Ohio State football: 6 numbers the Buckeyes would like to fix against Rutgers
For Ohio State, September has been pretty darn good.
Whichever spot from 1-3 anyone would place the Buckeyes in, Ohio State is clearly one of the nation’s top 3 teams, and has done absolutely nothing to hurt that standing. The long view, though, sees a few trends and issues that the Buckeyes might like to fix.
Saturday’s game against Rutgers should provide a good opportunity. Not only has Rutgers never beaten Ohio State, they’ve never played them closer than a 22-point margin. So with a blowout all but certain, here are 6 numbers from the first third of the season that the Buckeyes might work to improve against the Scarlet Knights.
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1) 47 kick return yards
Ohio State is 13th in the Big Ten in kick return average. Admittedly, the Buckeyes have only returned 3 kicks, but those 47 yards are a pretty scant total. Actually, main return man Emeka Egbuka has proven essential to the offense and has only returned 1 kick, so the Buckeyes might give the other returners (yes, including linebacker Chip Trayanum) a green light to take a few cracks at a big gain this weekend.
2) 9 sacks
Ohio State had a couple of ho-hum seasons rushing the passer under Kerry Coombs (3rd in Big Ten in sacks each year), and this season hasn’t been particularly impressive in that regard so far, either. The Buckeyes’ 9 sacks ties them for 7th in the Big Ten, and OSU had just 1 sack last week against Wisconsin. Ohio State doesn’t have to be brilliant in getting to the quarterback, but against an elite offense, getting the opponent off schedule could be massive.
3) 2 interceptions
The Buckeye defense under Jim Knowles has been certainly adequate and frequently even superb. But Ohio State’s 2 interceptions in 4 games is a mildly troubling trend.
The only reason it’s not scarier is that the OSU secondary has mostly gone untested. Opponents average just 26 pass attempts against the Buckeyes, and Ohio State’s 13 passes defended is last in the Big Ten. Still, Ohio State is 5th in the Big Ten in giving up 10+-yard passing plays and 20+-yard passing plays. Yet, the Buckeyes tie for last in the league in interceptions. Admittedly, the OSU secondary has become something of a MASH unit. But Knowles would love to get his defenders healthy and snagging a few more passes.
4) Red zone defense
The good news for Ohio State is this: opponents have only reached the red zone 8 times this season. However, opponents have scored on 7 of those 8 trips. The only team in the Big Ten that’s worse in that category is Rutgers. OSU has only allowed touchdowns on 3 of those 8 drives, but while 3 is better than 7, 0 is even better than 3. And while OSU’s offense is the best in the conference in the red zone (20 scores in 20 trips), their defense hasn’t been.
Noah Ruggles has been a consistent weapon for the Buckeyes as a super senior on placement kicks, but OSU’s work on kickoffs has been less impressive. The Buckeyes have kicked a touchback on just 17 of 33 kickoffs, which is 10th best in the Big Ten. Additionally, 2 kickoffs have gone out of bounds, which ties for most in the league. OSU’s 21.3 yards allowed per return is 12th best. True frosh Jayden Fielding is learning on the job, and whether it’s a new philosophy or just better kicks, OSU would like to solve the kickoff situation.
6) 1 fumble forced
Along with the lack of interceptions noted above, Ohio State’s defenders haven’t forced many fumbles. In fact, they’ve only forced 1 all season, which ties for last in the Big Ten. On the up side, it ties with Michigan and Wisconsin, so it’s not like a lack of fumbles forced necessarily dooms a defense. Still, the Buckeyes lead the Big Ten in tackles for loss, and are in the top half of the league in run defense, pass defense and scoring defense. Nothing like this Saturday as a time to try to rip a few carries and catches loose to fix this stat.