The wounds are still fresh from Ohio State losing to Georgia 42-41 in the Peach Bowl in heart breaking fashion on Noah Ruggles’ last second missed field attempt. Losing college football games is never fun for fans, players, or the coaches involved, but the gut-wrenching fashion of that loss will stick with everyone in Buckeye Nation for a while.
No one gave Ohio State a chance coming into the game. The Buckeyes came out highly motivated to prove the world wrong. C.J. Stroud played the game of his life, showing every aspect of his game — including a willingness to run. The receivers did an admirable job taking on a Georgia secondary who kept every receiving unit in check until Saturday. Even the offensive line stood the test against the best defensive line unit in the country.
The offensive output was not enough to beat the Bulldogs, and that is going to be tough pill to swallow. Most fans, pundits, and even Ryan Day himself said that it was going to take scoring more than 40, even if the task seemed insurmountable. When it was all said and done, the offense did their part.
This game was won in key moments though — mental lapses and failed technique cost the Buckeyes. Ohio State’s secondary fell short of the BIA moniker that has been bestowed upon the group. The mistakes were costly once again, and every time it felt like the offense did enough to put the game away, a mistake let Georgia march right down the field to answer. Combine this with another botched fake punt, an illegal motion by Mitch Rossi, and a missed tackle early in the game, it ended up being a one point difference.
In a game that was always going to come down to a few plays, the mistakes were too much to overcome in the end for Ohio State, and they’re back to where they started last offseason.
To start, Ohio State came out of the gate firing on both sides of the ball, forcing a field goal defensively and then scoring a touchdown to go up 7-0. The team was alive and looking incredibly sharp. Georgia’s response started off on the wrong foot, losing seven yards on a pass to Ladd McConkey. They get to a 3rd-and-10 after a short gain, and Ohio State has them on the ropes early.
On the season, the Buckeyes held opponents to 29.9 percent on third down attempts. A big reason for this is their ability to create pressure and play tight man-coverage behind the pass rush. Georgia runs a slot fade route one-on-one against Tanner McAlister who is in off man coverage.
McAlister never gets his hands on the receiver which allows the Georgia player to release freely. By not getting his hands on the receiver, the receiver has enough separation for Bennett to deliver a back shoulder throw. This type of throw does not give McAlister enough time to find the ball and make play, which extend the drive.
McAlister was not in bad position, but he was not in position to make a play on the ball at the catch point. This problem has plagued the Ohio State secondary for three seasons now, and this was juts the beginning of the struggles at the second level.
In the next play, there is an obvious mismatch here that gave the entire fanbase flash backs to the last time Ohio State played an SEC opponent. The Buckeyes are in a Tampa-2, which leaves the middle of the field vulnerable. Tommy Eichenberg shows great recognition and has the underneath covered. What is missing is Ronnie Hickman shifting to the slot receiver on the post route.
Instead his eyes stay locked into a receiver who is well covered underneath. This pulls him up and creates a huge area to throw the ball for Bennett. This is a big mistake, and this is a challenging aspect of being a safety. This type of mistake once again reared its ugly head for the Buckeyes.
Ohio State was up 21-7 before giving up the long throw and a touchdown on the ensuing plays in the red zone. With the Buckeyes up 21-14 after a quick 3-and-out, Georgia has a chance to take momentum back, and Ohio State has opportunity to keep the Bulldogs at arms length.
Up until the next play, Ohio State had kept the Bulldogs in check on the ground for the most part. The only damage done by a Georgia running back to this point of the game was the quick screen to McIntosh that went for a touchdown.
In the play below, Ohio State is in a Cover-0 look, which means they have whoever is in the box to stop the run. Lathan Ransom is taken out of the play with the motion of Brock Bowers, this leaves Georgia with a numbers advantage to the run side.
The double team by Georgia gets to the second level and seals off Steele Chambers, and the defensive line is unable to crash down quick enough to slow the back down. The aggressiveness of Knowles backfired on this play, and the Bulldogs should have had a long touchdown run.
Ohio State responded to go into the half with a 28-24 lead. Starting the third quarter off with a stop, they scored to get an 11-point cushion. With a chance to really put this game into favorable position, the Buckeyes made their first detrimental mistake in pass protection.
Georgia had been limited to one sack, and when they created pressure, Stroud was able to respond with his feet. Due to the injuries to the running backs and Cade Stover, the fact the protection held up as well as it did is a testament to Justin Frye, Tony Alford, and the offensive staff game planning the protection.
Mitch Rossi releases out. He doesn’t chip the blitzing safety, which gives him a free run at Stroud. This may have happened with Stover, but odds are with more game experience Stover gets his hands on the blitzer, giving Stroud additional time to throw. This mistake turned into a punt, and Georgia was then able to get the game back to within one score.
These small mistakes turned into key moments in the game, when playing a team of Georgia’s caliber, these errors in execution are the difference. When the small errors add up like they did, it gives the team no margin for error. Georgia has the ball down two scores with eight minutes to go in the game. If Ohio State can just make Georgia earn the points, eat up some clock, and give the offense a chance to not give the ball back to Georgia.
Instead, Jim Knowles puts the offense into a one high man-coverage look. Understanding the fact that a coach needs to be able to trust his players to make the plays when needed, the coverage is not a total problem. The issue starts with the alignment.
Georgia has trips to the boundary side of the field. This condensed formation and the wide split on the other side from the receiver forces the safety to play further away from the trips side. Georgia wins with alignment. They attack the middle safety with a vertical up the seam from the single receiver side. Ransom is left on an island and allows his cushion to get eaten up. This forces him into an uncomfortable turn leading to him falling down.
This mistake was the difference in the game. The Buckeyes end up being up three points with almost the same amount of time on the clock. In games like this, time can be a best friend or worst enemy, and when you have the lead it is usually the latter.
Georgia was probably going to score again, but the biggest issue was how easy it was because of the mistake. Now, instead of the offense having to churn down four to five minutes of game time, they have just under eight minutes. The offense does a great job of taking time off the clock and moving the ball without Harrison Jr. They were looking for that seven minute drive that put the game away against Notre Dame.
The Buckeyes have the ball down in the red zone. Day dials up a play-action pass to try to get another chunk play. Since the Harrison Jr. injury in the third quarter, the offense was struggling because Georgia’s confidence to bring pressure was much higher. This overwhelmed the offensive line a few times late, and unfortunately on this play, it was just a little too much for Stroud to escape from.
Dallan Hayden runs right past the blitzer and Donovan Jackson has too many defenders to pick up on the play side. With a long play-action fake and no quick check down, Stroud is trapped.
After the sack, Ohio State settled for a field goal, and Georgia has just under four minutes to score a touchdown. The much improved defense has an opportunity to right the ship for their crucial second half errors that kept the Bulldogs in the game, and also gave them an opportunity to have a chance to win it with a touchdown.
Ohio State had a huge play that should have forced the Bulldogs into a second and long, but instead an illegal substitution moves the ball up five yards. This gives Georgia the ability to take a shot down field, which they take.
The Buckeyes simulate pressure and player Cover-5, behind meaning two high safeties with man underneath. McAlister gives the receiver a free release and the speed kills him. This creates a hole shot between the trailing McAlister and the safety help over top. The same problem from the first half reappeared in an even more crucial moment, and this set Georgia up in the red zone with plenty of time to score.
Knowles learned from his mistake and gave all the underneath defenders help over top. The issue was the execution of the underneath defender’s trail technique turned into a burnt toast technique. This was the secondary execution costing the Buckeyes once again in 2022. Heading into the offseason, the secondary is the biggest question mark, and in a lot of ways the reason Ohio State was unable to hold onto multiple double-digit leads.
The last play here is man-coverage in the red zone. Denzel Burke struggled early in the year, but for much of the second half was playing like his freshman All-American self. His coverage was solid against Georgia all the way up until the last touchdown given up.
Burke is not in bad position, but he bites on the inside fake by the receiver. His slight stumble due to the fake gives the receiver enough separation for an easy pitch-and-catch from Bennett to take a one point lead with a minute to go.
This game came down to minor mistakes turning into big plays for the opponent. The one thing Ohio State failed to improve on this year was discipline. Each player had moment of great play individually, but the complexities of the Knowles scheme lead to players needing to understand their role on a play-by-play basis, or big plays happen. Against Michigan, blown coverages transformed the game. The same issues occurred against Georgia.
Unfortunately, the mistakes are not done just yet, the Buckeyes had one more before it was all said and done. After C.J. Stroud makes an incredible run on a scramble to get the Buckeyes into field goal range, Ryan Day calls a run play into the boundary. He stated in the post game the zero coverage Georgia was playing was the reason for the call. If Hayden got a crease, he was gone, which was the reasoning behind the call.
Then Ohio State evaded two sacks with Georgia bringing the house, needing to settle for a 5-yard field goal. If the Buckeyes are able to chip away 10 more yards, the kick is much more manageable.
On the kick the snap was slow, the hold was bad due to the snap being too far into the holders body, and the combination of the issues led to a kick with thrown off timing. Ruggles rushes the technique, and it looks like he loses his footing slightly on the contact of the ball. This leads to an over kicked shank that he hooks wide left of the upright. The kicking game is a unit, but this game coming down to Noah Ruggles happened far before that ball was snapped.
Ohio State once again did not do the little things well enough to win the football game. The small mistakes added up and turned into monumental moments that will define the offseason conversation. As the secondary gave up a number of big plays to begin the result of the game slipping away, the other mistakes just added to the fall.
The Buckeyes proved they are talented enough to be there. That is not enough though, as the fanbase has a hunger to reclaim the throne on top of the College Football Playoff castle. A game where mistakes define the result makes it a much tougher pill to swallow. If any of the plays above went the other direction, this article is probably getting you excited for a championship matchup. Instead, another offseason of reflection ensues for the Buckeyes with the same questions they entered with.
The improvement of the defense was commendable. Ryan Day showed he can still rise to the occasion as a play-caller, and many of the key players in this game will return next year with one more chance to right their misfortunes. Until then, the mistakes are what define Ohio State’s loss, and will define much of the conversation surrounding the Buckeyes this offseason.