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).
A win like yesterday’s sure helps rinse out the bad taste of the previous game. Going in to the Rose Bowl, there were question marks surrounding the Ohio State team and, to be frank, the program itself. The questions weren’t all answered (linebackers?), but the young guys stepped up, the team wanted to win, and, despite missing 24 players, that’s what they did.
It was a tale of two halves. After the Buckeyes held Utah to two first downs followed by a punt on their first possession, I thought that, just maybe, the OSU defense had righted itself from that second half in Ann Arbor. But then the Utes scored touchdowns on their next five possessions – four drives and a 97-yard kick off return. Déjà vu. They could run or pass at will. The Buckeye offense caught fire, but the defense was pathetic. Halftime: Utah 35, Ohio State 21.
In the second half, the OSU defense got much stouter, holding Utah to ten points and stopping them on three of the five second-half drives. Meanwhile, C.J. Stroud and Jaxon Smith-Njigba were going wild, as the Bucks won the second half 27-10.
The Buckeye comeback was important. As Ryan Day said afterward, the Rose Bowl win provides momentum going into next season, a season that we’re all looking forward to.
The Buckeye offense sputtered on its first two possessions, going three and out and punting. The opening drive started with two TreVeyon Henderson runs. It was as if Day was following Nick Saban’s lead from the day before, when Bama ran, ran, ran on its first possession against Cincinnati. The outcome, however, was sadly different, as Henderson gained only one yard and then two yards on his carries. Those two OSU punts, though, were the only two of the day. In their next eleven possessions, the Buckeyes scored six touchdowns and two field goals. The other drives ended in turnovers and the end of the first half.
For the game, the Buckeyes gained 683 yards, 573 of them in the air. They were 4/9 on third downs and 2/2 on fourth downs. They made big plays when they needed to. Even in the second quarter, it was clear that the Buckeye line could handle the vaunted Utah pass rush (no sacks for the game) and that Stroud would have time to throw downfield. Both crossing routes and sideline routes gave the Ute defenders fits, and the passing attack just ate them up.
The line played well. The receivers played well. And Stroud was superb, completing 37 of 46 passing attempts (80%). The most surprising stat, to me, is Ohio State’s rushing. OSU ran only 20 times but averaged 5.5 yards per rush – to Utah’s 5.1-yard average. I think that the Buckeyes could have run much more, but why would they? They averaged 12.5 yards per passing attempt.
Oh, there were some mistakes – Stroud’s underthrown pass in the end zone for an interception, JSN’s fumble near the end zone, a couple of untimely penalties. But, overall? Dynamic and loads of fun to watch!
Overall rating: AA Very Strong
Even against the tough Utah defense, I didn’t worry much about Stroud and company. The Buck offense was good all year. The defense was another matter, and it was depleted yesterday.
As I said, they played much better in the second half than in the first. Still, when you give up 463 yards of total offense, yield 45 points (OK, the D gave up “only” 38), manage only one sack, and don’t get any turnovers (the Utah fumble was on special teams), things are not going ideally.
Early on, the Buckeye defense couldn’t stop the run. The line wasn’t occupying the offensive line, which was able to get out on the linebackers, and quarterback Cam Rising was able to break and elude tackles. In the passing game, Utah used a lot of multiple tight end schemes, matching the bigger receivers against Ohio State linebackers and safeties. The backers looked slow; the safeties looked small.
Near the end of the first half, the defense settled down, and, with the success of the offense, it looked as though Ohio State had a shot in this game after all. Once the Bucks took the lead with 4:22 left in the game and with Rising injured and sidelined, I thought that the game was in hand. But back-up, walk-on quarterback Bryson Barnes took the Utes 58 yards for the tying touchdown. Admittedly, it was a TD helped by interference calls on Cam Brown and Ronnie Hickman. Again, smaller defensive backs on tight ends.
The pass rush starting putting pressure on Rising in the second half, and the tackling was much surer in the second half. Let’s face it, though, there’s still a lot of work needed to raise the level of Ohio State’s defense to “good,” let alone “elite.”
Overall rating: BBB Adequate (i.e., good enough to win)
Certainly, some action on special teams. Utah won the toss and took the ball. Smart move. I’ve been wondering all year why teams would put the ball in Stroud’s capable hands.
Apparently, OSU doesn’t have a kicker who can put a kick off into (or out of) the end zone. I had always thought that the Bucks wanted a team to try a return. Hit them behind their own 20, maybe get a penalty, to boot. But that couldn’t have been the case yesterday. Utah returned one kick for 97 yards and a touchdown and returned the others pretty successfully. Once Ohio State took the lead, why did they try a short kick? The Utes started that last drive with great field position.
Emeka Egbuka had some good returns of this own; the best one, however was negated by a Julian Fleming holding call. On its first drive of the second half, Utah was held to a three and out, and then the punter fumbled the snap. Ohio State got the ball at the Utah 11, and we forgot about Stroud’s interception.
Noah Ruggles: Ice Man.
Overall rating: BB Adequate
Jaxon Smith-Njigba. One of the most brilliant performances that I’ve seen, by any player at any position. JSN could separate from anyone and then make balletic catches, while staying inbounds. Record setting? What record didn’t he break with his 15-catch, 347-yard, 3-touchdown game? Most yards in a Rose Bowl (remember that it started in 1902), most yards in any bowl game ever, most single-game receiving yards in the history of Ohio State football. For the season: 95 receptions are the most in program history, 1606 receiving yards also the most ever for OSU. I was surprised, with Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson opting out, that JSN was still playing mainly from the slot. And that Utah was trying to cover him with a safety.
C.J. Stroud. Somebody was getting the ball to JSN, and that somebody was C.J. Stroud, who had a memorable game of his own: 573 yards passing, with six touchdowns. He even pulled the ball down and ran once for ten yards. Stroud had a great year, especially considering that he hadn’t thrown a pass in a college game before this season. Can’t wait for next year!
Offensive line. I know. I know. I’ve been down on the O-line for much of the season, blaming them for the lack of a solid running game. Yesterday, they were really good. Usually, Stroud had all day to go through his progressions and make his throw. As the protection kept up, you could sense Stroud’s confidence grow.
Marvin Harrison, Jr. By far the most that we’ve seen of Harrison this year, and he showed us something. He caught six passes for 71 yards and three touchdowns. He got the start over Egbuka, and I can see why. Separation, height, hands. He’ll be something next year as he becomes a featured receiver.
Taron Vincent. With Haskell Garrett out of the lineup, Vincent stepped up big time, causing trouble for the Utes in both the passing and the rushing game. He finished with six total tackles and played, I thought, his best game of the year.
Noah Ruggles. Mr. Automatic. Did you see him on that winning field goal? He knew that he’d put it through – and he did. He’s been great all year. A real find for Day and crew.
Tommy Eichenberg. Yeah, he missed some tackles in the first half, and he’s been a weak spot all year for the Buckeye defense. But in the second half? Eichenberg was all over the place, playing with the kind of enthusiasm that we want – and expect from an OSU defense. He finished with 16 total tackles, ten solo and six assists.
Zach Harrison. Again, I thought that Harrison played one of his better games in what, for him, has been a disappointing season. He was able to pressure Rising and also play the run pretty well.
Cade Stover. Not a bad game for a guy who’s been at the position for only a couple of minutes.
Ronnie Hickman. I’ve liked Hickman all year, but he really had trouble yesterday with both the run and the pass. Leading the Bucks in tackles for the year by a wide margin, he had only three yesterday.
Jeremy Ruckert. He dropped a pass. He missed some blocks on runs. He cost a timeout when it was clear he didn’t know what to do. Mitch Rossi played better.
So concludes the final Stock Market Report for the 2021 season, a season that was bitter-sweet, with a very nice finish. Happy New Year!