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You’re Nuts: Positive takeaways from the Peach Bowl

Sorting through the aftermath of Ohio State’s CFP loss.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 31 Semifinal Game Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl Photo by David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Everybody knows that one of the best parts of being a sports fan is debating and dissecting the most (and least) important questions in the sporting world with your friends. So, we’re bringing that to the pages of LGHL with our favorite head-to-head column: You’re Nuts.

In You’re Nuts, two LGHL staff members will take differing sides of one question and argue their opinions passionately. Then, in the end, it’s up to you to determine who’s right and who’s nuts.

This week’s topic: Positive takeaways from the Peach Bowl

Josh’s Take:

With the clock counting down to midnight (ET) on New Year’s Eve, Ohio State football fans were full of nervous energy. Seconds, minutes, or what felt like hours later – literally as the ball was dropping in Times Square – that same energy left our collective souls, and we began to mourn. Rather than celebrating a new year and a spot in the CFP National Championship Game, we were left mourning the end of another Buckeye football season. One which began with incredible promise, but supposedly ended on Nov. 26, only to be resurrected by a USC loss.

But the funny thing is, even though OSU was granted a second lease on life, it still felt like many college football fans and media types had left them for dead. Coming off an embarrassing home loss against their rival, licking their wounds, and missing out on a few big-name recruits, Ryan Day’s team was seemingly in a tailspin — with no chance of defeating the reigning champs. Georgia was just too big, too fast, too well-coached. And in the end, maybe the Bulldogs were... but only by the absolute slimmest of margins.

The Buckeyes dropped a heartbreaker, in heartbreaking fashion. If you are reading this, you know the story, so Gene and I are not going to recap the 2022 Peach Bowl. Instead, we wanted to try and put a (somewhat) positive spin on an otherwise disappointing result. And I actually think there were many positives to take away from this game. Because even though Ohio State lost, they proved that they are still among CFB’s elite. One could argue that they were even the better team on Saturday night. That is not me attempting to rationalize a moral victory; It is simply fact.

Down Jaxon Smith-Njigba and TreVeyon Henderson, the OSU offense came out hot against UGA. They remained hot, despite next losing starting tight end Cade Stover. Then Miyan Williams hobbled off, clearly not recovered from his litany of injuries — didn’t matter. C.J. Stroud was borderline heroic, as he and Ryan Day kept Kirby Smart’s defense off-balance throughout the first three quarters. But then CFB’s best wide receiver, Marvin Harrison Jr., was knocked out of the game by a hit on a clearly defenseless player, effectively crippling the Buckeyes’ offense. They would not find the endzone again, while Georgia mounted a comeback against Jim Knowles’ Swiss cheese defense.

No other way to put it: that loss sucked. But the Peach Bowl did confirm something which I already felt pretty good about. And that is, that as long as Ohio State has some combination of Ryan Day, Brian Hartline, and Justin Frye, the Buckeyes can score on anybody — at any time. So my biggest positive takeaway from this painful loss, is that OSU has the offensive brain trust in place. They can carry this team along while the other side of the ball (hopefully) catches up.

Many have doubted or complained about Day’s playcalling from time to time – my co-host included – and I get it. He (Day) has gone ultra-conservative in big moments, dialed up a few head scratchers in others, and seemed strangely intent on proving toughness during the 2022 season. But since Day took over as the offensive playcaller in 2017, no team has scored more points on a per game basis than the Buckeyes. Arguably no trio of (consecutive) quarterbacks has been better than Dwayne Haskins, Justin Fields, and Stroud. And quite simply, when this thing is clicking, it is a sight to behold. The points, the stats, and the record all speak for themselves.

Day further proved his offensive acumen against Georgia, hanging 41 (38 in three quarters) on a team which had not allowed more than 30 points all season. UGA was second in the country in PPG allowed prior to the Peach Bowl, now they rank fifth. And this was with a shrinking collection of OSU players. By the time Harrison Jr. was forcefully knocked out of the game, Day was left with his superstar QB and one “starting” WR. Sure, the Buckeyes have talent on top of talent, but let’s be realistic. Day called a hell of a game against the Bulldogs, reminding people that he can find a way to put up points with the best of ‘em. And points win (many) football games.

But Day also has a ton of support. He is sometimes even carried or propelled by the players and coaches around him. Two of those coaches are Hartline and Frye. The former has brought in and developed players at a ridiculously successful rate, while the latter elevated a stagnant unit up front. Playcalling means nothing if the talent and execution are lacking, and Hartline and Frye have been instrumental in helping to bring it all together.

Without elite, elite (elite) wide receivers, this Ohio State offense is simply not the same. For a few years now, the running game has been hit-and-miss, while the passing attack consistently flourishes. It is not possible without Hartline. He brings in the best of the best at his position group, and then gets the best out of them. That was on further display against Georgia, as both Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka went for over 100 yards.

Lastly, let’s not forget about new OL Coach and Associate HC for Offense, Justin Frye. While the Buckeyes did not open gaping holes and/or rush for a ton of yards against UGA, they did give Stroud plenty of time. With that time, the OSU QB nearly made enough throws and plays to knock off the champs. But more importantly, Frye seemed to get the best out of these offensive linemen all year.

Paris Johnson Jr. and Dawand Jones were highly thought of, but we had not yet seen their ceiling. Frye helped them reach it. Donovan Jackson played like the real deal he was recruited to be, Luke Wypler became a legitimate NFL prospect, and Matt Jones went from “some guy” to an integral part of the OL. Frye deserves at least some credit for that, and I am excited to see what he does in his second, third, and fourth years on staff (presumably).

Defense cost these Buckeyes a shot in the CFP, but I am confident that Knowles will get it figured out. I hope that he does. In the meantime, my positive takeaway from the Peach Bowl is that Day and his collection of offensive coaches will keep Ohio State in the hunt. If the defense comes close to catching up, watch out.

Gene’s Take:

I was happy to be wrong about Ohio State’s performance against Georgia in the Peach Bowl. While they ultimately did not win the game, and that is obviously really the only thing that matters, they still put up a better fight than I had guessed on Josh and I’s preview episode of Hangout in the Holy Land, where I predicted a 38-17 win for the Bulldogs. A loss is a loss no matter how you slice it, but as my cohost said above, there was still some positives to take away from a game that was far closer than I anticipated.

Before I get into the good however, I want to at least touch on some of the things that I was correct about on the negative side. For one, Mick Marrotti and the Ohio State strength and conditioning staff are a bunch of bums. They had an entire month to get Miyan Williams back to at least close to full strength, especially knowing they would be without TreVeyon Henderson, and the running back only wound up carrying the ball three times in a game where the Buckeyes could have used his powerful running style down in the red zone — which they did once, effectively, for a touchdown.

This comes at the end of a season where Jaxon Smith-Njigba missed basically the entirety of the season with a hamstring injury, where neither OSU running every seemed to be playing anywhere close to healthy, and numerous starters missed time in the defensive secondary and along the defensive line. Mike Hall Jr., who was one of Ohio State’s best player on that side of the football early in the year, had basically no impact in the latter half of the season playing on a snap count seemingly as a result of injury.

The people in charge of keeping the team strong and healthy failed on a tremendous scale for all of 2022, and so it would behoove Ryan Day to expunge the Urban Meyer holdover from the staff next year and replace him and his guys with people that actually understand what it takes to train guys to play football, not to train like they’re olympic weightlifters and force guys to play in cookie-cutter body types based solely on what positive they play and not on their individual play style.

I also want to admit that I was wrong about Ryan Day’s ability to coach in a big game, as the offense ditched the conservative and scared approach for the most part against Georgia, but there will still some real head-scratching decisions that ultimately prevented Ohio State from winning — namely the play-calls following C.J. Stroud’s long run that failed to set the Buckeyes up for an easier game-winning field goal attempt. It isn’t what lost them the game, but it didn’t make matters any easier.

Day’s Ohio State teams have failed to close out games in the biggest spots. Against Clemson in the College Football Playoff in 2019, the Buckeyes led 16-0 in the second quarter and 23-21 in the fourth quarter, but failed to score again en route to a 29-23 loss. This year’s failure to close was even more dramatic, with Ohio State holding a 38-24 lead at the end of the third quarter and a 41-35 lead with just 2:43 left in the game. At a certain point, you have to win these games instead of choking them away, and Day’s teams have failed to do that.

Now that I've spent my entire portion of this ‘positive’ article picking apart the negatives, I want to finally get to my truly positive takeaway: C.J. Stroud.

The Ohio State starting quarterback has gotten his fair share of criticisms over the years. People wanted him benched after a slow start to his 2021 campaign, and of course his aversion to running the football has annoyed many that have watched the Buckeyes — especially in short yardage situations. The criticisms were mostly fair, and I too had questions about Stroud’s ability to lead the team against a defense like Georgia’s. He proved me wrong.

Against the Bulldogs, Stroud was simply phenomenal. He did basically everything he could have done to try and will Ohio State to a victory, completing 23 of his 34 pass attempts for 348 yards and four touchdowns with no turnovers. His offensive line didn’t always give him the best of protection, and as the game wore on his lost more and more of his offensive weapons — including, of course, Marvin Harrison Jr. — but none of the blame for the loss can be placed on Stroud’s shoulders. His long 27-yard run at the end of the game set the team up in excellent position to get in range for a game-winning field goal, but it simply wasn’t to be.

I’m glad people got to see the best version of C.J. Stroud on the biggest stage, and I'm hoping his draft stock will reflect that. You can already see the overthinking from the big draft analysts placing a guy like Will Levis as QB1, a player who I would wager is far more likely to be the next Sam Darnold/Zach Wilson rather than the next Joe Burrow. Stroud has a high ceiling as a football player, and I think he will do well for himself at the next level. It isn’t going to happen overnight, but we saw growth from Stroud over his two years as Ohio State’s starting QB, and if that growth continues at the next level, he’s destined for a long professional career.