Ohio State did about a touchdown better than Vegas expected, which will do little to ease the concerns of many Buckeye fans following OSU’s 49-21 win at Indiana Thursday night.
In the end, however, the Buckeyes were as balanced on offense as a team could dream of being, and their defense was bent, but unbroken, and eventually dominated an Indiana offense that passed itself into the ground.
Maybe the best outcome — other than nobody getting hurt — is that no area was without its flaws, which means there will be plenty to work on and very little back-patting as the Buckeyes prepare for next Saturday’s game against the Oklahoma Sooners.
So what did we learn?
1. J.K. Dobbins is legit.
I mean, I already knew this, but it was good that everybody else got to see it as well. Every time J.K. Dobbins gets the ball, he has the ability to make defenders look like complete idiots, and we saw some of that on Thursday. Even when it looks like his hole has closed up, he can duck, dodge, dip, dive, and dodge his way to an opening. Dobbins rushed for 181 yards on 29 carries and only lost one yard in his 29 carries. By comparison, Ezekiel Elliott didn’t rush for 180 yards in a game until his 15th career game. The other thing to love about Dobbins is the fact that they threw two wheel routes to him, which gives you an idea of the different ways they want to involve him with the football.
2. This passing game is still an issue.
J.T. Barrett was 10-of-21 passing for 95 yards in the first half and he looked absolutely no different than he did last year. It was not the kind of performance that many were expecting. It was also exactly the kind of performance others were expecting. The second half, however, Barrett completed 10-of-14 passes for 209 yards, and that was with the Parris Campbell drop. If Campbell catches that, Barrett’s numbers become 11-of-14 for 250 yards and four touchdowns in the second half. If that would have been Barrett’s first half, there would be much less talk about the lack of improvements. That’s not what happened, however, and the first half still exists. And it is still a cause for concern.
3. The defensive tackles can penetrate.
There has been so much talk about how good the Ohio State defensive ends are that sometimes the Buckeye defensive tackles get overlooked. Tracy Sprinkle, Dre’Mont Jones, and Jashon Cornell all had tackles in the backfield in this game, and they were a large reason why the Hoosiers didn’t have any rushing yards until late in the game. We knew Jones would be active, but it was great to see Sprinkle back out there and making trouble. You could tell he was having a good time. It was also good to see Cornell getting involved early on. His sack and forced fumble was a bright spot on the night. It’s probably not a coincidence that all three of these guys came to Ohio State as defensive ends who grew into defensive tackles. Of course, no defensive tackle penetrated into the backfield more than Robert Landers, who went about 30 yards into the backfield on his fumble return. All in all, the defensive tackles were a bright spot. We’ll have to see if they can hold up against an offense that actually runs the ball, however.
4. The middle of the field is a fun zone.
Parris Campbell had a 28-yard and a 74-yard reception on drag routes over the middle of the field. If J.T. Barrett has time to throw those passes, a defender isn’t normally going to be able to stay with a receiver running laterally like that. That’s not the only pass over the middle that had success, though. Johnnie Dixon’s 59-yard catch and run was just a simple stop route over the middle that doesn’t take much time to execute. With an athlete like Dixon, however, he can do something with it. We saw him do the same in the spring game, but he did it much bigger on Thursday. This is just the start, but expect the middle of the field to become a busy area for the Buckeyes this season.
5. The Ohio State offense wears a defense down.
The players and coaches said it during spring and fall camp — their belief was that they would be able to wear down a defense in the second half. We saw that against Indiana. Some of the success was due to Ohio State finding a rhythm and clicking, but it was pretty clear that Indiana’s tank didn’t have as much as Ohio State’s. It probably also didn’t help the Hoosiers that the IU offense went even faster than the Buckeyes’. In order to run this kind of hectic pace, you better have a deep defense or else it will wear down as the game goes on simply because they’re on the field more than most defenses. We saw that when the Buckeyes took it to Oregon in the title game. We also saw it here. The good news for the Buckeyes is that they have a deep enough defense to handle an offense that might go three-and-out in about 17 seconds.
6. The safeties held up.
I’ll have to watch the game to see how they really did, but I thought Erick Smith, Jordan Fuller, and Damon Webb held up pretty well. There were no passes that got behind them. All of Indiana’s passing success came via one-on-one throws that most teams won’t be able to execute as consistently as IU did. And even IU wasn’t consistent doing it for an entire game.
7. Dante Booker can defend the edge.
One of the things that linebackers coach Billy Davis said during the offseason is that Dante Booker gives them an advantage out wide when teams try to run a receiver screen on them. His belief was that no receiver is going to be able to block Booker well enough to keep him from getting to a screen pass. After one game, Davis is right. I only recall one play where they tried a screen to Booker’s side, but he basically picked up the receiver trying to block him and tossed him aside and then helped blow up the play. Like the safeties, I don’t know that the linebackers were really tested much in this game, so we’ll still have to see how they hold up against an offense that has balance.
8. The Buckeyes can still adjust at the half.
Kevin Wilson said after the game that the Buckeyes had to make some adjustments to what Indiana was doing up front, but that once they did, things started clicking. It’s amazing how much a team can get done in the 10-15 minutes they actually have to talk things over at the half. Once they settled down and came back out for the second half, they were a different team. J.T. Barrett was 10-of-21 passing for 95 yards in the first half, and 10-of-14 passing for 209 yards and three touchdowns in the second half. The defense also made their adjustments, limiting an Indiana offense to just 151 yards of offense in the final 30 minutes (after allowing 286 in the first 30). Urban Meyer said he was pissed at the half, but it wasn’t fire and brimstone that turned things around.
9. There are playmakers in the receiver room.
Zone 6 has received a lot of grief over the last couple of years, and that grief didn’t slow down much in the first half. In the second half, however, we saw Parris Campbell and Johnnie Dixon making plays after the catch. Getting open deep is a skill, but if you can do what Campbell and Dixon did after the catch, then you’ve got a receivers room that can have a very good season. These aren’t possession guys. They are explosive. When you have players like this, big plays don’t just mean deep shots. If big plays can come from anywhere on the field, you’ve just made your offense that much more versatile. As the stuff over the middle opens up, the deep stuff will as well. Now, the Buckeyes need to start coming down with those, but at least there were times when they were open. And we shouldn’t gloss over Binjimen Victor in the end zone, which was probably the easiest pass and catch of the game. We should probably also keep in mind that Ohio State didn’t show everything they had because if they felt they needed to, then Mike Weber would have played. There are still some things to come.
10. This defense is deep.
I think freshman defensive end Chase Young was in the game in the second quarter, and I’m assuming Jonathon Cooper was in there early as well. Indiana could have run their offense even faster than they were and the Ohio State defensive ends weren’t going to get tired because they have a thousand of them. Then at another point when the game was still in doubt, I saw sophomore linebacker Malik Harrison in the game for Dante Booker just because. There were four defensive tackles mixing in early, two strong safeties, and three cornerbacks. You know those videos of dogs having a great time drinking out of a blasting hose? That’s this defense against up-tempo offenses. They don’t mind it. They lap it up. And the defense is only going to get deeper as the freshmen become a larger part of the proceedings. Defensive tackle Haskell Garrett played a bit, as did cornerback Jeff Okudah. Others will be coming too. The depth here is incredible, but it would be meaningless without the freedom that the coaches feel to play so many different players.