COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — No. 10 Ohio State returns to action for a third-straight home game when the Buckeyes host Akron at 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
The Buckeyes are coming off a 41-20 win over Tulsa in which OSU ran the ball extremely well but struggled in a few areas, including defending against the pass and getting a consistent passing attack going.
Here are two things to watch for and two things Ohio State needs to do to improve.
McCord or Miller as QB1?
Ryan Day announced on 97.1 The Fan that Stroud will only play in an “emergency capacity” due to a lingering shoulder injury. That means true freshman Kyle McCord or redshirt freshman Jack Miller III will start against the Zips but both players figure to get playing time since Ohio State is a 49-point favorite.
This is Ohio State’s last non-conference game before starting Big Ten play again, so giving both McCord and Miller reps is vital in case Stroud has to miss anymore time this season.
“I have faith in both of those guys,” Day said. “I don’t think C.J.’s situation is serious but we did feel like some rest would go a long way . . . we’ll probably pick one [guy] and then go from there. If the opportunity presents itself, then we’ll let the other guy get a drive.”
Day said he will most likely inform McCord and Miller of who the starter will be on Friday but that decision will not be made public until gameday.
Who’s defense is it anyway?
The answer is a collective effort with the plays being called by secondary coach Matt Barnes. Kerry Coombs remains defensive coordinator in title but he was coaching from the booth last week while Barnes moved down to the sideline. Ryan Day said he thought the defense made better in-game adjustments against Tulsa than they did against Oregon, so it looks like Barnes will continue to call plays for the foreseeable future. Day also added he’s asked for more input from defensive line coach Larry Johnson and linebackers coach Al Washington, so it appears to be a defense led by committee in Columbus.
“Kerry’s been outstanding, Matt’s been outstanding and we’ve got a lot of guys in the room: Al Washington, Paul Rhoads, those guys have done a great job working as one unit and one coaching staff,” Johnson said.
Pass rush must improve
Ohio State had zero sacks against Oregon and zero quarterback hurries in the first half against Tulsa. They didn’t do much better in the second half but did end up with six tackles for a loss. The Buckeyes inability to get home played a role in Tulsa throwing for 428 yards last week but so did Tulsa’s offensive approach of having the QB seven to nine yards deep in the pocket after his drop steps. Defensive line coach Larry Johnson spoke with the media Tuesday on where the unit needs to improve to have more success.
“We have to win one-on-ones. That’s the biggest thing,” Johnson said. “I don’t sleep well when we can’t get pressure on the quarterback cause that’s what we’ve got to do. If we do that, we’ll change the game. We’ll change the game immediately and that’s what we’re going to do moving forward.”
Johnson is hopeful to get junior defensive end Zach Harrison back after missing last week as well as nose tackle Jerron Cage who’s been limited all season. Expect to see more of true freshman defensive tackle Tyleik Williams who had a game-changing sack in the fourth quarter against Tulsa and true freshman defensive end J.T. Tuimoloau who played more due to Harrison’s absence.
Offense needs to be better earlier
Ohio State has trailed at halftime twice this season and only led Tulsa 13-6 at the break last week. The offense has been far too slow out of the gates, so regardless of who starts at quarterback the Buckeyes need to be more efficient earlier to wear down their opponent.
Ohio State should go to the run early and often after coming off a 300-plus rushing day against Tulsa, including a record-breaking 277-yard performance by freshman TreVeyon Henderson.
Establishing the run early against Akron will make the new quarterback more comfortable and also give him advantageous throwing situations.