Forget the off-season hype; disregard the preseason rankings; discount the menacing reputation — this year’s Ohio State Buckeyes don’t look good enough to win a Big10 title, let alone a national championship.
Following Saturday’s shock loss to the Oklahoma Sooners, Urban Meyer’s Buckeyes have fallen way down the AP Rankings. Their new position, all the way down at the eight spot, is deserved, and some even might say generous (don’t forget, they’re still above Oklahoma State and Wisconsin). Outside of J.K Dobbins’ 72 rushing yards, Ohio State struggled to maintain any momentum on offense against the Sooners. Oklahoma’s defense was in control throughout the game, restricting the offense to just 350 total yards, of which half came from the rush. Quarterback JT Barrett’s difficulties landing the deep ball has raised a myriad of questions about his suitability for the role and the broader health of the passing attack. As things stand, they will struggle against Michigan, and would likely be devastated by that Alabama defense.
But despite the offense’s many woes, Saturday night generated enough blame to be shared around. The defense, which gave up 437 yards against Indiana in week one, recorded only two sacks and no interceptions against the Sooners, allowing Baker Mayfield to throw for 386 yards and three TDs. Oklahoma’s offensive play-makers simply looked quicker than their opposite numbers. They were able to consistently find space downfield and pick up crucial yardage when called upon. Remarkably, Ohio State’s pass defense now ranks dead last in the country in yards per game — but even more remarkably, that isn’t where the humiliation ends. Oklahoma’s post-game celebrations culminated with Mayfield planting the Sooners’ flag in the centre of the field at the Horseshoe. A hugely injurious night was capped off with the most provocative of sporting insults.
An optimistic appraisal of Ohio State would reassure us that there’s still time for the ball club’s many flaws to be ironed out. Meyer is, after all, one of the game’s elite coaches who has recruited better than anyone not named Nick Saban. It could very well be that Ohio State, which is coming off a rebuilding year, just needs a few more weeks to settle down — weeks they will get with games against Army, UNLV, and Rutgers.
Such an assessment would, however, be easier to take on board were the Buckeyes looking mediocre on just one side of the ball. Instead, Ohio State are dealing with problems in every phase of the game, and observers are beginning to wonder whether the team is too limited at Quarterback to make a real impact this year. It’s worth keeping in mind that Barrett failed to connect on single deep ball in the week one win against Indiana, and against the Sooners was only able to muster 19-35 for 183 yards. To add the Buckeyes’ problems, other leading championship contenders have barely missed a beat so far this season: Alabama were clinical against Florida State, Clemson successfully handled Auburn, USC seem to be the real deal, and Oklahoma…well, you know the story.
Some might look to 2014, when the Buckeyes lost in week two to Virginia Tech before winning the National Championship, to posit that Ohio State’s pursuit of another ring isn’t over. While there might be some truth to this, 2017 appears to be a very different prospect. This year’s race to the playoffs looks set to be more crowded than ever, meaning that mistakes will be amplified come December. Already, Ohio State sit behind two Big10 rivals in the rankings, and they’ll likely have to beat both in order to stand any chance of securing a playoff berth. In any ordinary year, this would be achievable, but so far Meyer has give us no reason to believe his club is close to being the best in the Big10 East. Unlike last year, the Buckeyes are without an elite secondary to bail them out when needed.
Ohio State’s playoff hopes thus hang not just on Meyer’s ability to fix fundamental issues on both offense and defense, but also on the emergence of chaos throughout college football. If the Buckeye’s — or any other Big10 team — are going to make to the final four this year, they’re going to need one of Alabama, Oklahoma, Clemson, or USC to slip up. It’s certainly possible, but this isn’t a position Ohio State were hoping to find themselves in. Whichever way the season shakes out (and there will be some chaos along the way), the Buckeyes’ future is out of their hands. Wins against Penn State and Michigan will be vital, and even then nothing is guaranteed.
So, how much trouble are the Buckeyes in? Well, just take a look their home field — the answer can be found on the fifty yard line.
— Joey Hayden (@_joeyhayden) September 10, 2017