Ohio State was already in good shape at kicker with 2021 Lou Groza Award finalist Noah Ruggles prior to Lewis announcing he was transferring into the program.
Obviously the goal of the Ohio State offense is to end every drive with a touchdown celebration. Lets be real though, not every drive is going to result in at least six points. The good news for the Buckeyes is when they are forced to attempt a field goal, they have not just one, but two experienced options at kicker.
Prior to the start of last season, Ohio State was looking for a kicker to replace Blake Haubeil, who handled the majority of the kicking duties for the Buckeyes in the previous three seasons. Enter Noah Ruggles. who transferred into the program from North Carolina, where he hit 19 of his 27 field goal attempts for the Tar Heels in 2019.
While Ruggles gave the Buckeyes stability at kicker, nobody was expecting the transfer to be as good as he was in 2021. Hitting 20 of his 21 field goal attempts, the 95.2% success rate by Ruggles last year not only was the highest single-season field goal conversion rate by an Ohio State kicker in school history, Ruggles also has the top career field goal success rate in school history since he has more than 20 field goal attempts.
Ruggles was a finalist for the Lou Groza Award in 2021, given annually to the nation’s top kicker. After falling short of the winning the award last year, which was presented to Michigan kicker Jake Moody, Ruggles is on the preseason watch list for the award in 2022. If Ruggles is able to win the award this year, he will be the second Ohio State kicker to earn the honor, joining 2004 winner Mike Nugent.
Nobody would have faulted Ruggles if he had decided to declare for the NFL Draft following last season, since he had already completed five years in college. Instead, Ruggles announced he would be returning to Ohio State for one more year of college football. Even though he was coming back to Columbus for one more year, Ruggles wasn’t involved in spring practices, since he decided to take the spring semester off. Ruggles had already earned a bachelor’s degree while at North Carolina, and is on track to graduate with a master’s degree this fall.
Even with Ruggles in the fold this year, Ohio State still kept their eyes on the transfer portal. A coaching change out west ended up bringing an accomplished kicker to Columbus this spring. Following the coaching change at USC, which saw Lincoln Riley leave Oklahoma for Los Angeles, Lewis was alerted that Riley wouldn’t be hiring a special teams coordinator, which led Lewis to open up his options on where he would play the final few seasons of his college football career.
In his first two seasons of college football, Lewis was very productive as USC’s kicker, going 9-of-13 in field goal attempts as a freshman. Last year Lewis was even better, hitting 17 of his 22 attempts, including a 52-yarder against Arizona State. The most memorable play of Lewis’ career so far came on the opening kickoff against Stanford last year, when he was flagged for targeting.
So what does the addition of Lewis mean for the Ohio State kicking unit? If Ruggles hits three-pointers like he did last year, there is no question that the job is his. Where Lewis will provide value this year is as a kickoff specialist. Last year Lewis was 11th in the country with touchbacks on nearly 80% of his kickoffs. Ruggles wasn’t quite as effective at eliminating kickoff returns, with just 21 of his 99 kickoffs resulting in touchbacks. With Lewis taking over those duties, it will help to take some of the stress off Ruggles’ leg, as he won’t have to pull double duty kicking field goals/extra points and kickoffs.
Another area where Lewis could be valuable is on long-range field goals. Ruggles has yet to make a field goal over 50 yards in his college career, while Lewis already has one long-range field goal. Not saying that Ruggles isn’t capable of making a field goal over 50 yards if called on to do so, but Lewis might be a better options since with a bigger frame he does have a little more power in his leg.
Unlike some past years where there was some more questions about the reliability of the kickers on the roster, the Buckeyes now have a surplus of quality kickers, and we haven’t even mentioned Jake Seibert, who hit a field goal and converted 16 extra points in 2020.
The addition of Lewis to the roster not only helps to push Ruggles this year with some competition for reps in the kicking game, it will also force Seibert to work on his kicking since Lewis and Seibert will be competing for the starting spot next season after Ruggles exhausts his college eligibility.
Even though a field goal might feel like a failure with talents like C.J. Stroud, Jaxon Smith-Njigba, and TreVeyon Henderson on offense, at least Ryan Day can have some confidence when calling on a kicker to try and put three points on the board since he has two really good, experienced kickers on the roster. That type of quality at the kicker could end up winning a game for the Buckeyes in 2022.