Ten Things We Learned from Ohio State's 30-23 Overtime Win at Wisconsin
COLUMBUS — You don't really know about a team until you see their resolve, and on Saturday night the Buckeyes showed everybody what they had, and then they showed them a little bit more.
Ohio State was unimpressive in the first half against Wisconsin, but then gathered themselves up at halftime and made the adjustments that they needed to make in order to outscore the Badgers by 17 points in the second half and win it 30-23 in overtime.
It was the gut check of gut checks. Ohio State was challenged and they stood up to that challenge and walked out of their win with a 6-0 record and a new understanding of just what this team could be capable of.
What did we learn? A lot.
1. This team believed they could rely on each other, but now they know it.
Anybody can talk a good game, but until they play a good game, it's all just words. Every team talks about how close they are and the Buckeyes were no different. On Saturday night, however, they backed it up. Both sides of the ball were struggling for Ohio State, and there was no finger pointing. Urban Meyer said after the game that he was ready to tear into his team at the half, but when he got to the locker room all he saw was professionals. Everybody went to work, confident that the job was going to get done. Afterward, J.T. Barrett told the media, "Just understand that we've got guys that love each other." Everything they thoughtthey knew about each other going into the game was confirmed in the second half of this game. That is only going to drive them moving forward.
2. Dre'Mont Jones is one of the most active defensive tackles in the B1G.
I wrote during the game that Dre'Mont Jones might end up leading the Buckeyes in tackles one of these seasons because of how active he is. That's pretty much unheard of for a defensive tackle and won't really happen, but it's impossible to ignore how often he is involved at the line of scrimmage. He finished this game with eight tackles against the Badgers and has averaged seven tackles per game over the last three contests. When you look at the box score and see that Raekwon McMillan only had three tackles, Jones is one of the reasons why. His next step will be making plays in the backfield.
3. The old J.T. Barrett is still in there somewhere.
It was six-straight quarters of rough going for J.T. Barrett, but throughout the second half of Saturday night's game we saw the J.T. Barrett that we all remembered from 2014. He was keeping drives alive with his legs, he was moving piles with his determination, he was dropping dimes from the sky, and he was standing tall in the pocket and delivering the ball to open receivers. It was a #ThrowbackThursday on a Saturday night.
It was good to see Barrett put the team on his shoulders -- which he also did against Indiana, but this time he was also able to use his throwing shoulder. Does this catapult him to consistency the rest of the season? I don't know, but it does reinforce that there is still a reason for everyone to believe that he can get the job done when he absolutely has to.
4. The passing game is still too much of a struggle.
That all being said above, in the first half of this game every completion should have been followed by a celebration. After all, isn't that what you should do after overcoming a struggle? For the first two quarters last night there was no intermediate passing game and the deep balls once required Terry McLaurin to actually stop and wait for a pass. That is unacceptable, but it is clearly the situation the Buckeyes find themselves in this season.
They showed in the second half, however, that they are capable of an effective passing game, but who knows if that's something that comes and goes. The fact that we don't know the answer to the question tells us that this is going to be an issue moving forward.
5. Third and long is a hectic place to be.
You almost had to feel bad for Wisconsin quarterback Alex Hornibrook on third and long in this game. Paul Chryst felt so bad that he called an obvious screen play on the second third-and-long situation of the second half because of how effective the Buckeye pass rush had become.
That OSU pass rush was inevitable and the coverage on the back end was solid enough. On eight third-and-long situations (at least six yards to gain), Hornibrook was actually 4-of-6 passing with three first downs and a touchdown, but he was also sacked twice and one of his completions was the aforementioned screen pass which lost four yards.
Things weren't perfect, however, as evidenced by Hornibrook's 86 yards passing and a touchdown on third-and-long, but it was always exciting. Credit the Badger quarterback for getting the ball off in the face of pressure, especially when he was well aware of what was coming for him.
6. The deep ball is a problem on more than one front.
The Buckeyes completed one deep ball against the Badgers and it came on a scramble drill, which doesn't really count when you're talking about wanting to establish a downfield passing game. J.T. Barrett's 43-yard completion to Dontre Wilson was a perfect throw, but it came on a broken play. That's not an offense, that's just talent getting the job done.
Barrett was effective throwing the deep ball in 2014 because of his anticipation and because he got the ball out quickly. Perhaps that was because he had faith that Devin Smith would get open -- or he was already open. Is Barrett holding the ball so long now because he doesn't have that same faith? This was not the first time a receiver had to wait on a football, but it may have been the first time one had to physically stop running in order to try and make a play.
Are the receivers not getting separation quickly enough to trigger the throw? And by the time they are pulling open is it too far for Barrett to even get the ball there? The lack of a deep ball right now is a shared responsibility that everyone has to get figured out.
7. This team can adjust with the best of them at halftime.
Wisconsin wide receiver Jazz Peavy rushed for 70 yards on six jet sweeps against the Buckeyes. It was an unstoppable play and Ohio State was powerless to stop it -- until they did. In the first half Peavy ran that play five times for 67 yards. On the third play of the second half he ran it again, and he was blasted out of bounds by Malik Hooker after just a 3-yard gain. The Buckeyes never saw the play again. The Badgers tried to use it as a decoy, and they did so with some effectiveness, but nothing that approached their successes actually running it in the first half.
Speaking of the first half, running back Corey Clement rushed for 97 yards on just seven carries in the first quarter. What did he do after that? He rushed the ball 18 times for just 67 yards. After putting up 313 yards of total offense in the first half, the Buckeyes held the Badgers to just 137 yards total in the second half.
On the offensive side we all saw the night-and-day difference with the passing game. Everything that was going wrong in the first half quieted down and the things that were going well took center stage. Ohio State adjusted well and Wisconsin didn't have the necessary answers on either side of the ball to counter.
8. Damon Webb and Damon Arnette need to pick it up.
It was not a good night to be a Damon in the Ohio State defensive backfield on Saturday. Damon Webb at free safety and Damon Arnette at nickel continue to be the least-resistive force in the OSU secondary, and opponents know it. Neither of these jobs are easy, which is why it normally takes somebody as talented as Vonn Bell to excel at it. None of the Ohio State defensive backs were perfect in this game, but there is a lack of consistency at free safety and nickel that needs to be addressed.
9. These defensive ends are setting quite the tone.
If you have Sam Hubbard, Tyquan Lewis, Jalyn Holmes, and Nick Bosa at defensive end then you probably spend a lot of your time with your feet kicked up leisurely on a footstool at your upscale social club while you talk loudly about how great life is between puffs of your cigar and sips of your bourbon.
That's Larry Johnson, and the amazing part is that redshirt freshman Rashod Berry has apparently performed well enough in practice to get involved in the action as well. He came up with a big stop on second-and-goal in the second quarter last night. This is the type of thing coaches dream of, and it's why they spend so much time recruiting. Generally, it's a pipe dream.
This pipe dream, however, is becoming a waking nightmare for opponents. The Buckeyes had four sacks last night, one each by Hubbard, Lewis, Holmes, and Bosa. Those four also produced six of OSU's eight tackles for loss. Holmes and Bosa get measurably better every week, while Hubbard and Lewis stay as solid as you can ask.
And when Holmes and Bosa go inside, offensive guards have no chance. Then like any structure, if the inside is collapsing, the outside will follow. It has been entertaining to watch all four of these guys do what they do, especially when they get to do it together.
10. The Buckeyes' simplicity in their beliefs makes a bye week a dangerous thing.
We all know that Ohio State has a basic defense and an offense that hasn't really changed in a few years. It works for them, but it also allows the opponents to prepare for it. The Buckeyes do what they do and they do it very well, but that also makes them somewhat predictable -- especially for a team coming off of a bye week.
How many times have you heard Buckeyes on both offense and defense say after a game that the opponents did things that they never showed in practice? At least four or five times per season? How many times have you heard an opponent say that of Ohio State? Maybe during the 2014 postseason? Maybe.
But if you are as talented as Ohio State is, then you can stay simple. After all, the simple answers are always the most effective answers. Sometimes, however, simple answers need a bit of time depending upon how complicated the questions, and Wisconsin was asking some doozies last night.