We are two-thirds the way through the Ohio State regular season and there are still numerous questions which need answered. Everyone expected there to be growing pains in a season where they lost so many players to the NFL but while they may be overachieving to some they are under-performing to others…especially on offense. So what is the deal?
It is pretty safe to say the Buckeyes currently do not have an offensive identity. At times, they look like a high-powered machine but lately they are running more like the moped you found on the side of the road. They have the athletes and they have the skill set, so the question becomes what is preventing the 2016 Buckeye offense from having an identity.
There are many factors which come into play but probably the most glaring one is the coaching staff’s inability to properly incorporate Curtis Samuel and Mike Weber into the attack…at the same time. The hardest part of all of this to me is they were able to do it easily at the beginning of the season but now struggle to do so. This seems to go against the logical view where they would struggle early before figuring things out. Let’s take a look at the production for the first four games.
Week 1 vs Bowling Green
Week 2 vs Tulsa
Week 3 vs Oklahoma
Week 4 vs Rutgers
As you can see, the Buckeye coaching staff did a pretty good job distributing the ball evenly to both of these play makers. Through four games, Samuel was averaging 16 touches, 168 yards, and one touchdown per game. Weber was averaging 17 touches, 126 yards, and 0.5 touchdowns per game.
At this point, Buckeye Nation knew what to expect from these two players. It was the ideal situation because it allowed the Buckeyes to have J.T. Barrett focus on throwing the ball and significantly reduced the possibility on Barrett being injured.
Somewhere things started to veer of course dramatically. Over the next four games, the offensive staff lost that balance between the two players, they put more pressure on Barrett to run the ball, and the offense suffered significantly because of it.
Week 5 vs Indiana
Week 6 vs Wisconsin
Week 7 vs Penn State
Week 8 vs Northwestern
As shown, the touches for Samuel and Weber quickly went from pretty equal to extremely uneven. Over the next four games, Samuel now averaged 13 touches (3 less per game), 106 yards, and one touchdown per game whereas Weber went to 19 touches (2 more per game), 85 yards, and one touchdown per game.
While there isn’t a drastic change in the overall touches per game, the inconsistency from game-to-game is the part which has people concerned. In the game against Indiana, where the wheels first fell of the bus, the Buckeyes were only able to get the ball to Samuel nine times even though he was averaging over nine yards per carry. At the same time, they fed the ball to Weber twice as many times (18 at 4.5 yards per touch). Coming into this game, no one would have expected either guy getting double the amount of carries than the other one. The staff had done an excellent job of incorporating both into the game plan.
Going into the Wisconsin game, the staff knew they could not forget about Samuel and decided to put an emphasis on him relegating Weber to the back-burner. In the first half, Samuel had 11 of his 18 touches while Weber had only four of his 11 touches. For those good at math, you know that the two staples of the Buckeye offense would then only combine to touch the ball 14 times over the second half and overtime.
Now into the third quarter, Samuel received four touches with his first touch coming at about the seven minute mark. After 15 touches through three quarters, he would then only touch the ball three more times over the final quarter and overtime…in an incredibly tight game. Weber, on the other hand, would only get five touches in the third quarter and two in the fourth quarter.
Things would then go completely downhill as the Buckeyes lost to Penn State where Mike Weber was now the main cog to the machine touching the ball 19 times (!!!!!) more than Samuel. The first touch for Samuel came on a second and seven play, with under ten minutes left in the second quarter, when Samuel hauled in a 15 yard reception. His first rushing attempt would not come until a full quarter later when he took a third and two handoff 74 yards for the touchdown. Samuel would get one more carry that quarter while Weber received 16 carries in the third quarter alone. The inability to incorporate both players into the game plan was in full-effect.
So what exactly does this all mean? There are a few different conclusions we can take away from all of this. First, you can simply say the first four games were against easier competition and therefore it was not difficult to ensure both players received an equal number of touches. This is hard to argue but my point is this; against better teams the in-game adjustment should be the cause of one player receiving more carries than the other.
This brings up the second conclusion in the case of the missing touches for Buckeye play makers over the previous four games, it was the initial game plan which purposely took one player out of the game early (generally Samuel):
First Quarter Touches
It is crazy to see outside of Wisconsin, Samuel only touched the ball three times total against Indiana, Penn State, and Northwestern in the first quarter. Really, the fact he only had 10 touches in the first quarter over his last four games is troubling when you see Weber had 24 over the same time.
Now don’t get me wrong, I am a huge fan of Weber but he is nowhere near the caliber of play maker Samuel is. More times than not, Samuel will turn any touch into positive yards from a multitude of positions on the field.
The Buckeye coaching staff needs to get back to consistently giving both players touches throughout the entire game. I feel like they have lost their way and are falling back into the struggles they had last year where they felt like they had to get certain people the ball based off of who they are playing.
I want to see them get back to the mentality of it doesn’t matter who is playing defense, the Buckeyes have more talent and more speed and it is the defenses job to stop all six of the play makers on the field…whoever they are at the time. It should not matter if it is Bowling Green or Penn State, the mindset and offensive identity of the team should not change.
Let’s not be too cute offensively, there is not a single team that can line up man for man with the amount of talent the Buckeyes have on the offensive side of the ball over the next three games. Ohio State needs to get back to playing their own brand of football and being the alpha male of the Big Ten. There is no need to play scared and severely alter a game plan for the likes of Indiana and Northwestern.
Let’s hope they are able to figure things out before welcoming the ghost of good football team past into Columbus shortly after Thanksgiving.