We quickly find ourselves two weeks into Ohio State’s 2023 football season, and although the Buckeyes showed some improvement in some areas in their 35-7 Week 2 win over Youngstown State, there’s still a sense that this year’s team has a much longer way to go than anticipated.
It is said that teams make their biggest jump between the first two games of the season, but in many ways, Saturday’s home victory over the FCS Penguins did not put to rest some of the unsettled feelings from the win at Indiana.
The following items were among those that had me shaking my head at the television on Saturday:
An unnecessary holding penalty on Carson Hinzman on what would have been a first down run by TreVeyon Henderson was an early irritation. Henderson went for nine yards on the game’s first play, then would have picked up the first down even without the hold. Hinzman turned a second-and-1 into a second-and-11 situation. The Buckeyes converted on third down, thanks to a 71-yard touchdown pass from Kyle McCord to Marvin Harrison Jr., but that penalty could easily have led to a three-and-out possession.
It was the first of three holding penalties on the day for Ohio State — two on the offensive line and one on blocking back Chip Trayanum that nullified a Miyan Williams touchdown run on a second-half possession that finished with a turnover on downs. That many holds in one game would be troubling against any opponent, but it’s especially aggravating that the Buckeyes committed these infractions against FCS competition.
For much of the game, the OSU defense showed a remarkable lack of intensity, in my view. Lesser opponents often bring out the best in a defense, as players tee off on smaller or less talented competition than they’re used to seeing. That was not the case on Saturday.
There was a shocking lack of disruption by the defensive line. Youngstown State seemed capable of picking up at least three yards on any given running play, and quarterback pressure rarely existed without bringing a linebacker. The entire defense looked disinterested on the first Youngstown State drive after Ohio State had grabbed the early 7-0 lead. This was highlighted by Cam Martinez getting roasted by an FCS receiver for a big play down the field.
Through two games, Ohio State’s defense has managed just two sacks and one takeaway against two of the weaker opponents it will face all season. Hopefully it’s just a slow start and not the start of a worrying trend that will get worse when the competition level improves.
Lack of Response
After the Penguins tied the game on their first drive, the OSU offense sputtered with a three-and-out on the second Buckeye drive. Two plays quickly put Ohio State in a third-and-one situation and, once again, the Buckeyes called a stretch run into the boundary. This has been a disaster of a play call through two games already, and Josh Simmons exacerbated the one-yard loss by holding on the play.
Youngstown State, fearing Ryan Day would go for it on 4th-and-2, accepted the penalty, and it paid off when Kyle McCord’s pass to a not-very-open Emeka Egbuka was broken up. That brought out punter Jesse Mirco for the first of three times on the day. If you’d told me before this game that Ohio State would punt three times against an FCS opponent, I would not have believed you.
There isn’t much “special” in Ohio State’s special teams so far this season, and that continued Saturday. Egbuka’s punt-returning decisions are curious ones. On his first attempt, he lost three yards back to his own 7-yard line while trying to outrun the entire Youngstown State team laterally across the field. He could have planted and gone straight up the field after beating the first defender for a decent gain (and certainly a gain as opposed to a loss).
Even if the play was called for him to return it right, you’d hope your return man would be able to scan the field and adjust as needed. He also had multiple fair catches on what appeared to be very returnable punts.
(Editors Note: Parker Fleming. Just saying)
Marvin Harrison Jr. appeared to be set to pull in his third long touchdown reception of the day when he was interfered with in the end zone in obvious fashion. However, for whatever reason, it wasn’t called. Ohio State managed to score later in the drive anyway but the officials screwed that up initially as well.
On TreVeyon Henderson’s stretch into the end zone, it appeared obvious on television that the ball didn’t come out until his arm hit the ground in the end zone, but the game officials called it a fumble and had to overturn it after reviewing the replay. It was an adventurous day for the officiating crew, as it often is in college football, but those seemed to be two rather obvious ones that the crew couldn’t handle.
Simmons’ Second Infraction
Henderson actually scored his touchdown twice, because Simmons ruined his first one by taking a personal foul penalty for illegal hands to the face. It was the second double-digit yardage penalty by the left tackle on the day. Henderson’s burst from 17 yards out was an impressive run that deserved to be rewarded. He did it again moments later from 13 yards out, and Simmons’ hands came dangerously close to repeating the mistake on the one that (eventually) counted.
It didn’t end up costing Ohio State, but it was irritating to see seemingly half the defense jump offside on a third-and-6 play on Youngstown State’s first possession after Henderson’s touchdown. It turned a long-yardage situation into a more manageable third-and-1, but Mitch Davidson threw three incompletions to stall the drive. Had Youngstown State run the football straight ahead, the way Ohio State’s defense played on Saturday, the Penguins likely would have extended their drive. Instead, it became one of just three three-and-outs on the day forced by the OSU defense.
I was eager to see what the offense would look like in the hurry-up, and Ohio State took over the ball at its own 37-yard line with 1:56 remaining in the first half. McCord got the drive off to a good start with a completion to Henderson for 13 yards to reach midfield. But then the wheels fell off the drive.
McCord led Henderson too much on first down, and the receiver was unable to get his foot down in bounds on the sideline catch. The second-down play was a rare drop by Harrison on a well-thrown ball. On the third-and-long play, McCord appeared to bail on his pocket earlier than necessary and decided to try to run for it. He didn’t get very far. McCord picked up just one yard before being tackled, bringing the possession to an end.
Ohio State has been money in the two-minute drill over the last several years, so it was disappointing to see it sputter, particularly with perhaps the team’s most talented player making a rare mistake.
Oh, Come On!
Youngstown State got the ball to start the second half and quickly picked up two first downs with some short runs and passes. But then a sack by Tommy Eichenberg set the Penguins back. In fact, it could have been a huge play by the defense, because Eichenberg forced a Davidson fumble on the play, but Ohio State was unable to recover.
Things got worse for the Penguins when they took a delay-of-game penalty prior to their next snap, putting the visitors in a second-and-22 situation. The Buckeyes should have been in a great position to thwart the drive right there and then. However, a 14-yard Davidson pass to Bryce Oliver beat Davison Igbinosun and gave YSU a manageable third-and-8 situation.
A Beau Brungard pass on third down went 14 yards as Youngstown State converted. The drive was eventually thwarted due to a fantastic interception in the end zone by Denzel Burke, but that set of downs did not cover the defense in glory with the starters still on the field.
I could go on about this game, but I won’t. While I didn’t expect the Buckeyes to hang 70 points on the Penguins, I did expect a wider margin of victory, much like Penn State had against Delaware. There were other points left on the field, such as Devin Brown’s egregious overthrow to a wide-open Carnell Tate in the end zone.
There were obviously some good things, too. McCord looked much more comfortable in Week 2, with only six incompletions — one of which was Harrison’s drop. He clearly is the better quarterback at this point. Burke continued his rebirth with another outstanding game. Sonny Styles and Michael Hall Jr. looked good, and should probably never come off the field unless they ask to.
What bothered you about the game? Let me know in the comments section below.