Halfway through Ohio State’s regular season, assessing the Buckeyes’ strengths and weaknesses doesn’t require a football PhD.
The passing game? A-OK. Dwayne Haskins Jr. and his talented group of receivers are practically unstoppable when the offensive line gives the quarterback time to throw, which it has most of the time.
In only six games, Haskins is already tied for fifth place in school history in touchdown passes for a season with 25 and is only 10 shy of the record set by J.T. Barrett last year.
That’s the good, and it has been enough to be the main reason Ohio State is undefeated and ranked No. 3 in both major polls heading into Saturday’s Big Ten game against visiting Minnesota (3-2, 0-2).
But coach Urban Meyer knows that the Buckeyes are not yet a complete team.
“The weakness of our team is balance on offense and obviously pass defense,” Meyer said in his Monday press conference.
Ohio State’s run game has sputtered the last two weeks. After video review of the Buckeyes’ 49-26 victory over Indiana, no running back or offensive linemen was deemed to have graded as a “champion” for their play.
Ohio State’s pass defense has been a problem all year. In past years when the defense struggled, Meyer vowed to get more involved. With Greg Schiano as defensive coordinator, he believes the defense is in good hands.
“I have conversations,” he said. “I have so much confidence in the people doing it that we’re going to get it fixed.”
Meyer was encouraged by the way the Buckeyes played in the second half against Indiana, limiting the Hoosiers to 89 yards in the final 30 minutes after surrendering 317 in the first 30.
“The second half, they were outstanding,” Meyer said.
The run defense, with the persistent problem of the occasional big play, has generally been solid. But when opponents throw, the Buckeyes have often been exposed. If they’re not giving up long completions, too often they have been called for pass interference.
Some of that is a byproduct of Ohio State’s man-to-man press coverage philosophy. By definition, it’s high-risk, high-reward.
“It's a skill that requires an incredible amount of work,” Meyer said. “And when you're good, it's great. It's obviously something we believe in, and we will continue to believe in it as long as we can.”
The Buckeyes don’t figure to be tested this week against Minnesota as much as they will next week against Purdue. The Golden Gophers won three nonconference games against weak competition but lost 48-31 to Iowa last week and 42-13 to Maryland a week earlier.
Minnesota starts a true freshman walk-on quarterback, Zack Annexstad, who has thrown five interceptions the last two weeks.
“They’re young on offense,” Meyer said of a Gophers unit that ranks 113th out of 129 teams nationally in yardage (341.4 per game).
But the Gophers’ defense ranks 21st (324.2).
“Their defense is outstanding,” Meyer said.
That’s a little bit of coach-speak there. Minnesota’s defensive numbers are skewed because of its nonconference schedule — New Mexico State, Fresno State and Miami University. Maryland and Iowa combined for 852 yards of offense against the Gophers.
Even if Haskins has another big day, the more significant question is whether the holes in Ohio State’s game begin to get filled.