COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — For the first time since Oct. 20, 2018, Ohio State is coming off a regular season loss. The Buckeyes 35-28 defeat to Oregon last week ended the team’s 23-game regular season win streak and also snapped OSU’s home win streak dating back to Sept. 9, 2017.
The Buckeyes have a chance to start a new streak this Saturday when they host Tulsa at 3:30 p.m.
Tulsa is a far cry from Oregon and Minnesota. But there are several areas of particular interest to pay attention to this Saturday, most notably the Buckeyes defense.
Here are two things Ohio State needs to do to improve and two things to watch for in the game.
Who is calling plays on defense?
Ryan Day called Ohio State’s struggles on defense a ‘pattern’ that need to be structurally changed. He said Kerry Coombs was still the Buckeyes defensive coordinator but did not go as far to say that Coombs will call the plays on defense against the Golden Hurricane. Day said that decision will be made Thursday night.
It will be very interesting to see who calls the plays if Coombs is not. The coach most likely to take over play-calling duties is linebacker coach Al Washington who turned down the defensive coordinator job at Tennessee to remain at Ohio State for his third year. Washington has coached the defensive line at Boston College and Cincinnati as well as linebackers at Michigan before coming to Columbus.
Who’s healthy in the secondary?
The phrase insult to injury comes to mind in the Buckeyes performance against the Ducks. OSU gave up more than 500 yards of total offense, including 269 yards rushing, as well as losing starting free safety Josh Proctor for the season with a fractured leg. With Proctor out, look for Marcus Hooker and Lathan Ransom to split reps at one of the hardest positions on the field. Day said redshirt freshman cornerback Ryan Watts is also being worked into that position during practice this week.
Meanwhile, starting cornerback Sevyn Banks was listed as available against both Minnesota and Oregon but he didn’t take a single snap against either team. Day said Tuesday that injuries have kept Banks off the field but that he can play if needed. The Buckeyes got Cam Brown back at the other corner position last week and have benefitted from the play of true freshman Denzel Burke. Burke and Brown will be fine against Tulsa but it would be nice to see a healthy Sevyn Banks back on the field.
Buckeyes rushing attack needs to be better
Day said the offense was out of whack against Oregon despite totaling 612 yards. But those yards weren’t distributed evenly. The Buckeyes had 484 passing yards and only 128 yards on the ground. That’s a recipe for predictability, which put redshirt freshman quarterback C.J. Stroud in bad situations because the defense can more accurately predict what’s coming at them.
“[The offense] seemed a little out of whack today,” Day said Saturday. “When we’re not balanced we’re out of whack.”
Miyan Williams has emerged as Ohio State’s leading rusher and true freshman TreVeyon Henderson shared the carries with him while senior Master Teague did not record a single carry.
Stroud is a pocket passer. Improving the ground game will not include him in the rushing attack, which is what fans got use to the last two years with Justin Fields as the quarterback. In order to get better on the ground, the Buckeyes need more consistent chemistry along the offensive line where several Buckeyes are playing positions they haven’t played before because line coach Greg Studrawa wants to play the five best players.
Protect the edge on defense
Ohio State allowed more than 250 yards rushing against Oregon and more than seven yards per carry. That simply cannot happen. The way it happened was two-fold, most notably with Oregon constantly beating Ohio State on the edge and finding wide open space to run on the boundary. Without fail, the Buckeyes crashed hard up front leaving it up to the linebackers and secondary to seal the edge. The problem is Ohio State failed to do so time and time again and Coombs didn’t adjust his strategy even at halftime when the issue was glaring.
As mentioned above, the problem was two fold. The second failure on defense was an inability to guard the middle of the field. And that has everything to do with Ohio State bringing down its safeties to try and defend the boundary. Oregon recognized what the Buckeyes were trying to do and exploited them for it finding consistent success throwing across the middle of the field, which was a big reason why Anthony Brown threw for 236 yards and kept OSU off balance.
“My response is that I’m responsible. That’s my job,” Coombs said Saturday. “We have to play better and when I say we have to play better, I’m not blaming the players . . . I have to do a better job.”