There is a lot to talk about after the Buckeyes’ season opener.
If you know anything about Ohio State fans, it that they are totally rational and always even-keeled at all times. That being said, the Buckeyes’ season opener was a bit of a nail-biter at times throughout the first half, as Ryan Day’s squad was able to pull away coming out of the locker room to defeat Minnesota 45-31 on the road in some inclement weather. There will be lots to break down from this game for the next several days, but let’s quickly overreact in the immediate moments following the win.
Ohio State has found its running back(s)
The coaching staff’s utilization of its personnel throughout this game on both sides of the ball was… questionable at best, but we will get to more of that in a little bit. To begin the night, it looked as though Tony Alford was looking to use the running backs on a series by series basis, much like Ohio State did back when they had J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber at the same time — which, if you recall, did not exactly work.
After getting a ton of hype this offseason, it was in fact Miyan Williams who came out and received the first snaps at running back, and all he did on his second touch of the game was scamper for a 71-yard touchdown to give the Buckeyes an early 7-0 lead. Unfortunately for Williams, he would not see the field again until after Master Teague and TreVeyon Henderson had their turns.
Teague did not look bad, but was far less explosive that Williams, earning six carries for 29 yards on Ohio State’s second drive of the game. He would not touch the ball again for the rest of the game. Henderson got one carry for 10 yards on his first series, but C.J. Stroud through a pick to quickly end his possession. However, Buckeye Nation got to see that five-star speed later on in the game when Henderson took a screen pass 70 yards to the house as he made everyone on the Golden Gopher defense appear to run in slow motion.
It is very obvious that Williams and Henderson should be this team’s running back tandem moving forward. Williams finished the game as the team’s leading rusher, totaling a whopping 125 yards on only nine carries with the long TD. Henderson had only two carries for 15 yards, but showed what kind of a dynamic playmaker he can be with his own long TD. Teague is the incumbent, but Ohio State simply has two other guys on its roster that are more explosive and a better fit for what the offense is looking to do.
C.J. Stroud is not Justin Fields — Yet.
I saw all too many of you ready to jump off the C.J. Stroud bandwagon after a less-than-stellar first half. I know you’ve all been spoiled by watching Justin Fields play quarterback each of the last two seasons, but not everyone can be a superstar right out of the gates, especially given the conditions Stroud was thrown into. Having never thrown a collegiate pass before, the first-year starter had to go on the road in a Big Ten environment in the rain — in front of a full crowd for the first time in his collegiate career — and lead the Ohio State offense against a very experienced Gopher defensive unit.
I’m not here to say Stroud was great in that first half. Early on his deep balls were a touch overthrown and the interception was on a bad throw that was way behind Chris Olave. However, he was much much better in the second half. He went on to finish the game completing 13 of his 22 pass attempts for 294 yards and four touchdowns. To be fair, a ton of his yardage came after the catch in that second half, but there was a lot to like about the young quarterback in his first ever start and there will certainly be a ton to build on moving forward.
Coombs, your defense, woof!
I know this is an overreaction piece, and it is really hard to not overreact about just how badly this defense played on Thursday night. After watching Ohio State’s defense struggle for all of 2020, it was more of the same out there against Minnesota. They could not contain Mohamed Ibrahim — not that many people can — and even when Tanner Morgan was forced to pass the ball, the pressure from the defensive line was not there and the secondary was getting torched left and right. Ohio State allowed 408 yards of offense to the Gophers, and that is simply not good enough.
Now, that being said, the Buckeyes were without both projected starting corners in Sevyn Banks and Cameron Brown, so that definitely did not help matters. However, as alluded to earlier, some of the personnel decisions throughout this game were simply baffling. It seemed clear to anyone with eyes that there are a very good core group of players on this defense, and it just comes down to Kerry Coombs and the rest of his defensive staff to put them on the field instead of seemingly trying to play every single dressed player on the roster for the hell of it.
I thought it was painfully obvious that Ohio State’s best defensive players in the season opener were Josh Proctor, Cody Simon, Teradja Mitchell and Haskell Garrett. Denzel Burke had his struggles at corner but I thought overall he was very solid for a freshman, and Ryan Watts was serviceable out there as well with Lathan Ransom doing a solid job in the slot. Zach Harrison had a huge play on the strip sack that led to a Garrett fumble recovery TD, but other than that I thought the defensive line was rather lackluster. I thought pretty much every other linebacker besides Mitchell and Simon looked totally lost, and Bryson Shaw had an awful game at safety behind Proctor.
Just because you have the depth, doesn’t mean you have to use it. Ohio State must figure out who its best players are and quickly, because Oregon is coming to town next week. Proctor left the game late with an injury, so hopefully he is good to go next week alongside Banks and Brown. If not, the Buckeyes will need to put themselves in the best position on defense by playing their good players and not their bad ones — seems easy enough, IMO.
Chris Olave for Heisman?
I can’t close out the overreactions from the opener without praising our lord and savior, Chris Olave. The nation’s top wide receiver only hauled in four passes on the night, but he made the most of his touches with 117 yards and two touchdowns — including scores on 38 and 61 yards. It was more of the same from what we’ve seen from Olave throughout his Ohio State career: terrific hands, excellent route running, and a smoothness to his movement that could only be compared to ‘silk sheets’ a la Gus Johnson.
Is it time to start the Chris Olave Heisman campaign?