When The Offense Struggles . . . .

Sometimes, having an engagement that keeps you from watching a football game is a good thing.  It’s a lesson I’ve learned in connection with the Browns, and yesterday it applied to the Buckeyes.

So, I didn’t get to watch Ohio State’s offense sputter for the second straight game, with missed assignments and turnovers and struggling quarterbacks making bad decisions.  From the box score, It looks like the Buckeyes could run the the ball, but when you are throwing interceptions and bungling handoffs and getting hit with drive-killing penalties it’s hard to establish much offensive rhythm.  The offensive line — which was easily the most improved unit from start to finish — also has to strap it up and get better.

Some Ohio State fans are panicking, but for the most part they are the same people who were saying before the season that the Buckeyes were going to win every game this year 72-0.  The fact is that we are talking about college students here, and working new players into the lineup, and new coaches, and a truckload of hype that might cause a young person to think they can win just by showing up.  I think we can safely trust Urban Meyer and his staff — and offensive line coach Ed Warinner is one of the best in the business — to put the pieces together and push the right motivational buttons.

For now, though, I’d like to focus on the Buckeyes defense.  Yesterday, the held a high-powered Northern Illinois offense under 200 yards and stood tall every time the offense failed.  Joey Bosa, Adolphus Washington, and Joshua Perry were relentless, and the defensive backfield covered like a wet blanket.  And when the offense couldn’t score, the defense picked up the slack with Darron Lee’s clutch pick six that finally gave Buckeye Nation some breathing room.  Ohio State’s offense got the preseason props, but it is the defense that has been the most impressive unit so far.

Offense is fun to watch, but my old-school view is that defense wins championships. The season is young, but this D could be something special.

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All About The D

From the hype leading up to tonight’s game, everyone seems to be talking about who Ohio State’s quarterback will be and how they will fare against the Virginia Tech defense.  I’ll be focused, however, on the other side of the ball — on Ohio State’s defense.

Much as Cardale Jones deserves credit for stepping in and leading the OSU offense, the real key to last year’s National Championship, in my view, was the Buckeye defense.  The defense gave up a lot of points during the regular season and was gashed repeatedly by a mediocre Michigan team, which caused many fans — me included — to fret about how Ohio State would perform against Melvin Gordon and the Wisconsin Badgers.  But it was like a light bulb was suddenly turned on after The Gamne, and against Wisconsin, Alabama, and Oregon the defense played lights out.  The D held up and repeatedly delivered crucial stops even though, against the Crimson Tide and the Ducks, they had to deal with a lot of offensive turnovers that put the opponents in good field position with the games on the line.

We know that Virginia Tech has a good defense, and it will be interesting to see whether Ohio State can move the ball against the Hokies and exorcise the demons of last year’s sack-filled debacle.  But for the Buckeyes’ long-term success, I think the defense is the key — tonight and for the rest of the season.  During the last three games last year, the Buckeyes managed to get great pressure with a four-man rush, cover opposing receivers, and shut down three of the Heisman Trophy finalists — all at the same time.

The defense has lost some starters from last year’s squad, and Joey Bosa is out tonight due to a one-game suspension.  Can Darron Lee, Adolphus Washington, Josh Perry, and Tyvis Powell inspire and lead the defense to play like it did in those three unforgettable games?  I think that is the question.