Oregon Debriefing: Dismal Defense Dooms Ohio State's Date With the Ducks

By Andy Vance on September 12, 2021 at 9:35 am
Joe Moorhead

There's nothing that cleanses your soul like getting the hell kicked out of you." ~ Wayne Woodrow Hayes

If that's the case, Ohio State's defense has the cleanest soul on planet earth this morning, because the Oregon Ducks walked into Ohio Stadium Saturday and laid down a good, old fashioned butt-whoopin'.

The Buckeyes managed to pull within a touchdown thanks to an outstanding offensive effort in the second half, but it was too little, too late to dig the home team out of the hole. Oregon controlled the game from the coin toss, and despite missing several key players on defense – including potential No. 1 overall draft pick Kayvon Thibodeaux – they looked like a playoff contender in a way Ohio State simply did not.

For all the social media chatter about Stroud overthrowing his receivers from time to time or simply missing the times one of them was wide open in scoring position, he still came within striking distance of setting the school record for passing yards in a single-game (499, set by Dwayne Haskins against Northwestern in the 2018 Big Ten Championship Game) and didn't make any horrible mistakes until he threw a game-sealing interception in the waning minutes of the contest.

The book on this team heading into the season was that Ohio State's offense was so good that its rather pedestrian defense wouldn't be a liability until the College Football Playoff. Unfortunately, some early miscues kept a prolific offense from putting points on the board, and the Buckeye defense didn't stop Oregon's offense until it was too little, too late.

Ohio State still has the inside track on a Big Ten Championship, and it's not out of the realm of possibility that they make it back to the Playoff (see the inaugural Playoff for proof of this fact), but the margin for error in that quest is now zilch, zero, nada.

TL;DR: Just the Facts, Ma'am

Oregon offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead took Ohio State defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs to school, then took his lunch money and stole his girlfriend for good measure. Coombs' defense looked outschemed, outcoached, and outplayed in all but maybe two drives of the game, getting gashed repeatedly in the running game and failing to make anything resembling an adjustment at halftime.

Stroud was far from flawless, but the redshirt freshman tossed for an eye-popping 484 yards, going 35 for 54 with three touchdowns against one interception. Three Buckeye wide receivers crossed the 100-yard mark, and the running backs averaged 5 yards per carry despite looking at times like they couldn't quite find the momentum to take control of the game.

Ryan Day opted to go for it an astounding five times on 4th down, but his team converted just twice, leaving a boatload of points on the board in the process.

How It Went Down


Once again the offense got off to a slow start in the first half, with a first-half drive chart that went:

  • Turnover on downs
  • Punt
  • Punt
  • Touchdown
  • Turnover on downs
  • Halftime

If that isn't the definition of "feast or famine," I don't know what is. Racking up 271 yards of total offense but only have a touchdown to show for it at halftime is... not ideal.

...and yet again, like last week, Stroud and his receiving corps made it a ballgame in the second half, scoring as many touchdowns after intermission as Oregon did. And while Stroud did tend to miss high early in the game (an issue noted last week against Minnesota, as well), he did throw more than a few dimes as well, like his third-quarter strike to Jaxon Smith-Njigba with the Buckeyes trailing 21-7.

What was perhaps more puzzling was how little Ohio State relied on its running backs, particularly in the first half when Oregon's offense was having its way with the Buckeye defense. Ohio State ran for just 128 yards on the day, compared to 484 yards passing. That's a far cry from the 250-250 mantra Urban Meyer used to preach.

Well, they were playing from behind all night, so it stands to reason they were slinging the rock all night, you might say. And that would be reasonable, perhaps, if they were down three scores at halftime, but that wasn't the case. For some reason Ohio State felt it needed to put the ball through the air to succeed, choosing to live and die by the success of its aerial attack.

Helmet Stickers:
  • Ohio State's wide receivers: Once again they are the best unit on the team, top to bottom. Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson and Jaxson Smith-Njigba each recorded more than 100 yards receiving, with three touchdowns among them.
  • Punter Jesse Mirco and his gunners: Twice the Buckeye punt team put Oregon on the 1-yard line. Not that it mattered when the first of those drives ended up with a 99-yard scoring drive for the ducks, but...


In his seminal work The Peter Principle, University of Southern California business professor Laurence J. Peter posited that in a hierarchical organization, people tend to rise to their "maximum level of incompetence." In other words, we promote successful people until they reach a point where they are no longer successful.

Far be it for me, a lowly part-time sportswriter, to suggest that Ohio State has promoted a beloved staff member to his level of incompetence, or that we've seen this movie before and have a pretty good idea how it ends.

But look, the Silver Rubber Bullets allowed Oregon to run for 7.1 yards per carry Saturday, tied for fourth-worst in Ohio State history. The Buckeyes tallied just a single tackle for loss, a whopping zero sacks, and hurried the quarterback just five times all day.

For all our consternation about teams passing all over the Ohio State secondary, Anthony Brown only threw for 236 yards, completing fewer than half his passes. The rushing defense, on the other hand, allowed the Ducks to stick and move to the tune of 269 yards on the ground with three touchdowns, literally running away with the game in the process.

There was no edge, there was precious little pressure, and it took 8 quarters of football for the team to record its first three-and-out of the season. Perhaps most frustrating to fans watching at home, was when Oregon scored a third time running what looked like the same play that had gashed the Buckeyes on two previous scores.

Any hopes that Coombs and his staff had made schematic or technique improvements over last year were dashed Saturday, as things actually look worse than they did a year ago.

Helmet Stickers
  • Uh, nobody. Ohio State's corners looked good in coverage but often looked lost when Oregon was running the ball, the defensive line was a non-factor and the linebackers were abused most of the day. No stickers.

Jim Tressel's Least Favorite Moment of the Game

President Tressel was feeling fulfilled as he settled into his vintage Barcalounger, having spent the morning as the celebrity chef at the local Lions Club pancake breakfast. He was confident Ohio State would play a solid, disciplined game in front of a home crowd, remembering fondly his team's 2010 Rose Bowl victory over the Ducks.

When Ryan Day opted to go for it on 4th and 7 from Oregon's 31-yard line, Tressel took a deep breath, counted to 10, and focused on his mindfulness exercises. "It's early," he thought, "plenty of time for young Ryan to come around and manage the game."

His confidence was rewarded when punter Jesse Mirco placed successive punts on the 1-yard line. "That is exceptional special teams play," the old master said to his lovely wife Ellen, who nodded sagely.

It seemed that Day had in fact come to realize the wisdom of using his latest Wonder from Down Under to control field position, wonder of wonders! He came crashing back to reality just two series later when Ohio State inexplicably went for it on 4th Down again, this time getting stuffed on 4th and 2 from the 39.

"Why do they do that to these poor young kickers, Honey? It's just not right." Tressel said, and left the room to walk off some steam.

 It Was Over When

...C.J. Stroud's 3rd and 18 pass was intercepted by Verone McKinley III with just under three minutes to play. Down 7, the Buckeyes theoretically had time yet to tie things up, but asking the defense to muster a third-consecutive 3-and-out was simply too much to wish for.

But in a bigger sense, the game was over the moment Kerry Coombs was hired as defensive coordinator. Saturday's battle wasn't so much between Ryan Day and Mario Cristobal, although give Cristobal an immense helping of credit for what he's doing with the Oregon program... no, the real battle was between Moorhead and Coombs, and it was clear that one of these men is an extremely talented coordinator executing his vision at an extremely high level, while one of them is an exceptional recruiter with a propensity for lengthy social media hashtags.

Coach Hayes had a point about the soul-cleansing properties of getting your head kicked in. But he also said something else that bears repeating:

"The great thing about football is that when you get knocked down, you get up and you go again. You don't lie there and moan and groan and rail against the fates."

Next Up: Ohio State stays home, hosting Tulsa, Sat., Sept. 18., at 3:30 p.m.


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