After beating Minnesota 45-31 in Minneapolis last Thursday, Ohio State will return to Columbus this week for their home opener. The Buckeyes will welcome the Oregon Ducks to Columbus in one of the marquee non-conference games of the college football season. This will mark the start of the 100th season of football at Ohio Stadium.
Ohio State’s 2021 season got off to a bit of a sluggish start in the first half against the Golden Gophers, scoring just three points after a Miyan Williams 71-yard touchdown run halfway through the first quarter. After heading into the halftime break trailing 14-10, the Buckeyes started to find their groove in the second half, scoring five touchdowns, with all of them coming from over 30 yards out.
Big plays were a theme all night for Ohio State. The Buckeyes averaged 10.3 yards per play, which set a school record. The 45 points Ohio State scored marked the 23rd time in the 37 games since the start of the 2018 season the Buckeyes have reached at least 40 points on the scoreboard. During that span, Ohio State has scored at least 20 points in all 37 games, and at least 30 points 29 times.
Now the Buckeyes will turn their attention to the Oregon Ducks. The schools have met on nine previous occasions, with Ohio State winning all nine meetings. The two most recent matchups have come in bowl/playoff games. In the 2010 Rose Bowl, Terrelle Pryor and Jim Tressel slowed down the Ducks with a 26-17 victory in Pasadena. The schools last met in the first College Football Playoff Championship Game. With Cardale Jones making his third career start at quarterback, and Ezekiel Elliott at running back, Ohio State ran all over Oregon, downing the Ducks 42-20 in Dallas in January 2015.
Saturday’s game will be Oregon’s sixth trip to Columbus, and first since 1987 when the Buckeyes won 24-14. Ohio State and Oregon were scheduled to meet last year in Eugene, but that contest was cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It might have been tough for that game to even be played had there not been a pandemic going on since there were a number of wildfires going on in Oregon at that time. Recently the schools agreed to a home-and-home series, with Ohio State going to Eugene in 2032, followed by the Ducks returning to Columbus in 2033.
Oregon enters Saturday’s game as the only Pac-12 North team that didn’t lose last week. The Ducks were tested by upset-minded Fresno State before eventually outlasting the Bulldogs 31-24. Oregon used a 25-yard Camden Lewis field goal with 7:41 left in the fourth quarter to tie the score at 24. New starting quarterback Anthony Brown put Oregon ahead for good with a 30-yard touchdown run with just under three minutes to go in the game.
The Ducks are coached by Mario Cristobal, who is in his fourth season as Oregon’s head coach. Cristobal originally came to Oregon as a co-offensive coordinator on Willie Taggart’s coaching staff, but took over after Taggart bolted for Florida State after just one season in Eugene. So far in his second stint as a college football head coach, Cristobal has posted a 26-10 record and led the Ducks to the last two Pac-12 titles. Prior to taking the head coaching job with the Ducks, Cristobal was Florida International’s head coach from 2007-12, where he was 27-47.
First start finished
Taking the snaps for Ohio State will be C.J Stroud. While Stroud looked nervous early in his first start as a Buckeye, the freshman started to find his footing in the second half. Stroud finished with 294 yards passing, which was only surpassed for most passing yards in a first start by a Buckeye starting quarterback by the 313 yards Dwayne Haskins threw for against Bowling Green in 2018. The four touchdown passes Stroud threw for in his debut matched Justin Fields’ four touchdown effort against Florida Atlantic in 2019, and fell just one short of the five Haskins threw in 2018.
While many were calling for Stroud to be benched with his play early in last week’s game, let’s not forget that Stroud was starting his first game in the scarlet and gray. Unlike Haskins and Fields who got to take on cupcakes at home in their first starts, Stroud had to hit the road in a Big Ten game in his debut as a starter. As the year goes along, we’ll see Stroud become more comfortable as starter and you can expect more confident and consistent play.
Chop ‘em down
Taking some of the pressure off Stroud early was Miyan Williams. The running back led Ohio State with 125 yards rushing on just nine carries. Master Teague and Marcus Crowley each saw six carries, but combined for just 48 yards. Even though Teague has the most experience amongst the Ohio State running backs, it looks pretty obvious that Williams is deserving of the RB1 designation.
It’ll be interesting to see how the running back carries are given out going forward. The wild card in the running back dynamic is going to be TreVeyon Henderson. The true freshman showed why he was so highly touted coming out of high school with a 70-yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter to give the Buckeyes a 38-24 lead.
Henderson’s speed is a perfect compliment to the size and physicality of Williams. What we could see is Williams getting the bulk of the carries at running back, while Henderson is more of an H-Back in the offense. Using Henderson in the ways that Curtis Samuel was used makes the most sense, where he’ll see some carries but will be most dangerous as a receiver out of the backfield.
If you’re looking for a constant with the Ohio State offense, look no farther than Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson. The dynamic duo combined to catch nine passes for 197 yards and three touchdowns. The Buckeyes are now 6-0 when both Olave and Wilson each score a touchdown. Olave has 24 career touchdown receptions, which has tied him with Brian Robiskie for fifth in school history.
Aside from Olave and Wilson, only three other Buckeyes caught a pass from Stroud. Henderson, Jeremy Ruckert, and Jaxon Smith-Njigba were the others to catch a pass. Expect a lot more variety when it comes to targets going forward, since Ohio State has way too much talent at receiver. Julian Fleming, Emeka Egbuka, and Marvin Harrison Jr. will all get their chance to shine as the season moves along.
Keeping C.J. clean
Even though there were some new faces and shuffling along the offensive line, Ohio State did a great job at keeping C.J. Stroud clean against Minnesota. The line was thrown for a bit of a loop when center Harry Miller wasn’t able to play against the Golden Gophers, but Luke Wypler did a great job at filling in. With experience lineman like Thayer Munford and Nicholas Petit-Frere, as well as talents such as Dawand Jones and Paris Johnson Jr., it’s going to be tough for Oregon and the rest of Ohio State’s opponents to get consistent pressure in the backfield.
Depth for days
Imagine having a couple of the top defensive end recruits in the country and not really needing them. There’s plenty of hype surrounding Jack Sawyer and J.T. Tuimoloau, yet that doesn’t mean they are going to see plenty of playing time immediately. The two fabulous freshman combined to play less than 20 snaps.
Ohio State can bring the two along slowly since they have guys like Zach Harrison, Tyreke Smith, Haskell Garrett, and Antwaun Jackson on the defensive line. Harrison and Garrett combined for one of the biggest plays of the game against Minnesota when Harrison’s strip/sack of quarterback Tanner Morgan led to Garrett scooping up the football and returning it 32 yards for a touchdown.
New starters still adjusting
One area on defense that could use some improvement for Ohio State is the production they are getting from their linebackers. Obviously there are going to be some growing pains with having to replace three starters, but if the Buckeyes are going to be a serious national title contender they are going to need a few linebackers to step up.
At least one linebacker that took a few steps toward being a leader the group needs is Teradja Mitchell. The senior has been waiting for his shot to start, and made the most of it against Minnesota, recording 10 tackles. Dallas Gant, Cody Simon, and Tommy Eichenberg all made at least five tackles, so expect to see better performances from the group as they get more time on the field and become more comfortable starting.
Still not at full strength
Another area for frustration last year was Ohio State’s pass defense. The Buckeyes did a pretty good job at keeping Tanner Morgan in check last week, giving up 205 yards passing and no touchdowns. The performance was even more impressive considering Ohio State was without Sevyn Banks and Cam Brown.
A couple young defensive backs started to make a name for themselves with their play in the season opener. True freshman Denzel Burke made the most of the absences of Banks and Brown, breaking up three passes against Minnesota. While it’s likely we’ll see his playing time cut when Banks and Brown return, Burke showed in his first game as a Buckeye that the spotlight wasn’t too bright for him.
At safety, Ronnie Hickman was all over the field for Ohio State last week, leading the team with 11 tackles. There are questions about Josh Proctor’s injury status heading into this week’s game, so it’ll be even more important for Hickman to build on his strong performance if Proctor is limited against Oregon. If Proctor can’t go against the Ducks, expect to see more of Lathan Ransom at safety.
What can Brown do for you?
While the trip to Columbus will be a tough one for Oregon, they at least have a veteran quarterback to lead them into battle. Senior quarterback Anthony Brown is in his second season with the Ducks after transferring into the program prior to last season from Boston College. Brown threw for just under 5,000 yards and 40 touchdowns in three seasons with the Golden Eagles.
If there was one drawback when it comes to Brown playing quarterback, it’s his accuracy. In three years at Boston College, Brown never cracked 60% in completion percentage. Brown has done a little better during his time at Oregon, but the sample size is very small. Against Fresno State, 15 of Brown’s 24 passes resulted in completions. With the pressure that Ohio State will likely bring, it’s hard to imagine Brown being very accurate on Saturday.
After having to try and stop the leading active rusher in the FBS last week, Ohio State will take on the running back with the second-most yards this week. C.J. Verdell enters this week’s contest with 2,597 yards. Verdell isn’t a workhorse back like Mohamed Ibrahim was, though. Entering his fourth season at Oregon, Verdell only has seven games of at least 100 games on the ground.
What makes Verdell dangerous is how Oregon uses him in combination with Travis Dye. The duo has rushed for 4,501 yards, which is the most of any active FBS duo. Dye provides a little more speed between the two, while Verdell is a little bigger and more of a physical runner. The Buckeyes can’t allow Oregon to put together long drives and rotate Verdell and Dye, as the fresher backs could exploit the defense a little more. The two aren’t game-changing backs but they can make life miserable for opposing defenses if they aren’t checked early.
Johnny & Jaylon
It may surprise you to find out that Oregon’s wide receiver duo is second in the country behind Olave and Wilson when it comes to receiving touchdowns. Olave and Wilson have 36 total receiving touchdowns, while Oregon’s Johnny Johnson III and Jaylon Redd have caught 29 touchdowns. Johnson hauled in Oregon’s lone passing touchdown in the win last week over Fresno State.
The key for Ohio State’s secondary is going to be not focusing too much attention on Johnson and Redd. While the two Oregon receivers are definitely dangerous, the biggest threat could be a younger Duck. Mycah Pittman is the younger brother of former USC wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. Even though Pittman is light on experience, it’s obvious he is becoming a bigger part of the Oregon passing game. Pittman showed glimpses the last two years, and caught three passes for 40 yards in the season opener.
An established line
Ohio State’s defensive line had a tough matchup last week against Minnesota. Things won’t get any easier this week against Oregon, as the Ducks have four starters returning on the offensive line. The left side of the Oregon offensive line feels impenetrable. Left tackle George Moore hasn’t given up a snap in 216 pass blocking snaps, while left guard T.J. Bass is clean in his last 234 pass blocking snaps. Right guard Ryan Walk was First Team All-Pac-12 last year, and center Alex Forsyth earned Second Team All-Pac-12 honors.
Oregon’s Chase Young
Oregon will lineup with a 3-4 look on defense against the Buckeyes. If you don’t know who the best defender for the Ducks is, you have been living under a rock. Kayvon Thibodeaux was the top-ranked recruit in Oregon history, and so far he has lived up to the hype, recording 24.5 tackles for loss since 2019, which is the most amongst Power 5 conference players.
There are some questions about Thibodeaux’s status coming into Saturday’s game after he suffered a foot injury early in the Fresno State game last week. Thibodeaux was seen on the sidelines in a walking boot, so even if he is able to play, he likely won’t be at 100%. Even in limited time on the field in the season opener, Thibodeaux was still able to record a sack and a forced fumble.
Duo of dandy Ducks
If Thibodeaux is limited or isn’t able to play on Saturday, it will put more pressure on linebackers Noah Sewell and Justin Flowe. Sewell, the brother of former Oregon offensive lineman Penei Sewell, was a 2020 Freshman All-American, and is on the 2021 Butkus Award watchlist. Sewell was credited with 45 tackles and 6.5 tackles for loss in seven games last season.
After being limited to just one game last year, Justin Flowe made up for lost time in the season opener this year, recording 14 tackles against Fresno State. Flowe was the top inside linebacker in the 2020 recruiting class, and is the second-highest recruit ever to sign with Oregon, ranking behind Thibodeaux. Expect to hear Flowe’s named called early and often on Saturday.
Some green Ducks
The biggest question mark for Oregon on defense heading into this game will be in their secondary. Any team would have their hands full with what Ohio State will throw at them, but there are even more questions with Oregon because of their youth. The Ducks will likely start three sophomores and a redshirt freshman at the four defensive back starts. The secondary gave up nearly 300 yards last week to Fresno State, so it could be a long afternoon for the back four.
It’s no secret that Ohio State is one of the best teams in the country. Even though the Buckeyes didn’t come out of the gates fast in the first half last week, all that matters is they corrected some of their issues and won. The performance looked better as the weekend went on, as we saw flaws in a number of teams around the country not named Alabama.
Every win is a “must win” for the Buckeyes, but this is one they desperately need just because Oregon is not only Ohio State’s marquee non-conference game of the season, the Ducks are likely the best team the Buckeyes will face before the playoff. While Ohio State would have time to recover if they did fall in this game, it would mean they would have to play perfect football the rest of the way.
Luckily we shouldn’t see Ohio State lose in this one. Even though the Buckeyes are having to try and replace some starters on both sides of the football, there were glimpses of the potential last week in a tough road game against a conference foe. The win against a quality opponent will mean a lot more than opening the season against a MAC school or any other random Group of 5 team.
Oregon does have some speed to be able to keep up with Ohio State, the problem for the Ducks is they don’t have the type of quality depth that the Buckeyes do. The schedule makers also didn’t do the Ducks any favors by scheduling this for a 9 AM PST kickoff time. The Buckeyes should be amped up even more than normal since they’ll be playing a regular season game in front of fans at home for the first time since 2019.
After some tough moments early on in the Minnesota game, we should see a more complete performance from Ohio State. Not only should C.J. Stroud be a little more comfortable running the offense with a game under his belt, the running attack should have a better sense of direction since it’s obvious Miyan Williams should be seeing the bulk of the carries, while TreVeyon Henderson compliments “Chop”. Oregon may be one of the best teams the Pac-12 has to offer, they aren’t quite on Ohio State’s level.