IOWA CITY, Iowa — After No. 6 Ohio State’s four blowout wins against Army, UNLV, Rutgers and Nebraska, and a crescendo of a 39-38 comeback win versus Penn State, everything that went wrong in the first two weeks of the season against Indiana and Oklahoma seemed to have been fixed.
Calls for quarterback J.T. Barrett to be replaced had turned to chants for him to win the Heisman Trophy. A smattering of wideouts and tight ends without roles had become key players to count on with known strengths. Unreliable tight ends had seen increased roles in the offense and an offensive line with question marks blocked consistently. A team which gave up 410 and 386 passing yards against Indiana and Oklahoma, respectively, had shored up its pass defense. The Buckeyes’ run defense and pass rush were good at the beginning of the season, and only improved as the weeks progressed.
But as it turns out, a week after Ohio State passed the test of whether the improvements could show against a top-10 team, nothing that worked against Penn State and in the Buckeyes’ three previous blowouts worked against the Hawkeyes.
After the 55-24 loss Saturday, head coach Urban Meyer said he was just as surprised as everyone else by the double-digit defeat at the hands of an Iowa team the Buckeyes were double-digit favorites against.
“No I didn’t [see the loss coming],” Meyer said. “Going through that thought process right now and I did not.”
Even if he did not have an inkling that the post-Penn-State-win team would lay an egg in Iowa, Meyer should recognize the Ohio State team that showed up at Kinnick Stadium. It was the same team that entered halftime tied with Indiana and lost 31-16 to Oklahoma.
Barrett reverted back to his prior form, completing 18-of-34 passes for 208 yards and tossing a career-high four interceptions. Wide receivers did not make contested catches. Tight end Marcus Baugh caught two passes, but also had two drops. Quarterback Nate Stanley passed for five touchdowns as he shredded Ohio State’s pass defense, heavily relying on play-action passes to pick up consistent yardage.
Even Ohio State’s run defense struggled — running back Akrum Wadley averaged 5.9 yards per carry on 20 rushes — and its pass rush only resulted in a single sack, as Stanley often had ample time to survey his receivers.
Against the Hawkeyes, the offense could not find the rhythm Meyer said the team was looking for after the Oklahoma loss. The defensive line could not pressure the quarterback enough to avoid the Hawkeyes picking on the Buckeyes’ weak links in the secondary.
Just when most people thought the Buckeyes solved their seemingly never-ending problems on both sides of the ball, they resurfaced at the worst possible time.
Redshirt senior center Billy Price said Ohio State was waiting for a comeback that never even remotely surfaced.
“Anything can change a game. We had a whole fourth quarter to go,” Price said. “We saw it last week, we saw momentum swing. We’re just looking for that spark, it just wasn’t able to pull up this week.”
Unlike last week, when Ohio State completed its comeback, the Buckeyes did not play well enough against the Hawkeyes to foreshadow a comeback. Instead, the team’s porous performance in the second and third quarters deserved nothing but a loss.
After three 70-plus yard drives following Barrett’s pick-six interception throw, Ohio State picked up just 33 yards on its following seven drives with two ending in interceptions as well. During that time, Iowa scored four touchdowns and kicked a field goal.
The team that defeated Penn State might have mounted a comeback, but those Buckeyes had two weeks of preparation for their opponent, were rested and looking for revenge. The Ohio State team that fell to Iowa looked vastly unprepared to play a team hungry for a top-10 win.
Even Ohio State’s seemingly strong areas appeared weak against Iowa. Running back J.K. Dobbins averaged 8.5 yards per run on six carries, but rushed just twice after the first quarter. Lewis picked up his team’s only sack. Ohio State’s stupendous run defense suffered.
Last week, the Buckeyes held Heisman Trophy candidate Saquon Barkley to 44 yards on 21 carries, including one 36-yard run. Iowa gashed the defense, rushing for more yards per carry (5.4) than any team against Ohio State this season.
“Nobody expected that, I don’t think, on the defense because we play defense and take pride in stopping the run,” redshirt senior defensive end Tyquan Lewis said.
Ohio State lost not because it beat itself, which nearly happened last weekend against Penn State, but because Iowa won every phase of the game from the first to fourth quarter.
The Buckeyes are a good team, not a great one, and they learned that the hard way Saturday.