If you’ve watched Ohio State this whole season, you know that the last few weeks called for major concern. There were breakdowns at all levels on the offense and defense, and it did not look anything like the Ohio State brand football fans are used to seeing. Well, those same problems intensified and got worse as the Buckeyes were steamrolled on Saturday night at Purdue. With a bye this week and still a path to getting to the Big 10 Championship game, are these issues correctable?
The Run Game
It all starts with the complete lack of a run game for the Buckeyes. They had a total of 76 rushing yards, an awful 3.0 yards per carry. In fact, the run game has been so bad lately that when the Buckeyes got into the red zone, they did not even try to run the ball. They tried bubble screens and sending the running back into the flat on the two yard line to try to score, and still could not score. When they did try to run the ball, Purdue’s defense was already in the backfield by the time the ball was snapped. So where do they go from here?
Luckily, the Buckeyes do have a two weeks to try to figure out the running game and get it back on track for Nebraska. The issue is when you cannot run the ball, Dwayne Haskins ends up having to throw the ball 73 (!!) times in the game. Potentially getting Branden Bowen back after the bye could be huge for the offensive line. They need more guys on the line that are nasty and want to physically dominate their opponent, and Bowen fits that bill.
Honestly, I’m not even sure there’s a solution here. Over the past few weeks when the running game has struggled, there has not seemed to be any kind of nuance or change to the philosophy of gaining yards. Try putting Haskins under center in short yard situations, put both running backs in the backfield at the same time, give Tate Martell a few reps in the red zone. Just try something new because whatever they are doing is not working.
It is probably not an understatement to say this is the worst performing linebacker core you have ever seen in your Ohio State fan hood. There are missed tackles everywhere and they have no gap integrity to stay in their lane and are getting caught in space way too often. Honestly, as bad as they have played all season, the bigger issue is the coaching scheme, specifically Bill Davis and Greg Schiano. I’m sure you have seen former Buckeye great James Laurinaitis’ tweets talking about how the linebacking scheme was almost making him “throw up.” If you did not see them, basically he said that walking the linebackers up to the line of scrimmage every single play severally limits what they can do on a given play. Instead of being able to keep things in front of them and see the play develop and make a play, they are on an island and constantly get caught in the wrong position and a big play occurs. The coaching staff has to be able to see what is happening here, but they still are not changing anything up.
Honestly, I do not think this is an issue that is going to get better this season. Luke Fickell is not here anymore, and the coaching of the linebackers is at an all time low. I really do feel bad for this linebacker group, because I feel like this scheme is way too complicated. Let them see the ball and react to it, stop trying to make it this confusing for the group. Play to their strengths.
I don’t foresee Urban pulling a Lincoln Riley move and firing his defensive coach or assistant during the season like Mark Stoops was a few weeks ago. So, the Buckeyes seemingly will have Davis and Schiano for the remainder of the season. Looking forward, Marcus Freeman, the defensive coach at 6-1 Cincinnati needs to be the first call you make.
Rondale Moore absolutely torched this secondary. Yes, he is an absolute nightmare of a match up for anybody, but the Buckeye staff knew this coming into the game. He was too frequently given way too much space and used it to his advantage. You would have thought the staff would have a better game plan on what to do when Moore is lined up in the slot. For example, matching a linebacker on Moore is just terrible execution.
However, the bigger issue to me is the awful pursuit angles the secondary, especially the safeties are taking. It seems like every play big that happens, a safety gets his angles broken or takes a poor angle and you see the opposing player run past him and to the end zone like he was not even there. The safety needs to be the last line of defense and protection, and that is just not happening.
Schiano’s scheme has to go. The corner backs are not taught to see the ball and make a play, but rather to read the receivers eyes and try to make a play. Guys are out of position all over the field. At some point, you need to adjust your scheme for your personal. It is not working, but running the same looks and praying it gets better is not how this group is going to turn it around.
Honestly, it comes down to whether a school gives Schiano a head coaching job somewhere this offseason, it seems. He has not been impressive this season, but maybe a school sees his whole body of coaching work and gives him another chance. The potential name to look for here is whether Rutgers fires Chris Ash. There is a large buy out for him and Rutgers might not be able to do that, but if they do, Ohio State’s first and their last call needs to be about getting Ash back on the staff.
This is probably the best time for Ohio State to have a bye. There are a tremendous amount of things that need correcting, and the staff will have two weeks to prepare now. However, as bad as that loss was, there is still a lot to play for. A showdown against Michigan is still coming soon, and a spot in the Big 10 Championship game is not out of the question now. Win out and you are still likely looking at a spot in the college football playoffs. There is still so much to play for, but if the Buckeyes want to go where they think they can, there is a lot to clean up first.
(Image via MyDaytonDailyNews)