The Buckeyes made their 2021 home debut against the Oregon Ducks, significantly raising the degree of difficulty after a tough win at Minnesota. And in the end, the result was significantly worse. There were plenty of things to be grumpy about in Ohio State’s 35-28 home loss and quite a few of them (but not all) have nothing to do with Kerry Coombs.
Here are the things that made me spittin’ mad during Saturday afternoon’s game.
Bogging Down Early
The Buckeyes drove right down the field on their first possession but then Jaxon Smith-Njigba couldn’t bring down a pass in his hands — which was admittedly high but still catchable — on third down. Ryan Day decided to go for the fourth-and-7 and…well, I don’t know what that was on fourth down, but it was bad. C.J. Stroud threw a pass that was nowhere near a receiver so whether just a poor throw or a lack of being on the same page, Ohio State turned it over on downs. Was that an indicator of Day lacking belief in Noah Ruggles or just aggressive coaching? Either way, it was a frustrating moment.
But it wasn’t the only time. Ohio State had a few balls fall out of receivers’ hands in the first half and with the game Stroud had, it’s a shame some of his teammates didn’t pick him up on those. The Buckeyes had little trouble driving down the field throughout the first 55 minutes of the game, but finishing drives was a problem, particularly before halftime.
O-line? More like Woe-Line
For a team that purports to have one of the best offensive lines in the country, if not the best offensive line, it wasn’t a great game. The Buckeyes up front didn’t block particularly well in the run game, which was most evident on a failed fourth-and-2 play. And the pass blocking, which was solid all game long, was suddenly dreadfully leaky on the final few Ohio State drives.
Dawand Jones played drive killer with a couple of false starts and even though the holding call on Thayer Munford was weak, he was beaten on the play — and badly. The defense finally got three consecutive stops late in the game down one score and the offensive line fell apart, giving Stroud no time to make plays.
Dropsies and Puntsies
Cade Stover knew he was going to take a hit going over the middle late on Ohio State’s second drive, but the ball was perfect from Stroud and he couldn’t hang on. That drop led to a decision by Day to punt from Oregon’s 34-yard line. Granted, it was a fourth-and-long situation, but given the opponent and the defensive display thus far in 2021, that was a bad choice. Smith-Njigba was able to down Jesse Mirco’s punt at the 1-yard line. But just to show how stupid it is to punt from Oregon’s 34, the Ducks needed only a few plays to get the ball back to that spot on the field and finished the drive with a touchdown.
On the next Ohio State drive, Garrett Wilson had a chance to convert on third-and-long and couldn’t hang on. Sure, he took a hit on the play, but he appeared to have time to pull it in before that and didn’t get it done. The Buckeyes went three and out as a result, giving the defense only a couple of minutes of rest after the 99-yard Oregon drive.
Fourth Down Follies
The game was tied late in the second quarter when Oregon faced a fourth-and-short situation deep in OSU territory. The Ducks committed a false start but a timeout by the Ohio State sideline prevented the penalty. While there’s no way those on the sideline could have predicted the false start (and perhaps even caused it?), the Buckeyes came out of that stoppage and promptly allowed a second easy Verdell touchdown around the left side on the exact same play to make it 14-7.
On the next Ohio State drive, the Buckeyes failed miserably on a fourth-and-short running play with Miyan Williams getting stuffed in the hole. All of that beef on the line and rather than plow straight ahead, Ohio State attacked the line of scrimmage diagonally much, if not all, of the game. If Williams can’t get two yards running straight up the back of Jones and Munford, then Ohio State doesn’t deserve to win anyway, but that wasn’t what the coaches tried to do.
Crowley and Proctor on the Cart
You just hate to see a guy like Marcus Crowley pick up another injury and one that requires the cart to come onto the field is rarely followed by good news. I hated that moment for Crowley, who had opened the second half with a great special teams play. Similarly, Josh Proctor made a big stop to force a third down with Oregon in the red zone and needed an air cast and a ride to the locker room on the cart. His effort was seemingly in vain because Oregon once again ran the same play to which Coombs and his staff inexplicably never adjusted.
Can’t Spell Defense without F
That F speaks to both the grade of the defense and the first letter of the word that unit made me say a lot on Saturday. Coombs either doesn’t know who his best players are or he doesn’t care, because we saw a lot more of that over-substituting that was so annoying in the Minnesota game. Some of those players routinely play poorly but continue to get on the field. Beyond that, there is no penetration by the defensive line and there is no pass rush. Recruiting pedigree isn’t everything and we’re all aware of Larry Johnson’s quality as a coach, so it’s kind of a mystery that the defensive line isn’t getting anything accomplished, while it’s more expected from the linebackers and defensive backs. Those corners, safeties, and linebackers wouldn’t have to cover quite so long if the ends and interior linemen were playing up to their recruiting stars.
Fire the Shoe Guy
I didn’t see a lot of slipping on the part of Oregon players, what with their fancy Nike shoes and such. But Ohio State players struggled all through the game when cutting on their own field. TreVeyon Henderson and Williams each had nice gains that could have been even bigger if not for slipping. Julian Fleming slid coming out of a break and an otherwise easy completion was incomplete. Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson had footing issues that prevented them from getting to passes they might otherwise have caught — Wilson’s would have been a touchdown. The visiting team should never have better footing than the home team.
The Munford hold on a Stroud scramble for a first down killed a potential game-tying drive. It’s something I’ve watched repeatedly and if that was holding, then there should have been a tremendous number of flags flying all day for more serious versions of the infraction on both sides of the ball. Munford was beaten and looked like he just tried to push his man one handed, but perhaps the hand was clenched on the shirt. If so, it didn’t affect the player’s trajectory anyway and Stroud still would have picked up his yards.
Shortly after that play, a crown of the helmet to Olave’s kidney was not called targeting on the field, nor was it given on the review. The entire point of the targeting rule is to stop players from leading with their helmets and hurting either themselves or their opponents. That should have been targeting, 15 yards from the end of the catch, and a first down. Instead, the Buckeyes were punting soon afterwards. When teams from different conferences play, there is no easier way to remove potential subconscious (or intentional) bias than to use a neutral officiating crew, but according to the broadcast team, that was a Pac-12 crew. A few late-game shenanigans were more likely just people being bad at their jobs rather than conspiracy, but it was still aggravating.
There were a lot more things I could put in this week’s column, but I’ll let you guys sound off about them in the comments, because otherwise, I’d be writing this post until Wednesday. The only thing I’ll add is that Day needs to have a conversation with Stroud about when it’s OK to run the football. There were a lot of yards not picked up because rather than scramble for five or eight yards, he decided to throw and it only worked once because Olave is outstanding at dragging his foot. That type of decision also led to his late interception when a medium-sized chunk of yardage would have been fine. But Stroud has played two college games and appears to be the real deal, so it’s harsh to be too down on him following the afternoon that he had against Oregon.
The Buckeyes now turn their attention to Tulsa. Ohio State has to find some answers in the next two weeks or it could be a much more interesting season (and not in a good way) than anyone anticipated.