After two weeks of less than stellar performances, Ohio State came out and looked dominant in a 63-10 win over Western Kentucky in Week 3.
The Buckeyes’ defense was up to the challenge of stopping the Hilltoppers’ prolific passing attack, holding WKU to 207 yards passing while forcing four turnovers — two forced fumbles and two interceptions, including a pick-six. It was an extremely encouraging showing against a legit offense, as Western Kentucky finished the game just 3-of-16 on third down and 3-of-6 on fourth down. The Buckeyes recorded eight tackles for loss on the afternoon, while adding six pass breakups and a pair of sacks. It would be tough not to come away impressed by Jim Knowles’ group.
Offensively, things looked to go a lot smoother now that the quarterback battle is over. Kyle McCord was comfortable and confident as he moved the Buckeyes down the field, and Ryan Day did a really great job of putting together a balanced attack that saw both the passing and rushing attack flourish. Eight different players caught passes against Western Kentucky, led by Marvin Harrison Jr.’s five catches for 126 yards and a TD as well as Emeka Egbuka’s two-TD game. On the ground, six different non-QBs carried the ball on Saturday, including the collegiate debut of Evan Pryor, who tallied 12 yards on three touches.
Here is the good, the bad and the ugly from Ohio State’s victory over Western Kentucky.
A Confident Kyle McCord
It seems as though being officially named Ohio State’s starting quarterback and getting a full week of uninterrupted reps with the ones in practice has been good for Kyle McCord. QB1 was fantastic on Saturday, completing 19 of his 23 pass attempts for 318 yards and three touchdowns with zero picks. After an early overthrow and losing the ball on a sack fumble, McCord locked in the rest of the way. He made some really nice throws, including some accurate deep balls, and overall looked comfortable leading the offense. With the position battle in the rearview, McCord can now play with a weight off his shoulders and just focus on making plays.
A Healthy TreVeyon Henderson
It wasn’t entire clear last season who the Buckeyes’ top running back on any given weekend would be, as all of them spent some time rehabbing injuries. Now healthy, TreVeyon Henderson is showing off the speed and athleticism that made him a five-star prospect coming out of high school. The junior put together a strong performance against the Hilltoppers, leading Ohio State with 13 carries for 88 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He also hauled in one catch for 27 yards. While Chip Trayanum (who also had a nice day with five carries for 56 yards and a TD) and Miyan Williams are here to give him a breather, Henderson has looked like a man on a mission to start the 2023 campaign.
The Silver Bullets
Against one of the nation’s best passing offenses two years running, I was expecting Ohio State’s secondary to struggle a bit in this game. Western Kentucky knows how to air out the football, and I wouldn’t have been shocked if they were able to put up somewhere in the neighborhood of 24-30 points against the Buckeyes. Instead, the OSU secondary was outstanding, holding WKU QB Austin Reed to 207 yards passing — only the second time he’s thrown for less than 250 yards in his 17 games as a starter. Denzel Burke was phenomenal, and other guys all over the defensive backfield made plays when called upon. I was really impressed with the Ohio State secondary against probably the best passing attack they will face this year.
We couldn’t talk about some of the positives from this game without mentioning the freshmen, as a handful of first-year players got to play a decent amount a snaps in a blowout. On offense it was wide receiver Carnell Tate, who tallied two catches for 40 yards including his first career touchdown. Defensively, corner Jermaine Matthews Jr. stole the show, jumping a route and taking an interception 58 yards to the house. While not freshmen, another handful of young guys made some impressive plays, including QB Devin Brown’s first career TD pass (on the ball to Tate) and DE Omari Abor making a nice play to record a tackle for loss late in the contest.
The Defensive Ends
I will start this section off by saying that I am nitpicking here. The defense, as mentioned, played extremely well as a whole. While the counting stats still aren’t there, I do think the defensive line played better in this game than they did in the first few weeks. They continued to be strong against the run, and even though there was only two sacks recorded for Ohio State against the Hilltoppers — by Tyliek Williams and Mitchell Melton — they got enough of a pass rush that they were able to affect several throws.
That being said, I’m still waiting to see either J.T. Tuimoloau or Jack Sawyer make an impact on a football game. Outside of Tuimoloau’s big game against Penn State, neither of these two former five-stars have done much of anything in Columbus. Through three games this season, the duo has combined for one TFL and zero sacks. Tuimoloau was in the backfield a handful of times against Western Kentucky and did officially record a QB hurry, but for neither of these guys to even have one sack against overmatched competition is troubling. It’s not going to get any easier next week against Notre Dame.
Ohio State’s Use of Cade Stover
This is less about Cade Stover the player and more about what Ohio State’s coaches ask him to do. It is very clear at this point that the Buckeyes’ starting tight end is incapable of blocking. I don’t know whether its an effort thing or an ability issue, but either way we have enough of a sample size throughout his career to see that Stover is a well below-average blocker. Against Western Kentucky, he completely whiffed on a key block on one play, then followed that up with a fumble on his next touch, and still the Buckeyes went right back to him on the next play.
Stover is okay as a pass-catching option, but nothing more. Having a tight end on the field that cannot block seems like a pretty significant issue, and could come into play against better teams when you are trying to set the edge on all these stretch runs Ryan Day loves to call. You cannot keep attempting stretch runs, screens and tosses to the side of the field that requires Stover to block, because we’ve seen time and time again that it won’t work.
While I dont think he’s objectively a bad player necessarily, it seems like a bit of a waste to have a one-dimensional non-blocking tight end on the field when you can instead have a guy like Gee Scott Jr. (a converted WR that can actually block a little) or a true fourth wide receiver out there (who’s probably also a better blocker anyway).