Alabama leads Ohio State 35-17 at the half. Here are some thoughts on the game thus far and some adjustments the Buckeyes need to make in the second half.
*** Quarterback Justin Fields has made a couple of impressive downfield throws, including a well-placed seam route to Jeremy Ruckert that went for 36 yards and set up the first Buckeye score. The issue, however, has been his inconsistency, especially on short to intermediate throws. Fields has sailed a number of open short throws that would have picked up positive yards, which has factored into putting the offense behind the sticks.
*** Fields is just 4-11 on first and second down throws in the first half. He did add a 29-yard gain on a scramble on one of those downs, but the seven incompletions on first or second down has put the Buckeyes in too many third-and-long situations. He is 6-15 overall in the game.
*** Those early down struggles in the pass game have a been a key factor in Ohio State being just 2-7 on third-down in the first half.
*** The offensive line is getting good movement in the run game, especially on downhill runs. Running back Master Teague has taken advantage, rushing for 62 yards on 12 carries (5.2 YPC). Ohio State will need to keep that up in the second half, and if that continues in the second half and Fields can start hitting more first and second down shots the Buckeyes can start to claw back into this game.
*** Where the line is having issues is with pass protection. Fields has not been able to settle into the pocket nearly as much as his counterpart has been able to do. When he gets time he's been effective down the field, but he just hasn't had the time needed.
*** Head coach Ryan Day will need to come up with a couple of wrinkles early in the second half to try and negate the pressure, but the problem is most of the pressure has come from the front four. Moving the pocket a bit more, with throws and perhaps a sprint draw or reverse, could be an effective way early on to get Alabama's pass rush on its heels a bit.
*** Wideouts Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson combined for just three catches for 36 yards. If the Buckeyes are going to get back in this game they need Olave and Wilson to get going, and they need Day and Kevin Wilson to come up with a couple of ways to get rolling early in the third quarter.
*** Ohio State is having a very hard time handling DeVonta Smith, and it's not just because Smith is an incredibly talented player. Alabama has done a tremendous job designing ways to get Smith the ball in space. A deep corner route that put the backside cornerback in a bind due to the deep drag running at him, putting him as the number three receiver in a trips formation and running a backside seam against a linebacker and getting behind the linebackers on drag routes are just some of the ways Alabama has been able to schematically put Ohio State in a bind.
*** The Buckeye safeties will need to have better formational awareness of where Smith is lined up. If you get beat one-on-one by John Metchie or Slade Bolden or a tight end you can live with that, but you cannot allow Smith to be isolated, especially against a linebacker. There have been far too many plays where Smith and running back Najee Harris are wide open. That's as much scheme as it is talent.
*** If not for a sack by Baron Browning that forced a fumble this game would be much less competitive. That was a tremendous play-call by DC Kerry Coombs. Bama had shown a tendency of booting back to the quick wing motion by the tight end, so Coombs triggered Browning on a blitz when he saw that motion, and the blitz went right at the bootleg, and Browning made a great play to re-direct, make the sack and force the fumble.
*** Perimeter tackling has been inconsistent, and must get cleaned up in the second half. When the Buckeyes wrap up when they get to the ball they've been able to force Alabama into shorter gains and more third-down situations.
*** Coombs is in a tough spot, the front isn't getting pressure, and at least two or three holds against four-man pressures weren't called. So he can either start dropping seven or eight into coverage and mix up some of his coverage looks in hopes of forcing QB Mac Jones into some incompletions or a mistake, or he can start to heat Jones up in hopes of getting a sack or two. The problem there is when you blitz Jones and the blitz doesn't hit home you run the risk of giving up a big play.
*** Ohio State must start making more plays on first and second down. Jones is 17-21 for 269 yards on first and second down throws. This is a big reason why Alabama has had just five third-down snaps in the game, and why it went for it on fourth-down (and converted it) on the first two third-downs it didn't convert. Alabama has been on schedule the whole game, and until Ohio State can get them off schedule the Buckeyes are going to struggle making enough stops to get back in the game.
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