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).
As I said last week, if the Buckeye defense didn’t improve considerably in the ten days before the Oregon game, there would be a lot of trouble handling the Duck offense, which we knew was better than the one that the Gophers put on the field.
It didn’t improve, and the loss seemed inevitable after Oregon scored on a 99-yard drive at the beginning of the second quarter. The Buckeyes never led in the game, and, though we had some hope in the fourth quarter, down seven, they just couldn’t get the equalizer.
When an offense rolls up 624 yards and 32 first downs, we expect a win. What happened? First of all, the offense’s performance was far different than last week. Against Oregon, OSU ran 84 plays but lacked the big plays that characterized the offense in the Minnesota game. In fact, the longest gain was a 41-yard pass to Olave. No other play – pass or run – went for 30 yards or more. Rather than score from way out with lightning speed, the Bucks had to “grind” it out. I say “grind” in quotation marks because, typically, Stroud was throwing completions 10 or 15 yards down the field. Not a grind, but the Buckeyes found themselves often with big downs: third-down and fourth-down plays to keep possession. They converted some of these, but not all of them. Many missed opportunities. The final tally: OSU converted 6/15 third-down attempts and were only 2/5 on fourth-down tries. They fell short too often. They accumulated yards, but not enough points.
I thought that C.J. Stroud was much better in this game. He completed 35 of 54 passes for 484 yards, three touchdowns, and an interception. The INT came late; it was big, but Stroud was desperate at this point. Where was the running game? Indeed. The Bucks rushed 30 times for 140 yards (only 59 in the second half) and a 4.7 yards per carry average. Not good enough. In fact, after Miyan Williams got stuffed on fourth and two in the second quarter, it seemed that the coaching staff lost their confidence that the Bucks could gain the necessary yards on the ground in crucial situations and threw instead. That puts a lot of pressure on a young, inexperienced quarterback. The backs are there, but the run game must improve. It’s on the offensive line.
And the big passing plays? Let’s face it. Oregon’s coaches watched those Minnesota films, and the Ducks had the speed in the secondary to stop pass plays for 10 or 15 yards, rather than 50 – or 70. And the Ducks were careful about keeping Buckeye receivers in front of them. The couple of times that Olave and Wilson got behind their defenders, Stroud overthrew them. Almost every time that Stroud missed a receiver, he threw high, including the interception. Granted, there were also some plays where OSU receivers failed to make the catch or hang on to the ball when hit. Plays by Wilson in the second quarter and Cade Stover in the first come to mind.
All in all? The running game needs to improve. While the offensive line generally provided good protection for Stroud on pass plays, they didn’t do much about opening holes for the runners. Ohio State needs the running game to be potent so that they’re not one dimensional on those crucial 3rd and 4th-down plays. Yards don’t win games; points do.
Overall rating: BBB: Adequate
Last week, I gave the defense the lowest rating that I could. They couldn’t get off the field. They weren’t worse this week. But they weren’t better. Oregon gained 505 total yards – way too much. They passed for 236 and ran for 269! Even if you subtract C.J. Verdell’s 77-yard run up the middle on a third and three call as a fluke (it wasn’t), the Ducks still ran for 192. What’s the deal with the Buckeye line? It was supposed to be the real strength of the defense. Against Oregon, this vaunted line couldn’t stop the run, recorded no sacks, and rarely put any pressure on quarterback Anthony Brown, Jr. He had all day to throw, almost every passing play. Is the Oregon offensive line that good? And the receivers were open. Linebackers were sucked out of position, cornerbacks followed receivers deep on running plays, safeties sometime looked confused. Just as Ohio State had trouble with converting third (and fourth) downs, Oregon picked up first downs on half of their third-down attempts (8/16) and were one for one on fourth down. Again – the big plays went the other way. I can’t say that any defensive players really shone, but Ronnie Hickman and Cody Simon had some positive moments. Zach Harrison? Haskell Garrett? All Americans?
Overall rating: BB Facing Major Uncertainty
Once again, there’s not much that can be said about special teams. There were no field goal attempts by either team. Too bad, too, because Oregon has kicking problems but were never stopped in the red zone. OSU’s punting was good: two were downed at the one, the other went out of bounds at the 22. No exciting returns, except for Emeka Egbuka’s fumble and quick recovery on a kickoff return.
Overall rating: BBB Adequate
Blue Chip Stocks
Jaxon Smith-Njigba: We’ve been waiting for this day (Julian Fleming, yours will come). The was Smith-Njigba’s breakout game. He led all receivers in yards by catching seven passes for 145 yards and two touchdowns. Included among his plays were some great catches and strong running after the catch.
Chris Olave: I’ll put Olave in this group until he gives me a reason not to. He didn’t in this game. Despite being singled out for Oregon’s best coverage, Olave pulled in 12 passes for 126 yards. He didn’t score, however (interference call?), and averaged only 10.5 yards per catch. Low for him.
C.J. Stroud: 484 yards on 35/54 (64.8%) passing for three touchdowns in his second game as a starter. Hats off. Why not Blue Chip? Well, we’d like a higher completion percentage, and Stroud missed several important opportunities. The way of the game, I guess.
Ronnie Hickman: He’s the only player in the secondary who seems to be on the ball. Yeah, he’s sometimes out of position, but overall, he’s been a pleasant surprise.
Luke Wypler: Outplayed Harry Miller at center and deserves the start.
Kerry Coombs: I had told myself that I wouldn’t include coaches in these columns, but I can’t help myself. One play. Oregon had one play, an option handoff from Brown to Verdell (or Dye) to the left. They scored touchdowns or first downs on it whenever they wanted. The linebacker was faked into the middle. The defensive end was blocked. The cornerback ran downfield. And there wasn’t a safety around. What did Coombs do to adjust? Nada. Get in the game Coombs. The Buckeye defense was ill-prepared for either the Duck running or passing attack.
Tommy Eichenberg: Last week, I thought that he looked pretty good. This week, I wondered why he played as much as he did. He was usually the linebacker out of position. He was a large part of the failure of the run defense. And he seemed lost covering receivers over the middle.
Thayer Munford: Never thought that I’d put Munford here, but he got beat by his man on a couple of those pivotal fourth-down plays and was called for holding to kill another drive. We expect a much stronger game.