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What’s Eating Ohio State?

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OTE Digs Deep To Find Out What's Wrong in Columbus

NCAA Football: Ohio State at Penn State Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

College football fans are too often prisoners of the moment. Nowhere is this truer than in the scarlet and gray galaxy that slowly rotates around Ohio Stadium. Legions of Buckeye fans were astounded last week when Ohio State bumbled its way to the first road loss under Urban Meyer in 24 attempts, and only the fifth loss of the head coach’s tenure in Columbus.

As you might predict, loyal Buckeye hearts across the land have limped their way through the five stages of grief. Angry rants from Long-time/First-times and scattershots of blame have rained down on the Ohio State program like Austro-Hungarian artillery. We haven’t reached #FUIRDANTONIO levels yet, but things progress quickly when the inexplicable happens.

Fortunately, OTE is here to rend the chaos into order…to push back the torch-and-pitchfork mobs from the South Stands. In an effort to stem the tides of madness, your fair OSU “writer” and BSD Public Enemy #1 has turned to two of our most learned and esteemed commenters: a sociopath who hates dogs and a man who pollutes the minds of schoolchildren. I speak, naturally, of our very own Jon Ross and Trasch_Man!

All kidding aside, Jon and Trasch were kind enough to take time away from their real lives answer some serious questions about where Ohio State is, where they’re headed, and how much gnashing-of-teeth is warranted after the semi-meltdown in Happy Valley.

Question 1: What is your biggest takeaway about this OSU team from the loss?

Jon Ross: OSU sorely misses Devin Smith. Or really anyone who can run straight and fast and threaten the defense with a deep ball. Unfortunately OSU's most explosive WR is also their most explosive RB, so it's a waste of Curtis Samuel to send him deep over and over again to bend the defense. Multiple foot injures have robbed Dontre Wilson of his speed. Noah Brown is a big guy and a red zone guy, but not a fast guy. None of OSU's WRs scare anyone right now, and as good as JT's been the last two weeks, it's been in spite of his WRs.

Trasch_Man: Reloading is easier said than done. My biggest takeaway, that was probably falsely relieved by the Oklahoma game, is that this is going to take some time to iron out the kinks. Barrett needs to develop chemistry with receivers and the rotation is killing that. Time to start playing your horses.

GF3: Great points. My biggest takeaway is that there is some major disconnect between what’s happening on the field and what’s happening in the booth. That probably sounds like average post-loss fan speak, but when you consider that Curtis Samuel was the best athlete on either side of the ball that night and it took 24 OSU snaps to get him a touch on the ball, you have to wonder. Beck/Warriner either weren’t seeing what PSU was doing with their safety in run support and therefore didn’t punish PSU for it, or they just though they could fight their way through the 8-man box with Weber. Weber, for all his talent, isn’t the explosive runner Zeke was. The decision to keep pounding him into the line with the tight zone run on first down was astoundingly weak play-calling.

Question 2. Do you have concerns about Urban Meyer as the head coach, or about his staff? Or is this a case of spoiled fan base expectations and grand overreaction?

Jon Ross: I have zero concerns about Urban Meyer as head coach in regards to his performance. I do have concerns he would pick up the phone if an NFL team calls in two years (once his son graduates high school in Columbus), but if Chip Kelly bombs out in San Francisco, I doubt that call ever comes. As for Urban's staff, it's not surprising the offense is "struggling" without someone like Tom Herman as the coordinator, but there was plenty of angst at Herman's performances prior to the last 3 games of 2014, so I'm not gonna worry about things too much. For all the handwringing, OSU still put up more than 400 yards of offense against both Wisconsin and PSU.

Trasch_Man: It's a little bit of both. My one concern with Urban Meyer is his tendency to lean on his quarterback when things get tight. Meyer has constantly said that you need to be an elite player to be a quarterback in his offense but he also raves about the talent around Barrett. Averaging one loss per season is as good as it gets but this one could have been avoided.

GF3: I don’t think Urban has lost his edge, but man is it annoying when a guy who’s a known control freak plays dumb about why Curtis Samuel isn’t getting more touches, and why the offense isn’t able to push the ball downfield. My one concern with him is that he’s developed a big blind spot for how his dual-OC system is affecting the product on the field. I’d honestly be dismayed if we see Tim Beck back next season in any form of OC role, though not surprised.

Question 3. Is there merit to the idea that Barrett can't throw deep with accuracy?

Jon Ross: Maybe? But I think there are a lot of variables at play, making it much tougher to strictly blame JT. For one, no WR is consistently getting open deep, which makes every JT misfire more noticeable. For two, JT was pressured on more than half his attempts against PSU, so it has to be hard to throw downfield accurately when you're running for your life 50% of the time. If the measuring stick for JT Barrett's deep ball accuracy is Cardale Jones, I'd point out Devin Smith made a lot of touch catches in traffic to bail 'Dale out. No OSU WR has made any tough plays since Oklahoma, with the exception of Dontre's sideline route against Wisconsin, which was also the result of a perfect throw by JT. I'm of the opinion that no one is open deep, not that JT can't throw it deep. No one was questioning JT Barrett's arm when he had Devin Smith and was lighting up MSU in 2014.

Trasch_Man: This notion is rooted in some truth. In 2014, Barrett was throwing the football to two guys currently on NFL rosters in Philly Brown and Devin Smith and I'm not sure he has that luxury in 2016. The receivers aren't generating the separation we saw in Barrett's redshirt Freshman campaingn and he's having to more and more fit deep balls into smaller windows. It's fine to underthrow Devin Smith by 2 yards when he's 10 yards behind the defense. Conversely, it's not fine to underthrow James Clark when a defensive back is running with him stride-for-stride.

GF3: I tend to agree with Jon. The injury to Corey Smith and the inexplicable presence of Clark and McLaurin on the field in key situations is baffling to me. Brown is a fantastic red zone threat, but I really can’t believe that an Urban Meyer team has no one able to get separation downfield. It’s like a Tressel team with a bad punter. Doesn’t compute.

Question 4. In your estimation, has the defense progressed/regressed/held the line since the start of the season?

Jon Ross: I think they've merely held the line in conference play, but I think that's a function of them starting off way better than I expected them to start in the non-con. I mean OSU didn't lose to Penn State because of its defense. PSU was a disaster on third down and only mustered two TD drives, one of which was a deep jump ball on Gareon Conley. I'll welcome anyone else on OSU's upcoming schedule to keep throwing deep jump balls at Conley. I'll take that match-up. All that said, Damon Arnette needs to be better, and Chris Worley is just a guy at this point, he's not anywhere close to what Darron Lee was in the same role.

Trasch_Man: The defensive line and outside linebacker play has come a long way from the beginning of the season as has Marshon Lattimore. Losing Tracy Sprinkle has been awful for the Buckeyes interior as he was, for my money, the best interior defensive lineman on the team. More and more we see lineman getting a piece of McMillan and he hasn't been making as many plays. That's why we've seen Worley and Booker/Baker come up so big.

GF3: The biggest difference I see is the lack of turnovers. Of course, those are impossible to predict and very hard to cause, but there seems to be a shift in the aggressiveness of the coverage play in either Cover 4 or man/deep zone schemes since OU. For the first month of the season, OSU was a ball-hawking turnover machine, running passes back for points. Granted we saw a flash of that against Indiana (negated by an illegal block) but all the same, I feel as though the tenor of the backfield has changed. All the same, the line is playing great football overall with the notable exception of a few overzealous pursuits that lost contain on McSorely.

Question 5. What changes, if any, do you think need to be made going into the last month of regular season B1G play?

Jon Ross: Enough with the WR rotations. Noah Brown and Dontre Wilson need to be on the field for every offensive snap. Same for Curtis Samuel. Every play. Enough with this rotating series stuff. Let JT build a rapport with these guys the last month here before Michigan. I think WR coach Zach Smith is a good coach and it's tough to argue with his results putting guys in the NFL, but I think he develops such an attachment to his guys he wants to play 'em all to the detriment of the offense. Playing 8 or 9 or 10 WRs is too much. I don't care who, but pick one of Clark or McLaurin or Smith or Campbell or Hill and he can be the 4th guy with Dontre, Brown and Samuel when OSU goes 4 wide. But no more playing all these guys. Rotating WRs isn't like rotating on the DL. WRs need to build chemistry with their QB.

Trasch_Man: I mentioned my one change above: stop the insane rotation of wide receivers. Find four or five guys and go with them. I can't fathom why JT Barrett is throwing to James Clark in the clutch. Urban Meyer is a former receivers coach so I trust in him to figure it out but he's quickly running out of time

GF3: I’ll break ranks with these two wise sages and add that I think the QB run game has to be featured more. Too much time is spent letting the difference slant based on the halfback/Y setup and then trying to establish the inside zone run. The one wrinkle PSU consistently couldn’t contain was Barrett keeping the ball. Beat the defense with arithmetic.

Question 6. Can OSU win out and make it to Indy??

Jon Ross: Sure why not? OSU at home with a better QB in a coin flip game against Michigan? Should be fun.

Trasch_Man: Absolutely they can win out. I think everyone will get back on track this weekend against Northwestern. Barrett should be able to move the ball effectively and hopefully the secondary can limit Carr. I think the back half of the schedule is a lot less daunting than originally thought with MSU being suddenly awful. OSU has a night game in two weeks against a team currently ranked in the top 10. A big win would silence a lot of doubters and build some confidence going forward.

GF3: I wish I shared your optimism. I’m taking it one game at a time from here on out, and I don’t think Harbaugh is going to go down without blood.