Coordinators at Ohio State, Michigan State conspicuous by their absence

Cardale Jones and Ohio State have declined in their performance on third down and in the red zone compared with last season. AP Photo/Steve Helber

When the Houston Cougars play host to the SMU Mustangs on Thursday (8 p.m. ET, ESPN2/WatchESPN), members of the Ohio State offense might be watching longingly at Houston when it has the ball.

After three years as Ohio State’s co-offensive coordinator and play-caller, Tom Herman left during the past offseason to become Houston’s head coach. Led by their explosive offense, the Cougars are 4-0, and their quarterback, Greg Ward Jr., ranks fifth in Total QBR.

Herman is one of two prominent former Big Ten coordinators who left for head coaching positions after the 2014 season. The other is Pittsburgh head coach Pat Narduzzi, formerly the defensive coordinator at Michigan State.

Herman and Narduzzi are Broyles Award winners (given annually to the top assistant coach in college football), and their presence (or lack thereof) has been felt at their new and old schools. The Buckeyes and Spartans are both 5-0, but it’s fair to say that neither team is playing up to the level that many expected.

Houston’s gain: Ohio State’s loss?

In 2014, Ohio State ranked fifth in the FBS in offensive efficiency. The Buckeyes are 76th this season and are struggling to find consistent quarterback play.

Penalties, red-zone efficiency and turnovers are all captured in efficiency and were mentioned as areas for improvement by Urban Meyer in a recent news conference.

Although Ohio State’s play-calling percentages have not changed drastically, the loss of Herman seems to be felt most on third downs and in the red zone. On such plays, Cardale Jones has the third-lowest Total QBR (17.5) of any Power 5 quarterback, whereas Houston’s Ward Jr. has the second-best QBR (97.7) in the nation.

Ohio State’s offensive struggles are not solely the result of Herman’s departure, but the way he turned around Houston’s offense cannot go unnoticed as the Buckeyes seek an offensive rhythm without him.

No-fly zone shifts to Pittsburgh

After eight seasons at Michigan State, Narduzzi left to become Pittsburgh’s head coach. On the strength of a defense that ranks 17th in efficiency, the Panthers are 3-1 and appear to have built a “no-fly zone” of their own over Heinz Field.

Even though Michigan State’s defense remains strong, it appears to be feeling the effect of Narduzzi’s absence. The Spartans rank 35th in defensive efficiency, on pace to be their lowest ranking since 2010, and have been particularly vulnerable against the deep ball.

Michigan State has suffered its share of injuries, particularly in its young secondary, but the Spartans’ defense is not as dominant as in seasons past. Whether their regression is attributable to Narduzzi’s absence is unknown, but clearly there is something missing when it comes to closing out games.

Despite drop-offs, no defeats

The good news for Ohio State and Michigan State is that they are still undefeated and have time to fix their issues.

It is not completely fair to say that either team is struggling solely because of the coordinator changes, but given how Herman’s and Narduzzi’s teams have performed – especially the Cougars’ offense and the Panthers’ defense – the loss of these coordinators by Ohio State and Michigan State is impossible to ignore.