No. 2 Ohio State (1-0, 1-0 Big Ten) opened its 2017 football season with a 49-21 victory against Indiana (0-1, 0-1 Big Ten), despite trailing 14-13 to the Hoosiers at the half. Here are five things we noticed.
No to the deep ball. Yes to crossing routes.
Though it was the main focus of the offense during the spring, summer and fall, quarterback J.T. Barrett once again struggled to connect with receivers on deep balls. At times Barrett missed a pass to a receiver or didn’t spot an open wideout. And on other occasions, like when a wide-open H-back Parris Campbell let a ball slip through his hands, nullifying a potential 40-yard touchdown, it was Barrett’s receivers fault.
“It was good because he came to the side and he was all down,” wide receiver Johnnie Dixon said. “I’m like, ‘Yo, it’s part of the game. You’re going to drop a ball every now and then, you know. So get your head up. Go make that play.’ He came back and he made it.”
The play that Dixon is referring to is when the speedy Campbell took a pass on a crossing route 74 yards for the longest touchdown of the game, running past defenders for most of the play.
“J.T. still misfired on some deep balls, but the crossing routes were working big for us,” coach Urban Meyer said.
The next series, Dixon caught a short pass on a crossing route and raced past the defenders for a 59-yard touchdown. Meyer assured that Ohio State will not be abandoning the deep ball, but an increase in shorter pass routes to help get potential playmakers in space might be the best way for the Buckeyes to break plays for major yardage gains.
“We will get better on the deep ball, everything else was outstanding,” Meyer said.
Home run hitters?
When Dixon came running off the field after his touchdown catch, Campbell met him on the Ohio State sideline.
“I walked right up to him and I just said, ‘Back to back.’ That’s what we’ve got to do moving forward,” Campbell said.
Whether Dixon and Campbell can continue their playmaking remains uncertain. Both their touchdowns were the first receiving touchdowns of their respective careers, despite Dixon being a redshirt junior and Campbell being a redshirt junior. Campbell and Dixon are just two of the six wideouts — including Austin Mack, Binjimen Victor, Terry McLaurin and K.J. Hill — Ohio State listed as starters prior to the game against Indiana.
Dixon said he enjoys having the many options who are heavily relied upon because everyone will be fresh during games.
“It’s a whole collection of us buying in and being able to make those plays, you know,” Dixon said. “This week, you saw me, Parris and [Victor]. Next week, you’re going to see the other guys, I can promise you that.”
Though Dixon said he’s happy with the setup of six starting wideouts, Ohio State needs one or two to rise above the rest and become the Buckeyes’ more reliable playmaking threats. Last year, Ohio State relied upon Curtis Samuel when it needed yards in a clutch situation. Maybe freshman running back J.K. Dobbins will be the Buckeyes’ weapon of choice, but Barrett would be greatly helped if he had a go-to option in those scenarios.
Concern at cornerback
Meyer was blunt when addressing the play of Ohio State’s cornerbacks at the postgame press conference Thursday evening.
“Our pass defense was awful,” Meyer said. “It was not complicated, they were picking on the corners. The corners have got to step up and see what’s coming in nine days against Oklahoma. If we don’t get that right, that’s a problem.”
Indiana quarterback Richard Lagow tore through a Buckeyes secondary that underwent a makeover in the offseason after safety Malik Hooker and cornerbacks Marshon Lattimore and Gareon Conley left Ohio State early for the NFL draft.
Safety Jordan Fuller, who picked off Lagow in a crucial, momentum-swinging moment, started beside Damon Webb, the only returning starter in the defensive backfield. On the outside, Denzel Ward — who intercepted Lagow once — and Damon Arnette earned starts against the Hoosiers, with Kendall Sheffield rotating in frequently.
Lagow completed 40-of-68 passes for 410 yards, including three touchdowns and two interceptions. Wideout Simmie Cobbs, Lagow’s primary target, reeled in 11 passes for 149 yards and a touchdowns. He used his 6-foot-4 frame to snag passes over Ohio State’s smaller cornerbacks, even when they were draped on him.
Lagow did a majority of his damage in the first half, passing for 278 yards, completing 24-of-38 passes. Meyer admitted something must’ve improved in the second half.
“I will have to see the video tape. Obviously they must have played better [in the second half],” Meyer said. “I was so much involved with the offense and I kept looking up saying, ‘What the heck is going on here?’ I saw back shoulder fades and fades, and then they just seemed to play much better.”
Defensive line: As advertised
The Ohio State defensive line, pegged as one of the best units in the nation, understood it had to play at an extremely high level to reach the expectations set for a unit returning returning defensive ends Sam Hubbard, Nick Bosa, Tyquan Lewis and Jalyn Holmes, as well as defensive tackle Dre’Mont Jones.
The deep group of linemen did not disappoint. Lewis picked up two sacks, and Bosa and Hubbard each took down the Indiana quarterback once. Though Holmes was only one of the four defensive ends not to record a sack, he tallied three tackles and broke up two passes. Jones also had a tackle for loss.
“Talking to [Ohio State’s] guys, they think they got five first-round draft picks over there, eventually,” Indiana coach Tom Allen said. “That’s not normal.”
The Buckeyes controlled the line of scrimmage, forcing Indiana to abandon any hope of running the ball against Ohio State’s swarming front seven. The Hoosiers ran the ball just 27 times, averaging 0.6 yards per carry, compared to 68 pass attempts.
“They are pretty elite up front, for sure,” Allen said after the game. “You’ve got to run the football and obviously we didn’t want to throw it that many times but at the same time, it’s kind of what they forced us to do.”
Returning starting defensive tackle Michael Hill missed the contest as he was suspended during fall camp for an indefinite amount of games for undisclosed reasons. In his place, a few interior linemen — including Robert Landers, Tracy Sprinkle, Jashon Cornell and Davon Hamilton — played more snaps than usual. They each flashed as Landers returned a fumble for a touchdown, though it was overturned, and Cornell picked up his team’s final sack.
After fending off six offensive linemen battling for the only open spot on the line, Branden Bowen was named starting right guard and lined up between center Billy Price and right tackle Isaiah Prince Thursday night.
Last year, the 6-foot-7, 312-pound Bowen was the primary backup at left tackle and right tackle. The massive former tackle said the transition inside was made easier due to the veterans on the line being able to help him adjust.
“In the run game, you’ve got to play lower, you’ve got to play a lot faster. Everything’s faster because you don’t have as much space,” Bowen said after Ohio State’s win. “For the most part, it was a pretty easy transition. It was a lot easier going with the [starters] and being confident with them. They know what they’re doing and I know what I’m doing.”
Though he’s the starting right guard, he will still be counted on to fill in for Prince or left tackle Jamarco Jones if they are hurt or need a break. That scenario happened during the third quarter as Jones subbed out, Bowen shifted to left tackle and redshirt sophomore Matt Burrell entered the game to play right guard.
“I had been doing that all camp, rotating back and forth from right guard to left tackle whenever Jamarco needed a break or anything like that,” Bowen said. “So it wasn’t bad.”