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Can Buckeyes Snap Out of Funk?

The Buckeyes are still searching for that January magic - Photo: Espn.com

Buckeyes Search to Find Themselves Continues Against Western Michigan

Let's get this out of the way. The Buckeyes will win today. The Western Michigan Broncos, who come in with a 1-2 record don't stand a chance. With the exception of a few receivers, most notably Daniel Braverman, the Broncos lack the size, speed, and athleticism to keep up with the Buckeyes.

Also, Urban Meyer doesn't lose these kinds of games. So no, the outcome of today's game is very much not in doubt. The Buckeyes will win, they'll move to 4-0, and they'll be good to go for the start of Big Ten play next week. Right?

It's time to have an honest conversation about the Buckeyes and what we've seen out of them in the first three games. Or, to be more accurate, why the Buckeyes have struggled to look like the Buckeyes.

The obvious place to start is with the quarterback situation. While it's true that neither Cardale Jones nor J.T. Barrett has played particularly well, I for one don't believe that the problem starts with them. Yes, they are the easy target given the scope of their personalities and the emphasis put on their battle all summer long, but there are other more critical factors at play.

Tim Beck's play calling has been questionable
Photo:JONATHAN QUILTER | DISPATCH 
The first and most glaring issue for the Buckeyes is the fact that their offensive coordinator from a year ago is now the head coach for the University of Houston. That's a problem - a big problem. From about the midway point of last season up through their improbable postseason run, Tom Herman was nearly perfect.

Once Herman had an understanding of how to best utilize the weapons at his disposal and put J.T. Barrett in a position to succeed the offense took off. Even more impressive, Herman was able to adjust on the fly and turn the trio of Cardale Jones, Ezekiel Elliot, and Devin Smith into superstars. If an offensive coordinator could pitch a perfect game, Herman did it.

Now that task has been handed over to co-offensive coordinator Tim Beck and so far the results have been lackluster, at best. An over emphasis on the passing attack combined with a questionable use of the read option with Cardale Jones. Meanwhile, the best tailback in the country has been left languishing in the backfield as the offense stalls. It's left some fans confused and other infuriated.

There is also the added challenge of finding enough touches to keep everyone happy. This juggling act is not helping things and instead of leading to a high powered attack with a boat load of options that are impossible to defend against, it has led to an almost "wait your turn" kind of approach. Rather than plays developing organically and picking the best from the available options, Ohio State's play calling has looked too much like taking turns.

"Ok, this play is for Braxton. Ok, now we have to run this play for Jalin. Oh, now it's time for Curtis Samuel. Hmmm, maybe we should get the ball to Zeke. Ok, Let's go to Michael Thomas here."

That's what it looks and feels like. Instead of feeling dynamic and uber athletic, the offense looks complacent and stagnant and it's an issue. 

Another, more glaring factor that has made things more difficult for the Buckeyes has been the play of the offensive line. To say they have under-performed to this point would be an understatement. With four of the starters returning from last season, the offensive line was expected to be an area of strength. And while it it perhaps one of deepest and most talented offensive line units in the country, protection breakdowns, penalties, and mental mistakes have been occurring at an alarming rate.

They know it too and said as much this past week.

"It is very frustrating because I know we’re capable of executing much better. Our offense is being held back by us." -Taylor Decker
“We’re not happy with the way we’ve been playing. It’s kind of come to a head with everybody on the offense. We’re pissed off with the way we’ve been playing. I think it’s time for us to run the Buckeye offense that we’ve known the past couple of years." -Jacoby Boren
Taylor Decker and the O-Line need to step up
Photo: COLUMBUS DISPATCH/MIKE MUNDEN
So they aren't running from their performance. In fact, it's been the exact opposite. The offensive line has accepted the way they've been playing and embraced the challenge of turning things around. If they can do that, improvement should come. Better O-line play will result in more big runs from Elliot and more time in the pocket for Jones, or whoever is at quarterback to find an open receiver. As of right now, the limited amount of time to sit in the pocket and scan the field has been the driving factor in the impotence of the passing attack.

Oh, and speaking of the receivers, they have to do a better job of getting themselves open. Against Virginia Tech, a program that has long been touted for its defense an stable of NFL caliber defensive backs, this was understandable, particularly during the somewhat slugglish second quarter. Against Hawaii and Northern Illinois it is not.

Ohio State's receiving corp is one of if not the most talented in the country touting NFL caliber prospects across the board. Their inability to find open space against two lesser opponents is unacceptable. Neither Hawaii or Northern Illinois can tout a defensive back with the skill set of Virginia Tech's Kendall Fuller yet both Jones and Barrett were left stranded in the pocket looking for an open target while the offensive line collapsed around them.

All of that, when put together, led to one last glaring issue. Turnovers. Ohio State is turning the ball over at an alarming rate to begin the season. Between interceptions and fumbles, they have provided the opposition with several additional possessions that have helped keep games closer than anyone expected. Not only that, but the sloppy play has also translated to dropped passes, poor snaps, and drive stalling penalties across the board.

So while the Buckeyes have not played like a defending national champion to start the season, these should not be seen as issues that are non-correctable. There seems to be a bit of stagnation and lethargy running rampant right now. With Urban Meyer running the show, it should be fully expected that he'll whip them into shape come hell or high water.

Until then, everyone needs to relax. We have set the bar so incredibly high for this team that anything short of three straight 63-0 blowouts to start the season would have been disappointing. What's really important is that this team is playing its best come November when they take on Minnesota, Michigan State and Michigan. So for now, let's all just relax and trust that Urban Meyer knows what he's doing.
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About Brian Heise

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