Offense Fell Short In VT Clash

Ohio State's rebuilt offense couldn't survive Virginia Tech's pressure Saturday night, as a lack of execution held the Buckeyes back. We take a look at what went wrong and where it might get better going forward.

In a game in which Ohio State was matching up against a team built and known for defense, the Buckeyes had to execute their offense perfectly.

They did not do that. The result was a unit that produced 327 total yards, gave up seven sacks, threw three interceptions and could only muster 21 points.

Twenty-one points may be a blessing for some teams, but after the past two record-setting seasons it is something fans aren’t used to. Twenty-one points is the lowest the team has scored since beating Wisconsin, 21-14, on November 17, 2012, and the lowest amount of points it had last year in the regular season was 31 against Wisconsin.

It’s understandable when you think about the fact that head coach Urban Meyer and offensive coordinator Tom Herman are replacing four starters on the offensive line that was the identity of the team and a quarterback who won the last two Big Ten Player of the Year awards.

That didn't make watching Saturday's performance any less frustrating, though. The first time the Buckeyes made it into Hokie territory, they scored a touchdown. The next five times they made it across the 50, each drive ended with zero points because of two missed field goals and three punts. Not being able to convert on those opportunities proved costly as the team found themselves behind on the scoreboard for almost the whole game.

For only completing 9 passes on 29 attempts, J.T. Barrett looked confident in most of his throws and had some nice deep balls, but his receivers let him down a couple times on passes that looked right on the money. Two would-be touchdowns to Corey Smith and Evan Spencer were particularly painful.

“Gutsy effort,” Meyer said about his young quarterback’s performance. “They played zero coverage (man with no deep safeties). I don’t think our wide receivers played well. We dropped a touchdown early in the game that would have ... you start hitting some of those like we did, it puts them in zone coverage.”

The dropped touchdown he was referring to happened two plays after a 58-yard bomb to, unsurprisingly, Devin Smith. With the Buckeyes trying to tie the game at 14 apiece, Barrett hit Corey Smith right in the chest on a slant into the end zone on second-and-goal. The ball bounced right off him and landed on the turf.

You could feel the wind come out of the sails after that play. Barrett had to throw the ball away on third down and the series resulted in a Sean Nuernberger field goal attempt that bounced off the upright.

On the opening drive of the third quarter, the Buckeyes marched down to the Virginia Tech 38-yard line before Spencer couldn’t corral a catch while running towards the corner of the end zone. It appeared the ball hit his hands, but he couldn’t come down with it. That was on third down and Cameron Johnston had to trot out to punt the ball. With the Buckeyes down two touchdowns, it was a opportunity to set the tone for the second half, but it once again ended in zero points.

“I thought our skill guys would perform better. I thought we’d protect a little better,” Meyer said in the postgame on the offensive performance. “A little bit disappointed.”

Barrett was harassed all night by the Hokies defense as the pocket surrounding him seemed to collapse every time he dropped back. The offensive line was overmatched from the start and there was nothing they could do to stop the Hokies’ defensive front, especially in the fourth quarter as Virginia Tech held a late lead.

“It seemed like they always had an extra man in there in the run game and the pass game,” right tackle Daryl Baldwin said after the game. “It’s hard because it seems like there’s always going to be one extra guy that no one is blocking. It just felt like that all night for us.”

The offense was able to get some production during a stretch from the end of the third quarter to the early stages of the fourth. The Buckeyes pulled within seven points after Michael Thomas broke a slant route for 53 yards to score on a third down. That capped a six play, 86-yard drive that gave the stadium some life.

After a punt on their next series, the defense pulled through and forced a fumble at the Hokies’ 15-yard line. After an incomplete pass, Ezekiel Elliot took it to the house on an option to square things up at 21.

The offense would do no more though, as six of the seven sacks happened after the Buckeyes’ final touchdown. Two of Barrett’s interceptions occurred during that stretch as well, with the last one being a pick-six to put the final nail in the coffin of the offensive performance.

Offensive coordinator Tom Herman said that inexperience was definitely a factor but would not be used as a reason for the loss.

“That’s not an excuse, though,” Herman said on the youthful offense. “It’s our job as coaches to find a way to allow these guys to gain experience but still be successful, and we didn’t do that tonight. We didn’t execute very well and obviously the final score showed that.”

The silver lining to this is that they did just go up against a defense that could very well end up in the top five nationally in total defense. Aside from Michigan State, they are by far the toughest group of defenders the Buckeyes will see all season. Also, the offense should only get better as the season wears on.

Ohio State's coaching staff has proven that they can turn a green group of players into a powerful force. The year before Meyer took over as head coach in 2012, the 2011 team had a first-year starting quarterback, a ragtag group of offensive lineman that let its freshman quarterback get hit way too much, and a “clown show” of receivers, which sounds a lot like how the offense looked against the Hokies. Meyer and Herman, along with co-offensive coordinator and line coach Ed Warinner, morphed almost that entire 2011 offense into the juggernaut it was in 2013. Those players turned into an offense that was, statistically, the best Ohio State has ever seen.

The players and coaches know they need to fix this offense. They will put in the work necessary to get it back to the expectations that were set last season.

“We have a lot of young guys on offense and defense,” Baldwin said. “We just have to come back tomorrow, look at what we did and see what we could have done better. Everyone has room for improvement now and we just have to get better from there.”

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