By now you should know that the Grumpy Old Buckeye column aims to be the voice of negativity, even when things are generally pretty great. I point out the things from each game that make me want to walk out onto my lawn in my bathrobe and yell at people about it. This week, we’re discussing Ohio State’s first road game and first conference match-up of 2019, as the Buckeyes visited Indiana.
It took some time for Justin Fields to settle down in his first ever Big Ten road start. His passes weren’t off by much, but just by being a little bit off target cost Ohio State some early points on possessions. At least the Buckeyes were able to run the football early to make up for the passing game being a bit out of sync.
Not Finishing Early
Ohio State got greedy with the play calling on its first drive and it caused things to bog down in the red zone. Then Blake Haubeil missed a chip shot field goal. The Buckeyes had such reliable placekicking for years but recently that’s an area of concern. Do you feel comfortable if a game came down to a last-second kick? I don’t.
Ultimately it didn’t hurt the Buckeyes but J.K. Dobbins can’t drop wide-open touchdown passes that hit him in the hands. There wasn’t a Hoosier within 10 yards of him and the pass, while not 100% perfect, wasn’t difficult to handle. Dobbins is normally a reliable receiver and I don’t expect this to be an ongoing problem, but a bit more concentration on the play would have made all the difference. At least it came on first down and Fields scored on a keeper one play later.
Last week Cincinnati was permitted to egregiously hold Chase Young much of the day. Indiana tried a different approach, by jamming a hand into his facemask to keep him at bay on a drive that ended in a field goal for the Hoosiers. Look, maybe he’ll murder offensive players if he’s not fouled. Maybe he won’t. But penalties are penalties and should be called. We saw this with the Bosa brothers and now with Young. A referee isn’t there to prevent sacks and quarterback hurries. A referee is on the field to enforce the rules. So…let’s enforce those.
No, not that one, the other one. The Hoosiers picked up 28 yards on a play in which Jeff Okudah ran right into teammate Damon Arnette. The Buckeye-on-Buckeye pick allowed the excellently named Whop Philyor to make a big play for Indiana. Ohio State shut down the drive a few plays after that. It was simply a moment of embarrassment for both defensive backs and had the potential to injure one or both of them. Okudah was a bit slow to get up but was able to continue.
Obvious Gadget Play is Obvious
About an hour of real time before Indiana ran a trick play for a touchdown, I noticed that the Hoosiers had thrown a few early backward passes out into the flat against Ohio State’s fast defense. It smelled strongly of an attempt to set up something later in the game and I mentioned it at the time.
Indiana lateraling a lot early. Setting something up for later.
— Michael Citro (@Mike36fan) September 14, 2019
Sure enough, toward the end of the first half, the Hoosiers ran that play again and this time sprung their surprise that even a yahoo like me could see coming from a mile away. Donavan Hale took the backward pass from Peyton Ramsey and fired it downfield to a wide open Peyton Hendershot for the easy touchdown. (Seriously, Indiana, how many Peytons do you need? Spread the Peyton wealth.) Am I a defensive genius who should be getting paid millions or just a guy sitting on his couch? I’m perfectly willing to relocate and watch from the press box every week if I’m the former.
I'm just a guy. Not a defensive coordinator paid to pay attention to these things or anything. https://t.co/7UxgmO78cm
— Michael Citro (@Mike36fan) September 14, 2019
The Ensuing Kickoff
Bringing the ball out of the end zone when a kickoff is just a yard or two deep is a trap and Demario McCall fell into it. I love seeing McCall in space but that return never appeared to have much of a chance and someone’s got to turn around and tell Demario to stay put or else he has to learn to read that for himself. Instead, McCall attempted the return and didn’t even reach the 20. Ohio State then went ultra-conservative to close the half (again), which brings me to…
Why Not Try?
Fields’ maturation is Ryan Day’s job, not mine, but I’m perplexed as to why Ohio State isn’t trying to score in the final minute or two of the first half in these early games. It seems dangerous to wait until a game is on the line to run the two-minute offense to see whether it works or actually needs to be worked on. If it isn’t where it needs to be, these early reps would be invaluable for Fields and the offensive line. Ohio State appeared interested in trying it this week. Dobbins ripped off a nice run to get a quick first down and then the offense hurried to the line. But then the call was just a conservative run and a max-protect play-action pass. Trying stuff can be beneficial later. Let’s try.
Josh Proctor dropped a pair of interceptions as the defense continues to be in position to create turnovers without actually creating them (Arnette’s pick-96 aside — h/t to whoever called it that on Twitter yesterday…I couldn’t find it when I went back to look). Against better competition Ohio State will need those plays to be made. Brendon White also dropped one, although White’s would have been overturned by penalty anyway. Speaking of which…
Backups are backups for a reason. They’re not as good and/or experienced as starters and they don’t get as many reps as the starters. So, although it’s easy to get frustrated with mistakes by the backups, the valuable lessons they’ll learn from making them should pay off down the line. These mistakes can come in many ways: Cam Brown’s pass interference call on fourth-and-10, Jaelen Gill’s fumble, issues with the shotgun snap, etc. I’m not that concerned about it but I had to find something else to gripe about from the second half and this is what you get — a catch-all that boils down to “be better, backups!”
That’s all I’ve got for you this week. I predicted 40-23, so this went even better than I expected and it could have been a lot worse for the Hoosiers if Fields had been sharper early. Chris Olave, J.K. Dobbins, Chase Young, Master Teague, and others had huge days. Fields accounted for four touchdowns too, so it’s not like he was some scrub.
That’ll do it for this week. We move on to Miami next Saturday.