After each Ohio State game during the 2021 football season, LGHL will offer its market analysis of the Buckeyes’ performance. Using a standard bond rating system, we’ll evaluate the offense, the defense, and the special teams, according to this formula:
AA (yeah, I may also use + and -): Very Strong
BB: Facing Major Uncertainty
Then, we’ll take a look at any individual players whose performance stood out (in one way or another!) and assign them a stock rating: Blue Chip, Solid Performance, Penny Stock (akin to a junk bond, dangerously high risk).
The way that the Ohio State offense and defense had been playing of late, I sure didn’t see this one coming. The Buckeye offense was unable to make the big play or to take a lead, and the defense couldn’t do anything.
There were plenty of OSU mistakes – botched kickoffs, a bad snap, a fumbled quarterback-running back exchange, penalties, and more penalties. But, finally, the Buckeyes were simply beaten. They were outplayed and probably outcoached.
Michigan led at the half by only 14-13. The first-half stats were nearly dead even. Anybody’s game. The second half, though, was all Michigan. They were dominant.
The Buckeyes now find themselves out of the Big Ten Championship game for the first time since 2016 and out of the College Football Playoffs for the first time since 2018. Oh, there will be a good bowl game down the road, but right now it feels as though the season is over.
When you enjoy the #1 offense in the nation and win the coin toss, why don’t you take the ball?
OSU’s pattern of success is to jump on the foe, get up by a couple of scores, and take their running game away, as they try to catch up. But the Bucks were down 7-0 when we finally saw the offense.
In this game, the Buckeye offense wasn’t “unstoppable.” And they got off to a very bad start. After another bungled kick off by Julian Fleming, Ohio State started its first drive on its own four-yard line. A fumbled snap, followed by two incomplete passes brought on fourth and nine from the five. Since the defense had gotten shredded, this three-and-out spelled trouble.
The offense was haunted by the issues that we’ve seen stymie the attack before: an inconsistent running game, false starts and holding penalties at crucial times, and a failure to score touchdowns with the ball in the red zone. Oh, and throw in a sack, or four. Against Michigan State last week, C.J. Stroud had his pick of open receivers. Against Michigan, the receivers were again open, but the game wasn’t really being played in the secondary. Rather, the outcome was determined on the line of scrimmage, where OSU’s running game was stuffed and the fearsome pass rush originated.
Stroud was able to move the ball through the air, but he didn’t have the time for long passing plays to develop. His per pass attempt average was only eight yards, really low for this offense. He was sacked four times and pressured on others. Keeping their safeties up top, Michigan also did a good job of preventing the quick score. In fact, OSU led in time of possession, 31:48-27:40. In this case, running the clock was unhelpful, since the Bucks were behind nearly the entire game. They needed quick scores and couldn’t get them.
One wonders, too, about some of the offensive play calling. Trailing only 14-13 and getting the ball to start the second half, the Bucks needed to seize the momentum, but, instead, ran three straight dives into the middle of the Michigan line. I know that Ryan Day was trying to establish the run, trying to demonstrate dominance on the line. But, after the three running plays, it was fourth and two and time to punt. And with Michigan scoring touchdowns on every possession, Ohio State couldn’t afford a scoreless drive.
The second drive of the third quarter was killed by a false start penalty and a sack. It was a drive that typified the game. The offensive line played badly, routinely missing blocks on both running and passing plays, giving up drive-ending sacks, and committing penalties that put the offense behind the sticks. I’m sure that the crowd noise had a lot to do with the performance. But I thought that the line would be up to the task. They weren’t. They were manhandled.
Despite all of the mistakes and the line problems, the offense put up some pretty big numbers and, statistically, were on a par with UM (except in rushing yards – see “Defense” below). Stroud threw 49 passes, completing 34 of them (69%) for 394 yards, two touchdowns, and no interceptions. Jaxon Smith-Njigba and Chris Olave made a few acrobatic catches, and JSN and Garrett Wilson each had over 100 yards receiving. (Olave had 88.)
So, giving a rating to this offensive performance is difficult. You’d think that, with 458 total yards and 27 points, you could at least call it “adequate.” But when the defense gives up 42, it’s not. Not with the mistakes, poor pass protection, and a largely failed running game.
Overall rating: Facing Major Uncertainty
Cade McNamara’s remark that Michigan would “take advantage” of Ohio State’s defense didn’t rile the Buck defense. It merely proved prophetic.
It’s hard to know where to start here. I’ve never seen an Ohio State team give up. But this defense did in the second half. No effort at all. Until they took a knee to end the game, Michigan had four possessions in the second half and scored touchdowns on all four of them. And here’s an unbelievable stat: they didn’t face a fourth down or even a third down in the whole half. First downs on one or two plays. They passed successfully occasionally but ran the ball easily for 10, 12, 18 yards. Where was the Buck defensive line? Haskell Garrett had no tackles, no assists. Zach Harrison, Javontae Jean-Baptiste, and Taron Vincent had one tackle each. The Buckeyes recorded no sacks in the game. They had no tackles for a loss. The line was handled completely by the Michigan blockers.
Michigan could also gain the edge any time that they wanted; Cody Simon and Tyreke Smith got either pushed inside by a blocker or sucked in by a fake time after time. The safeties were slow getting to the play. Denzel Burke got beat on a couple of deep balls. The defensive failure was a team effort.
For the game, Michigan gained 297 rushing yards. That’s a bunch. Hasson Haskins had 169 yards and five touchdowns on 28 carries. Blake Corum ran only six times for 87 yards, including a 55-yarder. As old and as lame as I am, I would have liked a carry, or two, myself against that wimpy front seven.
I had hoped that Bryson Shaw’s first-quarter interception might turn things around. But no. While Steele Chambers looked pretty good (especially in the first half), overall, the defense wasn’t ready to play this game, as was evidenced from the opening whistle.
Michigan’s final drive sums up the OSU defensive “effort.” After TreVeyon Henderson caught a pass in the left flat and took the ball in for a score, UM’s lead was reduced to 35-27 – one score. The clock stood at 4:45. There was time, maybe even hope for Buckeye faithful, but the D needed a stop badly. Instead, a good kick return allowed the Wolverines to start the drive at their 37. Then, five running plays, covered the 63 yards in a little over two minutes. Touchdown. At the end, it was embarrassing to watch the Ohio State players waive at Haskins as he walked in to the end zone with 2:17 remaining. Game over. A truly terrible performance.
Overall rating: Facing Major Uncertainty
Well, at least there weren’t any turnovers. But for the second game in a row, Julian Fleming, filling in for Emeke Egbuka as a kickoff returner, muffed a kickoff. This week he did it twice. Fortunately, Michigan’s other five kickoffs went into the end zone. Fleming should take lessons from the Wolverines’ A.J. Henning, who had several good kick returns, giving his team good field position, rather than putting them in a hole.
Jesse Mirco was solid on his four punts, and Noah Ruggles made all of his kicks.
Overall rating: BB Adequate
C.J. Stroud. This disaster wasn’t Stroud’s fault, as he continued to put up Heisman-like numbers. When he had time, his passing was sharp. Stroud even scrambled 15 yards for an apparent TD. A holding call on Nicholas Petit-Frere negated the run – of course.
Jaxon Smith-Njigba. Again, JSN was able to get separation from his defender all day. He led the Bucks in both receptions (11) and receiving yards (127). While Olave dropped a couple of balls that he would normally catch, JSN was largely reliable throughout the game, although even he had a drop.
TreVeyon Henderson. Henderson had a tough day running the ball against the stout Wolverine line, but he gained 74 yards on his 17 carries and caught five passes for 54 more yards. He had a 28-yard run and a 25-yard reception, so, subtracting these big gains from his totals, you can see that he struggled on most of his touches. Significantly, though, Henderson scored two touchdowns, one rushing and one on a catch, thereby passing Maurice Clarett for most touchdowns in a season by a Buckeye freshman. 19 scores in 12 games. Congratulations, TreVeyon!
Garrett Wilson. Wilson made a beautiful catch for the touchdown that gave OSU its only — and very brief — lead at 10-7. For the game, Wilson had 10 catches for 119 yards.
Steele Chambers. Chambers played a strong first half, seemingly making all of the tackles on the Wolverine running game. By halftime, he had five tackles and an assist. He got one tackle in the second half, as Michigan scored on every possession
Julian Fleming. Someone needs to inform Fleming that calling a fair catch on a kickoff isn’t the same as calling a fair catch on a punt. With a punt, the returner can let it go. On a kickoff, it’s a free ball; you’ve got to make the catch. Fleming didn’t, and the Buckeyes started two drives at their own four (first drive of game) and at their own 18 (third drive of second half).
Dawand Jones. I’ve liked Jones all season. It’s been fun watching the big man. But, against Michigan, he failed. He couldn’t handle Aidan Hutchinson, who harassed Stroud all afternoon, and Jones also had a false start penalty, killing the third drive of the game for the Bucks.
Nicholas Petit-Frere. Petit-Frere, too, struggled with the UM pass rush, and he, too, committed costly penalties – two holding calls, one that ruined OSU’s second drive of the second half.
Luke Wypler. Wypler missed blocks throughout the game on running plays. One notable play came during the initial drive of the second half. It was third and two, and Wypler whiffed on the linebacker, who stuffed Henderson, forcing a punt. There was also a bad snap that rolled along the ground. Luckily, Stroud was able to pick up the ball.
Denzel Burke. Burke has earned praise all season, but was burned twice (and badly) against the rivals. In the first half, he gave up a long pass to the OSU one. The ensuing TD returned the lead to Michigan, 14-10, a lead that they would never relinquish. In the second half, with the score 28-20 and Michigan facing a third and two, Burke again was beaten and committed pass interference. Again, UM scored.
Cody Simon. Simon simply couldn’t contain. Paired with a defensive end (any number of players here), Simon was taken out of the play, allowing the Wolverines to get the edge.
Tommy Eichenberg. Just watch Eichenberg on that last Michigan drive. Blockers and runners just went right through him.
And a cast of thousands.
2021 offered us a good run, but there’s some serious work that needs to be done on defense to make this Buckeye team truly elite.