Ohio State Must Improve After Second-Game Loss to Oregon, But 2021 Season is Far From Over

By Dan Hope on September 11, 2021 at 7:17 pm
C.J. Stroud

Ohio State’s 2021 season is far from over.

Yes, the Buckeyes suffered a 35-28 loss in their second game of the season against Oregon on Saturday. Yes, the Ohio State defense clearly still has major issues, as evidenced by the five touchdowns and 505 yards allowed in Saturday’s game. And with 10 games still to play in the regular season, the Buckeyes have no more margin for error if they’re going to make the College Football Playoff.

But you only have to go back seven years to see that a non-conference loss in September is far from a fatal blow to Ohio State’s national championship hopes. Just like on Saturday, the Buckeyes lost their home opener in their second game of the year in 2014, and few would have guessed after that 35-21 loss to Virginia Tech that Ohio State would win the first-ever College Football Playoff that season. But the Buckeyes got better and better as the year progressed and ended up winning every game they played for the rest of the season.

Ohio State defensive tackle Haskell Garrett reminded his team about that after Saturday’s loss.

“We got a long season. This ain’t COVID anymore,” Garrett said. “Our main objective is still there. We need to get to Indy. It’s a non-conference game. We’re gonna take this as a lesson, we’re gonna get on the film and nobody should be hanging their heads low. Hang your heads high. All this is is a lesson. We need to get on the film tomorrow. Make the proper corrections. We’re gonna put it behind us, and then go play the next game. It is what it is. They did it in ‘14. We need to do it in 2021.”

Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud took that message to heart.

“We’re gonna stick together,” Stroud said. “We’re not gonna point fingers. It starts on my behalf to lead the team as a quarterback.”

Whether the Buckeyes actually are capable of bouncing back in the same way the 2014 team did remains entirely uncertain. When the Buckeyes also suffered a non-conference home opener loss in their second game of the year against Oklahoma in 2017, that loss ultimately kept them out of the CFP when they lost another game at Iowa. They’ll likely need to win 11 games in a row, including the Big Ten Championship Game, to make their third straight CFP this year.

It’s also an unprecedented situation for Ryan Day as Ohio State’s head coach, as he did not lose any regular-season games in his first two seasons leading the program. His ability to keep the team together and lead the Buckeyes to necessary improvement will be put to the test. 

Day says that process starts by just going back to work on Sunday.

“I think when you go through adversity, you find out a lot about your team,” Day said. “You find out a lot about your leadership. And while this hurts, it feels awful, it’s unacceptable, the thing you’re gonna find out is about your team and who the leaders are and who are the guys that are with you, because at times like this, there’s a lot of finger-pointing goes on. When things are going well, it’s easy to lead, but when things don’t go well, that’s when you have to show resolve and resilience. And so that’s gonna be a lesson for our guys in this game right here, coming out of this game. This is not fatal, but it certainly hurts. It’s unacceptable. We gotta get it fixed.”

“They did it in ‘14. We need to do it in 2021.”– Haskell Garrett on bouncing back from a second-game loss

The biggest problems Ohio State needs to fix certainly look to be on the defensive side of the ball, as the Buckeyes have now given up more than 30 points, over 200 passing yards and over 200 rushing yards in each of their first two games. Day said that ultimately falls back on him as the head coach, but it’s certainly Kerry Coombs’ responsibility too as defensive coordinator, and he acknowledged after Saturday’s loss that his unit has to be better.

“We have to play better. And when we say we have to play better, I’m not blaming the players,” Coombs said. “The standard of our defense is one of excellence. The Silver Bullet standard is very high. And so I have to do a better job.

“I don’t think there’s any question that we have to do things differently going forward. Obviously the result today is not acceptable. So we have to do things differently. Absolutely.”

The Buckeye defenders still believe their unit will improve enough for the Buckeyes to consistently win games going forward.

“We have a lot of work to do,” linebacker Teradja Mitchell said. “But that’s something that we’re looking forward to. And we’re ready to get back to practice tomorrow and fix the mistakes.”

Ohio State’s offense certainly has to become more efficient, too, considering the Buckeyes scored just four touchdowns on 612 yards against Oregon. And like Mitchell, Stroud – who threw for a whopping 484 yards on Saturday, but also made some errors on key plays including a late fourth-quarter interception that all but sealed the Ducks’ victory – said that starts with improvement on the practice field.

“Practice has to be better,” Stroud said. “Definitely on my part, we have to be very precise on everything. Not that it isn’t like that, but we could be even better. So on my part, I have to make sure the offense is as sturdy as possible, and we have to be on point with everything.”

Like Garrett said, though, all of Ohio State’s goals are still in front of it. The Buckeyes still control their own destiny in the Big Ten, with one conference game already in the win column, and it’s unlikely one loss to an Oregon team that will certainly be ranked in the top 10 nationally come Sunday will keep them out of the playoff on its own.

Ohio State didn’t play like a championship-caliber team on Saturday, and it has to get a lot better if it’s going to become one. That said, it’s likely to be at least a few weeks before the Buckeyes face another team that will seriously challenge them; Tulsa and Akron are next on the schedule, giving them opportunities to improve before they get into the heart of conference play.

There’s still a long way to go in Ohio State’s 2021 season, and the Buckeyes can’t let one loss – albeit their first regular-season loss in three years – derail that.

“We have to learn from this,” Day said. “We have to grow from this. We still have a lot of football left. And we gotta figure out, get on the film and figure out where the execution issues were and get them fixed.”


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