What We Learned as Buckeyes look ahead to road Illinois matchup

Spencer Holbrook10 months
Ohio State Buckeyes by Birm-Lettermen Row
Ohio State is 4-0 and looking to head to the College Football Playoff again. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

COLUMBUS — Ryan Day understands how difficult winning is this season, and he won’t let Ohio State forget that.

The Buckeyes coach gets it. The expectations surrounding the program are too high to give up nearly 500 yards passing to Indiana and nearly blow a 28-point second-half lead. But he also has a sense of awareness to the situation this unique year brings. It’s the week of Thanksgiving. This is normally the last week of the regular season for the Buckeyes.

Instead, they’ve played four games, and they have just three remaining in the regular season.

So after a rocky performance against the Hoosiers on Saturday, Day and the Buckeyes were sure to evaluate what went wrong, find out where to make changes and corrections — but also reflect on how well the Buckeyes have played so far in the circumstances of this season.

“After four games and a body of work, we can do a great job this week of identifying the issues that are holding us back from pulling away from teams, address them and get better right here,” Day said on a Zoom call with reporters Tuesday afternoon. “I was hoping that, going into the Maryland game, it was the same way. We had that week off. So now, we have this Indiana game on film. Now, we have to really spend a bunch of time and make sure that everything that we’re doing is toward getting better.

“That’s what good teams can do. I think there are a lot of good things going on, and I don’t think we’re that far away.”

Day is right. The Buckeyes aren’t that far away. They had a four-touchdown lead on a top-10 team Saturday. They had more than 600 yards of total offense. And most importantly, they’re 4-0 and squarely in the mix for another College Football Playoff appearance.

As this week goes on leading into a road tilt with Illinois, Day and select Buckeyes met with the media to break it all down, and Lettermen Row is unpacking What We Learned from the No. 4 Buckeyes.

Lejond Cavazos-Ohio State-Ohio State football-Buckeyes

Ohio State has young members of the secondary ready for a crack in the rotation. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Buckeyes may need to take ‘leap of faith’ in secondary

Kerry Coombs knows there are issues in the back end of the Buckeyes defense. And he knows those issues need to be corrected in the coming weeks as the regular season draws to a close.

None of the issues are easy fixes, but at least they are fixable. And figuring out solutions to the struggles in the secondary might have to involve doing something out of Coombs comfort zone: Playing unproven, younger players.

The Buckeyes didn’t have traditional spring and summer practices to gain reps for the younger players. Some of them have only been in the program since June. But as the defensive backfield continues to give up yards, it might be time to let those unproven players have a shot.

“I think it’s a great challenge,” Coombs said. “It’s easy to sub an interior defensive lineman and let them get experience. It’s much harder on the islands of the secondary to do that. Those are things that we would like to do. And those are things that, when it’s 35-7, you would look forward to having that opportunity to do that. So we’re just practicing a lot of depth. We’re not playing a lot of depth. Some of that is a function of the way these second halves have gone. That’s something that we would like to be able to do. That leap of faith is a big one.”

It might be a big leap, but it could also be what puts the Buckeyes defense over the top in the national title conversation.

Ohio State linebackers evaluating team, not individual performance

Ohio State has one of the best group of linebackers in the country in Tuf Borland, Pete Werner and Baron Browning. The Buckeyes are certainly deep at the unit, too, and can roll guys on and off the field to play that depth and keep linebackers fresh. And that unit is playing at an extremely high level through four games despite the overall struggles of the Buckeyes defense.

So, the reviews out of the linebackers room is mixed right now, and rightfully so.

“I think, me personally, I am playing at a high level right now,” Buckeyes star Pete Werner said. “Credit that to coaches and other players on the team pushing me and just keeping me on the right path. But then again, there’s that side of me that most of you guys probably know, it’s not about me. It’s about the team. Obviously we’ve got to focus on our defense and get everything right and move forward from there.”

The Buckeyes linebackers — and the defensive line — are playing as well as they can. If the secondary can get on track and figure out its woes, the defense could be one of the best in America.

Josh Myers-Ohio State-Ohio State football-Buckeyes

The Ohio State offensive line seems to have figured out what was holding the run game back. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Run game gains confidence after bulldozing Indiana

Through three games, something seemed to be off about the Ohio State run game. Negative-yardage plays. Inconsistency. Lack of burst through the holes from the running backs. The Buckeyes knew they could run the ball, but the results just weren’t showing up — until Saturday.

Ohio State had 307 yards on the ground against Indiana, a season-high. Lead tailback Master Teague had 159 of those and two touchdowns, making it look easy. Simply put, the Buckeyes feel that their run game is officially back.

“That game, I thought it made our players feel better about the issues in our running game,” Buckeyes center Josh Myers said. “I think it was 307 rushing yards on the game. That’ll do. That’s a pretty good outing in the rushing attack. I was pretty excited.”

It was only a matter of time until the run game started to churn out yards. The Buckeyes have a stellar offensive line to pair with elite tailback talent. When those factors finally came together against the overmatched Indiana front, the rushing output increased. And there’s no looking back, now.

“I think it was something that we kept coming back to,” Myers said. “It was something that, in this game, we had to rely on a little bit more and the holes were there. We were hitting them and flying around.”

Paris Johnson already giving back to community

Paris Johnson is one of the highest-rated recruits in program history, and although he’s not on the field yet as a true freshman, the five-star offensive tackle with a bright future is already making an impact.

Johnson started the Paris Johnson Jr. Foundation when he was in high school, aiming to raise money to help disabled military veterans and underprivileged inner city athletes. The charity, which has been approved by the NCAA, is trying to stay active in the community during the rough current times.

“Right now, we’re working on giving away 71 turkeys [on Tuesday] and we’re getting started on a toy drive that’s going on the [November] 30 to Dec. 20, that’s what we’re working on right now,” Johnson said. “With the pandemic and everything that’s happening, it’s going to set some things back but right now, we’re trying to help families out in the pandemic.

“We’re trying to bring back a sense of normalcy.”

Johnson will undoubtedly have an impact on the field for Ohio State soon, but he’s trying to create an even bigger impact off the field.

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