It’s time to turn the freshman into a Heisman frontrunner.
Well, friends, it’s game day again, and after opening the season with the Minnesota Golden Gophers, the Buckeyes are back on the road and back into the thick of the Big Ten slate as they travel to Piscataway, NJ to take on Greg Schiano and the Rutgers Scarlet Knights.
Now, I know that Rutgers has been better so far this season than they have been in recent years, and Ohio State has been — well — not as good as they have been in recent years. However, this game still comes down to whether or not OSU can play anywhere near they potential. If they can, then it really doesn’t matter what the crew from the State University of New Jersey does.
So, as is my wont, I am going to give the Buckeye coaching staff three simple to-do items to check off their list in order to ensure a victory for the good guys who wear scarlet over the bad guys who where scarlet.
1) Feed the Freshman!
I know this might be controversial, but TreVeyon Henderson is the best weapon on Ohio State’s offense. Now I know that might seem like an outlandish thing to say about a Buckeye freshmen when Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson still exist, but literally all you have to do is turn around, hand it to Henderson, and you’ve essentially picked up a first down. The insanely talented freshman is averaging 9.5 yards per carry so far in the season, and while that is buoyed by a number of long, explosive plays, you can’t get much closer to a sure thing than that.
And while Olave, Wilson, and the quickly emerging (if not already emerged) Jaxon Smith-Njigba are all just as capable of scoring every time they touch the ball, in the immortal words of Woody Hayes, ”Only three things can happen when you pass, and two of them are bad.”
Unfortunately for us, we have seen the two bad things that can happen when the ball is thrown far more this season than we would ever like it. And while I know that it won’t tickle the play-calling fancy of Ryan Day as much to run the ball as it would to pass it, at this point in the season, with a veteran offensive line finally starting to gel after some shuffling late in camp, that seems like the most guaranteed way to score, and to win, is to give it to the guy who is potentially the best running back in program history.
Given that starting quarterback C.J. Stroud is more than likely coming back after a week off to rest an ailing my shoulder, it also wouldn’t hurt to not put too much undue pressure on him or his arm (especially since they are just two weeks away from an open date). If Henderson is able to wrack up first downs and touchdowns against the Rutgers’ defense, then they should let him do it; obviously not exclusively, but enough to gain… say… 225 yards and three TDs, give or take ¯_(ツ)_/¯.
Tangentially, after Kyle McCord looked horrifylingly scared in his first drive, Day changed up the play calling and gave him some easy, short throws to get him back in the game. Needing something positive coming off of the week out, it would be nice to see Day pull out more of the Dwayne Haskins/short passing offense for Stroud today, rather than sticking with the deep bomb/Justin Fields game plan.
2) In Fact, Feed All of the Freshmen!
Okay, maybe not all of the freshmen, but the ones who have shown that they deserve to be on the field through the first four games; this also applies to the appropriate sophomores as well.
On defense, the coaches need to lean into the youth movement that they have seemingly been forced into by injuries and poor veteran play. If I were making the depth chart (which I’m not, but Ryan, call me), and everyone was healthy, it would be:
DE: Zach Harrison (Jr.), J.T. Tuimoloau (Fr.)
DT: Haskell Garrett (Sr.), Tyleik Williams (Fr.)
LB: Teradja Mitchell (Sr.), Cody Simon (So.)
Bullet: Ronnie Hickman (So.)
CB: Denzel Burke (Fr.), Cameron Brown (Jr.)
Slot CB/Safety: Cameron Martinez (Fr.)
Safety: Lathan Ransom (So.)
Other young guys on that side of the ball that have earned the right for some PT are Steele Chambers, Jack Sawyer, Craig Young, and the forever young Demario McCall! That might not be the most disciplined or experienced defense, but with four freshmen, three sophomores, two juniors, and two seniors, Kerry Coombs and his position coaches would be getting the best from their experienced players and the most from their younger talented guys as well.
3) Leave No Doubt
Practically every article and podcast that we published over the past week about the Akron game contained some variation of the sentence, “Now, I know it was just Akron, but … “ and that caveat was important, because Akron sucks; like a Roomba cleaning up after a three-year-old’s birthday party sucks.
Rutgers, however, does not suck; they are far from great, but they don’t suck. So, Day needs to keep his foot on the gas on offense, and the defense needs to be thinking shutout fron the first series. When playing someone other than Delaware or Temple, the Knights are averaging only 15 points per game, and despite a solid Schiano defense, that shouldn’t be nearly enough to hang with the Buckeyes on the scoreboard.
While style points certainly don’t matter at this point in terms of rankings — playoff, AP, or otherwise — they certainly matter when it comes to getting a young team more confidence to turn things around. Day and his staff should be doing everything that they can to get out to an early lead, never let Rutgers in the game, and to remove any doubt as to who is going to win this game from the jump. So, I am looking for the Buckeyes to win this game somewhere in the 48-20 range.