WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – If Ohio State could make it past Purdue, it could finally reach the much-awaited bye week with an undefeated record intact. That, of course, did not come to fruition.
The Boilermakers scored a touchdown in all four quarters of their 49-20 win against the Buckeyes on Saturday, then dropped 28 points in the fourth quarter to pull away from their counterparts. Ohio State did not score a single touchdown until the fourth quarter.
The Buckeyes out-gained the Boilermakers in total yards (546 to 539), converted a better percentage of third downs and picked up more first downs, but they made mistake after mistake.
“We kept shooting ourselves in the foot,” Jordan Fuller said.
Warning signs seemingly existed in every area of the team. Dwayne Haskins put up a stinker for three quarters against Penn State. The J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber run game hadn’t gotten going. The offensive line couldn’t get any push. Chase Young, Dre’Mont Jones and the defensive line didn’t pressure the quarterback much. The defensive backfield got torched and the linebackers seemed out of position.
Even with those nagging problems, the Buckeyes never saw the shellacking coming.
“How surprised? Very surprised,” Meyer said. “I thought we had a good week of work.”
“No, I think every week we're focused on getting better and focus on our jobs,” Fuller said. “We never go into a game thinking, like, 'Oh, shoot. We might lose this one.' No. Never.”
“You never go into a game thinking you're going to lose. Actually, as a team, we felt like we had our best week of practice. But if you don't execute at a high level, you can get beat any Saturday. We didn't come in with a mentality feel like we had all these mistakes. We came in actually on a high note thinking we had a really good week of practice.”
Some of the mistakes – such as excessive penalties – seem like they could be fixed with coaching. After the loss, Meyer called them “ridiculous” penalties, also calling them “effort” flags. The consistency of Haskins could also improve, as could the pass-rush with a week of rest.
But, issues such as the push of the offensive line and the defensive backfield’s struggles seem to have much less obvious answers. So, should Ohio State make drastic changes, and how long would that take?
“I don't know if it's blow up,” Meyer said. “Once again, we're 7-1 and we've got to get the chance to be 8-1. That's the only focus. But there's some serious shortcomings right now we've got to get fixed.”
“A bye week gives you a little bit of time,” Meyer said. “Week 8, 9, you're into it now. Number one thing, you've got to find out about the health of our team. That's hard to do right now, to make drastic changes when you're dealing with a banged-up football team.”
The correcting of both offensive and defensive problems comes down to execution and scheme, usually in some combination.
“I feel like it’s just execution,” McLaurin said. “Our plays work. They’re running the same plays all year. Defense got some stops, and as an offense, we just want to execute a lot better. We’re not pointing fingers, we just run the plays that our coaches call, and that we practice all week.”
“Probably just execution,” Haskins said. “Like I said, a lot of missed opportunities tonight that resulted in this loss, but nothing to do with play-calling or bad scheme, we just got to play better.”
Meyer would never make a coaching change during the season, and don’t expect him to buck that line of thinking this year.
But given the lackluster performance by the offensive line not only in this game, but in the entire season, as well as some other position groups, it wouldn't be a surprise for Ohio State and an assistant coach or two to part ways in the offseason. Meyer said he'd evaluate the coaches this week, just as he always does.
“That's part of this whole week,” Meyer said. “I do love our coaching staff. We're going to have a lot of work to get done this week.”