As a word of warning, I will break this into two parts tonally. First is my best attempt to be as analytical and objective as possible regarding this season. The second half is going to be venting. Saddle up.
The 2022 year was a roller coaster, however you slice it. The improvement from 2021, which must be asterisked due to Covid, was stark. Ohio State added 2.3 goals per game on offense, and allowed 1.3 fewer goals per game year over year.
More practice time and cohesion always helps with that, however even I can't deny that there was a marker difference in the offense this year. That, to me, comes down to a much improved offensive philosophy.
The offense this year was much more focused on attacking from behind the goal. This is the latest trend in college lacrosse, and was a breath of fresh air to an offense that struggled mightily in 2021. The personnel from 2021 to 2022 was massively improved.
Losing Tre Leclaire stung, but his final 5-6 games as a Buckeye were really rough. A lot of 1-9, 2-11 shooting days on an O that was flat bad. Colby Smith was a much more than adequate replacement, shining as a flame-throwing outside shooter. Jackson Reid elevated his game to a whole new level, mostly by being much more consistent with his output. The freshmen contributed, especially Ari Allen, who had 13 points and should have had closer to 20 in his first lacrosse-only year.
Jason Knox was a really good addition through the portal, with 24 goals in 15 games. Trent DiCicco should be Utility Player of the Year, as he played the field lacrosse version of box lacrosse 's Transition player. DiCicco was a wing on faceoffs, a defensive midfielder at times, then scoring 8 goals on 16 shots as a Man Up stalwart.
That increase in production translated to the Man Up phase, with Ohio State converting an insane 55% of their opportunities. Why? The lefty Canadians. Between Reid, Knox, and DiCicco, the worst shooter by percentage was Reid at 44%. You're going to be excellent with that sort of talent, and clearly we saw the impact of that wealth of talent.
Defensively, the biggest change was a finally, FINALLY, a Buckeye goalie made good. The increase in offensive effectiveness certainly helped, but Skylar Wahlund, in what may or may not be his final ride, turned into a brick wall. After years of looking like a sieve, Wahlund turned the corner and kept Ohio State from getting embarrassed in several games.
Newcomer Bobby Van Buren was an absolute unit by season's end, after needing a few games to get settled in. Van Buren's insertion for George Walsh made all the difference, even though the Buckeyes remained shaky defensively all year. Tyler Gallagher was a one-year wonder, helping the Buckeyes look somewhat organized defensively despite constantly shuffling lineups.
The Man Down unit, shockingly, was absolutely stellar. I say shockingly, because the defense gave no indication that they could shut down opposing offenses completely. The Buckeyes held opponents to 25% on Man Up, which is absolutely bananas. They were markedly better stopping opponents than when 6 defenders were on the field. Overall, Ohio State ended up +14 in Special Teams goal differential, scoring 25 and allowing 11.
That about sums it up for analytical positives. Now, the negatives.
Ohio State struggled, REALLY struggled, to close games. Early in the season, Ohio State ran North Carolina out of the park because the Tar Heels were worse than anyone thought was possible in 2022. By the end, the formula was clear in big games. Ohio State would score early, and fade after halftime.
The last game Ohio State really ended well was the Dartmouth game, against the only Ivy League school with a terrible program. The Rutgers losses were entirely the result of second-half collapses.
Additionally, the Buckeyes were terrible clearing the ball. I am not even being hyperbolic. Ohio State cleared at an 87% clip, good for a tie with Vermont at 28th. Worse, the Buckeyes always seemed to turn it over at the worst possible time. No turnover is a good one, but some are more backbreaking than others.
Though goalie became a strength by season's end, the Buckeyes cannot say the same thing about faceoffs. Despite finishing in the top 10 for the year, Ohio State ended up at 58.6% for the year. The Buckeyes have been built on retaining possession after the faceoff over 60% of the time. Especially against strong teams. To be below 60% was always going to be a problem, especially when most big games ended up below 50% for the Buckeyes this year.
That's a recipe for disaster for most any team, and the Buckeyes just couldn't overcome this deficiency.
Worst of all, through the entire year, Ohio State couldn't hack it defensively. Against just about everyone. Skylar Wahlund papered over a lot of problems by saving shots that he shouldn't have seen in the first place. Slides were either late or nonexistent. On-ball defense was pretty stout by the poles. But off-ball was cripplingly bad. And you could see that in the Rutgers games.
As a team, Ohio State had some really good 2022 moments. Beating Notre Dame for the third time in a row was an absolute once-in-a-lifetime moment. That's something the seniors can rightfully say no other Buckeyes have done in the history of the team.
A victory over Harvard probably was what put Ohio State into the tournament. A two-game sweep of TTUN was sweet vengeance for last year and 2019. Crushing North Carolina was tremendous to see, and put the Buckeyes back on the map.
Losing to every higher-ranked team on the schedule after the Notre Dame game doomed the Buckeyes. The loss to Cornell, after losing again to Rutgers, was crushing. Now, part two.
This year's team was thrown for a loop when Griffin Hughes went down. He played 5 games, and the offense never recovered from his injury. But overall, this team was untalented and soft, physically and mentally. The few players who stood out were blanketed into irrelevance by opponents, and players 5-48 just didn't have it in them to step up.
After Allen, who got poled by Q2 late in the season, and Jack Myers, who got covered by the best defender on every opponent, there was no one worth a damn to make opponents worry. Two senior middies combined for a .231 shooting percentage on 91 shots. That's appalling.
Both players never quit, but were painfully unprepared for top-tier defensive attention. Their peers didn't even see the field enough for me to piss and moan about their inability to make an impact. The staff essentially missed on 3 whole recruiting classes.
No one's competing with national powers when you have essentially 3 offensive players that are scary, and no role players of note. And even those scary players look gassed by the middle of Q2. Watching Ohio State wilt away to nothingness while opponents ran all over them was incredibly frustrating.
That pales, though, to watching players jogging into the defensive zone less than a minute into a game against the undisputed number 1 team in the nation. As soon as I saw that happen, and Maryland absolutely sting the corner to score, I knew this year's team was toast. That was lazy, weak, uninspired defense from a unit that hasn't been good for 3 seasons.
This year's defense ranks 38th in goals allowed per game. The Wolverines lost 8 games in a row, and still allowed 20 fewer goals than OSU, albeit in 1 fewer game. For all the "Sled Dogs" talk, absolutely no team is quaking in its boots against the Buckeyes.
Shoot, if Tyler Gallagher hadn't committed, then things would have been even worse. As it stands, Ohio State has 1 good pole, 1 decent pole, and a whole lot of trash on defense. Goalie may or may not be a giant question mark also. What's Coach Crane going to do to fix his unit?
Most don't know what the defensive rotations are, half of the regulars can't track their man, and just about all of them can't handle more than one move from an offensive player with the ball. It's embarrassing.
Outside looking in, the entire team needs to be overhauled from a talent perspective. I can't imagine any senior offensive player not named Myers or Knox gets another year. Colby Smith may or may not have another year, I don't know for sure. If so, I think he would be welcomed back. Griffin Hughes is in the same boat.
Defensively, you keep Van Buren and Snyder, beg Wahlund to come back and keep up his late season form, then start over. The SSDMs are okay at best. The poles are bad ASUN level.
And grabbing a FOGO is paramount, since every competent faceoff player exhausted his eligibility. An overhaul is due, and I think that there will be some serious turnover, in addition to the freshmen who join in the fall. There's too much dead wood to move forward unchanged.
What we do know will remain constant is the man in charge. Nick Myers had his 5-year deal approved at the Board of Trustees committee meeting today, so he is locked in through 2027. Rest of staff is TBD, but we know what we're going to get. Let's embrace it.
Keep an eye on the transfer thread, as I am sure there will be a TON of activity once the tournament wraps up. As the off-season kicks off, gaze at the massive 2024 prospect board, and hope that the bigger names will give Ohio State the time of day this year. Next year will be here before you know it.