Ohio State came away with a win but what was evident from their Week 1 game?
Look, it wasn’t pretty. The first half probably had you throwing remotes and blowing up Twitter with how nothing had changed from last year. You probably found yourself saying Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett still doesn’t have it and that the wide receivers are still not good.
And then, you waited.
You waited until the second half and your mind was blown. There was a lot to like in the second half and we’ll take a look at what the Buckeyes learned against Indiana to help them against Baker Mayfield and the Oklahoma Sooners.
My goodness, the defensive line.
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The hype was most definitely well earned. There is a reason Larry Johnson’s arrival was such a big deal in Columbus. Aside from being an ace recruiter, the man develops line talent better than anyone in the college game. While the passing stats were ugly, it wasn’t because of the line play.
Indiana managed only 17 rushing yards. This is a rushing attack that under Kevin Wilson has had multiple 1,000 yard rushers in the same season, including a 2,000 yard rusher.
When the coverage held up, there was absolutely nothing the Indiana offensive line could do to stop anyone along the Buckeyes’ line. The Buckeyes recorded five sacks on the night and forced multiple bad throws when the coverage was there.
Just roll the tape and you’ll see that they were the single best unit on the field all night. It’s just a shame that Robert Landers’ non-touchdown didn’t count.
Looking ahead to Oklahoma, Richard Lagow isn’t nearly the same class of quarterback that Mayfield is. In 2016, Mayfield threw two interceptions against Ohio State, including a Jerome Baker pick six. He was also sacked three times on the night.
We saw the growing pains of another all new set of defensive backs, so it isn’t unreasonable to think Oklahoma will attach the secondary much like Indiana. It is crucial that the Buckeyes’ defensive line controls the trenches to ease the pressure on the new backfield.
If they can harass Mayfield into some bad throws and keep him in long distance situation, that builds towards a recipe for success against coach Lincoln Riley’s group.
About those DB’s…
Get it out now. No, they didn’t look good. No, they didn’t stop anyone. It was a poor showing to debut three new starters and a handful of players seeing their first action in a Buckeye uniform.
They were picked on by a veteran quarterback with bigger receivers. It’s going to happen at times this year, so it’s something to keep an eye on.
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What stood out most is the Buckeye defenders were boxed out consistently by larger receivers. Penn State has done this successfully the last few seasons and the opener against Indiana.
Simmie Cobbs, who deserves more credit than the corners deserved criticism, did exactly this. Denzel Ward is a good corner and he is going to flash all season as a first time starter. But he simply was not big enough to contend against Cobbs in many spots in the game.
Ward ended up playing very well overall, but there is now film on one effective way to target the corners.
Mayfield completed 19 of 20 passes against UTEP en route to a 56-7 victory. UTEP is not even close to as good as Indiana is.
Mayfield only needed to play one half of football to put up his numbers, which included 329 yards and three scores. All of this came with a Sooner offense that lost receiver Dede Westbrook and running backs Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine.
That doesn’t mean Mayfield is without weapons. Tight end Mark Andrews is a match up problem at a mobile 6’5 and 254 pounds. A.D. Miller, who lead the Sooners in receiving against the Buckeyes last year, is a 6’3 wide out. There’s no way Mayfield and Riley didn’t see how Indiana used their bigger receivers to box out defenders.
J.K. Dobbins is the real deal.
Who would have guessed that Dobbins didn’t even play football last year. He was injured for his senior season and instead enrolled early at Ohio State and got in game shape. It looks like Mickey Mariotti has another success story on his hands as Dobbins had the best opening game performance for any freshman running back in school history.
With Mike Weber out due to a hamstring injury, Dobbins seized the opportunity to establish himself as a key piece to the Buckeye offense. Wilson wants to run the ball with his backs, not with Barrett.
If you look at his time at Indiana, he found a lot of success utilizing his backs, like Jordan Howard and Tevin Coleman. This year will be no different now that Dobbins has shown he can take the lead role just as well as Weber.
In 2016, the Buckeyes racked up 291 yards on the ground, taking advantage of the Sooners up front. Weber had 128 yards, Curtis Samuel 98, and Barrett 74. That’s a lot of progress on the ground against a top 10 team.
In 2016, Oklahoma had the 52nd ranked rushing defense in the country, giving up 160.8 yards per game on the ground. While the passing attack is still a work in progress, it’s clear that Ohio State has an opportunity to take control of the game via the ground game and keep the ball away from Mayfield.
It’s not just the vertical passing game
All offseason the debate raged for Buckeye fans. Would the passing attack improve with Wilson running the show? While the consensus was there would be improvement?
Ohio State Twitter made it seem as if Barrett was the worst quarterback in Buckeyes history. Roll the film and watch receivers not getting open or even the Paris Campbell dropped touchdown. It wasn’t great, but take a deep breath.
Would it surprise you that Barrett ended up with 304 yards passing? Hard to believe, we know. Barrett didn’t rack up that yardage by throwing the ball 50 yards in the air. Take a look at the two videos below. The first is the Campbell touchdown that went for 74 yards. This came on a crossing route, not on a deep route:
The second is the Johnnie Dixon touchdown. Barrett throws the ball only about 15 yards in the air. What allows Dixon to get into the endzone is that there isn’t a defender even close to him when he catches the ball:
These are the types of big plays that Wilson wants. It’s not just having someone run fast in a straight line and hope for the best. That was part of the problem in 2016. Defenses adjusted and forced the Buckeye receivers to actually run routes. We all know how that turned out.
The reason this matter heading into Oklahoma is that the scars of Noah Brown’s big day are still fresh. The Sooners won’t want to get beat deep. This plays into the hands of Wilson more than they realize.
What allowed Campbell and Dixon to get so open is that Dobbins ran for 181 yards on 29 carries. There was, at least after the first quarter, a clear effort to establish the rushing attack.
By forcing safeties into the box and making them primarily run defenders, the types of crossing and intermediate routes that resulted in the scores above become lethal. Defenses don’t have to be stretched vertically for long passing scores.
By forcing a defense to both gear up for the run and cover sideline to sideline, the lanes given to receivers to run after the catch might as well be highways. With the speed at receiver for Ohio State, that’s all this offense needs to get into the end zone.