Take a deep breath, everyone. Calm down.
There is a lot of overanalysis going on regarding OSU’s 52-49 edging of lowly Indiana. Most of it is being aimed at the defense. Superficially, this seems appropriate – OSU fans should never believe it acceptable to give up 49 points to Indiana.
But the problem with focusing on that single point is that it involves overanalyzing some not-so-significant issues while ignoring more pressing ones.
What is being called a “defensive breakdown” was, in reality, a series of aberrant, unlikely events that occurred over the final 2:25 that included more factors than just the defense (I’m raising an eyebrow at you, Special Teams).
Yet armchair analysts are trying to frame the team’s struggles this season on a few minutes of low-likelihood garbage-time occurrances.
Refresh your memories to the end of the fourth quarter: After 58 minutes, OSU had hung 52 points on the Hoosiers, and given up 34, which is precisely what Indiana averages per game this year. The game was completely in-hand, and both teams had assumed a garbage-time mindset. OSU was sending in lots of young players, and Indiana pulled its QB to give the freshman some experience. All were waiting for a very long day to be over.
But then the following unbelievable-never-will-occur-again-in-CFB-history-sequence-of-events occurred:
- Indiana converted on a 4th and 5
- The officials enforced a phantom 15-yard penalty
- The officials enforced another phantom 12-yard penalty
- OSU defense gives up a TD
- Indiana attempts an onside kick
- OSU’s special teams fail to recover the kick; it goes out of bounds, drawing a flag from the officials
- The officials confer, pick up the flag, and controversially decide that Indiana recovered the onside kick legally (replays seemed to show otherwise)
- OSU’s defense stops the Hoosiers on the ensuing drive for a 4th and 10
- The officials enforce a controverisal offsides penalty on Hankins, giving Indiana yet another chance
- OSU defense gives up a TD and 2 point conversion
- Indiana attempts another on-side kick; fails
In the above list, please review and see how many times the defense is actually mentioned. Yes, they gave up the TDs, but in at least one of those cases, those came after actually stopping Indiana. Only some questionable officiating and very unusual circumstances kept the OSU defense on the field.
It’s also worth noting the context – at well over four hours, this was (unofficially so far) the longest game in OSU history. The team had spent the day in Indianapolis and driven to the stadium for a late start. The game went exceedingly long. It was after midnight, they were exhausted, they were in garbage-time mode, and yes, they had become complacent.
I guess the above comes off as if I’m white-knighting the Silver Bullets. Maybe I am a little. I just think it’s a bit unfair, given all the circumstances, to generalize an entire “character” for this defense based on 2 minutes of a lot of weird and aberrant events that are likely to never happen in conjunction with each other again.
Does the defense need to improve? Absolutely. I completely agree with the notion that this is the weakest defense OSU has fielded in at least the past decade or two, particularly in the linebacker corps. Injuries have decimated the veterans, and OSU is simply not that deep this year.
The Biggest Problem
Would we view things differently if OSU had beaten Indiana 55-32? Well, it was the special teams, not the defense, that caused it to be 52-49. For this game, a blocked punt, missed FG, and missed onside kick were responsible for at least a 17-point-swing in the final score.
Yes, OSU blocked a punt as well on Saturday, but the special teams don’t get to use that to avoid criticism for their overall weak play this season. Fixing the issues on special teams will have a more prounounced impact on scoring ratios than what most people realize. Blocked punts, missed FGs, long returns, etc. are giving opponents touchdowns and short fields to play on, and that is making the defense’s job even harder.
The team is 7-0 going into a stretch of very winnable games. OSU is very likely going into Beaver Stadium at 8-0, and probably going to be hosting Michigan at 11-0. Say whatever you want about the Big 10’s down year, it has five teams nationally ranked in the top third of total offense – OSU, Nebraska, Indiana, Purdue, and Michigan. If OSU holds even two or three of those teams to average or below average points, that’s a positive thing to say about the defense, not a negative one.
The defense needs to improve, and if OSU simply doesn’t have the personnel to pull it off, then Meyer will get players that can. It’s a fixable problem. Fortunately, OSU has the perfect opportunity to spend the year getting a lot of young players some valuable experience for next year’s title run.