Welcome back to the first Grumpy Old Buckeye of the 2019 Ohio State season. If you’re new to this column, welcome! The aim here is 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 talking Ohio State vs. Florida Atlantic in the season opener.
Losing the Coin Toss
The Buckeyes have got to get better at that, but it’s only the first game. More reps in practice are needed, obviously. Don’t make me angry before kickoff.
The least likely player on Ohio State’s offense dropped a pass in the first quarter that would have (at least) set up a first-and-goal situation. For someone attempting to become the school’s all-time leader in receptions, this was an uncharacteristic mistake from KJ Hill. Chris Olave also had a drop in the first quarter on what would have been another long completion and there were three total drops in the opening half. That can happen in season openers.
Drue Chrisman failed to get a play off before the play clock expired and then knocked only a 38-yard punt downfield — and allowed a (2-yard) return. Later in the second quarter, Chrisman again had a chance to pin back FAU and allowed a short return on a short kick. I doubt this will continue to be an issue, and he did manage to down one deep later, but it’s normally a much stronger part of the game for Ohio State.
A little over five minutes into the second quarter, Justin Fields took a sack after rolling out when he had ample time to throw away the football. These are the kinds of mistakes that athletic quarterbacks make when any extended play can turn into a touchdown, but smart money there is to just get rid of it and go to work again on the next down with a shorter distance to go.
The Turnover Battle
The lateral that turned into the first turnover of the season wasn’t meant to be a lateral, but that’s part of the problem. Fields opted to throw the bubble when he probably shouldn’t have, and then made an inaccurate throw to Garrett Wilson (and believe me, I know how badly we all want to see Wilson with the football in space). Wilson couldn’t handle the pass and that led to the second disappointing part of the play — the Buckeyes gave up on it. Jeremy Ruckert was the closest player to the bouncing ball but he didn’t play to the whistle and was pulling up while the Owls were jumping on the loose ball.
The second turnover started with ultra-conservative play calling in the two-minute drill, but it was more directly tied to JK Dobbins not protecting the football. It allowed FAU to gain some confidence and get on the board just before halftime, despite not really moving it anywhere after the change in possession.
Josh Proctor finally got the Buckeyes on the board in the turnover battle late, but FAU ended up winning it — mostly as a result of going 5-for-5 on loose balls. The Owls got on top of all three of their own miscues as well as both of Ohio State’s. Paging the law of averages. Law of averages, please pick up a white courtesy phone.
Although it appeared the Buckeyes switched off heading into the second quarter after building the big lead, it’s a little more complicated than that. FAU started bringing delayed blitzes and more stunts and Ohio State didn’t handle it well. Fields started to take some big hits in the pocket and the Buckeyes responded with conservative play calling. It bottled up the run game a bit as a result.
The offense simply didn’t seem ready to deal with some of the things FAU was doing on defense and it could help Ohio State in the long run as the coaches walk the players through film study and better prepare for it. Cincinnati is going to bring a lot of that next week and the Bearcats are much better and more athletic, so the Buckeyes had better go to school and learn how to handle it. The Buckeyes had more success after the break even though the offense was still pretty vanilla overall. Hopefully that’s just a matter of not wanting — or needing — to put more stuff on tape for Cincinnati.
Typically when a team switches off it’s on both sides of the ball. The defense continued to hound FAU no matter what the Owls tried to do for the rest of the first half. The defense did get exposed a bit in the second half with some quick throws under the zone coverage and of course the evergreen challenge of covering tight ends was again on display (although FAU has an exceptional one in Harrison Bryant and they got some scheme and personnel advantages at times going with tempo). But against a team that averaged nearly 480 yards of offense last year and had a returning starting quarterback, it was a good overall performance by the defense. The backups gave up a bit more yardage than you’d like to see and Ryan Day pointed to that after the game.
Targeting Rule Still Applied Randomly
Every season we see targeting calls that are garbage and non-calls that should be made. It didn’t take long to see one of the latter variety this season. In the third quarter, Justin Fields took off and slid at the end of the play. Then an Owl arrived and went helmet-first into Fields. No call was made. This is the exact kind of play the targeting rule was designed to stop. The Buckeyes went with tempo on the next play and it was never reviewed, but even with tempo there should have been a whistle and a discussion of the play (and also 15 yards marched off in favor of Ohio State).
It was at least a nice bookend to the first-half lack of a late hit call on Demario McCall.
I’m going to nitpick here because the pass coverage was great overall throughout the game but the coverage on FAU’s two-point conversion was negligent. A large man shouldn’t stand around in your end zone without a chaperone and even a quarterback running for his life had enough time to throw stupidly back against his momentum and still complete it. That’s how open the 6-foot-4, 220-pound John Mitchell was on the play.
On the other hand, some completions you just have to tip your cap on. Jahsen Wint had excellent coverage on Bryant on one second-half pass and even got his arm in between Bryant’s hands and body to try to break up the pass. But Bryant showed his talent and strength by holding on. That was an amazing play by a future NFL player.
Ohio State didn’t kick off out of bounds once on Saturday. Kids today have no respect for OSU tradition.
That’s what stood out to me on opening day. It wasn’t perfect but season openers rarely are. It was perfect for eight minutes and that was enough. I had predicted 49-20, so it was close to what I expected, although I figured it would be an up-and-down day rather than being 100% up and then down, and then kind of up again. They say teams make their greatest improvement of the season between the first game and the second. We’ll see when we do it all again next week against Cincinnati.