Throughout the month of August, LGHL writers will be attempting to answer some of the most important questions about Ohio State’s 2021 football season. To catch up on all editions of LGHL Asks, click HERE.
LGHL Asks: What will OSU’s first offensive possession of 2021 look like?
Thursday night, Sept. 2, the first game of the 2021 season — on the road against Minnesota. We’ve been waiting a long time, and many of our questions are still unanswered; for instance, who will start at quarterback?
Another important question is how should Ohio State regard the Minnesota game? There are a couple of schools of thought here. Minnesota could be regarded as a lesser opponent, a kind of tune-up before the big game the following week against a ranked Oregon team in a raucous Ohio Stadium. In that scenario, the Bucks’ offense might resort to “basic,” beating the Gophers with familiar looks and plays and saving surprises — and more of the play book — for the Ducks.
But I don’t think that Ryan Day, the other coaches, and especially the players will view the Minnesota game as simply a tune-up. First of all, Minnesota is no slouch as an opponent, and this game won’t be a cakewalk. The Gophers offense is good; they’ll put up some points, and Ohio State will need to be productive in order to outscore them.
Secondly, it’s the first game. Players will be (or certainly should be) jacked; I would hope that it would be hard to contain them. They’ll want to show their stuff in an explosive offense. And, finally, the quarterback will be new. The staff will want to give whomever he is some experience with as many looks and plays as possible. That’s how he will learn.
So, I believe that OSU will show us nearly the whole package. Purely speculating now, here’s how I think the Buckeyes’ first possession will go. I’m going to assume that C.J. Stroud is the starting quarterback, Master Teague is the starting running back (although that seems to be getting less likely with each new glimpse of camp that we get), and three veteran receivers will be running the routes.
The coin toss. Whomever wins the toss will probably defer, but I don’t think that they should. Both teams have strong offenses and questionable defenses and should want to get the ball, score, and make the other team play catch up. Minnesota wins the toss and defers the choice to the second half. The Buckeyes receive. The kickoff bounces into the end zone for a touchback.
Buckeyes, first and ten on their own 25. Now, it’s interesting. We might expect (in fact, everyone might expect) for the new quarterback to take the snap, turn to his left, and hand the ball to Teague, who would plunge into a small gap between left guard and tackle for three yards. I don’t think so. Stroud, as we’ve been reminded over and over again, has never thrown a pass in a collegiate game. He’ll throw on first down — an out pattern to Chris Olave on the right sideline. Good for 12 yards. The past couple of years, this play has always been open. I’m trusting Stroud to have the arm strength to get it out there quickly, and I’m trusting Olave to make the catch and keep a foot inbounds.
First and 10 on the Ohio State 37. Fast-paced offense, no huddle. Stroud throws quickly to Garrett Wilson in the left flat. The Gopher corner does a nice job beating his block and tackles Wilson for only a three-yard gain. Second and seven.
Now Stroud takes the snap and turns to Teague. Stroud puts the ball in the running back’s gut, then pulls it back and runs wide to the left, a surprising call and a gain of 14. Stroud can run! Something else for the defense to think about.
First and 10, in Gopher territory. Stroud goes deep to Jaxon Smith-Njigba, who runs a fly pattern from his slot position. He blows clear of the safety covering him, but Stroud, perhaps in his excitement, overthrows him. Second and 10. Teague finally gets the call and busts through the left side of the line for seven. Third and three on the Minnesota 39.
I’m guessing that Ryan Day now considers his now in four-down territory. Stroud hits Wilson on a short slant route over the middle. Covered (poorly) by a Gopher linebacker, Wilson is free and runs to the 18.
First and 10. Stroud takes a couple of steps back, then runs a quarterback draw for four yards to the 14. Second and six. Olave time. He makes a leaping catch in the back right-hand corner of the end zone. Transfer kicker Noah Ruggles makes it 7-0, Bucks.
That first drive goes 75 yards on eight plays (5 pass, 3 run) and takes only 2:13 off the clock. Stroud goes 4-for-5 for 50 yards and a touchdown; he also also rushes for 18 yards.
The Bucks went wide, they went deep, they threw to three difference receivers, and both the running back and the quarterback ran the ball. They looked sharp, efficient. No penalties. The second possession? We’ll see that massive offensive line opening nice holes for Teague and Miyan Williams, who will be the second running back into the game. As the safeties inch up, Stroud will hit Wilson on a deep post. Ohio State takes an early lead — and keeps it to eventually win by two touchdowns.
It will be great fun to watch that first possession and see how close I’ve come in calling the plays.