It’s the match-up that everyone has been waiting for and while some people will look at Oregon’s near-miss against Fresno State and Ohio State’s ‘basic’ win over Minnesota and lose some enthusiasm for this game, we can’t be more excited about what is in store at Ohio Stadium on 12pm (EDT) on Saturday afternoon.
Last week we were treated to several intriguing out-of-conference games including the likes of Georgia and Clemson as well as Florida State versus Notre Dame (ND is not in the ACC in football in my book). Now the Big Ten and Pac-12 will take the stage with this top-10 caliber match-up of the Bucks and Ducks.
The Buckeyes have owned this series to the tune of 9-0 all-time against the Ducks with the last match-up taking place in the inaugural College Football Playoff Championship Game, a 42-20 Ohio State win.
Oregon has only played this game inside of one score once, the first-ever meeting between these two teams in the 1958 Rose Bowl, a 10-7 Ohio State win. Since that game the Buckeyes have won the next eight by an average margin of better than 15 points per game.
History is all well and good but a 30-point margin in 1967 will have little bearing on what will happen here in 2021.
The oddsmakers like Ohio State, installing the Buckeyes at around a two-touchdown favorite to open the week, a line that has been pretty much consistent with what offseason spreads looked like leading up to this game?
Is that line a trap? Are the Buckeyes really two touchdowns better than the Ducks? More? Less? Will Kayvon Thibodeaux play for Oregon? Some of these questions will not be answered until Saturday afternoon but we go to the Tale of the Tape to see why many feel that Ohio State should win this game by a couple of scores.
|Pass Eff. Defense
Ohio State QB/WR/TE vs. Oregon Defensive Backs
The first report card of quarterback C.J. Stroud varies depending on who you talk to based on his Minnesota performance. The young signal caller was 13-22 for 294 yards, four touchdowns and a pick off of a throw that was behind his receiver and deflected into the arms of a Gopher defender. Half two looked a lot better than half one but there were some high and definitely some lows for making a first start on the road in a conference game. That changes now with a home game against the Oregon Ducks, a Ducks team that gave up almost 300 yards of passing yardage against Fresno State but only one touchdown. More on them later in this section. The one-two punch of Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave did exactly what was expected of them, 197 combined yards, three combined touchdowns, all on just nine receptions. Granted, the duo was targeted 17 times, so we are talking about only a little better than a 50-percent completion rate, but that will get better as time goes on, the Buckeyes play at home, the conditions are not as wet and miserable. One thing that we did not see in game one is the next wave of young receivers with only one first-year player catching a pass and that player was not even a wide receiver, rather running back TreVeyon Henderson who made a 70-yard house call on a little short pass. It’s good to be the king when you have weapons upon weapons at your disposal.
You have to fight the urge to look back at least year and use it as any sort of absolute for this year, and it is even worse when last year was 2020, a disjointed season that saw incomplete schedules and in the case of the Big Ten and Pac-12, shortened league-only schedules. With that being said, we are in week two and there is not a lot of data to draw upon, so here we are. The Ducks gave up only eight passing touchdowns in just seven games last year, along with a little more than 236 passing yards per game. Only USC and Washington State had more than one passing touchdown against the Ducks but a further look into the numbers shows that Oregon face just two teams in the top-50 in passing offense last season with USC checking in at No. 11 and Iowa State at No. 50 in the bowl game. Cornerback Mykael Wright was named to the preseason All-Pac 12 first team while safety Verone McKinley earned second-team honors. Keep an eye on redshirt freshman corner Trikweze Bridges, a 6-foot-3 corner who made his first start against Fresno State in week one. A converted safety, could this be the player that the Buckeyes try to isolate and pick on in this one? One thing of note is that seven of the eight members of the Oregon two-deep in the secondary are either freshmen or sophomores, showing that this unit will get better as time goes on and more experience is gained, so the Buckeyes drawing this unit in week two is an advantage for Ohio State, even with a freshman quarterback due to having receivers in Wilson/Olave who are well into their college careers and have much more experience than the guys tasked with guarding them. You have to wonder how a middling Fresno State team threw for almost 300 yards and 30 completions on this group?
Ohio State Running Backs vs. Oregon Linebackers
What to make of Ohio State’s week one rushing game? Sure, the team rushed for 201 yards on 26 carries, but if you take the Miyan Williams touchdown out of the question, Ohio State rushed for an average of 5.2 YPC the rest of the way. Now, if you get 5.2 yards on each and every carry, you can’t get beat because you will never see a third down or a turnover on downs, but it does show that the numbers were heavily weighted by Chop’s first quarter run. Ohio State has to limit its rotation, at least early in the game and ride the hot hand. Williams certainly showed a hot hand and then was relegated to the bench for several series as the Buckeyes seemed bound and determined to run their full running back rotation, damn the consequences. No back had more than nine carries (Williams) and for a position that seems to thrive on “building up a lather” it seemed odd and out of place. Have no fear, it appears that the Buckeyes have received the message and at least in terms of winning the battle of the press conferences, will shorten the bench against Oregon, but check back with us after the game to see if what was talked about becomes practice or just false promise.
In 2020, teams took it to the Ducks on the ground, in seven games three teams rushed for more than 200 yards and three teams had three or more rushing touchdowns, capped off by a 269-yard, four touchdown game by Oregon State in the game formerly known as “The Civil War”. Fresno State did not enjoy the same success in game one of this season with just 75 yards on 30 carries, a paltry 2.5 YPC mark and 45 of those yards coming on a single Jordan Mims run. The Oregon depth chart lists a 3-4 defense with Thibodeaux listed in the Joker position along with linebackers Bennett Williams, Noah Sewell and Justin Flowe. We all know what Thibodeaux is capable of doing and his departure from the lineup or playing at less than 70-percent would be a big hit but don’t sleep on the freshman connection of Sewell (Penei’s little brother) and Flowe, a pair of players that could have picked any school in the nation in recruiting. Flowe led the Ducks with 14 tackles and forced a fumble while Sewell had five tackles along with a sack and a forced fumble of his own (the Ducks forced four fumbles in the game). But what happens if Thibodeaux is unable to go and freshman Jake Shipley has to step into that role?
Ohio State Offensive Line vs. Oregon Defensive Line
All five members of the offensive line graded out as champions, that has to be worth something, right? It was the first look at the reworked Ohio State offensive line and even a little more reworked than expected with Harry Miller missing the game and Luke Wypler stepping him for him at center. The Gophers did not record a sack of CJ Stroud and only were credited with one tackle for loss in the game. Going back in and looking at the tape and you will see it was a pretty good outing for the line but even with champion grades, there is some room for improvement from week one to week two, but that is to be expected from any player on any team as nobody comes out in week one to their best effort or already maximizing potential. Of all the sections of Tale of the Tape to write, offensive line would be the most difficult just a week or two into the season because of the nature of the position. If the unit plays poorly, there is plenty to talk about and if the group plays well, there is little to talk about as it is just taken for granted. The fact that we don’t have much to say here is a good thing, trust me.
Last season the Ducks averaged 1.7 sacks per game, almost one sack fewer than the Buckeyes did over an eight-game schedule. The number looked much better in game one of the season this year with four against Fresno State, the most memorable coming from Thibodeaux when Fresno State somehow missed picking up Oregon’s top defensive player and nearly got their own quarterback knocked into next week. Oregon’s front three don’t get the same notoriety as other players on the offense do with Popo Aumavae making his first start of his career last week while Keyon Ware-Hudson and Brandon Dorlus are still both very young in their careers as well. According to PFF.com, Dorlus graded out with a 92.3 pass rush grade, third best amongst defensive linemen last week. Of course, Fresno State’s offensive line and Ohio State’s offensive line are two very different things. Oregon is very young up front with three freshmen making up the remainder of the two-deep, so it will be interesting to see how this biggest of big stages treats a young position group.
|Pass Eff. Defense
Ohio State Defensive Backs vs. Oregon QB/WR/TE
It certainly was not in the long-term plans to start Denzel Burke and Ryan Watts in the first game of the 2021 season but with the absences to Cam Brown and Sevyn Banks, that is what the Buckeyes had to do. Minnesota was going to do what it was going to do and that was run the ball to the tune of 50 attempts so the secondary only had 25 pass attempts to face and only allowed 14 completions to the tune of 205 yards and one score. One of the biggest concerns across the defense was tackling as the Buckeyes were not as clean as everyone had hoped for and while we can chalk things up to a game one of the season, a long offseason of practice did not equate to a clean tackling game. You have to wonder as teams move away from taking players to the ground in the offseason if we will see a trend of early struggles once the games count. Will we see Banks back in the lineup this week? There seem to be some indications that he is close, closer than Brown, but with Ohio State only relying upon an availability report and being mum on player injuries, everything is speculation at this point. We have made it this far without talking about the other major issue, what is the status of Josh Proctor in the secondary. Well, we refer back to Ohio State being mum on injuries but read into the fact that Bryson Shaw was made available for interviews this week rather than Proctor and take that how you will. The Buckeyes don’t have a ton of depth at that single-high safety position and any extended missed run by Proctor is not a good thing. Ohio State’s schedule lightens up after this Oregon game, so there will be opportunity to bring other players along but the Buckeyes want to be in that position sitting at 2-0 on the year rather than 1-1, playing from behind.
What to make of the Oregon passing game? You can’t really look at the 2020 season with Tyler Shough moving on. Anthony Brown played in two games last season and attempted 23 passes good for 164 yards and two scores in mop up time. Now it is Brown’s show to run and while game one was a win, it was not exactly a convincing outing. Brown threw for 172 yards and ran for 62, so it was not a case of his numbers being horrible. He threw a touchdown and had zero interceptions and completed 63-percent of his passes. He rushed for 3.9 yards per carry and had a touchdown on the ground. But it was against Fresno State, and before people believe that I am saying that Fresno State is not much of a team, it is a major downgrade compared to playing Ohio State, at Ohio State, at 9am PDT. Brown is not going to be a big-armed passer at any point of his career, that is just not his game and when allowed to run his dual-threat offense, can be a significant weapon, but he can’t be successful if he is the only weapon on the field at a given time. Johnny Johnson III is a rare senior on this Oregon two-deep, a 6-foot-1, 199-pound wideout who is in his fifth season. In Oregon’s last full season (2019) Johnson had 57 catches for 836 yards and seven touchdowns. In his other three-plus seasons, he has eight scores, 60 catches and 857 yards. Keep an eye out for freshman wideout Troy Franklin, a tall and lean receiver at 6-foot-2, 169-pounds. He saw limited action in the opener but did not have a pass thrown his way. He has a bright future but will be in some deep water on Saturday against Ohio State. Rounding out the receivers is Mycah Pittman, son of NFL’er Michael Pittman and brother of Michael Jr. Pittman. Johnson and Pittman led Oregon in week one with three receptions apiece along with tight end Spencer Webb, a 6-foot-6, 234-pounder who will be making his third career start this week.
Ohio State Linebackers vs. Oregon Running Backs
I am still not really sure what to say about Ohio State’s linebackers even after re-watching the game twice. I saw the same missed tackles that you saw, even though that was something that was not just unique to the linebacker position. I saw Ohio State rolling players in and out of the lineup trying to match personnel. Yet, 10 minutes after turning the DVR off, my mind wandered away from the position and thought about 20 different things surrounding the team. Is that a good thing? Is that a bad thing? Does that make them forgettable or am I just so non-fazed by the position that my mind immediately moves on to something else? In all the years of writing Tale of the Tape, I rarely remember coming to a position group with so little to write about as I do about the linebackers in this game. I expect that to change after this game, with eight quarters of football to draw from, two teams that are well-regarded in the rearview mirror, there will be things to write about. I do know that I like to see Cody Simon out there. I know that I am looking forward to seeing Kourt Williams take the field for the first time. I know that there are a lot of players including Teradja Mitchell that have been waiting a long time to get significant playing time. Stay Tuned for Tale of the Tape: Tulsa for more.
The Ducks have a nice one-two at running back with CJ Verdell (5-foot-8, 211-pounds) and Travis Dye (5-foot-10, 200-pounds). Let’s get one thing clear now, neither are Mo Ibrahim but Oregon is not asking for either to be a 30-carry workhorse and Ibrahim is just a rare specimen. Verdell was named second-team All-Pac-12 in the preseason and ranked No. 8 overall in career rushing at Oregon. Verdell also has a pair of 1,000-yard seasons in 2018 and 2019 as he combined for 18 touchdowns and a little better than 2,300 yards in his first two seasons as a member of the Ducks. Dye’s numbers are pretty solid too and while he has not eclipsed a 1,000-yard season to this point, got into the 600s and 700s as Verdell carried the mail more often. Both are talented receivers as well and the Buckeyes will have to account for that as a threat. Then you add Anthony Brown into the mix as a runner and the Buckeyes will have to be ready to defend sideline-to-sideline as there will be true rushing threats across the field. Those three players (Verdell, Dye and Brown) were the only players credited with a rushing attempt in the Fresno State game as the Ducks rushed for 189 yards after sack yardage was accounted for and three scores. The issue is that it also took 48 carries to get to that point, accounting for a 3.9 YPC average, not exactly a recipe for winning a lot of big games.
Ohio State Defensive Line vs. Oregon Offensive Line
The Ohio State defensive line had its moments against one of the best offensive lines that it will face this season as the Gophers had a big, experienced line standing in their way. But the Buckeyes still have not found that consistent pass rush that was a hallmark of previous Ohio State defenses and this week will be a test of that being a theme once again in 2021 or just a circumstance of Minnesota being an outlier with its offensive line. Zach Harrison had the biggest defensive moment of the game with his strip sack of Tanner Morgan that led to Haskell Garrett picking up the ball and rumbling in for the defensive score. That gave Ohio State the cushion that it so desperately was looking for and allowed the Buckeyes to quit seeing lead changes after opening a two-score margin. We saw more J.T. Tuimoloau against Oregon than Jack Sawyer, does that trend continue this week? One thing that we felt pretty certain about, Tuimoloau was going to play in this game, the question being which color jersey would he be wearing? Fresno State sacked Oregon three times and had nine TFLs in the season opener, what will Ohio State be able to do?
Oregon has a big offensive line with its tackles north of 320 pounds, a 300-pound-plus center and a pair of players named to the 2020 All-Pac-12 teams last season. Right guard Ryan Walk is the smallest of the group at right guard, checking in at just 293 pounds, but he was a first-team All-P12 performer and has eight starts under his belt. Center Alex Forsyth was named to the second team and also has eight starts. He finds himself on the preseason Outland and Rimington watch lists. Left tackle George Moore is taking advantage of the extra COVID year to come back for one more season and has not allowed a sack in his last 216 pass-blocking snaps over the course of 2020-22021. He split time between left and right tackle last year. Sophomore Steven Jones is a beast at right tackle, 6-foot-5, 332-pounds but only has three starts in his career despite seeing action in more than a dozen games. It will be interesting to see if the Fresno State struggles were just a result of a week one game or if Ohio State will finally be able to get home against this unit.
Special team numbers will start to take shape after a couple more games. Ohio State attempted two punts so punting numbers mean little here. Oregon punted five times but the same holds true. Oregon kicker Camden Lewis nailed his one field goal attempt, a 25-yarder. Ohio State hit its only field goal attempt, a 35-yarder by Noah Ruggles. Mykael Wright and Johnny Johnson III could prove to be dangerous returners and the Buckeyes can’t afford to give up field position with lazy coverage units.