Ohio State emerged victorious in its season opener with a 23-3 win over Indiana in Bloomington. While a 20-point win over a conference opponent to begin the year may be good enough for some, there was a lot to be desired in a game that the Buckeyes really should have won by a lot more if not for a handful of self-inflicted wounds. Still, the best part of going 1-0 is the chance to go 2-0, and hopefully Ryan Day will be able to correct some of these mistakes before his team heads to Notre Dame in a few weeks.
Here is the good, the bad and the ugly from Ohio State’s victory over the Hoosiers.
It’s a little tough to get a sense of just how good the defensive secondary is after Indiana decided to run a triple-option offense for most of the game, but Ohio State’s defense was up to the task of stopping the run. Overall, the Buckeyes allowed just 153 total yards, and Jim Knowles’ group avoided the big play, allowing just one play of more than 20 yards the entire game. Even with the option, Indiana averaged only 2.2 yards per carry on the afternoon with a long of 11 yards. The Hoosiers aren’t a juggernaut offense by any means, but keeping any conference opponent out of the end zone for 60 minutes is an impressive feat.
The tackling was especially impressive, as a number of guys made some really nice open field tackles throughout the game. Perhaps the most impressive player on the field was Sonny Styles, who was credited with four tackles and a team-high 1.5 tackles for loss as the nickel was flying all over the field. Denzel Burke looked back to his freshman form in pass coverage, breaking up a pair of passes. Steele Chambers led the team in tackles with six, while freshman Malik Hartford made an impressive pass breakup late in the game. Overall, there was a lot to like across the board on defense.
While the new-look offensive line had its shortcomings, I thought the pass protection was actually pretty solid. Kyle McCord had a ton of time to throw the ball on many occasions, and the Hoosier defense did not record a single sack or QB hit in the game. The run blocking definitely wasn’t elite by any means, but some of that can be accredited to really questionable play-calling — which we will get to later on. For a unit that had to replace three starters, including both offensive tackles, the pass blocking looked really solid on Saturday.
The star of the show for Ohio State offensively was none other than Chip Trayanum, just as we all expected! The running back turned linebacker turned running back finished the game as the Buckeyes’ leading rusher with eight carries for 57 yards — a 7.1 yard-per-carry average. He also caught a ball for 12 yards on a play where he was able to get himself open during a scramble drill for McCord. He was also one of Ohio State’s best blockers, paving the way for a number of big runs when in the game in almost a fullback capacity. Trayanum showed great vision, quick feet, and made plays with and without the ball in his hands.
While the defense as a whole was a strong suit for Ohio State, the defensive line was not, at least when it comes to rushing the passer. I thought the D-line was solid in stopping the run, with Tyleik Williams, Jack Sawyer, J.T. Tuimoloau and Caden Curry all registering at least four tackles apiece, but even once Indiana switched back to a normal offense later in the game, the Buckeye front did not do well to pressure the QB. The team’s only sack came by Hero Kanu in garbage time. That sort of production just isn’t going to cut it, especially as Ohio State will see much better offensive lines later in the season.
We did not feel Sawyer or Tuimoloau’s presence on really any obvious passing down. To have a pair of former five-star prospects in year three still not making much of an impact against far inferior opponents in definitely concerning. It makes it even more frustrating that Larry Johnson is essentially not allowing Knowles to utilize his Jack position, as we saw virtually none of C.J. Hicks in the game. If your position group is not performing, and this D-line hasn’t been good since Chase Young left, you should not get to pull this much weight in the coaching decisions.
Short Yardage Plays
One of the most frustrating issues for Ohio State all game — and one that plagued the team last year as well — was the ability to pick up first downs in short yardage. The Buckeyes finished the game converting on just 2-of-12 third down opportunities (2-for-3 on fourth down). Many of these were with four or less yards to go, as well, with OSU finishing just 1-of-7 on third-and-short (less than four yards to go). The Ohio State offensive line was not getting the push it needed in obvious run situations, and the play-calling — which we will once again get to — made things even harder. The Buckeyes ran the ball six times on third down, gaining just a total of 12 yards (two yards per carry). That ain’t gonna cut it.
It really made no sense how Ryan Day handled his quarterback situation in this game. Going into the contest, we expected to see both Kyle McCord and Devin Brown get real significant snaps. Instead, Brown got one drive before garbage time, and did not get to attempt a pass. I understand that the game was close and you didn’t want to throw a wrench in the system by switching quarterbacks, but why bring Brown in for that one drive at all if you didn’t feel comfortable putting him in a close game? To me, this was a really bad way to handle things, and could perhaps hurt the confidence of Brown moving forward.
Holy hell, was the play-calling in this game bad. I dont even quite know where to start. We touched on the plays in the run game a few times earlier on here, but Ryan Day was seemingly addicted to calling runs into the boundary no matter how many times it failed. The play-calling on the ground was especially predictable, continuing to run headfirst into the blitz on third-and-short as a big reason Ohio State did so poorly converting. Especially behind a line that clearly needs more work in the run blocking area, Day was setting his team up to fail time and time again.
In addition, Day trying to outsmart himself by going away from his best players far too often. Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka finished this game combining for five catches for 34 yards. There is no reason to not put the ball in the hands of your best players more. Every time the Buckeyes needed to pick up yards in key areas, Day elected to draw up a play directed towards a tight end or running back. It is good that you trust all of your guys to come up in big spots, but you have two of the best wide receivers in the country — use them!
So many of Ohio State’s issues on offense can be directly attributed to play-calling. I don’t think McCord played exceptionally good or bad, but we really didn't get to see all that he can do out there because Day seemed too scared to call a forward pass more than five yards upfield and instead remained conservative from start to finish. With all of the talent the Buckeyes have at the skill positions, it is indefensible to not let these guys loose. Instead, the offense looked tight and played scared against an inferior opponent for no good reason. To finish a game without a passing touchdown in this offense is inexcusable.
It is looking more and more apparent that Ohio State will not be able to maximize its talent until Day gives up the play-calling. He is a tremendous quarterback coach, recruiter and program-builder, but it is putting too much on your plate to also have the call sheet in your hands on game days. He is trying to do too much and always wants to look like the smartest guy in the room, and it is going to once again cost his team at the end of the year — if not sooner.