Following a loss—especially to an inferior opponent—much is made about the vanquished squad coming out and “playing angry” the next week. Common sense holds that the last thing you want to get your hands on is an Urban Meyer team that just suffered what it sees as a needless defeat. To that end, Northwestern should’ve been well and truly fearful of the fate that awaited them when they strode onto the turf at Ohio Stadium.
They weren’t. Instead, the Wildcats leveraged many of the same techniques that Penn State relied on to put the Buckeye offense in tough situations. Moreover, Fitzgerald & Co. worked an almost perfect game plan of attacking the linebackers and young DBs when they sat in Cover 4/Quarters on what the OSU staff obviously figured would be Justin Jackson the Ball Carrier© downs. Instead of running into the maw of the OSU line and letting the safeties crash down in run support, Mick McCall targeted Austin Carr on the boundary and ran against man coverage.
The Buckeye offense once again eclipsed the 400-yard mark, but only put up 24 points. Some of that can be put on the defense, who couldn’t buy their way off the field. OSU had the ball only 9 times—25% less than the average game. Add to that, the Buckeyes could’ve easily made it 31-20, but elected to run out the clock instead. Nonetheless, neither point total would’ve sated Buckeye fans hoping for a post-loss rebound.
So what did last week tell us about Ohio State? Are the Buckeyes not quite what we thought they were? Is Northwestern a surging team set to break hearts in the West? A little Column A, a little Column B? Once again, we turn to our beloved Jon Ross and trasch_man to make sense of the Scarlet & Gray.
1. Did OSU underwhelm against Northwestern, or was that about what you were expecting? Does a potential NW win over Wisconsin change your view?
trasch_man: The defense certainly underwhelmed but the offense executed about as well as I was expecting given the playcalling. I don't think anything would change my perspective of Northwestern, they're an average team playing hot. Northwestern is a team OSU should have rolled regardless of how hot they were coming in.
Jon Ross: I was underwhelmed. But such is life as an OSU fan. Unfortunately, every game we play must result in a blowout for the good guys, or we underwhelm. That being said, the offense’s inability to generate a big play coupled with the defense’s bend-but-don’t-break style will result in close games against teams who can both attack DBs Damon Arnette and Damon Webb from the slot and force OSU to sustain long drives on offense. Can Nebraska do that? I haven’t watched a single Nebraska game all year. If they can, then the game will probably be close and people will say OSU underwhelmed.
GoForThree: I’ll say that a Northwestern win over Wisconsin certainly changes my view of that team, for two reasons. One, Pat Fitzgerald is known to have the ability to put together one truly outsized performance against a squad with advantages across the board. If his team goes out and puts the lumber to the Badgers, I’ll be much more inclined to believe that last week wasn’t a fluke Fitzgerald performance against a team that spent most of the game trying to break tendencies and build constrain plays into the repertoire. Secondly, it would go a long way toward proving that Northwestern has put their early hiccups behind them, growing into a mature and balanced team.
2. Does Ohio State ever challenge and beat cover 3 this season?
TM: Ohio State will have to challenge it in the soft spots in the 8-10 yard outs and flag/seam routes on the outside. I saw some of that out of Barrett on Saturday but more times then not he was taking the dump off in the flat to Weber, Samuel, etc. This goes back to not having a realiable group of receivers that can work into those soft spots. I think the concern over Barrett throwing the ball is overstated. He has a decent arm and is fairly accurate but I'm not sure if he trusts anyone not named Brown, Samuel, or Baugh.
JR: They just have to commit to the intermediate passing game. Just admit that’s who they are this year and deal with it. In theory, bigger, non-speedster guys like WRs Noah Brown and Parris Campbell and TE Marcus Baugh should be good against cover 3 and finding the various intermediate gaps. In reality, OSU’s best/toughest WR over the middle has been Curtis Samuel. Besides, do the coaches even trust JT to hit the middle crosses anyway? What about 15 yard comebacks? Let him wing it around a bit and see what happens. The aforementioned Samuel has been great as a WR, but I’d also like to see him catch the release valve swing passes at RB that Mike Weber has been getting the last few weeks. No offense to Mike Weber, but Samuel can break a tackle and go for 50+ yards off a swing pass. Weber just isn’t that type of dynamic.
GF3: I don’t know that they ever crack the code on beating a base cover 3 deep, but more importantly I don’t think they need to. Talking heads make a big deal weekly about OSU not pushing the ball downfield, but as Jon and Trasch both mentioned, the key is to take what the defense gives you. Throwing against a deep zone is like running against an 8-man box, with higher stakes. Drives and victories are easily built on 8-yard completions, and the run/pass option can help OSU pick on players like Nate Gerry who play key edge contain roles against the run.
3. Are you concerned with the pass rush you're seeing out of the interior linemen in the absence of Tracy Sprinkle? Does his absence matter much?
TM: My biggest concern on the defense, aside from Damon Webb consistently being 3 steps behind in coverage, is the interior line. I think we'll see a lot more of the "Rushmen" package and I've been wondering a lot more recently if we'd see some 3-4 looks if Booker comes back healthy. It's going to be a big deal anytime a team loses their best interior lineman and Ohio State might just need the one thing they're running out of to fill the void- time.
JR: Hard to say. OSU’s 3rd down pass rush is pretty good when they bring in Bosa and Jaylon Holmes to rush with Lewis and Hubbard, and it doesn’t seem like they’re willing to budge from that strategy. In years past, interior OSU lineman haven’t really been known for their sack totals anyway, so I’m not sure the D is looking to get a pass rush from Landers, Jones and Hill. I think the bigger problem is the lack of pass rush from Lewis and Hubbard when not next to Bosa and Holmes. You hardly notice those guys on downs 1 and 2.
GF3: I agree with Jon, Tyquan Lewis hasn’t been as amazing this year as I thought he’d be. Such is life when you don’t have a Bosa soaking up attention on the other end of the line. I’d love to see the tackles be more dynamic in the pass rush. I don’t need to see big sack totals out of them, but I’d like to see them start beating interior linemen to the point that they at least help blitzes get home.
4. Northwestern played their tackles in a head-up 2-technique over the guards, which caused notable trouble for the Buckeye linemen in forcing the guard-tackle bubble on power zone runs, and getting to the second level to stop linebackers and safeties from flowing toward the play. Will OSU be able to establish the run this week, or will Nebraska abandon the 4-3 over look they used against Wisconsin to jam up OSU at the line of scrimmage?
TM: I'm hopeful the Buckeyes have done some self scouting over the past few weeks and we'll figure out these slow-developing read plays aren't cutting it. The offense was and is most effective when the opposing defense is on its heels. The play calling needs to incorporate quick decisions from Barrett and more North/South running. The speed option isn't working and Samuel/Barrett/Weber aren't beating guys to the edge. I think the best solution is to play fast and take advantage of younger players by not asking them to hold blocks on run plays.
JR: I have no intelligent answer to this question. DL technique isn’t my forte. However, if Nebraska is going to try something totally out of their defensive character on one week of prep, I’ll welcome that. Part of me just wonders if OSU’s running game would improve simply by handing the ball off to Samuel more. Again, I like Mike Weber as a battering ram and as a blocker, but Samuel is just better and faster at this point of his career. Hand him the ball as part of the regular offense, and just let him run between the tackles Mike Weber style instead of telegraphing every Samuel carry as going out wide.
GF3: As a former undersize/high motor/real gym rat defensive tackle, line technique is something I really enjoy learning about. Nebraska looks to prefer a 4-3 over look based on film from Indiana and Wisconsin, with each of their linemen 1-gapping on run responsibility. Moreover, DC Mark Banker prefers the Cover 4/Quarters scheme the Buckeyes also use. This lets him get his very athletic SS Nate Gerry moving downhill fast against the run. I wouldn’t expect to see Nebraska suddenly start playing a 2-technique to jam up OSU’s guards, but I think they’ll ape the system that worked for PSU and NW: slanting the line toward the H-back and filling the backside with Gerry on the snap. Ohio State hasn’t really cracked that defensive look yet. One wrinkle to note is that Gerry looks to function in a hybrid-type role against spread teams, as Banker like to run nickel a lot against those offensive sets.
5. Who, if anyone, will develop into a deep receiver threat for this Buckeye team?
TM: Our hope now resides in a sixth-year never was with a club on his hand. So no.
JR: I doubt anyone who has already played will at this point. And if they haven’t played (much) yet like Austin Mack or Benjimen Victor, how can I expect them to make an impact in November? Plus, I’ve totally written off any contributions from Corey Smith off as long as he has a giant cast on his wrist/hand.
GF3: I’m praying K.J. Hill turns out to be a mutant.
6. Ohio State will debut the 1916 Chic Harley uniforms—dubbed "Music and Cannon Fire" after the famous James Thurber quote about Harley's running styl—against Nebraska. Thoughts on alternates, and these alternates specifically?
TM: I'm a big fan of alternate uniforms. These 1916 alternates look great together but I'm not as sold on the jersey as other alternates.
JR: I hate alternates in general because I think they’re shameless cash-grabs, hardly ever look good, and further make it seem like we play for Nike University instead of Ohio State. That being said, I buy a lot of OSU Nike bullshit and fall for the marketing hoopla every time. So I’m an idiot. I also recognize the allure of goofy alternates and extra gear in the day and age of recruiting, and if we are going to do it, I’m in on legitimate throwbacks like these Harley ones and the 2015 Sugar Bowl ones over the awful looking all-blacks from PSU last year or those brutal Christmas ornament helmeted ones we wore against Michigan in 2012 and 2013.
Don’t get me wrong, these Harley uniforms are ugly as hell, especially compared to our normal home uniforms which I think are a splash of grey on the sleeve stripe away from being completely perfect, but at least this is what we wore in 1916 or whatever. There’s some relationship to the university here which I much prefer to letting some asshole Nike designer add chrome and black to our uniforms like that’s creative or groundbreaking.
GF3: I love a good historic alternate, but I also find Nike unctuous as can be, from their Oregon schlock to their stupid renaming of Jordan’s silhouette to “Jumpman” for Harbaugh’s mock turtlenecks. I like the idea, but I also think losing looks even worse in a special uniform.
More to come next week from the Traschiest panel around!