Own worst enemy: Mistakes making it hard on No. 1 Ohio State
Turnovers and penalties. Bad throws and blown assignments. Third-down dysfunction and red-zone malfunctions. Ohio State is making life very difficult on itself.
The Buckeyes (5-0) are still undefeated and still No. 1, but the way they are playing is not conducive to staying on top.
Ohio State is 101st in the country in turnover margin at minus-4 after three giveaways and no takeaways in its 34-27 victory at Indiana on Saturday. No other ranked team has a turnover margin that bad.
The Buckeyes are also 101st in FBS in penalties per game at 7.8. Several ranked teams are just as bad or worse in that category, including TCU, LSU, Oklahoma and Baylor, but the timing of those penalties was a big problem for Ohio State against the Hoosiers.
One wiped out a touchdown. Two gave Indiana first downs on its final drive, which ended with an incomplete pass into the end zone.
”We were just killing ourselves with turnovers and everything,” running back Ezekiel Elliott told reporters after the game in Bloomington, Indiana, on Saturday. ”We’ve got to eliminate that.”
It’s not just penalties and giveaways. The Buckeyes offense is still not crisp. They were 2-for-14 on third down conversions. Cardale Jones was 18 for 27 for 245 yard, but he sailed an easy touchdown pass and threw his fourth interception of the season. When the Buckeyes get close to the goal line, they sputter and stall. They rank 121st in the nation in turning trips into the red zone (inside the opponents 20) into touchdowns. Ohio State has scored six touchdowns in 16 red zone trips (37.5 percent).
”Not taking anything away from their defense, because they did play really well, but penalties, missed communications, missed blocks, things like that. It’s killing us,” Ohio State offensive tackle Taylor Decker said.
The Buckeyes have been able to overcome those mistakes thanks mostly to their spectacular array of individual talent and the ability to make huge plays. On Saturday, it was Elliott ripping off touchdown runs of 55, 65 and 75 yards in the second half. Ohio State is 19th in the nation in yards per play (6.73) and tied for fourth in yards per play allowed (3.83).
The schedule has yet to provide Ohio State an opponent with comparable talent to the Buckeyes, and that’s not about to change anytime soon. The Buckeyes return home for games against Maryland (2-3) and Penn State (4-1) the next two weeks before going to Rutgers (2-2) to close out October.
The reality is the Buckeyes are their own toughest opponent. As the defending national champions and a team that was the first unanimous preseason No. 1, the Buckeyes inevitably get compared to last year’s edition, which blasted its way through the Big Ten championship game and first College Football Playoff.
At this point, Ohio State has remained No. 1 in the country mostly because it is hard to identify a team more deserving. For all the Buckeyes’ warts, they do keep winning.
”We got to get it fixed,” Jones said. ”I think we had three turnovers today and we still found a way to come out with a W, but we can’t expect that each week.”
Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP
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