The year is still young, but we are done with the first quarter of the regular season. Time to take stock of where our favorite team is. Ohio State, otherwise known as Team of the People, has had a bumpy start. Let’s take a look at where things have gone right and things have gone, well, less than right.
It’s been a bit of a rough ride for C.J. Stroud. He keeps referring to have some sort of shoulder injury and how young he is, as if he’s having a bad time out there. But by the numbers, he’s doing...pretty well. While he has missed some throws, he is leading the conference in passing yards per game and most of his stats are pretty strong. Compare to presumptive first overall pick Spencer Rattler, and Stroud is averaging almost two more yards a throw. It could be a lot worse, is what I’m saying.
Running Backs: B+
A bit of a tough position to grade. TreVeyon Henderson just set their single game freshman rushing record, so that’s good. Miyan Williams was an inspiration in their first game against Minnesota. Both of them are averaging over 8 yards a carry, which is great! But Williams didn’t play against Tulsa, and both were pretty pedestrian against Oregon. It feels like Henderson will get the lion’s share of carries going forward, and he has been impressive. The big plays have come - OSU is 4th in the nation in carries that go for at least 30 yards. Where they could see improvement is in the grind - getting four or five yards instead of one or two. Ohio State’s biggest issue on offense has been its inability to grind out points when they don’t get the big play. A more consistent rushing attack would be key.
Receivers and Tight Ends: A-
Not too much to complain about here. OSU has three guys in the top 12 in B1G receiving, and while everyone expected Olave and Wilson to be great, Jaxon Smith-Njigba has also been really strong. The receivers were the lone bright spot against Oregon, and overall have been exactly as promised. They could stand to get a few more targets to tight end Jeremy Ruckert, who still seems like an afterthought in the offense.
Offensive Line: B
It’s always difficult to look at a group of five people and give them one grade. Group projects always suffer from this - is the grade for each person? A collective? If one guy is great and the others terrible, does slapping a C on the group really capture the performance? For the most part, C.J. Stroud has been pretty well protected and there have been some holes for the running backs. That’s what they are supposed to do, and they have mostly been successful. The issue has been consistency - against Tulsa, they struggled a bit in pass protection. Against Oregon, they looked fairly soft in the trenches. For a group that was billed as perhaps the best in OSU history, the only word that accurately describes them is underwhelming. Underwhelming still gets the job done.
Defensive Line: F
This has been an absolute disaster. Everyone (including yours truly), expected some problems on defense. They were breaking in a lot of new guys in the back seven, and new guys equals mistakes. Up front was supposed to be a different story - a deep collection of defensive ends plus an experienced group in the middle. Outside of a Zach Harrison strip sack against Minnesota, this group might as well not exist. The team is dead last in the B1G in tackles for loss, and 116th in the country. They are next to last in rushing defense in the B1G and 100th in the nation. The group gets pushed around in the run game and is a non-factor in the passing game. While the mistakes on the back end get the publicity, the defensive line is currently the biggest problem for the Buckeyes.
Nothing good to report here. Overall, OSU is 118th in the entire country in total defense. If not for Illinois, they would be last in the conference by a mile. The defense is bad. The linebackers haven’t been good, though they have been getting a bit more blame than they deserve. It’s not that they have been good - they tend to be slow to diagnose plays and then slow to make a play. Like the defensive line, that leads to a lot of nothing. However, all these guys are new, so some hiccups were to be expected. Further, there are often only two linebackers on the field, so how much blame can they really get?
Well, hey, let’s point to some good news first. When the corners have the right assignment, they have been rather good in man coverage down the field. Denzel Burke has really been pretty solid as a true freshman stepping right into a starting role, and Cam Brown has looked good coming off an Achilles injury.
Everything else is a tire fire. The safeties get constantly confused and leave guys wide open. Oregon found a lot of success running a simple sweep play because no one knew what to do. Tulsa just passed for over 400 yards against them, and they were really unable to do much of anything about it. For all the talk about StarZ and athletes, they look really slow and limited on the back end. It’s been rough, is what I’m saying.
Nothing to complain about here. Jesse Mirco has been a wizard punting. Noah Ruggles is perfect on the season. Coverage has been fine. Haven’t seen any big returns yet, but we might see Garrett Wilson or Emeka Egbuka pop one.
The criticism of the offense is misplaced. A bit of jank is to be expected when breaking in a new quarterback (see Tigers, Clemson) and overall the offense has been good, ranking 9th in total offense in the nation and tops in the B1G. Sure, you want the yardage to equate to more points, but the random nature of football makes this complaint more wistful than substantial. Overall, things aren’t firing on full cylinders, but they are firing.
That defense though...there is no excuse for the coaches there. You and me and most of the commentariat could put together a defense of four and five star talent that ranks below Rice. I don’t know that this can be fixed. If you listen to Ryan Day, you will hear him talk about tape and film in every other sentence. The direction is clear - players and coaches need to be prepared for what happens. Watching this defense, they are clearly not prepared for what they see on a down to down basis. Opposing offense can do pretty much whatever they want and the defense routinely looks helpless to stop it. If the defense had no coaches and more or less just ran out there and coached themselves, they wouldn’t be worse. Tough to be less effective than that.