The last time the Buckeyes took the field, they were bullied and beaten up by the Michigan Wolverines. For the first time since 2011, they lost to a rival.
But it wasn’t just a loss, it was an unsettling display by a team that was seemingly exposed on the line of scrimmage.
Now, they are a week away from facing a very similar style of team in the Rose Bowl. The Utah Utes won the Pac 12 on the backs of a physical offensive line and a defense that was the best in the conference.
If the Buckeyes are going to force a different outcome against Utah than they got against Michigan, it will take a complete team effort.
However, there are a few names that will need to be bigger than the others.
Previously, we looked at those names on defense. Today we’ll discuss the offense.
Center Luke Wypler
Ohio State rushed for 64 yards on 30 attempts against Michigan. If you adjust for sacks, the Buckeyes still only rushed for 91 yards on 26 attempts. Michigan had eight tackles for loss against Ohio State, which was the second-most for the Wolverines all season long. The entire OSU offensive line will need to be better against Utah than they were against the Wolverines. The Utes have the No. 23 rush defense in the nation and allow just one yard rushing per game more than Michigan does (122.7). Buckeye center Luke Wypler is going to need his best game against a Utah defense that is No. 8 in the nation in tackles for loss, averaging 7.5 per game. The line of scrimmage will be critical and Wypler’s calls and blocking at the point of attack could determine the outcome of this game. In all honestly, any of Ohio State’s interior linemen could be mentioned here.
Wide Receiver Julian Fleming
If Garrett Wilson chooses to sit the Rose Bowl out as expected, sophomore Julian Fleming will likely be called upon to step in for the Ohio State All-American. It wouldn’t be the first time Fleming was called upon in the postseason, as he started for Chris Olave in the Big Ten Championship Game last year. In that game he had career highs in catches (4) and yards (53). This season he has posted seven receptions for 51 yards and a touchdown total. If Wilson does opt out of the Rose Bowl, don’t be surprised when Fleming tops his season totals in this one game alone. This is also going to be an opportunity to get a glimpse at what next year could be for the former 5-star receiver out of Pennsylvania.
Quarterback CJ Stroud
Let’s just go ahead and agree that the Buckeyes aren’t going to win without a strong performance from CJ Stroud. Fortunately for Ohio State fans, strong performances are generally what Stroud provides. Head coach Ryan Day likes to throw the ball, but his receiving corps may be a little — or a lot — depleted. Does that mean OSU will throw the ball less than normal? Not necessarily. Stroud is going to have to be at the top of his game to make up for any gaps between OSU’s typical starting receivers and the Rose Bowl starters. Stroud has dealt with doubters this year but this is an opportunity to leave everybody with one final impression.
Offensive Line Thayer Munford
Thayer Munford was one of the members of the Ohio State offensive line that was publicly mocked during the Heisman ceremony earlier in the month. On a night that was supposed to celebrate four college football players, the network chose to belittle the five Buckeyes on the offensive line. Thayer Munford responded that Desmond Howard can “kick rocks,” but a strong performance in the Rose Bowl will offer him a much better opportunity to respond. Munford has been the starter at left guard all season long, but if Nicholas Petit-Frere sits out, then Munford will move to left tackle one last time for Ohio State. Utah is fourth nationally with 42 sacks on the season. They have had at least three sacks in each of their last five games, which have all been double-digit victories.
Running Back TreVeyon Henderson
TreVeyon Henderson leads the Buckeyes with 1,165 yards rushing this season, averaging 7 yards per carry. He has averaged under 5 yards per carry just three times this season — two of those games were losses. Oregon held him to 4.5 yards per carry and the Wolverines held him to 4.4 yards per carry. Henderson’s explosiveness has declined as the season has gone on. That’s not surprising given that he is just a true freshman and conference play is more difficult than non-conference play. In September, Henderson averaged 9.5 yards per carry. In October, that number dropped to 6.7, and in November it fell to 5.5 yards per carry. He had 12 carries of 10+ yards and five carries of 20+ yards in both September and November, but just seven carries of 10+ yards and three of 20+ yards in November. In the Rose Bowl, Henderson will be facing arguably the best run defense he’s seen. People are labeling Ohio State as a soft team. This is TreVeyon Henderson’s opportunity to erase that label.