COLUMBUS — I suspected the Ohio State football team had the makings of a national title contender.
But like my third-grade math teacher always reminded, the Buckeyes first needed to show their work.
Yeah, about that.
Second-ranked Ohio State showed its work Saturday at Ohio Stadium, all the way to another big-game defeat undermined by its small-time offense.
Save your money on this sequel.
A year after Ohio State all but ran over Oklahoma with its own Sooner Schooner, the No. 5 Sooners swiped back the reins in a 31-16 housing, leaving the Buckeyes as roadkill in their own crestfallen home.
Ohio State had no answers, either for playmaking Sooners quarterback Baker Mayfield — who humiliated the Buckeyes right down to planting an Oklahoma flag on the midfield Block O logo — or its own broken passing game.
“It was awful,” Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer said.
And a whole lot more of the same.
For all the talk of sweeping offensive change, this season’s unit is worse. At the least, Ohio State’s goose egg against Clemson in the playoffs last year — the stain that led Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer to clean out his top offensive assistants — came against the eventual national champions. Its latest no show came against a Sooners team ranked 82nd in total defense last year.
If it is always dangerous to pin much of the credit and blame on one position, we’ll risk it here. The biggest difference was Oklahoma had the better, more dynamic quarterback.
While Mayfield darted and dazzled all night, J.T. Barrett and the Buckeyes remained the Gang That Couldn’t Throw Straight.
With little rhythm and no rhyme, Barrett continued his mystifying regression, completing all of five passes for 25 yards in the first half and making little hay from there.
What does it all mean?
Here’s what it doesn’t: A quarterback change. Asked if was entertaining a switch, Meyer said, “No.”
Meyer, though, may soon confront a decision. The Buckeyes still have no whiff of a downfield passing game, and unless that changes and their offense suddenly becomes more palatable than a triple root canal, they have no chance of contending for a national title.
“We need that magical pixie dust on offense right about now,” ex-Buckeyes quarterback Cardale Jones tweeted, a not-so-subtle jab at Meyer and a well-publicized comment he directed at former OSU coordinator and new Texas coach Herman last week.
Now, I’ll admit it. Even if we shouldn’t have been surprised Saturday, I was surprised.
I figured Meyer against the 34-year-old rookie Sooners boss Lincoln Riley might be like the Nobel-winning chair of the physics department going against his undergrad TA. I figured the Horseshoe at night could rattle the Sooners as much as it did the stadium’s foundation. I figured Ohio State was just way more talented.
A year ago, for all of the analysis that followed Ohio State’s 45-24 win in Norman, the young Buckeyes were simply bigger, faster, better.
Relatively speaking, Ohio State gets its recruits from Fifth Avenue, Oklahoma the corner store. The Buckeyes signed 44 top-100 recruits from 2013-17, according to 247Sports.com ’s composite rankings. Oklahoma nabbed eight.
I figured at least one of those seeming advantages would make the difference.
But nothing did. Saturday proved the end of last season all over again — and another hard reality check for Barrett and the Buckeyes’ one-dimensional offense.
In the same way you can criticize one of your own in a way outsiders can’t, many Buckeyes fans took offense last week after Indiana coach Tom Allen freely revealed his strategy for slowing Barrett in the opener. He said he wanted the fifth-year senior with 72 career passing touchdowns to ... fire away, barely bringing any pressure to goad him into doing just that.
“With a quarterback like that that's not an accurate quarterback,” Allen said, “that's what you try to do.”
But the truth is he was right.
Barrett can’t throw it downfield — he completed 4 of 16 passes 10 yards or longer in the Buckeyes’ 49-21 win at Indiana — while his receivers remain overwhelmingly underwhelming. Throw the coaching in there, too.
Saturday, the Sooners mixed in more blitzes, but the result was the same.
“I feel the same pressure as everyone here to get very good at the pass game,” Meyer said. “We've worked extremely hard at it. It wasn't good tonight. We've got to get the damn thing fixed, and we will.”
Of course, we’ve heard that before. It’s time for Ohio State to show its work.
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