By Ryan Mayer, CBS Local Sports
The Ohio State Buckeyes entered the season as the unanimous number one team in the country following their magical run through the first ever College Football Playoff. Much of the talk surrounding the program was focused on the fact that the Buckeyes were perceived to have been a year away. If they could win the national title when they were still in a supposed “rebuilding” phase, then what would happen this year when the players were another year older and more experienced? Would they just roll through their schedule like a juggernaut beating every team by 20+? How could they not?
That hasn’t exactly happened. The Buckeyes are 5-0 sure, but it hasn’t been easy. It may seem odd to ask what’s wrong with a team that’s undefeated, but there are plenty of questions to be had. They started popping up following opening weekend in Blacksburg when Virginia Tech led 17-14 after the first half before Ohio State woke up for the second and blitzed the Hokies 28-7, winning 42-24. They’ve since continued to play rocky games against heavy underdogs in Northern Illinois (20-13) and Indiana (34-27).
To be fair, the Hoosiers have the look of a much better team this season and it was a conference game in enemy territory. The same theme has weaved its way through all of the Buckeyes games so far this season though, the offense that ran like a Ferrari last season has many of the same parts, but not the same fluid efficiency.
Statistically, the numbers aren’t far off. The Buckeyes are 78th in passing, 16th in rushing, and 33rd in total offense through 5 games this year. Compare that to 52nd in passing, 9th in rushing and 9th in total offense. The numbers are slightly worse, but not by a ton. The issue has been the turnovers. The Buckeyes are tied for 101st in the country in turnover margin at -4. Contrast that with a +7 mark last season. The turnovers have certainly caught the attention of coach Urban Meyer as detailed in an article by Cleveland.com’s Ari Wasserman.
“We’re turning the ball over at an alarming rate,” coach Urban Meyer said after the game. “That’s obviously a difference in the game. And at some point, that’s going to bite you. We have to fix that.”
Meyer voluntarily brought up Ohio State’s turnover problem three times in his six-minute news conference after the game. You could tell he was concerned about it, that he fears that they could cost the Buckeyes a game down the road. “
Cardale Jones has been a large part of that problem, in 5 games he’s thrown 5 interceptions. However, Jones is not the sole culprit. Wide receiver Jalin Marshall and running back Ezekiel Elliott have both lost two fumbles this season. The ball security has to be better. One thing is for sure, the Buckeyes need to get the issue fixed. If that means moving from Jones who has more upside talent-wise, to the more cautious Barrett (yes he has two INT’s this year, but had just 10 all last season) then so be it.
Ohio State has a favorable stretch of five games upcoming with Maryland, Penn State and Minnesota all coming to the horseshoe and away games at Rutgers and Illinois over the next 6 weeks. Those teams are a combined 15-9 so far and none have been particularly impressive. These next five games will tell whether or not the Buckeyes will be able to handle the season ending games against rivals Michigan State and Michigan to attempt to get back to the playoff.
Quick Hitting Observations
-Josh Doctson isn’t a human. 42 receptions for 722 yards and 8 TD’s in 5 games. He’s getting plenty of rest with TCU burying teams in the first half too (143-48).
-Jim McElwain is the early leader for coach of the year. What was expected to be a 5-7, 6-6 type year in Gainesville has turned into a 5-0 start and the Gators looking like legit contenders for the SEC East crown.
-Unsurprisingly, tales of Alabama’s demise were premature. The Tide smacked around the Bulldogs on Saturday, quickly ending any thoughts of the program’s falling off.
-I wonder how much longer LSU can survive with Leonard Fournette as their entire offense. He’s averaging more than half their total yards of offense this season (216 rushing yards per game, 215.5 passing yards per game). The Tigers defense is very good, and having Fournette and that defense has been good enough so far, but can that really continue?
-The Pac-12 is eating itself alive. Only three teams remain undefeated in conference (Utah, Cal, Stanford) and one preseason conference contender already has two losses (Arizona). Cal and Utah meet this weekend so one will come away with a blemish, and the Bears and Cardinal meet later this year. I have no idea who survives, but it’ll be fun to watch.
-Northwestern and Michigan’s defenses are for real, man. The two teams are allowing 7 and 7.6 PPG respectively (1st & 2nd) and they’re 2nd (Michigan) and 5th (Northwestern) nationally in total D. The Wildcats are undefeated and Michigan’s only loss came on opening night to the previously Utah squad.
Must Watch Games
#13 Northwestern at #18 Michigan 3:30 PM Big Ten Network- Like defense? This is the game for you. You’re probably staring at a 13-10, 10-7 sort of game here. If you’re into that sort of thing.
#21 Oklahoma State at West Virginia 7 PM ESPN2- On the flip side if you like offense, here you go. Both teams are averaging over 38 points per game this season. Enjoy the fireworks.
#23 California at #5 Utah 10 PM ESPN- The Pac-12’s chance to cannibalize itself continues as one of these unbeatens will be sent packing with their first loss. Jared Goff and a high scoring Cal offense (43.3 PPG) goes against a stingy Utah defense (18.8 PPG allowed). The Utes offense has been pretty good as well putting up 38 plus points per game on the season.
Ryan Mayer is an Associate Producer for CBS Local Sports. Ryan lives in NY but comes from Philly and life as a Philly sports fan has made him cynical. Anywhere sports are being discussed, that’s where you’ll find him. Agree/Disagree? Thoughts, comments, complaints? Email or tweet him.