After Three Easy Wins, Is This Ohio State Team For Real?

Ohio State football Shaun Wade Tuf Borland

September is the official month of College Football Fool’s Gold.

You see a team play once or twice, and are tempted to start drawing big conclusions about them.

Maryland opened the 2019 season with a 79-0 win over Howard and a 63-20 win over a ranked Syracuse team. It was a totally unexpected start to the Mike Locksley era for the Terps. And Saturday, it was revealed to be a total mirage. Maryland’s explosive offense, (averaging 71 points per game!!!) lost 20-15.

Was it mighty Clemson or Alabama who locked the Terps down? Try Temple.

Penn State also hung 79 points during week one against Idaho, and then overcame a sluggish start to roll to a 45-13 win over Buffalo. Saturday, they barely outlasted Pitt, thanks to the Panthers displaying some of the most inept decision-making in college football history.

After a close win over Fresno State and a blowout over Stanford, USC was back! Clay Helton’s job was secure! And then they lost at home to BYU.

A week or two is usually not enough time to know for sure whether a college football team is really as good as it looks, or the product of weaker competition than you might realize at the time.

In 2016, Texas was seemingly bound for glory after beating Notre Dame, 50-47 in double-overtime and blowing out UTEP. They lost their next three games and finished 5-7.

Ohio State teams have pulled the same vanishing act in the past. John Cooper’s final team started the 2000 season at 5-0, including an impressive road win at a ranked Wisconsin team. They went 3-4 the rest of the way.

The 2016 team hung 62 points on conference opponents in back-to-back weeks before scoring 17, 17, and 0 points in regulation in its last three games.

More recent squads have looked strong before inexplicably imploding in Iowa City or West Lafayette.

But the opposite has also been true. By this point in the 2014 season, many people had written off not only the Buckeyes, but the entire Big Ten. Four months later, Ohio State was the national champion.

It’s still early, but with each passing week this fall you’ll learn more.

A little over a week ago, Michigan looked putrid against Army. But the Wolverines are still undefeated.

Wisconsin has looked incredible in shutting out both teams it has faced, but both came against shaky competition.

This weekend, the Wolverines and Badgers will face off in a game that may start to provide some real insight into both teams.

The answers on Ohio State may take a little longer to come. A primetime game in two weeks at Nebraska will be a nice test, as will October games with Michigan State, Northwestern, and Wisconsin.

If you’re looking for reasons to believe in this Buckeyes team, you can start in the trenches, where OSU has controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.

They’re probably not going to run for 7.7 yards per carry if they face Clemson or Alabama somewhere down the road, but they did against Indiana. So they should be able to run the ball at least somewhat against top-level competition.

Things have looked similarly impressive on the defense.

They’re probably not going to hold a team to negative yardage in a half in the College Football Playoff, but they did against Florida Atlantic. So they should be able to control the ground game to a certain degree.

Going by SP+, an advanced analytic system which adjusts for tempo and opponent quality, the Buckeyes rank 5th in the country right now. They’re No. 6 on offense and No. 13 on defense. The Bucks are just ahead of Clemson on offense, and just a handful of spots below Alabama and Georgia on defense. That’s not bad company to be keeping on either side of the ball.

They’ve beaten the 48th and 50th-ranked teams in SP+ by a combined total of 93-10 in the last two weeks. That’s what great teams are supposed to do against “just okay” teams.

To be clear: Indiana and Cincinnati aren’t Oklahoma and LSU.

They’re also not UConn and UMass, either, but the Buckeyes made them look like it.

And after a disastrous 2018 in which they were repeatedly gashed for big plays, those defensive performances represent major strides.

The only play of 30 yards or longer they’ve given up in the first half of any game this year was the 49-yard touchdown Indiana scored on a double-pass on Saturday.

By halftime, all three games were functionally over.

Last year at the same point in the season, the Buckeyes had already given up touchdowns of 49, 80, 78, 93, and 51 yards.

It’s still early. The calendar still says September, and the road is going to get a lot tougher starting in a couple weeks.

Without a win over a top-level team yet, the Buckeyes haven’t proven for sure that they’re for real.

But three games into the season, they’ve done just about everything they could to start building that case.

And in mid-September, that’s pretty much all you could ask.

7 Responses

  1. You’re right, Tom. Excellent approach and writing. The most important thing to remember is “September is the official month of College Football Fool’s Gold.”

    OSU is showing they are a pretty good team but they haven’t played any significant competition yet. The Big Ten has not impressed after three games aside from OSU. I think Wisconsin might be the first real ordeal on Oct. 26th. After Saturday we’ll know a lot more about them and UM. Put it this way, if the Buckeyes get through October without dropping one they will be for real. One thing for sure, the games will be more challenging after Miami. Count on OSU to easily cover against the cradle of coaches.

  2. Last year with all the talent on defence, the big question was “are the guys just not that smart or is Schiano’s scheme just that bad. Time after time one guy being 10 yard out of position led to a long touchdown. This years defence seems to be much more effective.

    Last years team was playoff bound if it had even an average defence. To me it looks like what they’ve lost on offence, is more than made up for by the improvement on defence. Last year at this time I was wondering “why are these guys giving up so many points to average teams. If you’re giving up that many points to average teams you know you’re going to get blow-out by the big boys.

    The main advantage, the one that is most interesting to me and has them going other play-off, is this is a young team with a lot of depth. All these juniors and sophs are going to be better at the end of the season than they are now. And they’r very good now. with a young team, the more games you play before you get to the tough part of your schedule the more likely you are to do well in those tougher games.

    So far, the future looks pretty bright. Of course, one game can change all that. But looking at the depth, the young guys starting to get playing time, etc. you have to ask. What can go wrong? There looks to be enough talent coming up to cover for injuries at any position, except maybe quarterback. But Fields unlike Barret, has a mind to live to play another day instead of sacrificing the teams best option at quarterback for another couple of yards.

    If you take away our Dobbins, we’ll teague you. As one of the announcers posted out, you can’t cover everything. But this team looks like it can do everything and seems to have the ability to get into the right play. Other years you could see then end after the first couple of games.

    This year, I’m thinking, what could go wrong?

  3. It’s early but I say they – Silver Bullets – are who we think they are. Last year as was revisited, the Silver BB’s gave up a ton of big plays early on to inferior competition – it seems that trend lasted all year (it did). That’s who they were. Because of that hiccup many are nervous that what we’re seeing this year is an aberration – but actually last year was the aberration and this year is more normal. So, yeah they may give up an occasional big play here and there – but to be concerned about ONE flea flicker – nah. These are the Silver Bullets they are who we think they are. Go Bucks!

  4. We won’t know the answer to this question until late October, OR…if we find ourselves down by 7 or more vs an inferior opponent. OSU teams of very recent vintage have pooped their pants against inferior competition, so it will be fascinating to see what happens, when it happens.

  5. Timely and wise article;
    1. Away and trap games at Pur and IA did not expose our weaknesses, they made us pay for them, especially in the 2nd half. Last year our OL and run game sputtered at PSU then against MN, both before the PUR game. The year before, we needed an emotional miracle to get by PSU, and like wise we didn’t have a balanced attack and in many ways were sitting ducks.
    2. OSU seems to have a legit running attack. When is the last time we converted multiple 3rd and long on the ground?
    3. . All would agree that Fields passing is far better then we expected, even though he struggled early at IN. And guess what, No pics this year.
    4. Cincy and IN are not defensive juggernauts, but are decent.
    5. FAU and IN won’t light up scoreboards, but their O are legit.
    6. We are not being seriously gashed on D and even with the trick play we only gve up 10 pts. AT IN. Our D is gang tackling.
    7. Sorry, our talent is far by better than any other B1G team, save PSU or MI.
    8.. As stated most games were over by half time.
    9. Spot on, October will be very telling.

  6. The Buckeyes are playing well, especially the O-line.You correctly point out that the opposition will get tougher soon. I have some concern about the defensive breakdown on the trick play that went for a TD. Can’t let any receiver just sneak past the defense. overall, this team can be great IF they keep improving and keep their focus.

  7. This team has potential to be very good. However, the schedule gets considerably tougher as Nebraska, PSU, Wisconsin, MSU and michigan will all be very tough games.

    10-2 with a win over michigan would be a acceptable. Anything better would be gravy.

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