Instant Observations: Ohio State Offense Sputters in Cotton Bowl Loss to Mizzou

The Ohio State offense never found a rhythm in a 14-3 loss to Missouri in the Cotton Bowl on Friday night in Dallas. Between poor offensive line play, seemingly disorganized playcalling, and injuries and inexperience at quarterback, the Buckeyes gave the Mizzou defense no reason to be afraid and the defense could only hold up for so long.

Now an off-season with a lot of questions looms….

1. The second half wasn’t much better but I can’t remember a half of football as unwatchable as that first half tonight, at least in games involving Ohio State. No, it wasn’t the worst half I’ve ever seen Ohio State play, but that was just hard to watch on both sides. Sputtering offenses, mental mistakes, penalties, it was downright painful. Credit to Mizzou for righting the ship a bit in the second half and finally taking advantage of a gassed Ohio State defense.

2. If you were a “hater” this season of anything with the Ohio State program, you were probably feeling validated tonight. Just about all of the concerns of Buckeye Nation throughout this season were only enhanced tonight. It’s going to be the toughest off-season in Columbus in terms of questions about the program and how things are being done since at least the 31-0 loss to Clemson in 2016.

3. I’ll get to the offense, but the Special Teams were very special again tonight. Another game, another instance of the special teams being a net-negative. Three penalties on the punt team, including a delay of game on 4th and 12 from roughly Ohio State’s own 20 on the first drive of the game. Weren’t sure it was going to be a punt in that situation? Couldn’t get lined up correctly? How on earth does that happen in the most obvious “PUNT TEAM!” situation of all-time.

4. Some had convinced themselves, or been brainwashed all season, that simply swapping out Kyle McCord for any old schmuck would let the Ohio State offense take off. Well, that clearly didn’t happen tonight. Is Kyle McCord going to be a 10-year NFL starter? I don’t know. But I do know that Ohio State would have scored more than three points tonight if McCord was the quarterback and I have a hunch we would have seen better than 10-for-23 for 106 yards.

5. But it would be unfair to put all of this, or even most of this, on the quarterbacks. The offensive line played its worst game of the season and that is saying something because it’s been a mostly mediocre unit. Missouri’s defensive front lived in the backfield all night and you could have armed the Buckeye linemen with bazooka’s and they wouldn’t have stopped the pass rush. A highly concerning performance from a unit that has been a concern in Columbus for too long.

6. You also had a situation offensively where there didn’t seem to be much of a plan. After correctly and successfully scrapping a lot of the stretch run game mid-season, the Buckeyes went right back to it early tonight for some reason and it was mostly a disaster. They had success with gap-scheme and getting Henderson going north/south but didn’t stay with it. Weird gadget plays and penalties put them behind schedule too often. The double reverse isn’t a first and 10 play in plus territory with a true freshman quarterback, that’s a 2nd and 3 play so that when it doesn’t hit, it’s not a drive killer.

Day talked pregame about wanting Brown to get a feel for things out there but didn’t seem to be able to do that himself.

7. You can’t “run it back” with the exact same O-Line room. Yes, guys can improve. Yes, you have some young guys, most notably Luke Montgomery, who could be ready to help you next year, but if you’re not portaling this off-season to push as much competition AT ALL FIVE SPOTS as possible, then you’re not trying. Nobody played so well this year upfront that things should be comfortable for them this spring.

8. I don’t fault the defense at all for tonight. Played lights out for three quarters and ran out of gas against a good Mizzou offense. But I have questions for next year already. Are we going to continue the charade of having Sonny Styles, someone who from a physical/measurables standpoint profiles as an EDGE rusher, continue to play safety.

I’m telling you all right now, if that continues, we are going to be sitting here in five years wondering how in the world Sonny is a better NFL player than he was at Ohio State. Just like everyone is doing now with Baron Browning. It was obvious in high school that Browning wasn’t MIKE and it was just as obvious in high school that Styles isn’t a safety at the highest levels of the sport.

What is the linebacker room going to look like? Is the compromise going to be to move Styles to linebacker? Where does that put C.J. Hicks? Surely Cody Simon isn’t coming back to not be a starter. Will we see the mythical, magical, mysterious JACK position? You have several guys who would fit the bill.

The defense, Michigan game aside, made a lot of strides this year but there will be several key questions to answer this off-season.

9. I’m not sure how to properly put a bow on tonight’s performance. It’s impossible to just call this a “buy in” or energy or “want to” thing. You had several guys out there tonight that didn’t need to be, that could have opted out. This was the most “bought in” OSU team for a non-playoff bowl game in recent memory. Which means the coaching staff is really going to have to look in the mirror on this one.

10. Two quick positives to end this. Jack Sawyer entered tonight’s game already playing the best football of his career over the last several games. Then he took it to another level tonight with those three sacks. I know people have been down on the D-Line’s production and I know some have even said they don’t care if any of the starters return next year and decide to go to the NFL, but I think that’s just emotions talking. You should absolutely want to see if that level of play can carry over to next year.

And after going 1-for-1 tonight, the Buckeyes finish the season batting 1.000 on QB sneaks. One-hundred percent of the time, it works every time.

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