1. I'm fairly confident in saying that Indiana is not as good as they played yesterday. Hoosier quarterback Michael Penix, Jr. will probably never throw for 491 yards and 5 TDs in a single game (he came in averaging 267.5 yards and 2.25 TDs per game); wide receiver Ty Fryfogle is unlikely to make 7 receptions for 218 yards and 3 touchdowns; and the Hoosier defense won't force another Heisman candidate quarterback into three interception and five sacks. Except for the final eleven minutes of the second quarter, when Ohio State scored three straight touchdowns and held Indiana scoreless, the Hoosiers played over their heads. Not much over their heads, perhaps - after all, they were 4-0 and ranked #9 in the country entering the contest with Ohio State - but enough over their heads that what should have been a fairly comfortable Buckeye victory was not finally decided until literally the last play of the game (a desperate Lateral Mary that the Buckeye defense actually seemed prepared for).
2. I'm not so confident in saying this, but I'm going to say it anyway: Ohio State isn't much better than they played yesterday. In the season opener against a really bad Nebraska team, Ohio State scored early and often and never let up (or if they did let up, Nebraska simply wasn't good enough to do anything about it). Then in Week 2, Ohio State opened up a 21-3 lead against Penn State (now 0-5), only to see the Nittany Lions outscore the Buckeyes 22-17 thereafter. The same thing happened in Week 3, as Ohio State raced out to a 35-3 lead against Rutgers, only to be outscored down the stretch, 24-14. Last night was more of the same: After Ohio State went up 35-7 early in the 3rd quarter, Indiana finished the game on a 28-7 run, with the Buckeyes' only remaining touchdown coming on a defensive score. It's now three games in a row where the Buckeyes have built an early lead and then melted down or slacked off or lost interest or whatever they've done to themselves. And let's be clear: These weak finishes are happening with the starters in the game. Until this team can prove that it has killer instinct, then I'm going to say that they just don't have it ... and without it, they're not going anywhere in the playoffs (if they can even make it that far).
3. After Week 4, Ohio State is not a serious national championship contender. Now time for some perspective:
In Week 4 of the 2014 season, Ohio State already had one loss in the books (the Virginia Tech debacle), and they were playing the Cincinnati Bearcats. The Buckeyes opened up a 30-7 lead early in the second quarter (sound familiar), but by the middle of the third quarter, the Bearcats had cut the lead to just five points, 33-28. Ohio State woke up at that point and scored the final 17 points of the contest to finish with a seemingly comfortable win, 50-28, but those of us who remember that game know the Buckeyes were on upset alert. Cincinnati wide receiver Chris Moore embarrassed the Buckeye defense, as he had 3 receptions for 221 yards and 3 touchdowns (60, 78, and 83 yards). Ohio State showed that they were not a serious national champion contender. Ohio State won the national championship in 2014.
In Week 4 of the 2002 season, Ohio State again played Cincinnati. At the beginning of the fourth quarter, the Buckeyes were actually losing to the Bearcats, 19-14. The fourth quarter of that game was a wild one: Ohio State kicked a field goal to cut the lead to 19-17; Chris Gamble intercepted a pass in the end zone to kill a promising Cincinnati drive; Ohio State punted; Cincinnati fumbled; Ohio State scored a touchdown with 3:44 on the clock to take a 23-19 lead; and finally Will Allen intercepted a pass in the end zone with 26 seconds left in the game to seal the deal. Craig Krenzel was 14/29 for 129 yards, with 2 TDs and 2 INTs. The rushing attack averaged 4.3 yards per carry. The offense generated just 292 yards and 16 first downs. It was an ugly, nerve wracking, Tresselball Hell of a game. Ohio State showed that they were not a serious national champion contender. Ohio State won the national championship in 2002.
So, does this mean that Ohio State will win a national championship in 2020? Of course not. But it does mean that it's still a long season ... well, not exactly a long season at this point, but that there is still time for the Buckeyes to right their ship and plot their course to another title.
4. Justin Fields opened the game with a typically brilliant start - 2 completions for 75 yards and a touchdown. Then he proved that he is a mere mortal. After the quick strike opening drive, Fields completed just 16 of 28 passes (.571) for 225 yards, a touchdown, 3 interceptions, and 5 sacks. It wasn't a Heisman performance. It was more like a Bauserman. Bad days happen, even to the best of us. I think that we, as Buckeye fans, can all live with an occasional bad game from our star quarterback. But here's what's more disturbing: The book has now been written on Justin Fields - pressure him up the middle and watch him panic and make mistakes. True, most quarterbacks don't like pressure up the middle, so Fields is not unique in that respect. However, Fields does not seem to make good decisions when his pocket dissolves in front of him - perhaps he is fighting his instinct to scramble in order to follow his instruction as a pocket passer? I don't know. In any event, the Buckeye coaching staff did not call many plays to counter the Hoosiers' pressure tactics - there were no designed roll outs, and just one true screen (to Trey Sermon for 13 yards), one bubble screen, and one "pop" pass. The tight ends were non-existent in the passing game - no catches and just one target, so far as I can remember (that cockamamie 4th-and-1 play from the Indiana 7-yard line, a play that actually would have worked if Fields could have been a bit more composed). It seemed like the staff was content to keep Fields in the pocket all day long and throw the ball down field. If the pocket held - big gain. If it didn't - disaster (3 picks, 5 sacks). Not the strategy that I would employ, but I'm just a fan....
5. When Justin Fields did have time to throw, he was able to find Garrett Wilson (7 receptions 169 yards, 2 touchdown) and Chris Olave (8 receptions, 101 yards). Wilson and Olave continue to be the most gifted WR combo in Ohio State history, and each has a chance to eclipse the 1000-yard mark even in this abbreviated COVID season.
6. One sour note about the normally sure-handed Wilson: He did drop two passes yesterday, on back-to-back plays in the fourth quarter. At the time, Ohio State was up 42-28 and needed to sustain a drive to regain momentum, kill some clock, and perhaps even build their suddenly precarious lead. Instead, the Buckeyes punted and two plays later Penix hit Fryfogle for a 56-yard touchdown (more on that later).
7. The Buckeye running game finally hit high gear as Master Teague (26 carries, 169 yards, 6.5 average, 2 touchdowns, long runs of 32 and 41 yards) and Trey Sermon (9 carries, 60 yards, 6.7 average) each had a nice game. In addition, Justin Fields (discounting sacks) had 10 carries for 101 yards and a touchdown, with a long run of 30 yards. With the running game working so well, and with the weather being on the inclement side (45 degrees, steady rain), it was surprising that the Buckeye staff relied so heavily on the passing attack (30 pass attempts plus 5 sacks and several scrambles).
8. At times, the offensive line looked bad, very bad. I don't know if it was execution, communication, scheme, play calling, backs and tight ends not providing enough help, or Justin Fields not making quick decisions. Probably some combination of most of the above. However, I will say this: I have never seen five linemen capable of blocking eight defenders. Ohio State certainly did not seem prepared for Indiana's massive pressure blitzing, and the staff called very few plays to counter it.
9. The Buckeye defense held Indiana to -1 yard rushing on 16 carries, thanks in large part to an errant snap that cost the Hoosiers 16 yards. The Hoosier running backs had 11 carries for 18 yards (1.6 average), with a long run of just 8 yards. Michael Penix, Jr. (discounting sacks) had one carry for nine yards. The run defense was very good. The run defense should have been very good because Indiana simply cannot run the ball (the Hoosiers entered the contest averaging 95 yards per game and 2.7 yards per carry).
10. The problem with the Buckeye defense was in the passing game: Michael Penix, Jr. is a pretty good quarterback, but he's not nearly good enough to throw for 491 yards and 5 touchdowns against a supposed national championship contender. (By the way, the 491 yards was the fourth most ever allowed by Ohio State, and the 5 TD passes tied for second most allowed). Sure, Penix heaved up some prayers that always seemed to be answered, but there were plenty of times that he was throwing to wide open receivers running free in the Buckeye secondary. It is easy to blame all of those defensive breakdowns on lack of talent (and some of the Buckeye defensive backs have definitely displayed a distressing lack of talent this year), but I also saw defensive end Tyler Friday covering a running back on a wheel route, linebacker Pete Werner covering a wide receiver 40 yards downfield, and linebacker Teradja Mitchell getting beat (if he was in coverage at all) by a wide receiver for a 51-yard gain. Again, I'm certainly not an expert, but all those blatant mismatches (and probably several more that I cannot recall from the top of my head) seem like schematic issues, not talent issues.
11. The Buckeye defensive line was able to sack Michael Penix, Jr. only twice on 54 pass plays, this despite the fact that Ohio State blitzed on several occasions. Granted, Chase Young is gone and we've run out of Bosas, but there should be enough talent on this defensive line to consistently beat an Indiana offensive line that had been surrendering four sacks per game.
12. Michael Penix, Jr. made very few mistakes, but Shaun Wade made him pay for his most egregious error. With just under a minute left in the third quarter, Penix attempted an out route that Wade timed perfectly, picked cleanly, and returned for a touchdown to give Ohio State a seemingly insurmountable 42-21 lead.
13. On the negative side of the ledger, Wade was once again on the wrong end of a highlight reel play when Ty Fryfogle beat him for a 56-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. It sure looked like Fryfogle pushed off on Wade - even the normally unreliable Joel Klatt thought that it was OPI - but Fryfogle won the battle and Wade got the flag for his role in the hand fighting. As Buckeye fans, we can bitch about poor officiating, and in this case we'd have a pretty solid right to bitch. But that's beside the point. This season, Wade has exhibited a pattern of playing tight coverage but then being out-muscled for 50-50 balls. Some of it is undoubtedly bad luck, but quite a bit more of it is the fact that Wade simply isn't physical enough. I don't know if Wade needs to get stronger, or if he's making business decisions to protect his multi-million dollar body....
14. Ohio State didn't really win the turnover battle - each team had three, if you discount the "fumble" that ended Indiana's desperation lateral-fest on the final play of the game. But the results of the turnovers certainly favored Ohio State, and probably were the difference in the game. Indiana intercepted Justin Fields three times - the first two led to no points, and the third was fumbled away by the interceptor. On the other side, the Buckeyes lone interception went for a pick six, and both forced fumbles occurred when Indiana was in the red zone. That's potentially a 21-point swing.
15. Indiana actually had a fourth fumble, but the officials missed it. On their second drive of the game, already down 7-0, Indiana wide receiver Whop Philyor lost the ball after a short reception. The officials on the field called down by contact and the replay booth apparently did not review the play, which was an obvious fumble recovered by Ohio State. Instead of having the ball in or near the red zone, the Buckeyes took over at their own 49-yard line after the ensuing punt. Maybe the 30-odd yards of field position wouldn't have mattered in the long run ... but maybe it would have. On Ohio State's very first play after the punt, Justin Fields threw an interception on a deep route, a deep route that obviously would not have been called if Ohio State had the ball in the red zone instead of midfield.
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