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As the Buckeyes and their fans sift through the wreckage from Iowa, here comes overhauled Sparty intent on getting in on the destruction derby.
In the CFP/polls
The Buckeyes, No. 6 in the first College Football Playoff rankings last week, are expected to fall well out of contention this week. Meanwhile, in the two major polls where they were No. 3 last week, they dropped to No. 11 in both the media and coaches’ votes.
Ohio State fans who want to know how a team that was at or near the top in offense and defense in the Big Ten, and that was riding the high of the come-from-behind win over Penn State, could be outplayed and out-schemed by an average Iowa team. This wasn’t about getting beat late in the fourth quarter, it was about a team getting beaten up from late in the second quarter onward.
What difference a week makes
This time a week ago, J.T. Barrett was coming off the most impressive game of his career. Most of his top critics had stepped onto the Heisman Trophy bandwagon. In the wake of his four-interception game at Iowa — the first being returned for a touchdown, and two others leading directly to touchdowns — the bandwagon was abandoned on the side of the road. Now he will face the Michigan State defense, which more often than not has been a tough safe for him and the Buckeyes to crack.
Who’s really to blame?
Urban Meyer and his coordinators, Greg Schiano on defense and Kevin Wilson on offense, will catch the brunt of it. They didn’t have answers. The four interceptions thrown by Barrett didn’t help either side, but why did he feel like he needed to force things? It’s easy to look at numbers and ask why J.K. Dobbins had just six carries despite averaging 8.5 per tote. And on defense, the Buckeyes were always a step behind, thrown off-kilter by an Iowa offense that atypically came out throwing to set up the run instead of vice versa. Indeed, Iowa’s Nate Stanley looked more impressive than Baker Mayfield of Oklahoma in week two or DeShaun Watson in the loss to Clemson in the playoff semifinal last year.
The most fitting image from the loss was that of defensive end Sam Hubbard sprawling to grab Stanley’s legs, vainly trying to pull him down as Stanley tossed the 2-yard TD pass that put Iowa up 38-17 late in the third quarter. The ballyhooed OSU defensive front, which had seen end Nick Bosa disqualified for targeting in the second quarter, had just one sack.
After Michigan State went 3-9 in 2016, coach Mark Dantonio has his team in contention and is now the solid choice for Big Ten coach of the year. MSU found a way to upset Penn State despite a four-hour storm delay, and its offense, led by quarterback Brian Lewerke, seems to be getting bolder by the game.
This week’s challenge
Meyer told his team all is not lost, that the Buckeyes still control their destiny in the Big Ten East Division. But now winning out the regular season over MSU, Illinois and Michigan just to get to the conference title game never looked tougher, and just a week after most experts saw it as a given. This Saturday it’s Ohio State vs. Michigan State with the East lead on the line. Who saw that coming?