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Ezekiel Elliott Is Right About Ohio State's Confused Coaching

After Ohio State's stunning loss to Michigan State, Ezekiel Elliott criticized the Buckeyes' offensive strategy, which has been missing something all season.
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

After Ohio State's shocking 17-14 loss to Michigan State, in which the Buckeyes totaled just 132 yards, star running back Ezekiel Elliott told the world what everyone else was thinking: the gameplan his coaches put together sucked.

"We weren't put in the right situations to win the game," Elliott said. "I deserve more than 11 carries. I really do. I can't speak for the playcaller. I don't know what was going on."


Never mind the debate about whether a player should be able to speak his mind about a coach. (In case you're wondering, the answer is yes, he should have that right, just as coaches have a right to speak their minds, and both sides have a right to get upset about public sniping. It's still a free country). Truth is, it's impossible to argue against the substance of Elliott's quotes. Ohio State's playcalling was beyond perplexing.

Read More: Michigan State Snaps Ohio State's 23-Game Win Streak With A Glorious Field Goal, Celebration

Ohio State tends to hurry up its tempo, averaging 67 plays per game. But in this game, the Buckeyes ran an astoundingly low 45 plays. And the distribution of runs, passes and touches within that puny number made very little sense. Quarterback J.T. Barrett ran the ball more than Elliott, even though Elliott—who, for the record, actually got 12 carries—had rushed for at least 100 yards in every game this season.

It's also difficult to fathom why Barrett ran (15 times) almost as often as he threw the ball (16 times). Ohio State's passing offense hasn't been great this year, but it has certainly been good enough to connect against Michigan State. The Spartans' pass defense has been good in the past but ravaged by injuries this year, and their secondary ranks No. 79 in the country, giving up 7.3 yards per passing attempt.

In short, the Buckeyes' coaches came up with a gameplan that played neither to their own strengths nor their opponent's weaknesses. That's not smart. Or easy! And it's reasonable to think that Elliott was right: If the coaches had conjured up a plan that was simply mediocre, OSU's 23-game win streak would still be alive.


TFW the inches you need are all around you, except in your own gameplan. —Photo by Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

This is Ohio State's first loss of the season, but it may not be the last, as the Buckeyes currently are underdogs against Michigan next week. That isn't simply a knee jerk reaction to last Saturday: even in its wins this season, OSU has looked like a shell of the team that dominated Wisconsin, Alabama, and Oregon in a three-game stretch to win last year's national championship.

Urban Meyer did perhaps the best coaching of his career during that run, and in the run-up to it. He had more dominant teams at Florida, but he never consistently overcame odds as he did with Ohio State. The Buckeyes lost starting quarterback Braxton Miller before the season and dropped their second game, but put together an impressive option offense with backup quarterback J.T. Barrett. Barrett was injured in the final game of the regular season against Michigan, and with what seemed like little hope of making the College Football Playoff, Meyer committed to a brand new offense under third-string quarterback Cardale Jones, with an emphasis on the deep ball to complement power running from Elliott. It worked, and the Buckeyes put up an incredible 7.49 yards per play against the No. 13, No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the country.

(By comparison: Baylor is the only team putting up more yards per play than that this season, and OSU did it against elite competition).

This year, Meyer has an embarrassment of riches at quarterback—Miller, Barrett and Jones all returned—yet has put together one of this worst coaching performances, appearing to overthink just about everything. To wit: the Buckeyes chose to start Jones over Barrett in the season opener. However, Meyer mysteriously never ran the offense that had made OSU so successful under Jones, abandoning the deep ball altogether. Halfway through the season, Meyer made a change and went with Barrett; problem is, the option game hasn't been incredibly effective, and while Elliott has been efficient, he hasn't had any explosive games with Barrett at quarterback.


Sometimes, OSU just forgets about Elliott. In a near-loss to Indiana, Elliott got just 10 carries in the first half, many in obvious, close-quarters situations that did nothing to leverage the OSU spread. In the second half, he exploded for 274 yards.

ProTip: Whatever's on that play sheet isn't helping. —Photo by Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

Ohio State has had issues all season spreading the field—both vertically and horizontally—even though the spread is a key component in what makes Meyer's offenses work. No surprise, then, that the Buckeyes rank No. 44 nationally in explosiveness according to the S&P+ ratings, down from the top spot last season.

While the X's and O's issues are easy to diagnose, the intangible reasons for Ohio State's bizarre drop-off are a bit more mysterious. The Buckeyes lost offensive coordinator Tom Herman, who has led Houston to a 10-1 start. That likely doesn't help. But even without Herman, Meyer should be able to dominate with a team this talented, and with talent that already has proven it can flourish.

This can still be a good season for Ohio State: a win at Michigan, followed by a New Year's Six bowl victory, would smooth over some of the program's public divisiveness. But regardless of what happens next, this season will go down as one of Meyer's most disappointing coaching jobs at either Ohio State or Florida. The Michigan State loss was no one-game fluke. It was an encapsulation of this season's problems, and it wasn't pretty.