Ohio State vs. Iowa was supposed to be a marquee match-up in the Big Ten this season, but with the Hawkeyes’ offensive struggles, few people doubted the outcome of this meeting in Columbus before kickoff.
Coming off a bye week, it was also supposed to be a game in which Ohio State could come out and set the tone for the second half of the season. But if that first half of the game was the tone, Ryan Day and company must be tone-deaf. Ohio State struggled through an unsatisfying first half full of odd play calls, a seeming confusion about what to call in key moments, and plays that were there to be made, not getting made.
Still, the Buckeyes ended up winning by 44 points in a 54-10 laugher, so you already know I’m nitpicking. It’s kind of my thing. Here are the items from Saturday’s win that had me seeking anger management counseling.
Be More Sportsmanlike!
Yet again, Ohio State turned a good thing into a dumb thing on the opening kickoff for no good reason. Good coverage seemed to make Kaleb Johnson pay for opting to return the kickoff from his end zone when he was tackled at the 17-yard line. But Jayden Ballard took an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and that mistake moved the ball all the way out to the Iowa 32.
Sign of Things to Come
The foul on Ballard was quickly forgotten when Tanner McCalister intercepted Spencer Petras on the first play from scrimmage, setting Ohio State up with the ball at the Iowa 29-yard line. However, the first-half struggles were just starting. The Buckeyes embarked on a three-play, 2-yard drive that consisted of a short run by TreVeyon Henderson on first down, no one was open on a second-down pass play, forcing C.J. Stroud to throw it away, and then nearly an interception when Emeka Egbuka didn’t turn to locate the ball on a play that would have moved the chains at the very least. Noah Ruggles kicked a field goal and Iowa got off the hook for the first of multiple times in the opening half.
The second Iowa possession was of the short, three-and-out variety and the Buckeyes quickly got the ball back. But that also didn’t last long. The left tackle and guard failed to deal with a simple line twist, with both blocking the inside man who looped outside. That left defensive end Joe Evans, who looped inside, a free run at Stroud. The quarterback quickly looked to dump it off but pulled it back in. Unfortunately, he lost control of it when Evans hit him, and he couldn’t gather it back in. Evans scooped it up and ran into the end zone to give Iowa an early 7-3 lead.
More Sudden Change Issues
After the Buckeyes went right down the field to take a 10-7 lead, Iowa not only went three and out, but fumbled on the third down when Zach Harrison stripped Petras and Lathan Ransom recovered at the Iowa 27-yard line. Day again opted to run on first down rather than taking a shot, and Miyan Williams gained no yardage. A pass to Jaxon Smith-Njigba gave the Buckeyes a manageable third down and short but a toss play to Williams lost three yards and again Ruggles had to kick a field goal.
Calling Plays is Hard
The second field goal series following a turnover deep in Iowa territory was further exacerbated by the first of multiple issues Ohio State had getting plays called. The Buckeyes called a timeout after the second-down completion. It happened two more times in the game, including another instance before the first quarter ended. Getting plays called is a basic thing that should not be an issue given Day’s experience and Stroud being in his second season running the offense. Every team has a set of plays they like based on the opponent for every down and distance, so picking one shouldn’t require wasting valuable timeouts. Day said that they wanted to make sure they had the right call, and in one instance he felt the play clock started too early. The latter is definitely not an Ohio State issue but burning timeouts to make sure you get the right play is.
More Short-Field Follies
Caden Curry blew up an ill-advised Iowa fake punt gave Ohio State short field again, and again the short-field issues surfaced, but this time in a different way. The Buckeyes threw a pass after the sudden change in possession and picked up a good gain through Marvin Harrison, Jr. But then the drive bogged down for a variety of reasons. Cade Stover’s nice catch and run on a tight end screen for nine yards was called back because Dawand Jones lined up incorrectly and was called for illegal formation. Henderson gained nine on the next play but when his cleat slid across the turf on his cutback, he fell — likely costing him a touchdown — setting up a second-and-6. The Buckeyes ran wide again on second down and lost three yards, setting up third-and-long. Stroud threw into the end zone on third and there was a lot of contact that prevented Smith-Njigba from coming back to a back-shoulder throw but the referee didn’t call it. Ruggles came on yet again for an unsatisfying field goal (for us, if not for him).
What Is Pass Interference, Anyway?
The no-call in the end zone at the end of Ohio State’s drive was magnified when Iowa got a gift call on its next possession. Trailing 16-7, Iowa actually managed a first down, but then quickly fell into a third-and-9 situation. Petras threw right for tight end Nico Ragaini. The pass fell incomplete but a flag flew on McCalister for interference, despite there being much less contact than there had been in the end zone just moments earlier, and on a pass that didn’t seem catchable for even a tight end-sized human. The call extended Iowa’s drive and the Hawkeyes managed their only offensive points of the game with a 49-yard field goal to finish it.
Leading 26-10 at the break on Tommy Eichenberg’s pick-six, Ohio State got the ball to start the second half, looking to take full control. However, that lasted only one play. Stroud had good initial protection on a pass play to start the third quarter but couldn’t find a receiver. As the defense closed in, he did a thing that shouldn’t ever be done when he decided to throw late over the middle. By then, most of Iowa’s secondary was gathering around the only OSU receiver and the pass was intercepted by linebacker Jack Campbell. Thankfully, Iowa’s offense being what it is, the Hawkeyes fumbled the ensuing snap, giving the ball right back. Yep, the Buckeyes quickly wasted that field position by going three-and-out.
Those are the main things I had a beef with on Saturday. Clearly, the second-half adjustments worked well, Stroud found his post-bye-week rhythm, and the Buckeyes romped from there. It was just an irritating first half and start to the second half. Clearly, a 44-point win is something to celebrate, even if it could have gone much more smoothly.
What burned you up watching the game? Let me know in the comments below, and we’ll do this again after Ohio State visits Penn State next weekend.