Ohio State focusing on fixing flaws in bye week

Bill Rabinowitz
brabinow@dispatch.com
Purdue defenders bring down Ohio State running back Mike Weber during Saturday's game. The lack of a running threat made it difficult for the Buckeyes to move the ball in the red zone. [Joshua A. Bickel/Dispatch]

Saturday night wasn’t just a defeat for the Ohio State Buckeyes. It was a reckoning.

That Ohio State lost to Purdue shouldn’t have been shocking. The Buckeyes’ recent history at Ross-Ade Stadium didn’t inspire confidence. Purdue’s prolific offense figured to pose challenges to an injury-depleted Ohio State defense. The Buckeyes’ struggles in the run game have been obvious for a while.

But to lose 49-20 to a team that lost to Eastern Michigan felt like a 2-by-4 against the head. The Buckeyes looked nothing like a team ranked No. 2 team in the country.

“How surprised? Very surprised,” a subdued coach Urban Meyer said afterward. “I thought we had a good week of work. The glaring shortcomings we have were exposed.”

No doubt about that. Quarterback Dwayne Haskins Jr. completed 49 of 73 passes for 470 yards — all Ohio State records — but it was not nearly enough. The Buckeyes have so little faith in their run game that when they got the second-half kickoff, their nine-play drive consisted solely of passes.

That possession stalled in the red zone as did all four of Ohio State’s drives inside the Purdue 20, largely because the lack of a run game means there’s little margin for error when the field shrinks.

The Buckeyes didn’t get into the end zone until well into the fourth quarter. By then, their defense had started to crack. Purdue’s last three offensive touchdowns were all longer than 40 yards, no surprise for a defense that has yielded big plays at an alarming rate all season. The final indignity was a 41-yard interception return for a touchdown by Hilliard Davidson graduate Markus Bailey.

The Buckeyes now have a much-needed off week to regroup — physically, emotionally and perhaps schematically.

“We’re 7-1 and our objective is to get to be 8-1 and get some things fixed in the bye week — and get some guys healthy,” Meyer said. “We’re on fumes in the back end of our defense right now.”

But health is only part of the reason for the defensive problems. Remember that lowly Oregon State scored 31 points against Ohio State in the season opener.

The biggest mystery is the disappearance of the running game. The Buckeyes have barely averaged 3 yards per carry in their last four games and were closer to 2 against Purdue until some garbage-time yardage. It’s not the fault of running backs J.K. Dobbins or Mike Weber.

“If it was that easy, a one-sentence answer, I’d give it to you,” Meyer said of the run woes. “But it’s not that easy to answer. We’re going to work real hard to get it fixed.”

The Buckeyes had a similar defeat last year when Iowa shocked them 55-24. Ohio State rebounded to win the rest of its games, though it barely missed the College Football Playoff.

The Buckeyes have only one loss now, not two like last year, so they’re not out of the playoff hunt. But it won’t matter if they don’t fix their many flaws.

In the post-Iowa locker room in 2017, Billy Price gave the team an inspirational talk. Right tackle Isaiah Prince gave a similar speech Saturday night.

Wide receiver Terry McLaurin said the Buckeyes need to be all-in the rest of the season.

“My main message going forward is we have to treat this like it’s life or death," McLaurin said. "I know we’re not at war or anything like that. I would never disrespect what those guys do. But that type of mentality, where you’re going into battle when somebody’s trying to knock you off, if you don’t come ready to go, something like this happens.”

Brabinowitz@dispatch.com

@brdispatch

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