If the current Buckeye players are anywhere near as testy as Urban Meyer and some former players in the aftermath of last Saturday's debacle versus Oklahoma, there's a good chance tomorrow's opponent, Army, is in deep trouble.
Of course, everyone expects a blowout considering the talent mismatch so exactly how the Buckeyes go about burying the Black Knights will be of chief focus for a divided fanbase searching for improvement at quarterback, wide receiver, in the secondary and within the playcalling.
Since we know a guy with experience making big plays against a service academy, we brought in former linebacker Brian Rolle to break bread with staffers Andrew Lind, Kyle Jones and David Wertheim.
Do work, gents..
Absolutely shredded in the first two games, Ohio State’s pass defense is giving up an average of 403 yards per game, good for dead last among FBS teams. What’s the chief culprit here? Or is it is likely much too complicated to cite just one main issue? More importantly, can it be fixed?
Brian: We honestly looked like crap. As a former player, what I see is just a lack of defensive integrity. I think the guys may be listening to the hype of how "good" they are. But the on-field play isn't proving that. There isn't one specific thing to point out, we just have to take pride in our defense and that's how it can be fixed.
Kyle: The ways Greg Schiano’s defense was carved up in the first two weeks couldn’t have been more different. Richard Lagow made some back shoulder throws that no other quarterback in the Big Ten can make with the same consistency, while Baker Mayfield shredded the OSU linebackers with run-pass options and play-action passes up the seams all night long. While there are some teams on the remaining schedule that will certainly look to copy Oklahoma’s scheme (specifically, Penn State), Schiano’s unit has at least a month to prepare against lesser competition that should pose little threat through the air. By the time the Nittany Lions come to town in late October, the pass defense should be in a much better spot as Chris Worley, Jerome Baker, and Dante Booker settle into their roles.
David: The culprit in my humble opinion is two-fold. First, for the DB's, it's simply inexperience. Three of the four DB's are new starters, which may have worked well the last two years, but at some point the luck is simply going to end. They will get better with time, but facing Simmie Cobbs and then Baker Mayfield in your first two games isn't exactly an easy welcome. The linebackers on the other hand don't look like they are being aggressive enough. Jerome Baker doesn't have that "dog" in him that we saw a year ago, and Dante Booker has been largely invisible. I think it can be fixed. Kerry Coombs and Bill Davis have been around football long enough to understand what needs to be done.
Andrew: This is actually the regression — well, maybe not to the extreme — that I expected last year when Ohio State was tasked with replacing three starters in the defensive backfield. Malik Hooker, Damon Webb and Marshon Lattimore (plus the returning Gareon Conley) obviously had other ideas, though.
Now facing the same turnover for a second-consecutive year, the Buckeyes are seem to lack confidence in one of their strongest units from one season ago.
While their standing as the worst statistical passing defense in the country is skewed because both Indiana and Oklahoma threw it all over the field — and that will regress to the mean against an Army team that will almost exclusively run the ball — there are issues that certainly need addressed nonetheless.
It starts up front, though as the defensive line hasn't been able to get a push on the quarterback. The linebackers look a step slow, too, so the cornerbacks have pretty much been on an island against two of the better wide receiver units they'll see all season. If the line can disrupt the flow of the offense like we expect them to, the defensive backs will play better in turn.
Urban Meyer is seemingly, consistently, over-reliant on the QB run in big games over the last handful of years despite having three different offensive coordinators during that span. Why is the collective brain trust so in love with this strategy in big games? Do you support it? Are the failures more about player execution, predictability, or something else?
Andrew: It surprises me to say this, but much like his predecessor (interim not included), Urban Meyer becomes ultra-conservative in big games. And no matter the fact that he says offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson is the primary play caller, Meyer's influence is hard to ignore.
Wilson is calling Meyer's plays, not his own. And hopefully that changes sooner rather than later.
Meyer doesn't seem to trust quarterback J.T. Barrett's arm when the game is on the line. He doesn't seem to trust the wide receivers to catch the ball. He doesn't seem to trust veteran running back Mike Weber or freshman J.K. Dobbins to hold onto the ball, though the latter hasn't coughed it up once in his two games of action. So what does he do? Quarterback run to the left. Quarterback run to the right.
It's predictable and it's getting the Buckeyes nowhere. And that's nobody's fault but Meyer's.
Kyle: This point has been overstated this week, as Oklahoma forced Barrett into keeping the ball on called option plays after the first drive of the second half (which ended with a J.K. Dobbins touchdown). Both Dobbins and Mike Weber popped big runs on options plays earlier in the game, and the Sooner defensive ends simply held contain on any potential handoffs, forcing Barrett to keep and run for himself. However, that, unfortunately, shows how predictable the offense has become, as there were no wrinkles the Buckeyes could easily counter with, such as run-pass options of their own to stress the defense in other ways.
David: I don't think the "collective brain trust" is really in love with it. I think Urban Meyer has shown- with the past two coordinators especially- an unwillingness to abandon the QB run in big games. I do not support it. Being at the stadium on Saturday night, it was amazing how often I was able to predict what play was coming from the Ohio State offense from my spot in 36B. Imagine what opposing defensive coordinators can do if I- a freshman college student sitting in the bleachers- was able to predict. I think that simply adding more variety to the offense would help it immensely.
Brian: As a coach, Urban has to go with what has worked, so I feel as though the play calling isn't an issue, what I believe is that execution is our biggest enemy. I trust in Urban and the staff to call plays that will put the team in a position to succeed. But if you watch the Indiana game early, and the entire OU game, we didn't execute. I believe what we need is more variety on offense. Our pass game seems complex but as a former player who sees the game differently we are a bit predictable.
With so many carries going to the quarterback, J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber combined for five carries in the first half versus Oklahoma which basically eliminated any ability to foresee how this this situation will shake out. Are we looking at a two-back system all year considering the talent? Or do you expect one guy to emerge and take the bulk of the carries?
David: I think they both will get carries. How many carries? That remains to be seen. Dobbins looked fantastic against Indiana each time he carried the ball, and that continued against Oklahoma. Weber looked good in his limited time as well. If the coaches are willing to give them the ball, I expect to see them both get around the same amount of carries because they bring different things to the table.
Andrew: While I think it would be better for one player to emerge and the other to play a servicable role as a backup, it doesn't seem like that's where we're headed.
Weber is a great running back and will likely be an early-round draft pick next spring. The staff is going to do everything it can to make him the primary ball carrier (outside of Barrett, that is). But I believe Dobbins is as equally — if he hasn't already shown flashes of being even more — talented than Weber, and he's only a true freshman. He absolutely needs to play.
Of course, Weber's hamstring might not cooperate, and Dobbins could eventually take the job and never give it back as a result. And I'm not so sure that's a bad thing.
Brian: Our quarterback run game is great...when we have established a run game with the running backs. I don't mind seeing the quarterback and running backs split carries but we have to set it up and in turn the run game will open up the pass. A two running back system is okay. Our offense as I see it will operate more efficiently with a change up with the running backs because Dobbins and Weber both add something different.
Kyle: For the first time in the Meyer era, it looks like we’ll see a true ‘hot hand’ rotation in the OSU backfield. Many observers, myself included, expected Weber to take his starting job back due to his experience doing the little things, like pass protection. But Dobbins has been solid in those roles thus far, meaning the duo can split carries early in the game and allow the offense to attack defenses with two distinct styles, much the same way Alabama will hit opponents with a stable of diverse, but equally talented, backs like Bo Scarborough, Damien Harris, and Najee Harris.
The disturbing trend of an anemic passing game reached (hopefully) its pinnacle versus Oklahoma. Most fans are clamoring for a QB change which isn’t going to happen anytime soon. Between Barrett, pass pro, playcalling and the receivers, which singular item would you say is most responsible for the lack of efficiency and why? What would you do about it?
Brian: I for one definitely do not see a quarterback change coming. I believe in J.T. and his skill set. It looks as though J.T. isn't comfortable in the pocket and because of that he doesn't look confident throwing the ball. We have a talented offensive line and I believe that each member needs to do their part so our quarterback has faith he will have time to get the ball out.
Kyle: At this point, the play-calling must be blamed. Barrett may have some limitations as a passer, such as drifting out of clean pockets and his accuracy on the run, but he also has strengths – he was one of the most accurate quarterbacks in America on throws under 15 yards last season. The receivers have dropped deep balls in back-to-back games, but are also more than capable of making something happen once the ball is secured. And, the pass protection hasn’t been the same issue it was last fall, as nearly all the sacks surrendered against the Sooners were due to the coverage. But that coverage was so excellent because of a lack of diversity in Ohio State's scheme. The game plan appeared to be a near carbon copy from the week before, with many of the same pass concepts coming from the same formations and personnel groups shown to the Hoosiers. Meyer, Wilson, and Day MUST get better about running multiple concepts from the same formations, while then running those same concepts from multiple formations, keeping defenses on the heels and unable to anticipate what’s coming.
Andrew: As I mentioned above, I think the playcalling is the primary issue. Yes, Barrett doesn't seem to have the same confidence as he once did — I wouldn't either if I faced two deep safeties on every play and was unsure if my receivers could get open or will catch the ball when I throw it. But it's time for Meyer to let Kevin Wilson call his own plays.
Everyone seems to compare this loss to the 2014 season post-Virginia Tech. But the biggest adjustment the staff made moving forward was Meyer handing the playcalling duties to Tom Herman. And wouldn't you know, Barrett set all kinds of freshman records as a result.
David: I don't see any way that the coaching staff makes a quarterback change, unless Barrett were to go down with an injury. Therefore, the staff has to adjust the playcalling in order to give Barrett the best chance to succed. As I mentioned above, I feel as though more variety in the playcalling would certainly help the offense as a whole.
The rally cry some fans are clinging to is how the 2014 squad got handled at home by Virginia Tech but went on to win the national title. While that’s true, names like Devin Smith, Mike Thomas, Vonn Bell, Eli Apple, Zeke Elliott and Darron Lee stepped up to make the run possible. Does the 2017 roster have guys who can make similar leaps? If so, which guys are the most likely candidates to take off? What’s your confidence level, on a scale of 1-10, that the Buckeyes can make the College Football Playoff?
Andrew: You know, I'm someone who's always pointed out the fact that Elliott rushed for more than 200 yards per game over the three-game run to the title or that Smith caught any and everything under the sun. It wasn't just Cardale Jones who stepped up after Barrett got hurt.
The Buckeyes need a dominant run game, first and foremost, which is why Weber needs to get back to full strength or Dobbins needs to take hold of the job. The plays need to reflect that, too. And when defenses start honing in on the run, that's when players like Parris Campbell and Johnnie Dixon need to step up on the outside.
It would be wishful thinking to just assume one of them will, but I'm not at all confident (I'll say 4-of-10) given what we've seen so far this season. A run to a national title is not completely out of the question, but dramatic leaps need to happen before that can even be discussed.
David: I've mentioned it before, but I think J.K. Dobbins is a guy who can lead a team to the title. We'll see if he gets the ball more. Bin Victor looks like he could be a stud, as does K.J. Hill, as does Austin Mack. The offensive line has been solid, and the defensive line is arguably the best in the country. If the DB's get their act together, and the wide receiver conundrum is solved, there is a strong possibility that Ohio State could make a run. As of now, I have my confidence at about a 5. I think this team is pissed off and wants to win, but the simple question is: are they good enough? We'll certainly find out when they play Penn State and Michigan coming up.
Kyle: I’ll say my confidence is at a 7, as the issues with this team are fixable, just as they were after the Virginia Tech loss. It’s not as if there is a major talent hole somewhere on the roster, or the overall philosophies on either side of the ball are inherently flawed. Both sides of the ball need to adjust their focus slightly, make adjustments based on the way a very good Oklahoma team attacked them, and build confidence over the next month before hosting Penn State, a contest that can propel them forward the same way the win in East Lansing three seasons ago did for the eventual national champions.
Brian: That 2014 team was special, as a former player that's what we expect when adversity strikes; perseverance and execution. This team has the same potential to dominate the rest of the schedule and in fact make the playoffs. But potential means nothing if each member doesn't commit to the process and execute. On a scale of 1-10, realistically I believe our chances are about a 8-8.5 to make the playoffs. The Big Ten is tough this season and there are some other strong teams in the country but I think if we handle our business we will have no problem making the playoffs.
Rank the top four teams in the B1G, regardless of division, and briefly justify your selections.
Kyle: Ohio State and Penn State are still the two most talented teams in the conference, and despite the Buckeyes’ loss to Oklahoma, whoever wins the matchup between these two will be in the driver’s seat for a playoff spot. Wisconsin has looked very good on the ground yet again, and their defense continues to impress despite losing Jack Cichy. Michigan has played a lot of ugly football so far this season, especially on offense, as no real playmakers have emerged and questions remain about the right side of the offensive line, so the fourth-best team to me has been Iowa. The Hawkeyes easily handled a solid Wyoming team in week one, held on in a very un-Iowa-like shootout last week, and feature a game-changer on both sides of the ball in running back Akrum Wadley and linebacker Josey Jewell. While many have already written in Wisconsin as the West division winner, don’t be surprised to see Kirk Ferentz in Indianapolis this December.
Brian: The top four teams in the B1G would be:
- Penn State: Explosive offense with dynamic playmakers. Unrelenting defense that matches up well with any team in the country.
- Ohio State: Regardless of the loss to OU I do believe that we have the best quarterback in the Big Ten. Our run game, once the coaches lean more on it, will be the workhorse for the team. Top 2 defensive line in the country in my opinion tied with Alabama until we perform otherwise.
- Michigan: Suffocating defense. Methodical offense, good athletes at receiver. Above average run game.
- Wisconsin: Great run game as always. Defense is young but has played well even though they did play teams that were outmatched when they stepped off the bus. Wisconsin looks good in every aspect of the game.
David: I'll go with:
- Penn State- Offense is deadly with Barkley being a Heisman frontrunner
- Ohio State- more talented than any team in the country (save for Alabama), but can they put it all together?
- Wisconsin- always solid and a team that could beat anyone in the right situation.
- Michigan- They are young, but they are talented. Their defense is always great with Don Brown at the helm
Andrew: Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin.
The Nittany Lions were the best team in the conference last season, and haven't shown any signs of slowing down — though they've played two lesser opponents. The Buckeyes should get things back on track before that Oct. 28 matchup, and the advantage is that it's at home. The Wolverines have some good young talent, but their senior quarterback is holding them back from being better (something a lot of people feel is the case with Ohio State). And the Badgers are bound for the Big Ten title game by virtue of being the best team in the weaker division.
Switching to this week’s matchup, Army invades the Shoe as the nation’s No. 2 ranked rushing offense at 418 yards per game and dead last in passing offense at 8.5 yards per game. What kind of rushing and passing totals do you see them posting against the Buckeyes?
Brian: From what we have given up in the run game we should be okay. Army does pose a huge threat because we do not see offenses like this often. I can confidently say they will have less than 300 rushing yards if they keep up their 60-65 rush attempts per game. Passing yards.. I do think that we have made ourselves vulnerable to even a run heavy team like Army to come in and test our secondary. I foresee 100-150 passing yards.
Andrew: I'm not concerned at all with Ohio State's run defense, so I don't anticipate the starters give up many yards on the ground. The Black Knights will try to throw the ball more than normal, too, given the Buckeyes' defensive statistics, which will give the secondary a lot of confidence when they pick off two passes on Saturday afternoon.
Most of Army's yardage on the ground will come in garbage time with the second-team defense in, and I think Ohio State holds them under 200 yards rushing and 50 yards passing.
David: Ohio State has done an excellent job stopping the run thus far, coming in to this game 13th in the nation in run defense. I think Army will struggle to get 300 yards on the ground. I think they will at least triple their passing totals, but that isn't really cause for concern.
Kyle: Greg Schiano hasn’t had to put together a game plan for a flexbone team in over a decade, and those offenses have learned a few new tricks in that span. I expect the Black Knights to try and throw more than people expect in an effort to catch OSU off-guard, but it still won’t be that much, say for 50 yards. And while they’ll easily surpass the rushing yardage totals of both Indiana and Oklahoma, I expect them to fall well under their season average – somewhere around 275 yards total.
Ohio State is currently a 30-point favorite over the Black Knights. Do the Buckeyes cover? Give us your final score prediction and player to watch.
David: I have Ohio State winning 42-14, thus not covering. My player to watch is J.T. Barrett. How he and the rest of the offense respond to the criticism is something that I am looking to see in the 'Shoe on Saturday afternoon.
Brian: With all due respect to Army, I think this is a game that we absolutely dominate. My final score for this week is 56-14. I see the run game getting back on track and the passing game more efficient. I look forward to J.T. putting up good numbers so he would be my player to watch.
Kyle: The Black Knights are headed in the right direction with Jeff Monken at the helm, but the talent gap is going to be extremely wide between these two teams on Saturday. Though they’re 2-0 so far, Buffalo was able to pick up some big gains through the air and I expect the Buckeyes to come out aggressive as a result. Look for them to get the ball to their talented playmakers early, leading to a big yardage total for Barrett, and with Parris Campbell finally hauling in a deep ball or two. Buckeyes win 42-7 thanks to some quick drives featuring big plays.
Andrew: Remember a week after Ohio State lost to Virginia Tech, the Buckeyes came out and threw the ball all over the place in a 66-0 win over Kent State? Barrett matched the first of many school records that weekend with six touchdowns, too. A similar theme will play out this weekend. Buckeyes 49, Black Knights 10.