Has the luck run out in Columbus?
Some members of the national and local media across the country have referred to Ohio State as the ‘Luckeyes' over the course of the last two-plus seasons, due to their uncanny ability to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, as well as win seemingly every close football game they have been involved in.
The proof is in the numbers, as 14 of their 28 wins since the start of the 2002 season have been by seven points or less.
Think about that for a second, and let it sink in.
That is amazing, and really, you can't call them the ‘Luckeyes' when you win every close game. It comes down to good coaching, good preparation and good players.
But the tide seems to be shifting in C-Bus, as OSU has now lost their first two Big Ten games this year; by a touchdown in overtime at Northwestern and by 11 points at home this past Saturday to the Wisconsin Badgers. That loss to Wisconsin snapped OSU's 18-game home win streak as well.
So what has changed for Ohio State and what remains the same?
1. The NFL Draft: Unfortunately for OSU fans, and fortunately for the rest of the Big Ten, Ohio State graduated a lot of good football players this past season. 14 Buckeyes were taken in April's NFL draft. 14! Another three Buckeyes from the 2003 team signed free agent contracts. That is nearly an entire starting football team.
Ohio State always has talent, but not program has the type of talent where nearly the entire second unit can come in the next year and put up similar lofty results. This factor has affected everything in Columbus.
2. Teams can run on OSU this year. That has not been the case in each of the past two seasons, but it's the case in 2004. Now, that does not mean Iowa is going to be able to run on them, as the Hawkeyes are among the worst teams in college football this year at gaining yards on the ground. But Ohio State is an average 67th at stopping the run, nationally. In fact, with 117 teams in division one, any ranking below 58th in any national statistic is below average.
3. OSU is not forcing turnovers this year. They are 97th in the nation in turnover margin, in fact. Now, that figure takes into account the number of turnovers your offense has and can be somewhat misleading, but Ohio State has forced just seven turnovers this season. By comparison, Iowa's defense has forced eight turnovers this year, a number that the home folks are not exactly doing back flips over.
4. Special teams letdowns. Mike Nugent is not a machine, even though his gaudy kicking numbers over his career nearly put him on par with Nate Kaeding. He missed a crucial field goal in overtime against Northwestern that all but handed the Wildcats the game. But let's not pile on Nugent, as he has connected twice from 55-yards this year and is still the best kicker in college football. Their net punting averaged is 43rd in the country this year and they miss BJ Sander. Their punt and kickoff return averages are among the best in the nation, while their kickoff and punt coverage teams have been average in 2004. So while special teams on the whole are still good for Ohio State, they are not as crisp as they have been the last two years. They have relied on superior special teams play to win them ball games, because they have...
5. The same below average offensive attack in 2004 that they have had the past two years. This fact has been somewhat overlooked in recent years because their defense and special teams won them field position and football games. But the lack of a consistent ground game, combined with a young quarterback in Justin Zwick who has struggled this year is troublesome. Not that they have ran the ball well the last two years, save for when Maurice Clarett played, and not that Craig Krenzel was the second coming of Dan Marino, but Krenzel was a cerebral passer who did not lose games for Ohio State. Zwick is completing less than 52-percent of his passes and has five touchdown passes to five interceptions, for a quarterback rating of 110.25.
Iowa's Drew Tate is young and has the same TD to INT ratio (1 to 1) that Zwick does, but Tate is very accurate, completing nearly 66-percent of his passes. His accuracy in the Iowa passing game might allow the Hawkeyes to produce a ball control attack via the air while the offensive line gels. Another byproduct might be that Iowa can start running the ball again. Ohio State seems stuck with what they have been doing the last three years, and it has just not been all that great.