Gut check time for Ohio State

A rout by Purdue leaves Ohio State searching for answers

Mike 'Chico' Bormann
October 26, 2018 - 12:01 am

James Lang-USA TODAY Sports

The good news for Ohio State Head Coach Urban Meyer is he has returned the football program to "powerhouse" status since taking the reins in 2012. The bad news, of course, is the margin for error is slim to none. With sky-high expectations from a demanding fan base and alumni, losses like Saturday's 49-20 thrashing at Purdue and last season's 55-24 debacle at Iowa are deemed inexcusable. Fair or not, that's life in the driver's seat for a guy earning $7.6 million dollars in 2018.

In the wake of Saturday's stunner in West Lafayette, Meyer made an interesting, yet necessary decision to begin his team's bye-week on Monday: His coordinators would not be hitting the recruiting trail as normally would be the case with a week off. Meyer held a meeting Tuesday afternoon in an attempt to remedy some ailing aspects of his suddenly vulnerable football team.

Make no mistake, Meyer has been able to return the Buckeyes to prominence because he has garnered some of the best talent in the country year-in, and year-out, on the aforementioned recruiting trail. And while Ohio State will never put the future on the back burner, there are major issues with his present squad that need to be addressed immediately. 

I don't care how much the game of football has changed from a schematic or talent standpoint, there are two staples of the game that will always stand the test of time: Solid defense and running the football. Just in case you haven't noticed, the 2018 Buckeyes have been glaringly inept in both departments. Despite boasting one of the best backfield duos in the country in Mike Weber and J.K. Dobbins, the Bucks are 69th in rush offense. Against Purdue, they could only muster 76 yards on the ground for an eye-popping 2.9 yards-per-carry. 2.9! The ability to run inside and impose their will up front has all but disappeared. Is it a talent issue on the offensive line? Possibly. Perhaps more plausible is the idea that O-Line coach Greg Studrawa has been unable to create blocking schemes that best fit their skill-set. Is Ohio State unable to run inside because they haven't been given enough opportunities to do so? Have they tried to become more finesse and bounce it to the outside more often than they should? These are the self-scouting questions that are most assuredly taking place at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center this week.

If you think 2.9 yards-per-carry over the last 3 games is bad(it is),try this one on for size from the other side of the ball: Through eight games, Ohio State has allowed 42 plays of at least 20 yards. In 2014, encompassing 15 games, they allowed 41. You don't have to be Buddy Ryan or Bill Belichick to know that is not conducive to winning football games. It is very possible that losing top talent to the NFL has caught up to the Buckeyes this season. But spend any amount of time in Columbus or talking Ohio State football, and one question will inevitably be asked: What is the scheme and why are opposing teams gashing the second and third level of the defense? 

Linebackers Coach Bill Davis and Defensive Coordinator Greg Schiano have come under intense scrutiny as many(including former players) question why the linebackers are playing so close to the line of scrimmage, ultimately limiting their ability to read, react, and make plays on the football. It's no secret Schiano favors an aggressive, man-to-man, single coverage on the back end. Leading up to Saturday's clash against Purdue, an explosive freshman receiver by the name of Rondale Moore was very much on Ohio State's defensive radar. After lighting up Northwestern for 11 catches, 109 yards and 2 TD's to begin the season, he had a line of 11-137-TD vs. Missouri and 8-110-2TD's against Boston College. What was Ohio State's plan to slow down the guy drawing comparisons to Tyreek Hill? Linebacker Malik Harrison. Harrison is a very talented player, but Moore should have been salivating after breaking the huddle numerous times to find Harrison checking him in the slot. It's one thing for me to question that matchup, but when former greats like James Laurinaitis and Matt Finkes are second-guessing, some eyebrows should be raised.

Yes, Meyer and the Buckeyes are 7-1 on the year and are still very much a favorite to win another conference title. Yes, they have this week to keep coordinators off the recruiting trail and in meeting rooms with hopes of righting the ship as the calendar flips to November. But even Meyer used the word "urgent" when describing his team's current state of affairs and the need to get it right. Getting to the top of the mountain is hard work. Staying on top of that mountain is proving to be much more difficult the past two seasons.