Ohio State: In Need Of Eight Straight
By Grant Burkhardt
So, you’ll hear a lot in the next few days about how Ohio State will be favored in its remaining games and how they should be fine to make the Big Ten Championship and the National Semifinals. You’ve probably already heard that a bunch of times since the Buckeyes lost at Penn State over the weekend. And while that’s technically probably true, while it might feel good to overlook the loss as an anomaly — night game in the Valley, Penn State coming off a bye, etc. — that’s probably not a great idea.
One bad game is fine — fans certainly hoped Urban Meyer and his team had gotten that out of the way at Wisconsin – but a few in a row is troublesome, especially now that there’s absolutely no room for error anymore. Sure, a flag for pass interference late, saving poor James Clark a week-long spot on the internet as a meme, would have probably bailed out Ohio State’s poor performance again, but that luxury – the one where OSU could play slow, uninspired football and coast to a win – is gone.
I think it’s funny (read: hubris) to look at the schedule as a series of Vegas odds-inspired foregone conclusions, because this team has issues. What’s troublesome for the Bucks is the seemingly endless amount of time that quarterbacks have to choose a receiver, and the not-as-much amount of time that J.T. Barrett has to be in the pocket looking downfield.
The Buckeyes are getting killed on the lines, which is something we viewers always take for granted until the exact moment when the line turns into a liability. Also worrisome is the apparent ghosting of Curtis Samuel.
Unquestionably Ohio State’s best back, Samuel got just two rushing touches on Saturday after getting 12, nine, and nine in the previous three. If you take away his 74-yarder, Ohio State rushed for less than three yards per carry in the game. And somehow Samuel’s career high in rushes is only 13. Thirteen! It’s nonsensical, unless his foot hasn’t completely healed from offseason surgery, or unless the coaching staff is trying to run out the clock on the season, keep Samuel fresh, and use him at the end when everyone is banged up and tired (see: Cardale Jones, 2014). Sure, he’s averaging more than five receptions a game, but it seems counterproductive not to literally hand the ball to your most explosive offensive threat at least 15 times a game.
Now all this isn’t to say this season is falling apart. If there was any game on the conference schedule to lose, Penn State and Wisconsin were probably the candidates Ohio State could bounce back from and still make the playoff. The loss happened early enough in the schedule and only Nebraska is a ranked opponent between now and Michigan. Plus, Michigan State — the only opponent Urban Meyer has lost to twice at Ohio State — is enduring a massively down year, and the Buckeyes get Michigan at home in the Ol’ Nooner.
There’s also something Urban Meyer said this week that caught my attention:
He said he hopes his team plays “angry” this weekend against Northwestern (which is riding a three-game win streak). There is a certain demeanor that many great teams possess — aggressive, and subtly cocky, like everything’s under control — and it certainly did seem to me over the past two games that this version of the Buckeyes didn’t have it.
When teams switch off, and play without that intensity, you get the last few minutes of Saturday’s loss to Penn State, which is to say you get a performance void of any sense of urgency. Couple that with a missed call and a big mistake, Ohio State finds itself pushed up against the wall, needing to win eight straight — and none fewer — to raise a trophy.