SportsPulse: College football insiders Paul Myerberg and Dan Wolken discuss what the committee got right and wrong in the second playoff reveal of the season.
The strangeness of Ohio State’s football season is evident in the reality that the Buckeyes are a Power Five conference one-loss team still trying to bring its game together in the 11th week of the season.
After spending a bye week drilling down on the problems in the running game and defensive play, the Buckeyes appear to have straightened the first issue. J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber combined for 254 yards on the ground last Saturday against Nebraska. But No. 7 Ohio State’s defensive consistency is still an issue heading into Saturday’s home game against Michigan State.
“It’s getting closer,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. “But it’s still not the standard that we want.”
The Buckeyes have given up 80 points in their last two games and have surrendered an average of 24.8 points per game in six Big Ten games.
Giving up an average of 243.9 yards per game passing, the Buckeyes rank 84th in pass defense. The Buckeyes rank 55th with an average yield of 154.4 yards per game on the ground. That’s not what you expect for a team still holding College Football Playoff aspirations.
“The good news is that we are going to be relatively healthy back there,” Meyer said. “We will have all three corners, and some good depth at safety, but we are facing a team that does a lot of stuff on offense.”
Defensive consistency is the top priority because the Buckeyes could be back in the College Football Playoff picture if they win their next three scheduled games against Michigan State, Maryland and Michigan and then win the Big Ten championship game.
Ohio State’s defensive lapses started to appear in its first game, when Oregon State scored 31 points against the Buckeyes. Allowing too many big plays have been a problem.
The loss of superstar defensive end Nick Bosa to an injury in the third game of the season was also a major blow. In his absence, the Buckeyes seem to lack the difference-maker who raises the level of those around him.
“One of the top five players in America is not playing,” Meyer said during his weekly news conference. “He’s an inspiration, was a captain, was this, that. But that happened quite a while ago. So what’s the impact? Obviously big. But you’ve got to move on.”
Meyer said the leadership void on defense has been aggravated by multiple injuries. “It’s the confidence factor,” Meyer said. “It’s hard to lead when guys are out of the game and you don’t have consistency.”
The Buckeyes will meet a Michigan State offense that ranks 109th in the country in scoring at 23.4 points per game. The Spartans averaged 18.8 points in their last five Big Ten games.
Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said there is not one specific reason the Spartans offense has sputtered, although inconsistency has been part of it. “Some of that is due to injury, some of that is due to scheme and some of that due to execution,” he said.
But Meyer said the Spartans defense is playing as well as any team in the country. They rank No. 1 in the country in rushing defense, giving up an average of 71.7 yards per game. The Spartans provide the perfect test run for the Buckeyes with the Michigan game looming later in the month.
No one is looking past Michigan State, however. Since Meyer arrived at Ohio State, the Spartans-Buckeyes rivalry has become noteworthy, mostly because the games are always important. Twice in six meetings, the Spartans have spoiled the Buckeyes’ title hopes.
“Every game now in November is like a full season because it has so much meaning,” Dantonio said. “I think it’s not just for this football team, but every team in the conference.”