Five Things: Fits and Starts

By Chris Lauderback on September 1, 2019 at 10:30 am
Justin Fields on the move.
Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Ohio State won its 20th-straight season opener – the longest active streak in the FBS – with a 45-21 decision over Florida Atlantic in Ryan Day's first game as permanent head coach. 

The Buckeyes sprinted out to a 28-0 first quarter lead behind first-year starting quarterback Justin Fields and a new defensive scheme that even in its simplest form, gave the Owls fits for the entirety of the first half as Lane Kiffin's attack went 3-and-out on seven of nine possessions, mustering only a field goal. 

Spackled around all those positives, the offense did run into its fair share of struggles and the defense, which did rotate a ton of reserves and kept it vanilla to a avoid giving Cincinnati much of a look, surrendered points on three of five second half series' and generally looked sluggish after smothering Kiffin's squad in the first half. 

But hey, just because Urban's gone doesn't mean it still isn't on point to say that the best thing about being 1-0 is a chance to go 2-0. 

With that, here are Five Things from yesterday's first real taste of the 2019 Buckeyes. 


Even with the curiosity surrounding Ohio State's revamped defense, all eyes were on Justin Fields as he made his Buckeye debut and the kid delivered connecting on 18-of-25 throws for 234 yards and four touchdowns with another 61 yards on 12 carries with a touchdown. 

Fields announced himself to fans with a 51-yard touchdown run on the game's fourth play before recording touchdown passes on each of Ohio State's next three possessions making it 28-0 good guys with 6:50 still remaining in the opening quarter. 

Jeremy Ruckert was the recipient of Fields' first toss, a 25-yard strike down the middle, before he connected with Binjimen Victor on a perfectly placed out route that turned into a 32-yard score after the Victor's defender gambled and failed on a deflection attempt. Chris Olave would get in on the party on the next OSU possession hauling in a 29-yarder with no defender in sight. 

Fields' final touchdown of the day came on a short toss to Ruckert making it 35-6 Ohio State late in the third quarter. 

Behind those highlights, it's worth noting Fields didn't throw a pick on the day, he showed some toughness standing tall in the pocket and releasing a couple throws just before getting smacked by a free defender. One in particular was a dime to Olave on a fairly deep shot up the right sideline that just bounced away from his outstretched hands. 

While I frankly expected Fields to be more consistent chewing up yards on the ground he did have a couple nice runs beyond the 51-yard gallop and he avoided two sacks by sensing pressure from his blindside and spinning backward to evade the defender at the last instant. 

On the work-in-progress side of things, he took one sack when he could've easily thrown the ball away and while it's hard to definitively say without knowing the play call, there were a few occasions in which he handed the ball off to the tailback on what at least appeared to be a read option when keeping the ball could've generated chunk plays. Hell, maybe Day told him to hand it off period after he took a couple of those hard shots. 

Overall, lots to be excited about from a five-touchdown performance in game one. 


It's well-documented how Jeff Okudah finished up last season on a steep upward trajectory which prompted a wave of NFL talent evaluators calling him a potential top-10 in next year's NFL Draft. 

Okudah was all over the field in the first half as Ohio State’s defense held Florida Atlantic to eight yards passing and -14 total yards.  

Okudah flashed tight coverage on John Mitchell to force an incompletion on a 2nd-and-9 play on the Owls’ second possession leading to a 3-and-out.

Two series later, he smacked Larry McCammon after a two-yard catch with the impact forcing a fumble. The Owls would recover but on the next play, Okudah blew up a 3rd-and-2 play as he blasted the slats out from under receiver John Raine for a one-yard loss to force another 3-and-out.

For the half, Okudah tallied three stops, a TFL, a PBU and a forced fumble. And he did it with bad intentions. I thought his tackling was sharp, very physical and aggressive. He brought the wood a couple times, taking controlled yet still aggressive angles eliminating any forward progress. 

If all goes as planned, you've only got a couple more months to enjoy what this kid brings to the table. 


It’s important to remember the offensive line is breaking in four new starters in left guard Jonah Jackson, center Josh Myers, right guard Wyatt Davis and right tackle Branden Bowen. Yes, Davis started the last two games of 2018 so you could maybe say three new starters but either way, it’s a group that hasn’t played together much.

Things started off great as the line helped Fields and company score four touchdowns on the first four possessions, with none of those drives lasting longer than 1:53 of game time but then Florida Atlantic dialed up some more blitzes and started winning one-on-one matchups up front.

With the timing of many plays thrown off by a lack of push or containment up front, the offense limped into halftime going punt, punt, fumble, punt, fumble with none of those possessions accruing over 40 yards including three 3-and-outs.

Pretty much everyone except Thayer Munford had their ups and downs. From my perspective, Jackson had the roughest outing struggling to win one-on-one battles including a whiff on his man that paved the way for J.K. Dobbins’ fumble on Ohio State’s last possession before the half.

Davis had a holding flag on the first possession of the second half turning a 2nd-and-1 into a 2nd-and-11 and eventual punt and the collective group had a hard time partnering with the backs to account for all the blitzers Lane Kiffin brought.

On the day, Dobbins averaged 4.3 yards per carry and the collective running game averaged 4.9 per tote which is at least better than last season’s 4.2 average but this group obviously needs (and will) keep developing.

Right now, in a very limited sample size, I think it's fair to say this is the most worrisome position group. 


On the other side of the ball, Ohio State’s defensive line had a strong first outing helping hold the Owls to 22 rushing yards on 0.7 per carry. Sack adjusted totals weren’t much better; 65 yards on 2.2 per carry.

The main players in Larry Johnson’s rotation were outstanding as Florida Atlantic logged 19 rushing attempts for -22 yards in the first half. In fact, FAU's output of 31 rushing yards in the fourth quarter helped get them on the positive side of the ledger for the game.

As expected, Chase Young was a force with five tackles and 1.5 sacks. Not quite as expected, Jashon Cornell showed his versatility up front logging four tackles, two TFL, one sack and a forced fumble. He really had a hell of a day, creating havoc and disrupting FAU's timing seemingly at will. 

Robert Landers (three tackles) and Davon Hamilton also showed up in the middle, taking on blockers and clogging running lanes. In mop up duty, I thought Antwuan Jackson also had a nice day with three stops including a TFL.

Overall, the front four set the tone for a defense that held FAU to -14 total yards in the first half despite rarely if ever blitzing and running basic sets in an effort to keep Cincinnati from getting too much useful film.  


Penalties were chronically pervasive during Meyer's tenure with last year setting the lowest bar as Ohio State ranked No. 127 out of 130 FBS teams in penalty yards per game (75.4) and 125th in penalties per game (8.3). 

Yesterday, Day's squad tallied seven accepted penalties for 62 yards. 

The Buckeyes were on a good path playing a penalty-free first quarter but early in the second quarter (and maybe in a nod to Meyer) the punt team was flagged for delay of game. 

On Ohio State's next offensive series, Fields found Olave on an 18-yard comeback route to the FAU 4 but the sophomore receiver was whistled for pass interference, wiping out the big play. Ohio State turned the ball over on the next play. 

Davon Hamilton joined the party in the third quarter roughing FAU quarterback Chris Robison after he completed a 26-yard pass helping the Owls move from midfield to the OSU 12 on one snap. 

As noted earlier, Wyatt Davis picked up a holding call making a 2nd-and-1 and 2nd-and-11 and then OSU earned another delay of game on the next play. 

In the fourth quarter, with Ohio State staring at 1st-and-10 from the FAU 22, right tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere was called for holding during a 5-yard Fields run setting up a 1st-and-20 from the FAU 32. Four plays later, the Buckeyes were forced to kick a field goal. 

Finally, with about a minute left in regulation, Matthew Jones was whistled for a false start. 

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