The offense, quite honestly, could and probably should have won this game for the Buckeyes. That would not forgive the defensive miscues, but it would allow Ohio State to work on their issues on that side of the ball while maintaining a perfect record.
Here is more on that and other things I caught in reviewing the game:
1. C.J. Stroud was very good, but he wasn’t perfect.
Ohio State’s freshman quarterback put up huge numbers, but they could have been even better.
He missed several open receivers late in the game, including a potential game-tying bomb to Garrett Wilson that looms largest.
Stroud struggled a little early, throwing high on several throws, but he settled in nicely both in terms of finding the open man and delivering the ball.
He showed off an arm strong enough to get the ball to the opposite sideline, which is big as far as play-calling options, but he’s going to have to get more accurate to get the Buckeyes to the top.
Still, there is obviously plenty to build on here for a guy making just his second start.
2. Of course, you can blame the defense for Stroud needing to be perfect.
Lots has been made about the defense’s failure — not just Saturday but for much of the past year-plus.
Watching the game more closely via television (as opposed to from the birds’ eye view of the press box) revealed a very disappointing game from the Ohio State front seven.
The linebackers struggling isn’t a shock, though the continued deep rotation is in that it doesn’t seem to be doing anyone any good.
The front, full of veterans who are in most cases four- or five-star recruits, needs to dominate and it more so went in the other direction.
Most of the big names were either not noticeable or frequently getting pushed around — when they weren’t just taking themselves out of the play.
Most notably, Zach Harrison repeatedly crashed down hard on run plays only to watch the ball zip outside him too fast for the pursuit to have any chance to make a play.
I am guessing he was coached to close down the gap, but it’s hard to believe he’s supposed to get as deep as he was getting.
In contrast, true freshman J.T. Tuimoalou got one shot and crushed the pulling guard to create a tackle for loss.
3. Oregon bet big on their defensive backs.
The Ducks lost that bet but won the war by crowding the box and goading Ohio State into neglecting the running game.
Now, running into a loaded box all the time is not advisable, but one does wonder if Day should have been a little more stubborn with the running game in order to keep things in balance. Given the production of the passing game, maybe not, but he talked about needing to have better control of the game overall. One way to do that is to run the ball. It also makes play-calling easier when a coach has more than one thing that feels reliable.
Oregon’s front gets credit for playing tough despite missing two of its best players, too.
On the flip side, Ohio State’s cornerbacks played pretty well — most notably Cam Brown in his return from a leg injury that ended his 2020 early.
However, safety play continues to be an issue as Bryson Shaw got lost on a touchdown pass and failed to even slow down CJ Verdell on his 77-yard touchdown run.
The last line of defense has to come through for the Buckeyes there, but this also shows a fundamental problem for Ohio State: They give up way too many plays for wanting to be a bend-but-don’t-break unit.
4. Ohio State’s receivers were as good as advertised.
This is mostly just something I felt needed to be said because we all have a tendency to concentrate on the negative.
Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson and Jaxon Smth-Njigba were hard to guard all day and all went over 100 yards receiving. They are collectively a major weapon for the Buckeyes.
Oregon gets high marks for being able to break up some key passes, though, especially a couple that went to tight ends for potential big plays.
The Ducks hung with it in the secondary even though they were clearly outmanned, and that likely helped them succeed on some of those crucial fourth downs as it shrank the playbook for the Buckeyes.
5. Ultimately, two things can be true: The Ohio State defense lost the game while the offense failed to win it.
The defense’s propensity to get out-leveraged and then gashed is alarming. Some of that is lack of execution, but some of it is being put in predictable spots opposing offensive coordinators can easily attack.
The Buckeyes moved the ball all day, too, but they struggled once they got into plus territory. That ultimately was the difference (unless you think Oregon would have just gone right back down the field for more points if the game were tied or they trailed, which is a very reasonable expectation given everything).
Long term, the biggest issue is the defense, especially considering Ohio State has a young quarterback who should improve. Drives are also easier to finish if they start strong, of course, so the gap from here to there looks smaller for the offense.
The defense’s problems run deeper and are getting to be systemic… but there’s also only so good a defense can be in college football these days.
Of course, Ohio State is not very close to being a good defense at this point, either.
Tulsa at Ohio State, 3:30 p.m., FS1, 1410