With the changing of the guard from Urban Meyer to Ryan Day, there were many who doubted what the Ohio State football team would be able to do this year. Dwayne Haskins was off to the NFL, as were three of the Buckeyes’ top receivers. They were returning a defense that was dreadful the year prior, with basically all the same players coming back. Could OSU finally be knocked out of the national conversation in 2019?
The answer to that question is unabashedly no. Ohio State capped off a 13-0 season with a Big Ten Championship trophy, and a No. 2 spot in the College Football Playoff in Day’s very first year as head coach. Justin Fields has been brilliant as a first-year starter at quarterback, J.K. Dobbins has been J.K. Dobbins, the wide receiver core is young and deep, and the defense’s revamped coaching staff has made them one of the most dominant units in the country.
The Buckeyes will now take on the No. 3 Clemson Tigers in the first round of the CFP, with the game taking place Saturday, Dec. 28 at 8:00 p.m. ET. Ohio State will be looking for revenge this time around, as Dabo Swinney’s team shutout the Bucks the last time the two teams met in the CFP.
There will be tons of time to breakdown that matchup in the coming weeks, but for now lets see how the stock market moved after a 34-21 come-from-behind victory against No. 8 Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game.
Justin Fields, QB: What more can be said about Ohio State’s leader on offense? The sophomore quarterback transfer from Georgia stepped on campus thrust into the role of replacing a first-round NFL QB who broke school records across the board and won a conference title. Fields, in his very first year as a college starter, stepped into the role with ease and did not look back as he put together a monster season for the Buckeyes.
Fields put up some of his biggest numbers in the team’s biggest games this year, and that did not change in the Big Ten Championship. Against the Badgers, the OSU QB threw for 299 yards and three touchdowns. Even with a sprained MCL, Fields was able to extend plays all night long and help lead his team back in a game in which they fell in a big hole early on. On the season, Fields has now thrown for just under 3,000 yards, with 40 touchdown passes and, most impressively, just one interception all season. He has also ran for nearly 500 yards, with 10 more TDs on the ground.
J.K. Dobbins, RB: While Fields is the man holding the steering wheel of the Buckeye offense, Dobbins is the engine that keeps everything running. The junior running back has been instant offense all season, and his ability to get consistent chunk plays on the ground has made life easier for everyone around him. When times are tough, you give the ball to Dobbins, and that remained true on Saturday to the tune of 172 rushing yards and a touchdown.
Dobbins has low-key been one of the nation’s best backs all season long. The junior has racked up over 1,800 yards on the year with 22 total touchdowns. What has been most impressive in what has been a career year for the RB has been what he’s been able to do against the best run defenses he has faced. In the last three games against top tier opponents, Dobbins has ran for over 150 yards each time out, with seven total touchdowns against the likes of Penn State, Michigan and Wisconsin.
K.J. Hill, WR: With a mass exodus of wide receiver talent to the NFL after last season, the decision by Hill to return to Ohio State was very welcomed news. However, with Chris Olave bursting onto the scene as a superstar, as well as the introduction of five-star freshman wideout Garrett Wilson, Hill has fallen a bit out of the spotlight on the Buckeye offense. It seems there is a new star every week, as Fields has shown the ability to spread the ball out and find whoever it is that is open, but this time around it was Hill.
The senior wide receiver hauled in a team-high seven receptions for 83 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Hill scored from 16 yards out after avoiding a tackler on a short pass to give Ohio State its first lead of the game, and then shook off a defender in the end zone to extend the Buckeye lead on a 13-yard TD reception early in the fourth quarter after Fields had scrambled out of the pocket. Hill may not be the central focus of the OSU passing attack, but he is still second on the team in receiving yards with 569, second in TDs with 10, and has probably the most reliable pair of hands on the entire team.
Chase Young, DE: For the second week in a row, the junior defensive end lauded as the No. 1 player in this year’s NFL Draft did not have an impressive day in the stat sheet. While he was not entirely blanked like he was a week ago against Michigan, it was not the Chase Young performance we have become accustomed to seeing. He still finished with a respectable six tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss and two pass breakups. How have teams been able to keep Young out of the backfield for two straight weeks? I present to you the evidence:
“Chase Young hasn’t been good all game” pic.twitter.com/vLqTr2rUbq— Elite College Football (@EliteCollege_FB) December 8, 2019
While Young isn’t having as much of an impact on the stat sheet, he’s making a huge impact on the game. Both Michigan and Wisconsin have had to throw two and sometimes even three guys his way all game long to neutralize him, which should open the floor for other guys on the defensive line to take advantage. Young also came up huge on the biggest play of the game, stopping Jonathan Taylor in the back field on 4th down to basically end the Badgers’ hopes on Saturday night.
Injuries: For the second-straight week, Ohio State did not escape a victory unscathed. After not playing a week ago against Michigan, cornerback Shaun Wade returned to action against Wisconsin. However, he would leave the game in the second half with an apparent injury after taking a hit in the midsection. Jeff Okudah, the best player in the Buckeye secondary, missed the entire first half with some kind of injury, but luckily was able to return and play a brilliant second half.
OSU got another big scare when offensive lineman Wyatt Davis went down with what looked to be some kind of injury to his right shoulder, but would return later on and would wind up finishing the game.
Obviously, Fields was battling the MCL injury as well, as Ohio State was certainly at less than full strength against the Badgers. The team luckily now has three weeks before its next game, and can hopefully rest up a bit and take care of these nagging injuries so everyone is good to go again when they take on Clemson at the end of the month.
(Buy) Ryan Day: There were some enormous shoes to fill stepping into the role of Urban Meyer at one of the nation’s top college football programs. Replacing a guy who won three Big Ten titles and a National Championship at Ohio State, Day has had just about as good of a first season as anyone could have expected to this point. Sitting undefeated at 13-0, he now has a conference championship under his belt and a chance to compete for a national title in the College Football Playoff. Also, he is working on putting together a top-five recruiting class in the country in 2020. I think its safe to say Ryan Day will be just fine.
(Sell) Slow Starts: Its been two weeks in around now that Ohio State has come out slow to start the game, especially on the defensive side. Both Michigan and Wisconsin scored on their opening drives against the Buckeyes, and both kept things close through the first half of the games with the Badgers even leading 21-7 at halftime this time around. OSU cannot afford to have a similar start against a team like Clemson. You hate to pick on guys individually, but it seems as though the personnel changes on defense the Bucks have made in the second half (namely replacing No. 32 with No. 5) have worked tremendously, and should maybe be made as a permanent switch in the depth chart moving forward.
(Sell) The Playoff Committee: It’s a shame that there were only three really good teams in college football this year, and then Oklahoma. While the Sooners are not the worst team in the world, they are certainly the easiest matchup in the CFP, and a much easier draw than Clemson. Ohio State and LSU were neck-and-neck for the No. 1 seed, but in the end the Buckeyes struggles for a half over a top-10 Wisconsin team were enough for the Tigers to take the top spot after demolishing a largely overrated Georgia team. Ohio State’s body of work at large likely should have earned them the No. 1 seed in the CFP, but a little recency bias helped Joe Burrow and the boys get the edge on an easier draw in the playoffs.
The message remains the same: Just keep winning.