To beat Nittany Lions, Buckeyes must run
Other than a more panoramic vista, a stadium press box seat is not all that different from a stool at the bar or a recliner in the den.
A hundred feet above the action on the field, we argue and debate and make declarative statements about the play-calling. Just like you do. We happen to get paid for it — there’s also this small thing called writing what we see — but the know-it-allness is the same.
And so it was during the Tulane game last week that one reporter said to another, “I don’t know why Ohio State doesn’t just throw the ball on every down?”
To which the second reporter responded, “Because then this would be the Big 12.”
Which irritated the first reporter, who fired back with, “It’s called taking what the defense gives, you dumb (something or other).”
And then we, er, they went back to tweeting.
Funny thing is, some of you wonder why the Buckeyes don’t throw more. And you’re not spaced out to wonder it. When Dwayne Haskins Jr. is completing 75 percent of his passes, for an average of 13.8 yards per completion, it makes you scratch your chin and think, Maybe they should pass on every down, as long as the defense is giving it.
Sounds enticing, especially considering how well the offensive line is protecting Haskins, who has been sacked only three times through four games and is still completing almost 45 percent of his passes when forced to hurry throws, which isn’t often. He is facing real pressure in the pocket less than five times per game.
When pressured, Haskins has remained poised. So far, there is no sign of panic in him. Penn State will test that calm, but I don’t see him cracking. He’s too good at surveying the scene for that to happen.
“If we’re in the red zone, I learned from my mistake the first game,” he said of his lone interception against Oregon State. “And if I have to get out and extend a play, I’m more than willing to do that.”
Given so much time to throw, Haskins has picked apart defenses like no Ohio State quarterback. It’s a small sample size, but the 6-foot-3 redshirt sophomore has 16 touchdowns to one interception and has two games (Rutgers and Tulane) in which he has completed at least 20 passes without throwing more than three incompletions.
The message is clear then: Run the ball. Yes, wait … what?!
It’s true. The best thing the No. 4 Buckeyes can do Saturday night at No. 9 Penn State is establish the run. No, I am not Jim Tressel. Nor am I Urban Meyer, expecting my quarterback to pick up important yardage on third-and-2. But you’re off a beat if you think the Nittany Lions are going to sit back and let Haskins take his sweet old time in the pocket. They’re going to come after him, testing OSU’s line like no opponent this season.
But that’s only half the story. Penn State’s defensive weakness is stopping the run, which goes against the DNA of what football there is about. Linebacker U. and all that. The Nittany Lions rank 82nd nationally in run defense, behind nine of 10 teams in the Big 12, where defense is a dirty word.
The Buckeyes, meanwhile, rank 27th in rushing yards per game (233.3), a number deflated because of their propensity to air it out. Make no mistake, tailbacks Mike Weber and J.K. Dobbins are talented enough to make life miserable for Penn State. Both average 5.8 yards per carry and are close in total yardage (Dobbins 323; Weber 299).
The offensive coordinating duo of Ryan Day and Kevin Wilson need to dial back the passing game just a bit to allow Dobbins and Weber to soften the Penn State defensive line, and it sounds like that’s exactly what will happen.
“Anytime it’s these big games, it’s about field position, taking care of the ball and moving the chains,” Meyer said Wednesday. “We need to stay on schedule, but we’ve got to be aggressive.”
Meyer insisted he does not want Day and Wilson to “change the way they’re calling plays” but added there is a fine line.
“You’ve got to move the chains but score points as well,” he said. “That’s the chess match of the game.”
Remember those words when you’re sitting at home or at the pub screaming at the TV for Ohio State to throw the ball down Penn State’s throat. And we’ll try to remember it in the press box, too.