Dienhart: Buckeyes pass game may take air out of promising season
Ohio State football
Stop me if you’ve heard this before: Ohio State’s offense has problems. Enough problems to wonder if the Buckeyes can win the Big Ten and get back to the College Football Playoff.
Saturday night’s 31-16 beat down at the hands of No. 5 Oklahoma was sobering for Buckeye Nation. Honestly, the game shouldn’t have been even that close, but a first half that included two Sooner turnovers and a missed OU field goal kept No. 2 Ohio State in this game, which was 3-3 at halftime. It seemed only a matter of time before OU took control. And, it finally happened in the second half.
So, just like in 1977, the last time the Sooners came to Columbus, Oklahoma leaves with a win. Back then, it took a last-second field goal for the Sooners to win. There was no such drama this time. And this also was payback for Oklahoma, which lost in Norman last season to Ohio State, 45-24.
Now what? Oh, Ohio State is still a formidable team. The defense is stout, especially the front seven. But the secondary is still a work-in-progress. Oklahoma threw for 386 yards; Indiana threw for 420 in the opener vs. OSU. As for the Buckeye offense, you have to love true freshman running back J.K. Dobbins. The kid is legit, a true weapon and future star who ran for 72 yards after jetting for 181 vs. IU. Mike Weber was last year’s Big Ten Freshman of the Year. But his days as a feature back may be finished.
And then there is the passing game. It’s just not big-time enough. There still doesn’t appear to be any stud wideouts or tight ends. And J.T. Barrett pales as a passer compared to his counterpart on this night, Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield. Barrett hit just 19-of-35 passes for 183 yards with no TDs and a pick vs. OU. Meanwhile, Mayfield sliced up the Buckeyes, hitting 27-of-35 passes for 386 yards and three TDs.
Much was made about the arrival of Kevin Wilson from Indiana as offensive coordinator. Ohio State hired the former Hoosier coach with the hopes that he could improve the vertical passing game for the Buckeyes. No doubt, Wilson is one of the sharpest offensive minds in the nation who developed the likes of Sam Bradford at Oklahoma before building some strong attacks at IU.
OSU needed help. In big games last year, Ohio State struggled to stretch the field. The wideout unit lacked playmakers. And Barrett was inconsistent in delivering passes down field. The 31-0 loss to Clemson in the College Football Playoff last year was the final straw for Urban Meyer. Coordinators Tim Beck and Ed Warinner were gone. Wilson was in.
Yes, the Buckeyes overwhelmed Indiana, 49-21, in the opener. And the Buckeyes had 596 yards of offense with 304 coming through the air. But OSU still had more to prove in the vertical passing game, especially against elite competition. There still wasn’t enough success in the downfield passing game.
This visit from Oklahoma was a good time to start connecting deep. Alas, it didn’t happen. Now, doubt has to be cast on the Buckeyes’ ability to win not just the Big Ten—but the Big Ten East. Oh, one loss doesn’t doom the season. Remember: The Buckeyes lost a non-con game at home to Virginia Tech in 2014 … and went on to win the national title. Still, even the most optimistic Ohio State fan has be worried.
Without a doubt, Penn State has to be considered the favorite in the East. Yes, Ohio State has played better foes the first two weeks in Indiana and Oklahoma, while the Nittany Lions have played host to Akron and Pitt. Still, the Buckeyes haven’t look like a legit national title contender these opening two weeks.
Up next is a game vs. Army. Poor Army. The tilt should allow the Buckeyes to work on their passing game. But, honestly, Ohio State probably can beat Army without throwing many passes. That’s the case for many teams on the Buckeye schedule: No reason to be fancy, just run the ball if your players are better than the opponents’ players.
But when Ohio State plays a team of equal or near-equal talent, it is going to need to pass the ball well and hit some strikes down field. And, that has been a problem and looks like it may continue to be.
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