Ryan Day’s team lost a regular season game. The first one. Yes, the Buckeyes were out-coached, outplayed, and looked way overrated. We’ve heard calls to fire certain coaches and to bench certain players. Gloom. Doom. Despair.
But there are 10 regular-season games remaining. And then, surely, a bowl game. Maybe even the Big Ten Championship game and a playoff game or two. Admittedly, however, those last several possibilities look less likely than they did only a week ago.
So, we ask: at this early state of the season, what can we look at and say “that’s good”?
First of all, the Best Damn Band in the Land and the spectacle of college football generally. Oh, I saw the drum major go down. I’m surprised that it hadn’t happened before, to be honest. I always expected him to fall backwards, though, on that big hat, when he arched back to touch his plume to the ground. But, no, he pitched forward, going onto the field. An omen, no doubt, though we didn’t realize it at the time. I guess that’s the nature of omens.
But the band’s performance before the game and at halftime was superb. It was great to have the fans back in the stands and to have the spectacle of college football return. The 9/11 tribute was creative and moving. The crowd was stunned (as were we all) during much of the contest, but really came to life in the fourth quarter, disrupting the Oregon offense and creating several penalties. Even watching the game on TV, I could feel the fans willing the Buckeye defense to get a stop.
Second, the schedule. Coming up in the next five weeks are Tulsa at home, Akron at home, Rutgers away, Maryland at home, and then an open date. The bye might be best, but home games against non-conference Tulsa and Akron should allow the Buckeyes to address the issues, on both sides of the ball, that arose in the Oregon (and, let’s face it, the Minnesota) game and to solidify their rotations.
Those games will also give C.J. Stroud and TreVeyon Henderson more experience before the next round of big games. And, we hope, rebuild some confidence and allow the Bucks some reason to swagger again.
We’re accustomed to regarding Rutgers and Maryland as cupcakes, and I hope that they will be. But both are 2-0 at the moment. Maryland had a nice win over West Virginia, and Rutgers went to Syracuse and squeezed the Orange 17-7. These two teams might provide exactly the right amount of difficulty at this point in this season.
Third (and last) the passing game. Granted, when we actually turn to playing football and the Bucks’ performance in the first two games, there’s less to cheer about. We can say, though, that Ohio State can move the ball down the field through the air. No doubt (as I’ve remarked before), the Buckeyes will have to step up the run game if they’re going to pick up those first downs consistently and put the ball in the end zone when they get close.
Let’s look at the stats. Stroud, in his two games as a starter has completed 48 passes in 76 attempts (63.2%) for 778 yards, 7 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions. Yes, Stroud has made some mistakes, missed some opportunities, but, all in all, we have to be satisfied with his job.
In the eight games of last season, in comparison, Justin Fields completed 70.2% of his passes (158/225) for 2,100 yards, 22 touchdowns, and six interceptions. Fields’s college quarterback rating last year was 175.6; Stroud’s is 174.3; nearly identical. Fields’s completion percentage is better than Stroud’s, and Stroud needs to get his up, but Stroud has a 10.2 yards per pass attempt average to Fields’s 9.3. He’s on a pace for a great season.
The three starting wideouts this season have been outstanding. Each has two touchdown receptions. The passes have been nicely distributed among them: Olave has 16 catches, Wilson 13, and Smith-Njigba nine. Their yards per reception are phenomenal, Smith-Njigba leading the pack with 17.4. Olave and Wilson each are averaging 15.2 yards per catch.
Julian Fleming has one catch for 10 yards, and tight end Jeremy Ruckert has pulled in four passes for 51 yards. We haven’t seen much of freshmen Emeka Egbuka or Marvin Harrison, Jr., but perhaps they can get some playing time against Tulsa and Akron. Passing to the running backs, Henderson and Miyan Williams specifically, has been quite successful, and we can probably look for more of it in upcoming games.
The offensive line, highly touted and now much maligned, has generally done a good job in protecting Stroud. He was sacked a couple of times at the end of the Oregon game, but the offense at that point was predictable, and Stroud was reluctant to run. We might see some more scrambling from Stroud and perhaps a quarterback draw or two — something else for those pass rushers to think about.
When it comes to “good,” that’s all that I have. The Ohio State defense needs overhauling everywhere, but the offense has a great foundation in the passing game. It needs to establish a running presence to complement the pass, and I think that’s something that can be fixed. Maybe it’s even just a matter of calling more plays on the ground, even designed QB runs, of mixing calls on certain downs and avoiding predictability.
We’re all disappointed, but I, at least, am not despondent. I’m confident that, when the end of the season rolls around, and I’m looking for something good, there will be plenty to say. Something better than a narrow win over Purdue that secured a glorious trip west to meet Kansas for the Guaranteed Rate Bowl Championship.