After each Ohio state game during the 2021 football season, LGHL will offer its market analysis of the Buckeyes’ performance. Using a standard bond scoring system, we will rate offense, defense and special teams, according to this formula:
AA (yes, I can also use + and -): Very strong
BB: facing a major uncertainty
Next, we’ll take a look at the individual players whose performances stood out (one way or another!).
Over the past month or so, as the Buckeyes have amassed incredible yards and points and won accolades like “unstoppable” and “best offense ever”, we have tried to pretend not to see. the asterisk after the statements. In small print it was written “Akron, Rutgers, Maryland, Indiana – fairly low competition. As we saw last night, the level of competition matters. Oh, I know how well Penn State played against Illinois last week. But, in terms of sheer talent, quality players, this is the best team (including Oregon) the Buckeyes have faced. The game was close, fierce and a victory.
I’m sure some will call this game a step back for Ohio State, a throwback to the start of the season where mistakes on both sides of the ball told a sad story. I see the Penn State game as a test of reality. How would these young Buckeyes behave against a good team? They won. And I think the game, its closeness, and the issues the Bucks face will serve them well in this tough final third of the season.
The Buckeyes can forget about the “best ever” hype and play some football. They won’t score 19 touchdowns in a row; they cannot roll over another opponent. They have the talent to win and advance to the playoffs. I hope they have the fire, the motivation because the era of the five touchdowns and the freewheeling may be behind them.
Against Penn State, Ohio State’s much-vaunted offense scored two touchdowns in 11 possessions (not counting the last one, where Stroud took a knee). Jeremy Ruckert lost a fumble on the first drive. There were three punters and a 38-yard touchdown by Chris Olave. Buckeye’s other six possessions took them to the Red Zone, a generally productive location for this group. But last night? Six trips: one touchdown, four baskets (all short) and a fourth failed attempt. This underwhelming red zone performance is one of the main differences between this game and the previous five.
Another big offensive difference is the failure of the running game to provide any consistency. We were waiting for TreVeyon Henderson to play the whole game, get 20 runs. Last night he did. He ran 28 times for 152 net yards, averaging 5.4. Not his usual 8.6 – but not bad, right? But if we take away his 68-yard dodge in the third quarter, he’s averaging 3.1 yards on the other 27 carries. Obviously, the weak running game and the lack of success of the red zone are closely related.
The offensive line, which we ended up relying on, was solid to protect CJ Stroud. Penn State had no sacks and often applied little pressure on the young quarterback. On the other hand, the line couldn’t really open any holes in the Nittany Lion defense for the run, and many games were stopped for losses. In addition, the offensive line committed a number of sudden start and false start penalties. “Shooting yourself in the foot” was how Stroud put it in his post-game interview.
Stroud completed 22 of his 34 attempted passes for 305 yards and a touchdown. Most of the long plays were made by receivers running well after the capture. Stroud seemed frustrated at times, frustrated with the penalties and the inability to execute the ball.
The Bucks totaled 466 yards. Below their average, but pretty good against good defense. The Penn State line and linebackers were solid, and the defensive backfield was the best the Bucks had faced. Henderson and Jaxon Smith-Njigba were caught from behind in the breakaways. Few teams have players who could have done that.
All in all, Buckeye’s offense was good enough to win. But they have things to sort out before they get to Lincoln.
Overall rating: BBB Adequate
Lots of pros and cons for the defense of the state of Ohio. First of all, there was a lot to like. Penn State, a team that loves to run the ball, has only 33 rushing yards, averaging a paltry 1.1 yards per attempt. The Bucks were much more aggressive with their pass rush, frequently blitzing and harassing Sean Clifford all night long. They tallied four sacks and a lot of hits and rushes. Buckeye’s defense intercepted a pass and forced two fumbles, the fast-footed Jerron Cage returning a 57-yard touchdown. Good product!
Buckeye’s defense, however, struggled mightily against the Penn State passing game all night. The suddenly healthy Clifford withstood the pass rush and was precise down the middle and on the sidelines. He threw for 361 yards, completing 35 of 52 passes. Wide receiver Jahan Dotson caught 11 balls for 127 yards. I guess Denzel Burke couldn’t handle it after all.
But the real problem for Buck’s defense was the one we saw earlier in the season; they couldn’t stop a drive and get Penn State off the field. The Lions converted 11 of 18 third-down chances, almost all assists. They got 27 first tries. Their three touchdowns were 13 games / 89 yards, 12 games / 75 yards and 11 games / 75 yards. They couldn’t do that against the Illini.
Without a doubt, some of the defense’s performance was by design. The Bucks played a lot of zone, keeping the games in front of them. But there was no domination here, as the outcome of the game was in question until Penn State final possession. The defense played well enough to win.
Overall rating: BBB Adequate
At least the Buckeyes have a good kicker, as Noah Ruggles has scored all of his baskets and extra points. Jesse Mirco’s punt was decent, but his 33-yard average was below par. There was no comeback to speak of during the game.
Overall rating: A Strong
Noah Ruggles. Ruggles is the only offensive player I place in this highest category this week. The Bucks needed his footing and he stood up. Ruggles made all four of his field goal attempts and, while they weren’t very long – 35, 23, 25, 28 yards – Ohio State certainly needed the points.
Tyreke Smith. With some pretty good defensive lineup lately, Tyreke Smith has been somewhat overlooked. But we couldn’t ignore it last night. He appeared to be leading the pass race for the Buckeyes, finishing with five tackles, a sack and a forced fumble.
Ronnie Hickman. Once again, Hickman led the Buckeyes in tackles; he collected 14 stops in total. Marcus Williamson, second in tackles, had six. It was Hickman doing all those tackles in the middle on completed passes. He kept the plays in front of him as Clifford’s longest achievement was 32 yards, caught and run.
Jerron cage. It’s a sight we won’t soon forget: the 300-pound sprint (yes, the sprint!) For a touchdown. Too often the defensive lineman, in his attempt to pick up a dropped ball, will kick it out of bounds or lose control. Not Cage. He picked up and ran. We might have expected a running back receiver to catch up, but they didn’t.
Jaxon Smith-Njigba. I had Smith-Njigba in that same category after the Indiana game – and for the same reasons. Last night, he led Buckeye receivers in yards (97) and was second in catches (6). His game-high 58-yard catch and run indicates how difficult it is for a safety to contain him from the lunge receiver position.
TreVeyon Henderson. It may be surprising to see Henderson here. He hasn’t had one of his best games. But, one night when every yard was a contest, he showed us something. Never frustrated, never complaining, he took the ball and ran hard, no doubt confident he would break a couple. He did. It was a good test for the young running back, and in my notebook he passed.
Cameron Brown. Good game all around, with five tackles. But it’s the interception that puts him on this list. He took the ball 25 yards to Penn State 28. Too bad the offense could not remove a TD.
Luke Wypler. Wypler has played well at center all season so I hate to single him out here. But I must. By the end of the first quarter and the start of the second, Wyplet started having trouble with snaps, creating penalties for “snapshot violations” and false starts. Stroud’s frustration showed itself here, as the OSU drives were thwarted. Although he had a good block on Olave’s touchdown, Wypler struggled (he wasn’t the only one) controlling his man on racing games.
Next week offers the Buckeyes a chance to put things right in the face of clearly weaker competition. Hopefully the Bucks grow up from this experience.