Upon further review of Ohio State’s 49-20 loss at Purdue: Yes, it was that bad.
Let’s break it down:
1. The fourth quarter was almost a game unto itself.
What will the consequences of that final 15 minutes be long term?
When it was 21-6 late in the third quarter, the game felt like one we had seen a few times before: Ranked team goes on the road, falters at a couple of key junctures and loses. No big deal if they win the rest of their games. Hardly anyone goes undefeated.
For better or for worse, we’re used to seeing Urban Meyer’s Ohio State offense lay eggs, so did that even feel weird? Not really.
I stated it was not like last year’s Iowa game, which was a uniquely embarrassing total team failure of historic proportions.
Then Ohio State gave up 28 more points and it pretty much became exactly like the Iowa game.
How did that happen?
2. Well, like most of the Buckeyes’ troubles this season, it began with the nickel defense.
This five-defensive back unit was a disaster the week before against a bad Minnesota offense, but defensive coordinator Greg Schiano still went with it as his de facto base defense against a good, pass-happy Purdue offense with a better quarterback despite one of his starting cornerbacks being out.
Though this is obviously illogical, it was not entirely surprising because Schiano has made it clear playing press-man defense is the hill he is willing to die on.
The floodgates opened with a 42-yard touchdown run by D.J. Knox against the nickel.
This was a look Purdue coach Jeff Brohm later said they were looking for to run that trap against, and it is no wonder why.
Ohio State’s aggressiveness out of its nickel invites such a play, providing easy angles for a trap, and Knox is a quick, tough runner who exploited the execution of those blocks. Putting linebacker Tuf Borland up on the line also makes blocking him easier and leaves no one on the second level.
That made it 28-6, Boilermakers, but the worst was yet to come.
3. Knox’s run was like a liver punch to the Ohio State defense, which never recovered.
The Silver Bullets, who had done a solid job against a good offense up to that point, noticeably lost some of their starch after that play. They were ready to go home, but Purdue wasn’t done.
Knox went the distance again against the nickel, this time taking advantage of the OSU front losing gap control without much resistance, Pete Werner over pursuing and the secondary providing zero support.
The Boilermakers finished them off with another touchdown against the nickel, forcing No. 4 cornerback Shaun Wade to follow their best player, Rondale Moore, across the formation for a swing pass, picking Wade off with a nice (and easy) block then letting Moore run through everyone else. He outran Werner to the sideline, ran through a very poor high tackle attempt by safety Isaiah Pryor and scored easily after that.
Ohio State’s defensive plan made scheming to get the ball to Moore fairly easy while also exposing the run defense, which has been much better with three linebackers on the field than two all year.
4. As ugly as the final product was, Ohio State’s red zone problems probably decided the game more than anything else.
If the Buckeyes had taken care of business inside the 20, they likely have had the lead in the third quarter rather than playing from behind against an underdog buoyed by early success.
The failures inside the 20 were fairly universal, but the main culprit was Dwayne Haskins.
The quarterback who has been so good all year missed two potential touchdowns throws in the end one that could have had a huge impact.
The play-calling contributed, too. A third-down fade to Binjimin Victor is a low-percentage call to begin with, and he is not yet a consistent option. The series that was stopped on downs included a successful run followed by a run attempt into an eight-man box (fail) and an attempt to pass against eight men in coverage (fail).
The fourth down screen to K.J. Hill was played well by Purdue, but it also was probably made more predictable by the realization there were so many other options that weren’t really options for Ohio State at that point because of lack of execution.
5. Ohio State’s running game has faltered because no one is playing well.
Haskins’ not being a run threat gets a lot of blame for the Buckeyes’ not being able to run the ball consistently lately, but that is mostly bogus.
Ohio State offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson produced two 1,000-yard rushers in 2015 with a quarterback whose skill set was almost identical to Haskins and had another 1,200-yard guy in ’16 with a different pass-first quarterback. Oh yeah and he produced a 2,000-yard rusher in ’14 despite essentially not even having a quarterback for half the season.
It can be done, but it requires linemen making blocks and running backs reading them. Neither of those things are happening right now. The reason for that is open for speculation, although lack of practice is a good bet. Of course different personnel might produce different results, too.
I’ve been critical of a lack of run scheme diversity in the past, but I don’t think that’s a problem this year. They just aren’t getting it blocked, and sometimes when they do, the running backs miss the hole.
6. Haskins was good, but he needed to be just about perfect.
This is hardly fair to expect of a first-year starter, but it is reality right now for Ohio State. It’s also how things have been since Meyer arrived: How the quarterback goes is how the Buckeyes go even more so than at the average program.
Haskins missed two deep-ball TDs and two more in the red zone that could have drastically changed the outcome.
Of course, the ultimate takeaway from this realization should probably be everyone else needs to raise their game to provide him more support.
7. Purdue’s defense played exceptionally well.
Here’s another parallel to the 2017 Ohio State-Iowa game. Then it was the Hawkeyes’ offense playing out of its mind all afternoon. In this case, the Boilermakers defense had a great night. They were gap sound, maintained coverages for the most part and more than anything just tackled very well. I bet they won’t be as good again the rest of the season, but that’s life in college football.
Brohm said last week they needed Hilliard Davidson grad Markus Bailey to be their best player, and he was. He made plays from sideline to sideline and capped it off with a gift pick-six from Haskins.
8. This was never Ohio State’s night.
Ominous starts on both sides of the ball might have offered a hint of what was to come as safety Jordan Fuller, who is one of the team’s captains and most reliable, experienced defensive players, missed a tackle on the first snap for the defense.
Then Isaiah Prince, a senior and Ohio State’s best offensive lineman, jumped the snap on the offense’s first play.
Of course these little mistakes are easy to overcome when there is another 58 minutes left in the game, but they represent a team that has been searching for consistency all season.