The Ohio State Buckeyes kicked off their 2021 season at Minnesota, which brought the Grumpy Old Buckeye out of hibernation. If you’re new to the Grumpy Old Buckeye column, this is the space where I discuss the things that happened during an Ohio State game that made me yell things at my television (and not in the good way). Whether the Buckeyes win by 70 or trip up, there’s always plenty to gripe about and some of it is even serious. Mostly, though, it’s not — especially after a 45-31 road win in a freshman quarterback’s first start.
Here’s what burned my bacon on a rainy Thursday night:
No One Knows What Targeting Is (Still)
Ohio State had an early targeting scare in the game when Teradja Mitchell was initially flagged for the nebulous personal foul before being exonerated by the replay. The side of his helmet, not the crown, hit Tanner Morgan, who was not a defenseless player as he had tucked the ball, headed up the field, and ducked his head anticipating contact. The right call ultimately was made, but these stoppages are tiresome, especially when it initially didn’t appear to be targeting.
Late in the game, you had to feel bad for Joel Klatt. You could tell it ruined his night when Lathan Ransom wasn’t ejected for targeting on a play that seemed to be incidental helmet-to-helmet contact on a hit to the shoulder. I wouldn’t have been surprised to have seen it called, but it wasn’t, and poor Joel sure seemed despondent over it.
Ohio State has struggled too often in recent years when trying to go quickly on the next play after picking up a decent gain. On the first such attempt Thursday night, Chris Olave’s false start turned a second-and-3 into a second-and-8 situation. That defeats the purpose of going fast and even though the Buckeyes picked up a first down and went on to score, it’s quickly becoming the kickoff out of bounds of the modern Buckeyes.
Slipping Through My Fingers
The first incompletion of C.J. Stroud’s career came on a pretty good throw. Not perfect, but pretty good. The normally surehanded Garrett Wilson couldn’t haul in a deep ball that would have netted a nice gain. The moisture on the ball from the rain in Minnesota may have played a role as the ball skipped right off his gloves. He rebounded from it just fine and C.J. probably forgave him. Probably. I mean, it was only his third collegiate pass.
Ohio State was baited into taking a timeout on an obvious wildcat play while up 10 and having one play to defend to take over the ball just outside the red zone. There were two seconds on the play clock and the defense appeared to be set and were likely zeroed in on stopping the man taking the snap. But the Buckeyes took a timeout, which allowed Minnesota to talk it over and change the play. Lejond Cavazos ducked his head, took his eyes off Mohamed Ibrahim, and whiffed at the point of attack. That wouldn’t have given Ohio State the ball, as it would have been enough yardage for the first down, but it gave Minnesota a big play and the Gophers rode that momentum to a touchdown two plays later.
Ohio State stopped Minnesota after Stroud’s interception in the second quarter, but the referee in the back of the end zone was in the giving mood and decided to call pass interference on Denzel Burke. That gave the Gophers a fresh set of downs and they capitalized and took a 14-10 lead. While the decision to throw the flag is certainly one that could be made, the official never stopped to think of whether he should make that call. To me, it was soft, and a more egregious one on Ohio State was let go later in the game that wasn’t in the red zone. If I can’t figure out what’s going to get called, the players probably don’t either. The generous call helped the Gophers take the lead and made the pasta in my stomach threaten to make a return appearance.
In this case, the hands belonged to Jeremy Ruckert and those hands helped Minnesota. Wilson had just picked up an apparent first down for Ohio State on the drive after the Gophers took the lead. But the talented tight end was judged to have gotten a bit too grabby downfield and Ohio State was suddenly behind the chains. A short run and a well-covered pass play later, and the Buckeyes were forced to punt. Thankfully, there were no small children in the vicinity to hear what I said about that.
The Dallas Gant roughing penalty that eliminated Josh Proctor’s interception was even more generous than the pass interference on Burke earlier in the game. The result was the same. Minnesota capitalized and scored. But it was worse, in a way, because it not only gave Minnesota a chance to score points, but it eliminated an opportunity for the Buckeyes to score. Gant was a little late on the hit, but barely. The call was Downy soft and changed the complexion of the third quarter, because…
Timeouts: A Viable Option
Ohio State’s coaching staff made a huge mistake in not calling a timeout two plays after the penalty on Gant. There were far too many Buckeyes on the field, and they barely got the right number figured out before the snap. That snap was taken to the house by Ibrahim but Ryan Day could have opted to use a timeout there to make sure his team was settled. He didn’t, and instead he probably did bad things to my blood pressure.
The defense will need to get better on third downs if I’m going to survive the 2021 season and keep my daughter from hearing words that I’d rather not have her hear. Ohio State had 14 opportunities to get off the field on third downs but struggled to do so, often regardless of the distance to make. The Gophers went 8-of-14 on third to go with their 1-for-1 fourth-down efficiency. That’s a lot of swear words the defense forced me to say. I lay 100% of the blame for my profanities at their feet and, in all honesty, I should get some kind of recognition for showing enough restraint not to throw things.
Those are the things that really got my goat on Thursday night. Obviously, there were plenty of things about which to be happy — and even excited. Miyan Williams was fantastic, TreVeyon Henderson is everything we thought he’d be, and that play call on the swing pass was [/chef’s kiss]. Haskell Garrett did Haskell Garrett things, and the starting wide receivers are on another plane of existence than everyone else.
Next week, Ohio State hosts Oregon in a match-up that will probably be as annoying, or more so, than the Gophers were.