Looking at Where Ohio State Can Move Forward During its Month Between Games

By Eric Seger on November 28, 2016 at 8:35 am
Urban Meyer and Ohio State are likely off for a month. Time to wait.

Urban Meyer and Ohio State don't have to go deep into their memory banks to see when they last had more than a month between games that did not include offseason workouts.

Last season, the Buckeyes roasted Michigan 42-13 on Nov. 28, 2015, to finish 11-1. A loss to Michigan State a week earlier kept them out of the Big Ten Championship Game. On Saturday, Ohio State surged past Michigan 30-27 in double overtime to finish 11-1. But a loss to Penn State last month is going to keep the Buckeyes out of the Big Ten Championship Game again, as the Nittany Lions will face Wisconsin in Indianapolis.

Ohio State finished its 2015 season on New Year's Day with a 44-28 thumping of Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl. Where does the 2016 season go from here?

“At this time I think we are one of the top four teams in the country, personally, but I think that, like I said, it's up to the committee to do their thing,” quarterback J.T. Barrett said on Saturday. “Hopefully, everything works out in our favor.”

Ohio State will play in a New Year's Six bowl game. Whether or not that is the Fiesta or Peach Bowl as part of the College Football Playoff on New Year's Eve won't be determined until Sunday after conference championship games are played. The Buckeyes no longer control their own destiny but have a strong argument to be in the top-4 with three wins over the top-8 teams from last Tuesday's Playoff rankings.

Ohio State could still very well be left out, however, and likely play Dec. 30 in the Orange Bowl.

Wherever Ohio State goes, it will have more than a month to prepare and wait before suiting up in a postseason game. And even though Meyer's team beat Michigan, it still has issues an assumed top team needs to correct if it wishes to compete and win against other top teams.

The Passing Game

This one is obvious. Barrett struggled to complete under 50 percent of his passes against the Wolverines (15-of-32) for only 124 yards. He only had 40 yards passing at halftime.

Michigan's defense is elite both in the trenches and the secondary, with players like Jabrill Peppers, Jourdan Lewis, Taco Charlton and others likely headed to the NFL. But Barrett hardly ever stood in a clean pocket all afternoon, sacked eight times and under constant pressure.

“We had some protection issues,” Urban Meyer said. “And the pass game is a constant. It's either protection issues or a misfiring, and I thought the receivers played decent.”

Curtis Samuel caught four passes for 32 yards. Noah Brown caught three for 40 yards. Parris Campbell and James Clark did not have a catch, with the former dropping one that hit him right in the chest in the fourth quarter.

Ohio State will always first and foremost be a running team. But it needs to get some things figured out quickly on how to move the ball through the air. Especially if it makes the Playoff and is paired up against Alabama, which allows just 68.9 rushing yards per game, the best in the country by a wide margin.

Special Teams

It is weird to write that subhead considering Meyer is Ohio State's head coach and he claims to be a stickler for this area of the game. But frankly, Ohio State's special teams showed some holes again on Saturday.

Tyler Durbin pulled two makeable field goals to the left, first from 37 yards out then later from 21. He made the one that counted most, however, nailing a 23-yard boot with 1 second left in regulation to tie the game at 17.

Cameron Johnston punted very well in his final game at Ohio Stadium (six punts for 276 yards, a 46 yards per punt average) but his coverage allowed a decent return from Jabrill Peppers, who also flipped momentum on a kickoff return before halftime. Ohio State led 7-3 following Malik Hooker's pick-six but Peppers' return served as a catalyst for Michigan's ensuing 55-yard drive that essentially drained the rest of the first-half clock out and ended in a touchdown. In a close game, miscues in coverage often decide the outcome. So do failures on fake punts, which Ohio State dealt with against Michigan too.

Not to mention the final play in regulation, when Durbin's squib kick did not exactly squib and bounced right into Lewis' hands. He nearly returned it for a touchdown after changing direction with Ohio State's pursuit out of position.

There were mishaps in Ohio State's special teams. It cost the Buckeyes a game at Penn State. It could cost them again, regardless where they play in the postseason.

Run Game Distribution

Barrett is going to run the football. He has done it his whole Ohio State career and is very good at it.

But Meyer and Ed Warinner saw the quarterback to get 30 carries against Michigan, most on designed runs but some coming on scrambles. He finished with 125 yards and Ohio State's touchdown in the first overtime period, a 7-yard scamper. The Buckeyes are going to do whatever it takes to win. But Mike Weber and Curtis Samuel need more touches in the running game.

Weber ran only 11 times on Saturday. He finished with just 26 yards but scored Ohio State's first offensive touchdown in the game, a 1-yard hop over the pile to cap a short drive after Jim Harbaugh's meltdown. The last of Samuel's seven carries came on the final play of the game, his 15-yard run on the now-infamous 29 Sweep left where a defender did not touch him. Samuel finished with 54 rushing yards on a 7.7 yards per carry average.

The quarterback run game gives Ohio State an advantage because it adds another blocker into the fray. But when you're doing it on 30 of 82 plays throughout the course of a game, that is a problem.

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