Ohio State edged out Northwestern in what was far from a perfect game. If the Buckeyes look back, they’ll learn these three things about themselves.
It was another flat performance from the Ohio State offense, one that saw J.T. Barrett kept out of the end zone entirely. So what did we learn from Saturday’s win over Northwestern?
1. Even the defense can have an off day
Northwestern has been a solid offense all season, but 406 yards against one of the best defenses in the country on the road is either very impressive or an indication of chinks in the armor for the Silver Bullets. I lean toward the former, but it’s still not good to surrender significant yardage in a close game at home like this.
While the Wildcats came in with the Big Ten’s leading rusher and receiver, no one would have predicted that Ohio State would allow such a huge amount of yardage. In our “What to Watch” for this game, we warned that a Northwestern offense that is able to continue to chip away on the ground and keep its offense on the field could hang around just enough to win. It almost pulled it off.
The Wildcats were boosted by converting half of their 16 3rd downs and by averaging 5.1 yards per rush. Both are marks that we would have expected Ohio State to allow in the Oklahoma or Wisconsin games, not the Northwestern match up. Making matters worse, the best secondary in the conference and maybe the country let Wildcat receiver Austin Carr grab 8 catches for a stunning 158 yards. That’s nearly 20 yards per catch, many coming at key moments. It’s not the performance you want from a unit that has to face a top ten Nebraska team this week.
2. It’s official. The Buckeyes need to run more
It might be time to admit it’s time to forget about offensive balance as a philosophy and just stick with what works. Urban Meyer wants to be able to take shots down the field and utilize the passing game to get athletes in space. It’s important to be a threat through the air, especially with J.T. Barrett still under center. However, after weeks of struggles, it’s time to make a move.
Mike Weber and Curtis Samuel form the best backfield duo in the Big Ten. Both average a high amount of yards per carry and can carry a major workload. Both present match-up issues in the passing game and can break loose for big plays. Why not lean heavily on a three prong rushing attack of Weber, Samuel, and Barrett?
While Samuel still is a factor as the best receiver on the team Noah Brown, K.J. Hill, and Marcus Baugh have not done enough to warrant balance for balance’s sake. Down Paris Campbell and with Donte Wilson being a non-factor, Urban Meyer has to do what he needs to do to spark the offense. That means keeping your most productive players involved. That just happens to be by attacking on the ground.
3. “We’re a Project”, and that’s ok
It seems like we close with another dose of therapy for Buckeye fans. Everything Urban Meyer said and did during the week leading to Northwestern was encouraging. There was changing the schedule at the practice facility to intentional rhetoric to focus the players. But when you have a team that coasted through the first four games and players that don’t know anything but easy wins.
Sure, it’s harder to accept a hard fought win at home to a team like Northwestern. It’s hard to see a passing attack struggle against the worst pass defense in the Big Ten. It’s hard to see so much talent struggle to find itself. We’ve all seen the recruiting rankings, but there’s a reason first year players don’t often win the Heisman.
This team, is in fact, a project. It’s not perfect nor will it be in 2016. It’s going to take some motivation to get them moving. But this team also looks eerily similar to the one that struggled at times in 2014 before tearing through the playoffs once everything clicked. It’s not a lost year if Ohio State doesn’t win a national title. It is if we decide to lose our minds because they aren’t perfect.