Ohio State’s biggest enemy may be itself.
The Buckeyes have shown they have the talent to contend for a national title, but they have not shown the ability to stay focused for an entire game.
That issue was exposed in a big way by Indiana, which rallied from a 35-7 deficit in the second half to get within a touchdown of the Buckeyes.
Ohio State’s secondary was torched by Indiana quarterback Michael Penix and wide receiver Ty Fryfogle. Penix piled up 491 passing yards and five touchdowns, while Fryfogle had seven catches for 218 yards and three TDs. After losing three starters, it was expected that the Ohio State defensive backfield would go through some growing pains. But allowing almost 500 passing yards in a game was not the expectation. Part of the reason is a drop-off in talent: the three starters that left are all getting significant playing time for NFL teams this fall. It is unfair to expect the replacements to offer the same production. At the same time, it’s not like the Buckeyes have a bunch of two star recruits playing in the secondary. Guys like Josh Proctor and Sevyn Banks, along with the lone returner Shaun Wade, have plenty of talent. But they can’t afford to get complacent, and that is what has happened at times this season.
Ohio State’s defense did a good job of containing the Hoosiers in the first half, but after getting a four-touchdown lead in the second half, the unit lost its intensity and found itself playing on its heels.
It’s not just the defense that has struggled to keep its focus. The offense has also been hurt by inconsistency as well.
The Buckeye offense have started games well, but they seem to lose their sharpness when they get a big lead. That was evident against Rutgers when Ohio State jumped out to a 35-3 halftime lead but mustered only 14 points in the second half.
It also happened against the Hoosiers. Ohio State’s offense generated just one touchdown in the second half after putting four TDs on the scoreboard in the first two quarters.
Ohio State head coach Ryan Day attributes the inconsistency partly to the lack of experience and also not having fans in the stands.
“We’ve got a ways to go,” said Day after the Indiana game. “But we’ve played four games. It’s almost Thanksgiving, so it’s just very, very bizarre, and there’s just so much that has gone into this season that these kids have been through, that to the average person, they don’t quite get part of that and wouldn’t understand. But when you are in an environment like this when there’s no fans and you have to bring your own energy, it’s just a different dynamic and I think that’s why you’re seeing so much strange things that have gone on this year. Not making excuses, I’m just calling it for what it is.”
The bottom line for the Buckeyes, though, is they have to figure out how to put a full game together if they want to beat the elites like Clemson and Alabama to win a national championship.
“We have to keep growing and get better and learn to adapt to this environment,” said Day. “It seems to me like whatever the reason is, the last two weeks, we haven’t been able to finish that. We came out and scored right out of the game in the second half (against Indiana). I was jacked up, I thought we were going to run away with it. We didn’t, so we’ve got to coach better and we’ve got to execute better.” O