Ohio State opens their 102nd season at Ohio Stadium on Saturday when they host the Youngstown Penguins. The Buckeyes are 90-9-2 all-time in openers at The Horseshoe, but they haven’t been quite as dominant over the last decade, posting a 7-3 record in their last 10 home openers. The losses during that span have come against Virginia Tech, Oklahoma, and Oregon.
History against Youngstown State & the FCS
Saturday’s tilt with Youngstown State is one of 41 games on the schedule this week that’ll see a FBS team take on a team from the FCS. In the first week of the season, FBS teams were perfect against FCS schools, posting a 42-0 record. While schools from other conferences have made it a habit of annually playing an FCS school, the Buckeyes have largely phased out contests against schools from the FCS.
Over the last 83 years, the Buckeyes have played just three games against current FCS schools. The last FCS school Ohio State played was back in 2013, when they obliterated Florida A&M 76-0. The other two games were both against Youngstown State. In 2007, the Buckeyes beat the Penguins 38-6, and followed it up the next year with a 43-0 victory in Columbus. Ohio State is 8-3-1 against current FCS schools, with their last loss being a 21-7 setback to Cornell in 1940.
In Week 1, Ohio State won their 23rd straight season-opening game and notched their 28th straight win over Indiana, beating the Hoosiers 23-3 in Bloomington. Despite the 20-point margin over victory, the win was pretty underwhelming. The Buckeye offense had a hard time finding much traction against Indiana, totaling 380 yards of offense, marking just the fourth time under head coach Ryan Day that Ohio State failed to crack 400 yards of offense.
Plenty of work to be done
Not many questions were answered about the quarterback position in the opener. Starter Kyle McCord got the majority of snaps in the game, completing 20 of 33 passes for 239 yards, tossing no touchdowns and an interception. Devin Brown took the field for one drive in each half, but we didn’t see much from him, as when he entered the game in the first half Ohio State went three-and-out and he didn’t throw the ball on any of those three plays. Brown re-entered the game late in the second half in mop-up duty with the result already decided.
Two Ohio State receivers had a strong game against the Hoosiers, but it wasn’t the two that most would have expected. Tight end Cade Stover led the Buckeyes with five catches for a career-high 98 yards. Julian Fleming added six grabs for 58 yards. Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka combined to catch five passes for just 34 yards. The total could have been higher had Harrison not had a touchdown in the second half nullified because he stepped out of bounds prior to catching the pass.
With their passing attack struggling, Ohio State decided to share the love on the ground, with three running backs carrying the football at least seven times. TreVeyon Henderson saw the most carries, toting the rock 12 times in the game, finishing with 47 yards. Chip Trayanum carried the football eight times for a team-high 57 yards, while Miyan Williams scored Ohio State’s two touchdowns in the victory. Overall, the Buckeyes finished with 146 yards rushing on 31 carries.
One reason for Ohio State’s struggles on offense on Saturday could be because of the play of the offensive line. With three new starters on the offensive line, there are going to be some growing pains as the new starters adjust to their roles and responsibilities. The Buckeyes have designs on winning the Big Ten title and earning a spot in the College Football Playoff. Those goals won’t be realized if the offensive line doesn’t make improvements from what they showed in the opener on Saturday.
A stingy Buckeye defense
There wasn’t much to worry about on the defensive side of the football for Ohio State, as they gave up just 153 yards and a field goal to Indiana. The 153 yards were the fewest the Buckeyes have given up since they allowed just 114 to the Hoosiers in 2021. The three points Ohio State allowed were the least they have given up since the 2019 contest against Northwestern when they beat the Wildcats 52-3 in Evanston.
Leading Ohio State in tackles in the opener was Steele Chambers, who finished the game with six stops. The linebacker has made tremendous strides since moving over to the defensive side of the football from running back, and has formed quite a pairing with Tommy Eichenberg, who hit triple digits in tackles last season. Eichenberg registered four tackles on Saturday.
The standout player on the defense against the Hoosiers was safety Sonny Styles, who was credited with four tackles in the victory, and a team-high 1.5 tackles for loss. Styles was all over the field against Indiana, laying the lumber anytime he was near the football. Even more incredible about Styles’ performance is he really should be entering his freshman year of football at Ohio State, but he was able to join the team prior to last season after reclassifying. It feels like very soon that Styles is going to be in the conversation as one of the best safeties in the country.
Along with Styles, another player in the secondary who had a great game was Denzel Burke, who broke up two passes. Indiana wasn’t particularly interested in throwing the football much with two new quarterbacks, so the numbers for Burke aren’t going to jump off the page. Still, it was obvious that Burke has regained some of the strong form he showed as a freshman,
Since Indiana only attempted 20 passes in the game, the defensive line didn’t have much of an opportunity to get after the Hoosier quarterbacks. The only sack for the Buckeyes came late in the game from Hero Kanu. Although they didn’t have many pass rushing attempts, the defensive line still was able to create some pressure. Michael Hall Jr. was just a tick off on a couple plays, while J.T. Tuimoloau showcased some of the speed that caused him to be such a problem for Penn State last season. Expect to see a lot more from the Ohio State defensive line next week against a pass-happy Western Kentucky offense.
Connections between the schools
Saturday’s game against Youngstown State might not provide much competition for Ohio State, but there certainly are a few storylines when it comes to past Buckeyes that will be fun to relive. The most notable connection between the two schools is former Youngstown State and Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel. After coaching the Penguins to 153 wins and four national titles, Tressel was hired by the Buckeyes to replace John Cooper. Tressel would go on to lead the Buckeyes to 94 wins, six Big Ten titles, and a national title.
Since Tressel left Youngstown State following the 2000 season, the Penguins have only made the FCS playoffs twice. The last of those playoff appearances came in 2016 when they were coached by former Ohio State safety Bo Pelini, who led Youngstown State to the title game where they were defeated 28-14 by James Madison. In five years coaching in his hometown, Pelini was 33-28.
The current head coach of Youngstown State is Doug Phillips, who also has an Ohio State connection. Phillips was a defensive quality control assistant on Jim Tressel’s staff in 2006. Now entering his fourth season with the Penguins, Phillips is 12-17 but his team is coming off a 7-4 season, which was his first winning season with the school. Prior to taking the job at Youngstown State, Phillips was also an assistant at Bowling Green and Cincinnati.
Youngstown State on the field
Youngstown State opened up their 2023 season with a 52-10 win over Valparaiso, outscoring the Beacons 35-0 in the second half. The 28 points the Penguins scored in the third quarter were a school record. With the victory, Youngstown State moved into the FCS top-25 for the first time since the 2019 season. The 52 points they scored last week was their highest total since scoring 54 points against Howard in 2019.
Quarterbacking the Penguins will be Mitch Davidson, who was 11-of-19 for 130 yards, throwing for a touchdown and adding another one on the ground in the victory. Davidson started the final seven games of the 2022 season for Youngstown State, with the team posting a 5-2 record in those games. One thing Davidson has done a great job at is protecting the football, not throwing an interception in his last 125 passing attempts.
Catching passes from Davidson will be Bryce Oliver, who hauled in 59 passes for 821 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2022. Lining up with Oliver is C.J. Charleston, who played in his first game last week since November 2021 after suffering an Achilles tendon injury in camp prior to the 2022 season. Charleston caught four passes for 47 yards in the win over Valparaiso.
On the ground, Tyshon King led Youngstown State with 111 yards and two scores on 11 carries in his first game with the school after the senior running back transferred into the program. It will be interesting to see how the Penguins choose to use King and Dra Rushton, who ran for 319 and two scores in 2022. Rushton didn’t play last win against the Beacons. King and Rushton should benefit from an experienced offensive line that brings back four starters from last season.
Even though the Youngstown State defense will have their hands full with the Ohio State offensive attack, the Penguins will have plenty of experience to lean on, as they return 12 of their top 14 tacklers from last year’s squad. Alex Howard led the charge for the defense of the Penguins, finishing the season opener with a team-high nine tackles. Youngstown State did a great job at punching the football out in the blowout of Valparaiso, forcing three fumbles.
Last week was supposed to be a blowout against an overmatched Indiana team, but that didn’t materialize as planned. This week should be a different story. If not, there are problems within the team that are a lot deeper than anyone imagined. Youngstown State is a fun story because of their past Ohio State connections, but there’s no reason they should stay within at least five touchdowns of the Buckeyes.
This game might not be entertaining to watch from a competition standpoint. Where it will be important because it will allow Ohio State to work on some things ahead of the battle later in the month against Notre Dame. A few touchdown passes will give Kyle McCord some confidence, while also allowing Devin Brown to get on the field more than he did against the Hoosiers. Opening up some big holes for the running backs to run through could be just what the doctor ordered for the offensive line as they look to improve on what we saw from them last week.
Saturday would also be a good time for Ryan Day to let Brian Hartline handle the offense a little more and see what the former Buckeye receiver is capable of coming up with when it comes to a game plan. Even though what we saw Day call for the offense against Georgia was great, lately it has been the exception and not the norm. Maybe handing off more of the responsibilities when it comes to play-calling is what could spark the offense.