This week your Western Michigan Broncos take on their second top-10 team this year in Ohio State. Hustle Belt had some questions for Land-Grant Holy Land writer Colton Denning about what Bronco fans can expect this weekend. He's a nice guy, but we'd really appreciate it if his Buckeyes struggled again Saturday.
Hustle Belt: The Buckeyes are coming off a weirdly close win to our MAC comrades NIU, a game in which the OSU offense couldn't figure itself out. What's the biggest thing that has to improve on the offensive side of the ball for your guys? Do you think those problems will be rectified in time for this Saturday's game against the Broncos?
Interestingly enough, Urban Meyer pointed to coaching as why the Ohio State offense struggled against the Huskies, and something that needs to change. Hawaii and Northern Illinois each presented Ohio State odd defensive fronts, and the Buckeyes weren't able to maintain any sort of rhythm offensively, or counteract their defensive schemes. This inability to adjust led to efficiency and explosiveness problems for an offense that brought back nearly every key cog from last season's offensive juggernaut, and welcomed back Braxton Miller for good measure. Meyer, offensive coordinator Ed Warinner, and the rest of the offensive staff need to figure out how to adjust to these looks, and after the success that Hawaii and NIU had, it's a near-certainty that WMU will try something similar.
I do think that it will be figured out by Saturday, for the most part. Ohio State has the players to succeed, and in all honesty, this may be a case of the coaches needing to just get out of the way and letting them play. Meyer has a good track record of identifying problems and solving them at Ohio State, and this issue shouldn't be any different. However, if we get to Saturday afternoon and OSU only puts up 25 points, please disregard me saying any of this.
Western's QB Zach Terrell threw for 355 yards this past weekend against Murray State and he threw for 365 back in week 1 against Michigan State. That being said, the OSU defense is giving up only 119 passing yards per game right now (5th best in the country). Is this a product of your D-line applying a lot of pressure, or is it more thanks to strong defensive back play?
A lot of both. The Buckeyes rank fourth in sacks nationally, having recorded 12 so far. When they aren't bringing down the quarterback, they do a great job of disrupting throws anyway. Almost all of that pressure comes from the edge, and there might not be an offensive line in the country that has a good answer to the problem of Joey Bosa and linebacker Darron Lee attacking at the same time. Add in youngsters Tyquan Lewis, Sam Hubbard, and Jalyn Holmes, and you have one of the best pass rushing units in the country.
That being said, the secondary has been consistently great this season. Vonn Bell and Tyvis Powell form one of the more decorated safety duo's in the country, and Bell in particular finds himself around the ball with regularity. Through three weeks, the junior ranks among the leaders in the country in passes defended. Those two were expected to be great, but it's the cornerback play that's offered the most pleasant surprise. Sophomore's Gareon Conley and Eli Apple have been outstanding, each recording an interception with seven total passes defended so far. As an added bonus, all four are more than content to roam near the line of scrimmage in run defense if needed. Ultimately, it's this type of versatility in both the front seven and secondary that makes the Buckeye defense special.
Beating NIU by 7 isn't ideal for the Buckeye faithful. Where's the fear/uncertainty meter in Columbus? More importantly, does it seem like the players and coaches themselves are getting frustrated?
On a scale of 1 to 10, it's probably at a 5. Us Buckeye fans don't have the greatest reputation for being even keeled, and this isn't exactly the blazing start everyone envisioned during the offseason. Last week against NIU felt like some bizarre homage to the Tressel era in playing a MAC team extremely close for no particular reason.
That's not to say that uncertainty isn't warranted. After being the most efficient offense in the country last season, it was a shock to see seven total three-and-outs against mediocre-at-best Hawaii and NIU defenses. Couple that with the lack of post-Virginia Tech explosive plays, and a lot doesn't make sense right now when trying to assess the Ohio State offense from a fan perspective.
It's tough to judge where the players are at, because figuring out the state of 18-22 year-old's under extreme pressure isn't a wise endeavor for anyone. But as of now, no players are showing any sort of frustration, at least publicly. Barrett and Jones have both been admirable in handling what's a tough position to be in with their ongoing quarterback battle. As for the coaches, Meyer seemed pretty peeved in his weekly press conference, especially at the offensive coaching. It's not like he can be thrilled with the players performance right now, but he mentioned it not being a player issue at least once. For someone as detail oriented and prepared as he is, it's easy to see why he feels that way.
Let's hear a couple keys to the game, and a final score. How does this one play out?
I can't believe it's taken me this long to really get into it, but let's start with the quarterbacks. Cardale Jones was pulled after a couple of bad interceptions last week, but it wasn't like JT Barrett played much better. It's almost conference play, and it's time to end the run around. Whether it's Jones or Barrett, the coaching staff needs to pick a quarterback and stick with them, if only to keep an offensive flow going. A lot of people were shocked that Jones won the starting job coming out of camp, and my guess is that Barrett wins the job for good here. As of now, WMU is giving up 7.5 yards per attempt, which --spoiler alert-- isn't great. Regardless of who starts, they need to be able to take advantage of that.
Secondly, how will the coaches react to what Western Michigan is showing them defensively? The Buckeyes faced odd looks from the Hawaii and Northern Illinois defensive fronts, and were largely unable to adjust as the games wore on. It's no secret that Ohio State offense has a talent advantage against WMU, but that didn't help them much the previous two weeks. At some point, the coaches have to put their players in a position to succeed; something that hasn't happened since week one's victory at Virginia Tech.
I think that Ohio State finally figures out what it wants to do on offense. JT Barrett gets the start and is able to string together a much more efficient offensive performance than we've seen the Buckeyes have the first three weeks of the season. Ezekiel Elliott has been good, even when the line hasn't, and I don't expect that to change this week. With some better blocking, Elliott puts up 150 yards rushing and a couple of touchdowns.
I really like some of the pieces on Western Michigan's offense, and think that if Zach Terrell can avoid his turnover problems of the first two weeks, they can move the ball decently through the air. Unfortunately, he probably won't have much time to throw. The Buckeyes defensive line compares favorably with what Michigan State threw at the Broncos in week one, and while seven sacks are a bit much to expect, Terrell will be under pressure all day.
Ultimately, Ohio State fixes its offensive issues, has another stellar defensive effort, and comes away with a 38-14 win.
Our thanks to Colton for talking with us. As always, go Broncos and #RTB.