My takeaway from the reviewing Ohio State’s breakthrough win last week at Michigan State is this: The most encouraging sign for Ohio State football fans moving forward from last week’s win at Michigan State could be the offensive coaches trusting their guys to carry out their philosophy — then seeing J.T. Barrett and Co. do that with ruthless effectiveness.
As I wrote last week would probably be the best plan of action, the Buckeyes made most of their hay running up the middle and throwing over the top when the time was right. They did what they do better than what Michigan State normally does. I got the vibe in the postgame interview room this came as a big surprise to the people asking MSU defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi what went wrong, but he didn’t offer much in the way of excuses. He might have suspected this was coming.
Ohio State worked the short passing game at times to stay on schedule — and for the long TD on the slant, which we already knew was part of the arsenal — and got outside with one option play (while another went for a loss), but with some subtle adjustments they kept it simple for the most part and just won a lot of individual battles.
Barrett, the offensive line, Ezekiel Elliott, Mike Thomas and Devin Smith were superb with great assists from Evan Spencer, Jeff Heuerman and Jalin Marshall. Dontre Wilson flirted with disaster but also made a great catch on the TD that pretty much put the game away.
Some variations on the bread and butter helped make the Buckeyes more effective (as detailed predictably well by Ross Fulton at ElevenWarriors), but the key to success was mostly executing their plan better than the opponent and out-talenting them individual situations.
Michigan State’s defense started channeling Roberto Duran (“No más”) by the fourth quarter. The bullies were not used to being treated like this. They also collapsed in the second half against Oregon, but in that case a couple of busted assignments started the deluge. The Ducks scored two TDs on passes to wide receivers running free in the secondary. The Spartans didn’t turn the Buckeyes loose — they just couldn’t keep up.
Of course the Buckeyes had some troubles of their own defensively that they’ll have to work out. While Michigan State has a very good offense, Ohio State is going to have to be ready to do a better job of slowing down attacks of similar quality if they want to make some noise on the national stage.
I think the main issue for the Ohio State defense is vague don’t have anything yet they can absolutely take away from a team. The front four is talented but lacking in depth, and they’re built more for rushing the passer than clogging running lanes. That doesn’t make life very easy for the linebackers, who have some issues of their own in recognizing run and playing downhill. The new secondary has shown great improvement since last season but is not fully online yet. As they develop more confidence in their reads, the safeties should be able to help more in the running game.