After each Ohio State game during the 2022 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: 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).
Just a couple of weeks ago I was thinking that nothing could stop – or even slow down – the magnificent Ohio State passing attack. That was then. Before the trip to the Windy City (I know that Chicago, and not Evanston, is the “Windy City,” but I also know that the wind doesn’t stop at Howard Street.) The offensive line played badly, and the weather conditions did a mind job on C.J. Stroud. He lost his confidence; he lost his patience; he lost his cool.
The OSU offense couldn’t get going at all, finally scoring a touchdown on its seventh drive of the first half to knot the score 7-7 at the intermission. The expected second-half fireworks didn’t happen, fizzling in the wind and rain, I guess. After the third consecutive game with a struggling offense, the Buckeyes have some serious regrouping to do in their next two games.
On the positive side, Ohio State is very much still in the thick of things, still capable of meeting its season goals. Undefeated at 9-0, the Bucks have won every game by double digits. Two of the six unbeaten teams bit the dust yesterday, and LSU probably erased Alabama’s playoff hopes. Georgia looks to me to be (maybe by far) the best team in the country. If the Buckeyes keep winning, maybe they’ll catch the Dawgs in the national championship game – where anything goes.
Overall rating: BB Facing Major Uncertainty
In the two years that I’ve been doing this Stock Market Report, I don’t recall giving the offense this lowest possible rating. But they deserved it yesterday. Look at the first half. The Buckeyes had only 118 total yards and converted none of their eight third-down attempts. The second half was really more of the same, though a little better running game allowed the team to pick up the two TDs that provided the game’s final margin.
Stroud was bad. Granted, he had plenty of help. The line allowed Northwestern rushers into the pocket, forcing Stroud to scramble and pass on the fly. The receivers, normally sure-handed, dropped passes, including a sure TD that Emeka Egbuka flubbed. For the game, Stroud was 10 for 26 (about 38%) for a measly 76 yards. No touchdowns. The most telling stat, I think, is his yards per passing attempt – 2.9. Customarily, that number is in double digits. As I’ve said before, when Stroud’s day isn’t going well, his frustration and impatience take over. You can see it plain as day, as he starts forcing his passes, hoping for the big play that will set things straight.
Stroud didn’t get much help either from the play-calling. The rushing plays were largely predictable, both when they were called and where they were going. Little imagination there. Nor did Ryan Day provide Stroud help with “easy” pitch-and-catches to build confidence. Maybe in that weather, there wasn’t anything easy.
And then there was some imagination, finally. Stroud carried the ball! Six times actually for 79 yards, including the game’s biggest play, a 44-yarder. Having a second potential runner in the game freed Miyan Williams, who finished with 111 rushing yards.
The bottom line, however, for yesterday’s offense is that it simply won’t do. 283 total yards. Against Northwestern, the worst team in the Big Ten. 4/15 on third down conversions. Only 23:34 in time of possession. Not many plays. Not many yards. Not many points. Lots of punts.
Overall rating: BBB Adequate (i.e., good enough to win)
It’s tough to rate the OSU defense against the Wildcats. On one hand, they allowed only seven points. Zero after the midway mark of the first quarter. They allowed fewer than 300 total yards and, importantly, 0/4 in NU fourth-down attempts. The longest Wildcat passing play netted 13 yards, the longest run 19 yards. It seemed throughout the game that star running back Evan Hull was really gouging the Buckeye D, especially from direct snaps in the wildcat formation. In fact, though, Hull gained 122 yards on 30 carries, an average of 4.1, less than Miyan Williams’ average for the game.
On the other hand, the Buckeye defense couldn’t get off the field, allowing Northwestern to convert nearly half (9/20) of their third-down attempts and to dominate the time of possession 36:26 to 23:34. The Bucks had only one sack (granted, NU didn’t pass much) and did not get a turnover. They gave up 200 yards rushing. To Northwestern.
Recently, we have been saying that the Buckeye defense was getting better every week. Then, it was winning games when the offense struggled. What to say about it now? Nothing to brag about, but good enough. Barely.
Overall rating: A Strong
In a game where the weather conditions were as they were yesterday, a game where field position (OSU scored all three touchdowns with a short field) mattered, the punting game is crucial. Had it not blown away, I would have awarded the game ball to punter Jesse Mirco (see below). Buckeye special teams avoided mistakes and penalties.
Egbuka had a nice, 18-yard punt return, and Xavier Johnson looked pretty good on his kickoff return. Here’s my only question: after OSU’s final touchdown, with 4:21 left in the game, what was going on with that squib kick? A deliberate play? What the hell?
Jesse Mirco. Having your punter as your offensive star tells you all that you need to know about this game. Mirco kicked seven times for a 50.3-yard average (10 yards more per punt than the Northwestern punters). He downed one on the NU four-yard line, and another one at their 11. He would flip the field, giving his team controlling field position. A really good game.
Tommy Eichenberg. Eichenberg sometimes gets by under the radar as he plays his usual fine game. But yesterday he was dominant and recorded a game-high 13 total tackles.
Steele Chambers, Ronnie Hickman, Lathan Ransom. Notice that there aren’t any defensive linemen here; tackles, unfortunately, were made by linebackers and backs. And these guys had a bunch: Chambers had eight, Hickman 10, Ransom nine.
Miyan Williams. Three or four times in my notes, I have, after a crucial third down (or even fourth down) play, “Williams stopped short.” He often was. He didn’t have much in the way of holes, but, as the game went on, he ran harder and harder, refusing to go down. Keeping his balance on his 27-yard touchdown run was a real feat. The third quarter play gave the Buckeyes their first lead of the game and shifted the momentum in their favor. Williams finished with 111 yards on 26 carries (4.3 average). In the second half, though, he ran 15 times for 89 yards and a six-yard average.
C.J. Stroud, the runner. I’m separating Stroud’s performance here. It was great to see him running the ball, and he seemed to take to it, to get better at it, once he had a couple of runs under his belt. The fake to Williams and 44-yard run around the edge turned the game around. It will be interesting to see if Stroud running will become a feature of the OSU offense.
J.T. Tuimoloau. Well, Tuimoloau didn’t have the game that he had last week. How could he? but he was still pretty good. He collected his team’s one sack and batted down a pass at the line of scrimmage. He finished the game with four total tackles.
J.K. Johnson. Watching, over and over again, Johnson whiffing as the Northwestern running back blew by him for a score, made me wince. It looked as though he didn’t even try, just stood there and waved. Johnson lost his man in coverage a couple of times but didn’t really get burned, saved by bad passes and dropped balls. Against a better passing team?
The offensive line, especially Matt Jones. I’m singling M. Jones out because of his holding penalty on the Buckeyes’ first play. X Johnson returned the opening kickoff to the 30. Then Williams gained seven on a nice run. But Jones was called for holding, and it was first and 20. Not where you want to be in a game like this. The play, sadly, set the tone for the offense.
The line, generally, wasn’t very good on either passing or running plays. While not giving up any sacks, the line couldn’t protect Stroud very well either. The coverage was good, and Stroud had to scramble on most plays. On runs, the line didn’t succeed in moving people out of the way until late in the game. Against Northwestern, they shouldn’t have had any trouble. But they did.
Against an even slightly better team, Ohio State might have lost this game. Pat Fitzgerald should have opted for punts a couple of times, rather than going for it. NU receivers dropped some balls that would have made a difference. But the Buckeyes won. And the prizes are still out there waiting. Go Bucks!