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).
Ohio State entered the playoffs with the sting, the embarrassment of the Michigan loss still fresh enough to raise questions about whether they belonged, whether they’d even be able to play with Georgia. Well, the questions were answered last night. The Buckeyes did belong, and they certainly could play with the Bulldogs. They didn’t get blown out, as they did in the second half against Michigan. They didn’t get beaten physically on the lines of scrimmage. But, as they did against the Wolverines in the second half, they did give up big, explosive plays that finally spelled their doom.
The Buckeyes put up a touchdown on their second position, and, except for a short spell at the end of the first quarter and the beginning of the second, when the score was tied 7-7, they led the whole game. Until they didn’t at the very end.
Ryan Day’s team was considerably more aggressive. There was no attempt “to establish the running game.” Nobody had run on Georgia all year. No, the Bucks’ strength was the passing arm of C.J. Stroud, and they would take their chances with that. It worked. At intermission, with OSU ahead 28-24, Stroud had thrown for 238 yards and three touchdowns.
The Buckeyes owned the third quarter, scoring 10 more points and shutting out the Dogs. Especially notable was that the Buckeyes had shut down Georgia’s vaunted running attack. But in the fourth quarter, we saw why Stetson Bennett was a Heisman finalist, why he doesn’t lose many games. Time and again, his receivers burned the Buckeye secondary, and he hit them in stride with deadly accuracy.
All season Stroud had to make do without key players at times: Jaxon Smith-Njigba, TreVeyon Henderson, Miyan Williams, and even Evan Prior. Last night two more weapons from his offensive arsenal were removed, as Cade Stover went down and Marvin Harrison, Jr. followed him at the beginning of the fourth quarter. It was all Stroud. As the Bulldogs disrupted the Buckeye passing game with a vicious blitzing rush, Stroud started to scramble, determined to win the game by himself, if he had to. And until the final three seconds, I thought that he would.
We’ll remember this game for a long time. So close. With a game like this one, there are individual plays that stand out – difference makers. There were the key injuries, of course. And then the two reversed calls that went against the Buckeyes. The targeting that put Harrison, Jr. on the sidelines. The fourth down attempt that upon review gave the Dawgs a first and goal. The illegal motion call against Mitch Rossi that negated a converted Buckeye fourth down and forced a punt. The shrewd time-out called by Kirby Smart that canceled a successful OSU fake punt. The successful two-point conversion. And — yes — the missed 50-yard field goal attempt at the very end. Had any one of these plays gone differently, the outcome probably would have been reversed.
Overall rating: A Strong
For the past several years the Georgia Bulldogs have been defensive giants. Opponents can’t run against them, can’t score. This year, however, they were somewhat vulnerable to the pass. Ryan Day and Stroud exploited this “weakness” for 348 yards and four passing TDs. The Dawgs couldn’t cover Harrison, Emeka Egbuka, or Julian Fleming one-on-one. They were continually open, as the offensive line provided good protection, and Stroud burned them.
Once Stroud began to run, even the running game opened up a bit, as the Bucks accumulated 119 net rushing yards (there were four sacks). In the fourth quarter, though, Smart changed strategies, and rather than guard against the big play, he started blitzing. The Buckeye line broke down, and Stroud was on the run. Ohio State managed only three points in the final frame, and Georgia got 18.
467 total yards, 41 points, and control of most of the game was a valiant offensive effort against the likes of the Georgia Bulldogs. But not quite good enough. The opportunities were there, and that’s what makes this loss such a bitter one.
Overall rating: BBB Adequate (i.e., good enough to win)
You might say that the defense wasn’t good enough to win. But it was. Those few, decisive plays made all of the difference. Georgia finished with only 134 rushing yards and converted only two of 10 third down attempts. Good enough to win.
But once again, the Buckeyes’ weakness all season – the defensive secondary – gave up the big plays. Cam Brown generally played pretty well. But not always. Denzel Burke had good moments. And bad. The three safeties – Ronnie Hickman, Tanner McCalister, and Lathan Ransom – had trouble keeping the speedy Bulldog receivers in check. In fact, they couldn’t do it. And the Buckeye pass rush could hurry Bennett but could rarely bring him down. He rose to the occasion in the fourth quarter and played like a champion.
Overall rating: BBB Adequate
The only blemish on special teams for the Buckeyes was the missed field goal that effectively ended the game. I must say, though, that was a big blemish. Noah Ruggles has played well for two seasons with the Buckeyes, and the blame can’t fall on only his shoulders. There were lots of plays, lots of chances. It didn’t have to come down to that long kick.
C.J. Stroud. Playing in what was, no doubt, his final game in scarlet and gray, Stroud was magnificent. He played smart. His passing was sharp. His determination to win took my breath away. Stroud finished with 23 completions in 34 passing attempts (exactly the same numbers as Bennett). That’s a fine 68% against a very rugged defense. He’ll go down as one of the great ones.
Emeka Egbuka. Harrison gets star billing for the Buckeyes, but Egbuka outplayed him in this game. He caught eight passes for 112 yards and a touchdown, and he was especially important after Harrison went down.
Steele Chambers. Chambers not only had the second-quarter interception that led to a quick Buckeye TD and a 14-point lead, but he finished with eight total tackles and was largely responsible for stymying the Bulldog runs in the second half.
Marvin Harrison, Jr. Harrison, Jr. had a remarkable first half. His performance – five catches for 106 yards and two TDs – put Ohio State in command of the game. But Harrison also had a couple of rare drops, one on a slant over the middle, the other on a sideline pass. Again – little things, key plays.
Julian Fleming. Fleming had to step up, and he did. He got open, and he got yards after the catch. He gained 71 yards on his five receptions.
Zach Harrison. Harrison, probably also playing in his final collegiate game, was a strong presence in both the pass rush and the rush defense.
One could probably put a couple of defensive backs in this category, but, finally, what’s the point? They played hard, and the secondary problem is perhaps more of a coaching and scheme issue than it is execution. I’m not sure.
I had said to myself before the game, “If the Bucks can somehow beat Georgia, they’ll win the national championship, and all of the problems will be forgotten.” Finally, they couldn’t quite do it. The defensive issues of giving up the big play and defending the pass, in general, will be top priorities for the off-season. And, of course, there will be a new quarterback. I guess that it’s already time to look ahead to next season.
In consolation: at least Michigan lost.