Urban Meyer sees the same things that you do.
The Ohio State football coach sees a 7-0 team that is ranked No. 2 in the major polls.
But he also recognizes, as many Buckeye observers do, his team’s flaws. They have been apparent for the last several weeks. Ohio State’s run game too often sputters, though that has been overcome by a passing game that is humming. The more pressing question, especially this week with a Saturday night game at Purdue on tap, is whether Ohio State can fix its defense.
Yes, the Buckeyes held Minnesota scoreless for the final 34 minutes, and that shouldn’t be forgotten. Neither should the obvious deficiencies. Minnesota — with freshmen at quarterback, running back, right tackle and right guard — had two 75-yard touchdown drives in the first half.
If not for three turnovers and two missed field goals, the Golden Gophers would have had a real shot at an upset. The Buckeyes gave up 16 plays of at least 10 yards, many on completions of slant patterns.
Is the scheme the problem? Ohio State linebackers are playing close to the line, for example, which leaves no one on the second level if they are blocked at the point of attack, and nobody in the throwing lanes on passes such as slants.
Is it personnel? The Buckeyes were down as many as five starters against Minnesota. In addition to Nick Bosa, fellow defensive end Jonathon Cooper and linebacker Malik Harrison didn’t play Saturday. Cornerback Damon Arnette and defensive tackle Robert Landers were injured in the first half.
Meyer said during his Monday news conference that the coaching staff is in “constant evaluation” for possible adjustments.
“It’s ever-changing with the personnel when guys get dinged and hurt,” Meyer said. “It’s hard to drastically change right now.”
Ohio State has historically had its struggles at Ross-Ade Stadium, and an off week would be well-timed right now. Purdue is not an ideal opponent for a struggling and depleted defense.
After an 0-3 start, the Boilermakers have gotten their act together with three straight wins. They rank 10th nationally in total offense and seventh in passing yardage behind quarterback David Blough and receiver Rondale Moore, who is fourth in the country in all-purpose yards (167.8 per game). Coach Jeff Brohm is known as one of the top offensive minds in the college game.
“I haven’t studied them yet, but I just talked to the defensive staff and I see the stats,” Meyer said. “They’re really good.”
Meyer said Arnette is questionable for Saturday; it would be a big blow if he can’t play. But Meyer said Cooper and Harrison will play and that Landers was probable.
Their returns will help, but much work remains. After Saturday’s game, defensive co-coordinator Alex Grinch dispensed both praise and frustration.
“We understand the standards at Ohio State, and when you don’t meet those standards, you’re disappointed,” he said. “Guys made some plays in the second half to give us a chance to win the game, but going into week 8, it’s time.
“Patience is running thin for us as coaches. You always put it back on you as a coach and making sure we’re putting guys in the best situation to be successful.”
Ohio State is used to seeing unexpected wrinkles in opponents’ game plans. Grinch said Indiana ran 18 snaps with an empty backfield against the Buckeyes when it had done so only seven times all season.
Brohm no doubt has kept things in his back pocket for Saturday. The question is whether Ohio State will have answers.
“I see what you see as well,” Meyer said. “We’re expecting (everything) to be snuffed out. This will be a big challenge this week. Everything you say is what we do all day — constant evaluation.
“We can play much better. I’m not disagreeing with (critics). As I’ve made the comment many times, you enhance your strengths and work on your weaknesses. Every team has weaknesses, and there are some things we have to work on.”