Run game revives; defense still struggling
Saturday: Ohio State 36, Nebraska 31
Next game: at Michigan State
When: noon Saturday
Where: Spartan Stadium, East Lansing, Mich.
TV: Fox (Ch. 28)
Radio: WBNS-FM/AM (97.1/1460)
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The 2018 Buckeyes, aka, the Searchers, are nine games in and still in the hunt for championship form. Or is this all there is?
In the polls/CFP
The Buckeyes moved up one spot to No.7 in the coaches poll, but stayed No.8 in the Associated Press media vote as West Virginia hopped to No.7 in the shake-up following former No.4 LSU’s lopsided loss to No.1 Alabama. Michigan is No.4 after putting Penn State back in the box 42-7. The new College Football Playoff rankings come out late Tuesday night. OSU was No.10 last week.
The run game. It’s been a long time since the Buckeyes could say that. But with J.K. Dobbins rushing for a season-high 163 yards and a career-high three touchdowns, the 229-yard team total turned out to be the Buckeyes’ salvation, especially late in the fourth quarter when they literally ran out the clock.
What cooled to medium?
Dwayne Haskins Jr. and the passing game. He still managed to hit 18 of 32 passes for 252 yards and two touchdowns. But his lone interception came in the end zone on the opening drive of the second half. Haskins also had a malfunction on a handoff to Mike Weber, he lost a fumble and wasn’t sharp on several other throws. Yet he is No.3 nationally in passing yards with 3,053, matching J.T. Barrett (2017) for the third-highest school season total. Joe Germaine (3,330 in 1998) is No.1 and Bob Hoying (3,269 in 1995) is second.
What still needs heat?
The defense. The shuffling in the secondary due to injuries and safety Jordan Fuller's ejection on a targeting foul call was a challenge the Buckeyes ultimately overcame, due in large part to the inspired play of safety Brendon White. But while most of the defenses in the current top eight of the polls appear to be tightening the screws, the Buckeyes still seem to be searching for nuts and bolts, and maybe even a little sheet metal.
At one point the Buckeyes deployed two tight ends in the backfield to help with goal-line offense, and Luke Farrell and freshman Jeremy Ruckert delivered the goods. Then with about 2 minutes left in the game, Ruckert delivered a clearing block on the edge as Dobbins rushed for the first of two first downs that ran out the clock.
Time will tell whether cornerback Jeffrey Okudah (hamstring) or safety Isaiah Pryor (shoulder) returns this week after sitting out against Nebraska.
Michigan State, which just slapped Maryland 24-3. The Spartans aren’t flashy on offense, but their defense appears to have rounded into form. They’ve been impressive enough to move back into the Associated Press poll at No.24 this week, while sitting one spot out of the coaches top 25.
This week’s challenge
Last year, the Buckeyes unleashed Mike Weber on a career-high rushing performance and dominated MSU from the start. It’s been five games since they’ve dominated anyone else from the start, and this noon match at MSU has the earmarks of being a knockdown, drag-out affair. With three games left, it’s getting late — but not too late — to display championship form.