Ohio State enters the final game on its schedule before Halloween still searching for its first touchdown on an opening drive this season. That is, of course, unless you want to count what happened in the season opener against Bowling Green.
J.T. Barrett threw into traffic near the Bowling Green 37-yard line and Brandon Harris snatched the ball out of the air, turned on the jets and beat everybody the end zone. The play gave the Falcons a short-lived 7-0 lead against the Buckeyes but also was about the most inauspicious way an opening drive could go.
It hasn't gotten much better for the Ohio State offense since that pick-six. The Buckeyes scored on their first drive the very next game, a 29-yard field goal by Tyler Durbin. Marshon Lattimore intercepted Tulsa's Dane Evans the drive before to give Ohio State excellent field position. But Barrett failed to lead his unit to a first down in the next three plays.
That is the only time the Buckeyes have scored on their first offensive possession this season. Conversely, Ohio State scored a touchdown on nine of 15 opening drives in 2014 and just three last season.
“Obviously with that stat, not great,” Urban Meyer said on Wednesday after practice. “That is being evaluated and making sure we have the right scripted plays and giving those guys a chance to have success. That is something we're changing up a little bit making sure we have a good 12 scripted plays.”
At Oklahoma, Ohio State went three-and-out on its first possession. In that game and the week before versus the Golden Hurricane, the Buckeyes ran the ball on first and second down then Barrett threw incomplete on third. In game four he threw an interception on his team's first drive in what eventually became a 58-0 slaughter of hapless Rutgers.
The next week, the Buckeyes grabbed one first down before Barrett hurdled the football toward Mike Weber's facemask and saw it fall to the turf and into the hands of an Indiana defensive lineman. Then at Wisconsin and last week at Penn State, Ohio State punted on its first drive after picking up one first down but nothing else.
|YEAR||OPPONENT||RECV'D BALL||START||PLAY 1||PLAY 2||PLAY 3||PLAYS||YARDS||1st DOWNS||RESULT|
|2016||PENN STATE||No||Own 4||Run +6||Run +2||Run +6||6||23||1||Punt|
|2016||WISCONSIN||Yes||Own 25||Run +3||QB Run +6||Run +1||6||5||1||Punt|
|2016||INDIANA||Yes||Own 18||Run +8||Run +9||QB Sack -9||3||11||1||Sack, fumble|
|2016||RUTGERS||No||Own 9||Run +7||Run +4||Pass Inc.||7||34||2||Interception|
|2016||OKLAHOMA||No||Own 20||Run +5||False Start Pen||QB Run +1||3||1||0||Punt|
|2016||TULSA||No||Opp. 16||Run +2||QB Run +2||Pass Inc.||4||4||0||Field Goal|
|2016||BOWLING GREEN||Yes||Own 42||Pass +9||QB Run +3||Run +5||4||17||1||Pick Six|
|2015||NOTRE DAME||No||Own 20||Pass +8||Run +7||Pass +9||9||80||4||Touchdown|
|2015||MICHIGAN||No||Own 20||Run +3||QB Run +8||Pass +12||6||24||1||Punt|
|2015||MICHIGAN STATE||Yes||Own 25||QB Run -1||QB Run +5||QB Run +5||3||9||0||Punt|
|2015||ILLINOIS||No||Own 42||Run +5||Pass +9||Run +2||11||51||2||Missed FG|
|2015||MINNESOTA||No||Own 38||Run +2||QB Sack -1||Pass Inc.||3||1||0||Punt|
|2015||RUTGERS||No||Own 20||Run +2||QB Run +39||Run 0||7||60||2||Fumble|
|2015||PENN STATE||Yes||Own 22||Run -1||Pass Inc.||Pass Inc.||3||1||0||Punt|
|2015||MARYLAND||Yes||Own 20||Pass +4||QB Sack -4||Pass +8||3||8||0||Punt|
|2015||INDIANA||Yes||Own 35||Pass -9||Run 0||Pass +4||3||-5||0||Punt|
|2015||WESTERN MICHIGAN||No||Own 35||Pass Inc.||Run +26||TD Pass +38||3||65||1||Touchdown|
|2015||NORTHERN ILLINOIS||Yes||Own 35||Illegal Motion Pen||Pass Inc.||Run 0||3||-5||0||Interception|
|2015||HAWAI'I||No||Own 32||QB Run +24||Run +3||Run -4||8||39||2||Missed Fake FG|
|2015||VIRGINIA TECH||No||Own 36||QB Run +6||QB Run -1||Pass +20||8||64||2||Touchdown|
|2014||OREGON||Bi||Own 25||Run +2||QB Run +4||QB Run +6||6||17||1||Punt|
|2014||ALABAMA||No||Own 15||Run +4||Pass Inc.||QB Run +12||10||80||3||Field Goal|
|2014||WISCONSIN||Yes||Own 23||Pass +8||Run +4||Run +15||6||77||4||Touchdown|
|2014||MICHIGAN||No||Opp 41||Run +6||Pass +9||Run +7||6||41||2||Touchdown|
|2014||INDIANA||Yes||Own 24||Pass +4||Pass +7||Run +65||3||76||0||Touchdown|
|2014||MINNESOTA||Yes||Own 35||Run +5||Pass +3||False Start Pen.||3||9||0||Punt|
|2014||MICHIGAN STATE||Yes||Own 25||Pass +12||Pass +14||Pass Inc.||9||45||3||Missed FG|
|2014||ILLINOIS||No||Opp 38||Pass +15||Pass Inc.||Run +23||3||39||0||Touchdown|
|2014||PENN STATE||No||Opp 39||Run +3||Run +4||QB Run +10||7||39||2||Touchdown|
|2014||RUTGERS||No||Own 48||Pass +5||Run +3||Run +1||6||52||3||Touchdown|
|2014||MARYLAND||Yes||Own 25||Run +4||Run +8||QB Run +20||8||75||3||Touchdown|
|2014||CINCINNATI||No||Own 25||Pass Inc.||False Start Pen||Pass +15||8||75||3||Touchdown|
|2014||KENT STATE||Yes||Own 42||Run +4||Pass +22||QB Sack -5||5||58||2||Touchdown|
|2014||VIRGINIA TECH||No||Own 12||QB Run 1||Run 6||Pass Inc.||3||7||0||Punt|
|2014||NAVY||Yes||Own 35||Pass +14||Pass Inc.||Run 0||4||21||1||Punt|
Not exactly coming out hot if you're offensive coordinator Ed Warinner, a quarterback in the middle of his third year as a starter and a situation in which the offense should feel comfortable running the plays near the top of the sheet.
“I haven't evaluated that. We've had some situations where we've been really backed up coming out and so sometimes the opening script doesn't apply on the 3-yard line,” Warinner said on Wednesday. “I don't really have an answer for that.”
Warinner is correct in a sense. The Buckeyes have started their first drive at or inside their own 20-yard line four times in seven games, including at their own 4 last week and own 9 against Rutgers. His answer about personally not evaluating it isn't likely one Ohio State fans want to hear, although Meyer did say the Buckeyes are changing some things up in regards to how they handle their first drive.
“We have to play better. I have to do a better job.”– Ed Warinner
For a group Meyer said on Monday regressed the last month since Ohio State's 45-24 statement win at Oklahoma, getting out fast and putting points on the board would seem to be a focus. But it hasn't happened much at all this season—the only time it did was when the defense put Barrett and the offense is field goal range even before they stepped on the field.
“We have to play better. I have to do a better job,” Warinner said. “We have to do a better job coaching, play better, execute better and that all starts with the coaching staff and the preparation and give our kids a chance.”
Meyer said Tuesday on the Big Ten teleconference the attention to detail is intensified this week in practice, especially because the Buckeyes lost for the first time this season in stunning fashion 24-21 at Penn State. Ohio State hosts a Northwestern team on a three-game winning streak this Saturday at 3:30 p.m. with not much room for error in the Big Ten East Division race.
Things need to improve, especially when it comes to getting out of the gate quickly.
“We gotta come out and execute on that first drive because if you can do that then you can get some momentum. Especially scoring a touchdown on that first drive,” center Pat Elflein said on Wednesday. “Scoring touchdowns on the first drive would give us more momentum going into the game. That'd be cool.”
It certainly would shower some confidence on a unit that struggled to find the end zone against Penn State and did not capitalize on multiple opportunities to push the Nittany Lions further behind. In the end, the struggles in the passing game and inability to protect Barrett cost Ohio State a game after two special teams screw-ups helped Penn State put points on the board.
Meyer admitted on Wednesday he hasn't seen the improvement offensively both from the players and coaching staff he wants but said that sometimes happens with a young team. He noted his offense's and team's progression in 2014 after the loss to Virginia Tech as what he expects. Obviously, that team won the national championship and had a different offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in Tom Herman. Herman is now the head coach at Houston.
The steady decline on opening drives and defensively the last two seasons is evident. [see chart] Meyer and his staff are aware of it, however, based on what they tell the media.
Saturday against Northwestern provides another opportunity to take a step forward, especially on the opening drive.
“That's all part of the process of growing up and getting these guys reps and think about what a young player has gone through here in the last seven weeks. They are getting better,” Meyer said. “Statistically, not where we want to be. Certainly, when I hear about the three points or something in the last seven games, it's not where we want to be.
“But what do you do? You keep grinding and get young guys better and they are.”