Five turnovers. No rushing touchdowns one week after no passing touchdowns. Less than 300 total yards. Six punts.
Yes, something is wrong with the Ohio State offense right now. And Urban Meyer knows it, as evidenced by his quotes at his weekly press briefing Monday.
“We just have to perform better,” he said. “We're turning the ball over at alarming rate, and we're not playing well on the offensive front. So all those things have been addressed, and it's more coaching than playing performance. So we're going to get that fixed. I expect a much better performance Saturday from our guys.”
He said a lot of other things, too, about the offense, some of which hint about what we might see on Saturday.
What About The Coaching?
The one line that caught my ear during the Monday press conference was the one above – “it’s more coaching than playing performance.”
Simply put, it probably hasn’t been a fun few days for Ohio State’s offensive staff, as Meyer said a few times that things needed to change as far as the way the Buckeyes were approaching offensive football.
“We're playing defense on offense right now, and you don't do that,” he said. “Some people do, but our history is we want to score a lot of points. Our objective is to score a lot of points and still play great defense. … On offense right now, for a variety of reasons and not the players, we're sitting back and we're not going to do that anymore.”
There were times where the Buckeyes seemed to be doing that on Saturday. The team had just one first down in the fourth quarter, and its final drive included three run plays that Northern Illinois was able to limit short of a first down. Meyer kicked a field goal on a fourth-and-3 from the NIU 7, a place on the field in which he might have gone for it in the past, and also chose to punt on a pair of fourth-and-1 situations in the fourth quarter – smart decisions, to be sure, but also spots in which in the past it wouldn’t have been a huge surprise to see Meyer put his faith in the offense.
He did at one point in the second quarter, allowing the Buckeyes to go for it on fourth-and-4 from the NIU 33 only to see J.T. Barrett stare down Mike Thomas and have his pass broken up.
In other words, Meyer seemed to have less confidence in his offense as Saturday rolled on, and it also seems fair that things are, to use his word, discombobulated on that side of the ball.
That might lead to some changes Saturday, as the Buckeyes might shuffle some things around as far as play-calling goes. New offensive coordinator Ed Warinner, the team’s line coach, has been on the field for games so far but Meyer says he might look into making a change as far as that goes.
“The way it would work I would say Tim or Dan Mullen or Tom Herman, run this, run this, and it's boom, and we're on the same page and we're going,” Meyer said. “We're not quite there yet. Also if we go jet tempo, that's got to be from upstairs, because you can't see anything from down there. So those are all things we're going to get cleaned up.”
Either way, it’s fair to say an offensive staff that lost both coordinator Tom Herman and running backs coach Stan Drayton is still taking time to jell.
“We're getting there,” Meyer said. “It's not as smooth. Anytime you have transition – we lost two (coaches). Stan Drayton was a very quality coach and so was Tom Herman, obviously. But we've hired two very quality guys. I just think we're going to adapt and change some things, and while I'm anxious to – I wish we were playing tomorrow.”
What Might We See?
Here’s how Meyer described the Ohio State offense that he wants to run.
“If you look historically what an Ohio State offense is for us, it's control the line of scrimmage, the best perimeter blocking in America, which we had last year, and a very good, solid play-action passing attack,” he said. “That's not what's going on. So we're going to get that fixed.”
The Buckeyes have had issues with each of those things in the last two games. With teams stacking the box and using blitz-heavy odd fronts, the Buckeyes haven’t been able to as dependably get Ezekiel Elliott to the second level as in the past. When the team has gone to the edge, the perimeter blocking that was so good a year ago has not been to the same level. And with the run game not as lethal, the play-action passing game takes a hit as well.
So how do you get back there? Well, you coach ‘em up, as they say, and you stop playing defense on offense, apparently. Having a plan in case Western Michigan switches up its defense, much like NIU did to run a 3-4 instead of its usual 4-3, would be prudent. But you also need better performances, especially when it comes to blocking opponents.
Blocking is also often the underrated key to something missing from the Buckeye offense the past two weeks – explosive plays. A week after hitting Virginia Tech repeatedly for long gains, Ohio State hasn’t had a play of more than 25 yards each of the past two weeks.
Finding a deep threat on offense has continued to be a focus, while the long runs Elliott often broke at the end of last year have disappeared the past two weeks as well.
“We recruit players to have explosive plays,” Meyer said. “We give them opportunities to have explosive plays and over the last several years for the majority, they made them. We're not doing that right now, so that's a high, high emphasis right now.”
As For The Quarterbacks…
A popular theory has been the Buckeyes need to pick one quarterback and stick with it in order to bring consistency to the offense, something Meyer admitted might be a good idea after the game Saturday.
But speaking Monday, the head coach was adamant that competition is a good thing.
“I think because of all the intrigue by it, that you'll hear someone say how can you play quarterback with someone looking over your shoulder?” Meyer said. “And my comment to that person was – well, no one's complaining, but how do you not?
“If you think you're going to play at the next level, there is going to be probably one better than you stand right next to you, so get used to it.”
It seems likely Meyer will name a starter publicly this afternoon after the team’s Wednesday practice. He did the same last Monday in going with Cardale Jones but then switched to J.T. Barrett after Jones’ second interception in the second quarter.
“Let's be clear. I did go with one guy,” Meyer said. “The guy didn't perform well, so we went with the back-up. There is no set thing saying that we're a two-quarterback system, we're not. The backup's a very good player, whomever that may be. So we are going with the guy.”