OSU report card: Good outcome, but plenty went bad

Jon Spencer

| Mansfield News Journal

On a day when the Buckeyes had to beat the officiating crew and upstart Indiana, their play in a 42-35 victory didn’t always suggest they deserved to win.

Offensive line

For whatever reason, the front five, which looked like one of the best in the country on paper before the season began, is still trying to put things together. Its run blocking was fine, but pass protection remains an adventure, even when QB Justin Fields isn’t guilty of holding the ball too long. For the most part, new right tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere had been above criticism, but on back-to-back plays he gave up a sack and then got flagged for holding, trying to fend off DE Jerome Johnson. Fields got sacked five times and the frustration boiled over early when guard Wyatt Davis was called for a personal foul. He didn’t instigate the tussle, but it’s always the guy who shoves back who gets caught. Just wish there had been that much fight trying to keep a clean pocket.

Grade: C

Running game

Master Teague had a career day against one of the Big Ten’s top rushing defenses, racking up169 yards on 26 carries and two TDs, including a 41-yard score on “student body” left that gave the Buckeyes the lead for good. He’s more Raymont Harris than Zeke Elliott or J.K. Dobbins, but maybe that’s OK. It was easy to get spoiled by Zeke and J.K., they were so dynamic, but Teague has now rushed for over 100 yards in two of the last three games after battling back from an Achilles injury in the spring. Not that transfer Trey Sermon has been terrible, but hopefully OSU shelves the RB rotation for now and continues to give the bulk of the work to Teague.

Grade: A

Passing game

If you only watched the last 2 minutes, you would have figured out that Justin Fields was having a rare off-day throwing the ball. Trying to pick up a first down to preserve the lead late in the game, coach Ryan Day dialed up a running play on third-and-thirteen. Hard to blame him. Fields threw three interceptions, matching his OSU career total, and two of them came when he mindlessly threw the ball up for grabs. You want to scream at Fields for continuing to hold the ball too long, but a couple of times his improvisation results in a 30-yard table-setter and a 9-yard TD run. In the end, he accounts for 378 total yards (300 passing, 78 rushing) and three scores. That’s how good he is, even when he’s bad. Together, Wilson and Chris Olave each had over 100 yards in receptions for the third time this season. Wilson’s been over 100 all four games and his two TDs give him four on the year.

Grade: B

Defensive line

DE Jonathon Cooper defended the Buckeyes after their one-sack performance in their last game, saying they are still pressuring the QB and making him get the ball out quickly. OSU turned up the heat on IU’s Michael Penix Jr., but obviously not enough because he had one of the best passing days ever allowed by an Ohio State team. In fairness to DE Zach Harrison, officials denied him a forced fumble when he knocked the ball out of Penix’s hands as he was cocking his arm back to throw. It was one of several bad calls that went against the Buckeyes. On the plus side, the defense held IU to minus-1 yard rushing.

Grade: C plus

Linebackers

Baron Browning had two big plays, one of which actually counted. He jarred the ball loose after a 51-yard reception by David Ellis and recovered the fumble himself late in the first half. That turned into a huge momentum swing when the Buckeyes converted the takeaway into a touchdown and 28-7 halftime lead. Browning also forced a fumble in the first quarter that Shaun Wade recovered inside the 30, but the officials blew the call and ruled that the receiver was down before the ball popped loose. Although no part of the defense is blameless after giving up nearly 500 yards, LB Pete Werner made a huge play with his third down sack late in the game to snuff out a threat.

Grade: C plus

Defensive backs

Normally, you’re praising the secondary when one of its members comes up with a pick-6. Especially since Shaun Wade’s 36-yard interception return proved to be the decisive score. But this was a disaster. Michael Penix Jr.’s 491 yards passing were fourth-highest ever against Ohio State and his 5 TD passes tied for second most. Everybody in the backfield got exposed, including Wade, whose overall play this season has screamed anything but All-American. Ty Fryfogle had 7 catches for 218 yards and 3 TDs. The only consolation is that he also had 200 yards in receptions the week before against Michigan State, so he’s obviously elite. But to give up pass plays of 68, 51, 63, 33 and 56 yards is outrageous. And Greg Schiano isn’t around anymore to blame.

Grade: D minus

Special teams

If Ryan Day had any faith in his kicking game right now, he would have gone for the chip-shot field goal and a 10-point lead late in the game instead of watching his fourth-down gamble on the 7 turn into an incomplete pass. With regular kicker Blake Haubeil still sidelined (groin), freshman Jake Seibert missed his first field goal attempt as a Buckeye when his 41-yarder sailed just wide left. So Day put the game in Justin Fields’ arm instead of Seibert’s foot. Normally the wise call. Turns out the best special teams play of the game was Drue Chrisman getting his punt off cleanly with 38 seconds left, pinning IU at its own 22. Earlier in the quarter, a holding call wiped out Demario McCall’s 45-yard punt return for the Buckeyes, whose lapse in punt coverage would set up the Hoosiers’ final TD.

Grade: D

Coaching

A 42-35 shootout is what you should expect from No. 3 vs. No. 9, right? Maybe, but Ryan Day said the Buckeyes will be looking at everything to see if Saturday’s defensive struggles can be traced to personnel, scheme or coaching. It’s probably a little of everything. As easy as it is right now to throw the defense under the bus, remember that the offense only put up one touchdown in the second half. This was the second straight game the Buckeyes were outscored by double-digits in the second half and third straight game they’ve given up at least three touchdowns after halftime. Rustiness from an unexpected week off, lack of fan energy because of an empty stadium and letting up after taking a big lead are just excuses.

Grade: C

— Jon Spencer

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