best competition.
Is it fixable?
It depends. Not to go back to sticking with the run but Ohio State is supposed to have one of the best offensive lines in the country. It should be able to go get a couple of yards on fourth down. It should also be able to get enough push to stay ahead of the chains on first and second downs to make things more manageable on third down. Getting Harry Miller back at center will probably help, but staying with the running game and not throwing the ball 54 times is also a good place to start.
NEXT … The linebackers aren’t filling gaps, and are missing assignments
The linebacking corps is a work in progress
We knew the linebacker position was going to be a sore spot in 2021, but there was hope that the group had enough athleticism and program experience to be the next man up. That hasn’t happened so far. The group made a ton of tackles last week against Minnesota, but against Oregon, the running backs got past the second level far too often. There was also a lack of action designed to bate and switch.
And it worked. The linebackers looked confused and out of sorts against Oregon time and time again, even losing the tight end on one occasion on a play fake that resulted in a huge touchdown. Right now the linebackers are sitting back and trying to react, but are slow to diagnose and slow to the play.
Is it fixable?
This could be a headache all year long. There just isn’t the talent and experience at the position to where we’ll see a flip of the switch all of a sudden. Improvement can — and should occur — but I don’t know that the linebacker position on this team is ever going to be something to hang your hat on. Instead, the defensive line simply has to be more disruptive.