Ohio State: 5 things the Buckeyes have to fix on Saturday
When Ohio State’s 2021 schedule was constructed, Tulsa was doubtlessly planned as a breather — after a road trip to Minnesota to open and a home matchup with Oregon, the Buckeyes could catch their breath, rest a few guys, and fine-tune things.
But a funny thing happened in Weeks 1 and 2. No, Tulsa still shouldn’t present much of a struggle. But this Buckeyes team has more than just a few small details to polish up. Here are 5 things they need to fix on Saturday against the Golden Hurricane.
1. Stop the run
Ohio State has allowed 200+ rushing yards in each game so far and is giving up 5.4 yards per carry. OSU has ceded 3.4 or fewer yards per carry in 5 of the last 6 seasons, with 2018 (4.5 ypc) the exception. Granted, Mohamed Ibrahim and CJ Verdell are superb running backs. But the defense can’t hemorrhage 5+ yards per carry. Tulsa’s running game has been fine (5 yards per carry), but it didn’t exactly light up Oklahoma State. OSU has to do better.
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2. Get off the field
OSU’s defense has been bad — it’s not exactly a secret. A big part of the problem is that they haven’t been able to get off the field. OSU has allowed conversions on 16 of 30 third-down situations — that’s dead last in the Big Ten. A 2-for-2 rate on fourth-down conversions doesn’t help things, either. Some of this comes from the rush defense issues noted above — 3rd-and-2 is a lot easier to convert than 3rd-and-10. Another part of the problem is that OSU hasn’t exactly been lights out in pass defense either, which reminds us …
3. Find a pass rush
After 2 games, OSU has all of 2 sacks. That’s 12th in the Big Ten, ahead of Purdue and Minnesota. Given the athletes up front for the Buckeyes, there is absolutely no reason for them not putting more pressure on opposing passing attacks. From 2017-2019, OSU’s yearly sack totals were 45, 41, and 54. Averaging 3-4 sacks per game is not too much to expect. Whether the issue this year has been Kerry Coombs’s schemes or underachieving play, Saturday would be a good day to flip the script.
The loss of safety Josh Proctor for the season makes this even more pivotal. Coombs’s approach seems to veer toward dropping more defenders into coverage and trying to bait opposing QBs into mistakes. Against a top-flight passing game, OSU is going to have to bring heat, or it won’t just be the ground game that it struggles to contain.
4. Consider using more up-tempo packages
It’s a delicate balance for an OSU team that would like to rest its defense. At the same time, given the bevy of playmakers available, maybe it’s time for OSU to channel their inner Oklahoma, and just decide to try to outscore everybody else.
That seems a little far to go now, but it also doesn’t seem like a bad idea to inflict some up-tempo packages on Tulsa, just to see how it works out. At the very least, it would force defenses out of specialized packages — meaning either a light front for Henderson, Wililams, etc to run against or a meatier group of defenders for Olave and Wilson to exploit.
5. Drop the hammer
Let’s be honest. For everybody outside the top couple teams, college football is a beauty pageant. Ohio State lost some ground in the court of public opinion in the season’s first 2 weeks. And if beating the doors off Tulsa is the start of getting it back, then beat on. As the saying goes, it’s not personal, it’s personnel.
It’s time for the Buckeyes to start playing like a team with a massive talent advantage over their opponents. Score early, score often, and make a case for why Week 2 was the fluke and the real Ohio State team is the juggernaut that’s about to start slaughtering everybody in its path.