Ohio State maintained its top ranking in the AP Top 25 Poll for the sixth straight week, but a sluggish start out of the gates has caused the Buckeyes to lose 23 of their 61 first-place votes from the preseason poll.
But after getting a chance to review the game tape of the Buckeyes’ 34-27 victory over Indiana on Saturday, OSU coach Urban Meyer saw improvements.
The coach was hesitant to use the word “great” to describe where the Buckeyes could be headed “because it’s all relative,” but Meyer said he thinks they might be turning the corner.
Meyer said the perimeter blocking was the best it’s been this year, while noting the team played as hard as any time over the past two seasons.
“I think we’re on the border of being very good,” he said on Monday.
As for why the defending national champions have yet to cross that border to being very good, Meyer pointed to two areas that used to be the team’s strengths: red zone offense and turnovers.
The team has put points on the board in just 75 percent of its trips inside the 20-yard line. In 16 tries, the Buckeyes have four field goals and only six touchdowns.
OSU made three trips to the red zone against Indiana but came away with a measly six points on two field goals from redshirt senior Jack Willoughby.
On their third trip, the Buckeyes found the end zone on a swing pass from redshirt junior quarterback Cardale Jones to junior running back Ezekiel Elliott, but an illegal block negated the score.
The next play Jones was sacked, then two plays later a botched snap on third down moved the Buckeyes further back. Willoughby trotted out for his third field goal attempt but missed it.
The mistake-ridden trip was a microcosm of the struggles inside the red zone all season long.
Left guard Billy Price said he thinks the issues inside the 20-yard line actually stem from the offense’s big play ability.
“As we look at our offense, we are a very explosive offense,” the redshirt sophomore said. “Given a confined space, it makes things difficult. It makes it easier for the defense because they don’t have as much ground to cover.”
Price said the team needs focus on individual assignments, as well as tightening up its execution, especially for the running game.
“We gotta get the running game going, that’s primary. That’s who our offense is. And then the red zone comes second nature to us,” he said.
Meyer said the inefficiency inside the 20-yard line boils down to a “variety of problems,” such as turnovers and penalties.
Turnovers, however, have been a major factor holding the offense back, even outside the red zone.
Following the victory over the Hoosiers, in which the Buckeyes coughed up the ball three times, Meyer said the “turnovers have to change.”
Redshirt sophomore Jalin Marshall contributed two fumbles, while Jones threw one interception.
Through five games, OSU is minus-four in turnover margin — which places them 101st in the country. In three of five games, the Buckeyes have had multiple turnovers.
Tight ends coach Tim Hinton said last week that the team is working on fixing the issues.
“We’ve had too many turnovers,” he said. “We’re certainly addressing that very hard.”
Meyer is confident that the lack of production in the red zone and turnovers can be corrected as the season progresses.
“Those are fixable,” he said. “When you start getting effort and attitude … that’s where red flags start showing up, and I don’t feel that at all. This one has the characteristics of having a great team. Last year’s obviously was a great team, 2012, great team. I didn’t say exceptional skill everywhere, but great team.”
OSU is set to continue Big Ten play on Saturday against Maryland. Kickoff is slated for noon at Ohio Stadium.