Ohio State took it to Army and wore out the Black Knights to the tune of a 38-7 victory on Saturday. The Buckeyes were once again extremely balanced on offense against an overmatched opponent, throwing for 316 yards and rushing for 270 yards.
Kevin Wilson went to a short-passing attack, using wide screens to receivers in order to stretch an Army defense that was trying to keep OSU’s receivers from getting behind them. The Buckeyes took what Army gave them and completed 29-of-37 total passes on the day.
Defensively, the Buckeyes were pretty good, save for one glaring 99-yard drive which featured 16 rushes and just one completion.
There was a lot to look at over all 60 minutes. Here’s what we learned from watching the game.
1. Parris Campbell needs the ball more.
We got a pretty good look in this game at what Parris Campbell can do once he secures the football in his hands. He caught six passes, the bulk of which were screen passes, and picked up between 8-11 yards on every catch. He also had a 59-yard touchdown run that was called back due to a holding call. His lone kickoff return went for 40 yards. He finished with 120 all-purpose yards, but more than that, he showed an explosion that any team would love to have. The key moving forward will be to continue putting him in a position to make plays, which is what Kevin Wilson talked about for the entire offense last week.
2. J.K. Dobbins can’t have the ball enough.
J.K. Dobbins now has 55 carries for 425 yards this season, which is incredibly impressive for a true freshman. After 29 carries in his debut, however, he has only carried the ball 26 times (for 244 yards) since. Urban Meyer called him a perfect running back after the game, and it’s time to lean on him even more. They won’t need to do that against UNLV, but Dobbins has shown that he is special and a difference maker. He has only been tackled for a loss once this season, and only been stopped for no gain four times. To contrast that, he leads the Big Ten with six carries of 20+ yards. After a slow start against Indiana, 12 of Dobbins’ last 46 carries have gone for more than 10 yards. Ten of the carries that didn’t go 10 yards were in short-yardage situations when the defense was expecting a run, and two others were touchdown runs from inside the 10-yard line. Just Keep feeding Dobbins.
3. It’s okay to enjoy these games.
You don’t have to watch the game and extrapolate every play to its respective effectiveness against Penn State or Michigan or Alabama. It’s okay to enjoy the moment and cheer for a guy breaking a tackle on a screen pass and picking up a first down. It’s okay to to be happy to see Ohio State’s passing game put up over 300 yards of offense without dismissing the way it was done. It’s okay to have a good time and enjoy the moment. If you’re just trying to protect yourself from being hurt again, I get that, but I promise you that the Buckeyes aren’t trying to hurt you on purpose.
4. A screen-based offense won’t work in the long run…
That all being said, a screen-based offense isn’t going to work against Alabama. Teams have had some success with it against Michigan, however, but it is not the answer to a national title. But I don’t need to tell you that.
5. …But it will make defenses think.
There is a reason that Kevin Wilson and Urban Meyer want to stretch the defense east and west. The more you stretch a defense horizontally, the softer it gets vertically against the run or the pass. When a columnist asked Meyer after the game why they didn’t just run the ball every time, Meyer explained that the reason they look so good running the ball up the middle is because the defense also has to deal with the wide receiver screens out wide. Terry McLaurin’s touchdown reception came from a screen look, and the defense bit on it, freeing up McLaurin down the field. If a defense is going to play off, or with poor numbers out wide, then the Buckeyes will take those easy yards every time. Buckeye fans didn’t have a problem with how effective it was when Sammy Watkins was doing it, after all.
6. Tuf Borland can play.
Earlier in the week, Tuf Borland was told to expect some time at middle linebacker on Saturday, and he sure got it. He led the team with 12 tackles — 11 of which came in the second half. At one point in the third quarter he was in on four straight tackles, and during Army’s first drive of the fourth quarter, he was in on five tackles in a six-play span. Playing middle linebacker against a triple option team is much, much different than playing the middle against any other kind of offense. There wasn’t much pass defense to worry about, so we’ve only seen a fraction of what Borland can do. Based on what we have seen — and the fact that his coaches wanted him on the field more, however, it would seem to bode well for other aspects of his game.
7. The linebackers still need to get better.
Jerome Baker hasn’t been what he was supposed to be this season, and the fact that the Buckeyes opted to go with three safeties instead of three linebackers against Army’s option offense is pretty telling. There is no doubt that the defense wanted to get more speed on the field. They did the same thing against Navy in 2014, but back then they simply put Chris Worley into the starting lineup instead of Joshua Perry. Perry still played plenty, however, and finished second on the team with nine tackles in that game. The Buckeyes have played four linebackers so far this season — Baker, Worley, Dante Booker, and Malik Harrison. On Saturday, Worley, Booker, and Harrison spent most of the game on the sideline watching Borland and Baker. If the staff was completely comfortable with them, you’d think they would have seen more time.
8. The safeties are still a concern.
Getting beaten a time or two on the play-action against the triple-option is going to happen to safeties, but it’s concerning when it happens to both of your senior safeties. Fortunately, on the play where Webb was beaten, Smith was there to help him out. On the play where Smith was beaten, the quarterback didn’t look his way. I did like the physicality shown by everyone. This was not a good game to judge their pass defense, but there are still concerns here.
9. The kickoff coverage has to get much better.
I am a firm believe in Urban Meyer’s kickoff strategy, and like anything else, it requires execution in order to work optimally. The Buckeyes kicked off seven times on Saturday, but only three times did the Black Knights have to start inside the 25-yard line. The best kick off the day pinned Army’s returner in the corner on the 1-yard line, but he ran about 50 yards horizontally before finally gaining the edge and turning it upfield for a 43-yard return. That kickoff could have been a bright spot, but it was most certainly a low light. The kickoff that went out of bounds came from walk-on Bryan Kristan. Blake Haubeil’s kicks, meanwhile, landed at the 6, 2, 10, 1, 3, and following the 43-yarder, they had him kick it into the end zone for a touchback. That 43-yard return was the only return of a kick inside the 10 that made it past the 20-yard line. As long as the Buckeyes cover better, Haubeil is showing that he has some nice touch. He still needs to get more consistent, but he will.
10. There is no quarterback controversy.
Dwayne Haskins came into the game in the fourth quarter and showed the downfield arm that we all knew he had. Or, more accurately, he looked very comfortable completing four passes that traveled 10, 9, 7, and 9 yards “downfield” against an Army defense that had already given up 270 yards passing. I’m not here to debate who has the better arm, because it isn’t a debate. Haskins can make throws that J.T. Barrett cannot, but the only thing we learned about Dwayne Haskins is that he can complete short passes. I want to see more from him too, and I think he’d be just fine in this offense, but I think some people need to slow down. Ohio State is going to need to go downfield in order to win anything of relevance this season, and I’m not sure they can get that from Barrett, but when some people get upset because of the number of short passes that Barrett completes, and then gush over Haskins for doing the same exact thing, it might be time for some self evaluation.
You can't spend three quarters dismissing the OSU offense because of the opponent and then fawn over the No. 2 QB.
— Tony Gerdeman (@TonyGerdeman) September 17, 2017