Five Things: Ohio State's Defense Not Up to the Task Once More As Ohio State Falls to Oregon at Home

By Chris Lauderback on September 12, 2021 at 10:45 am
Oregon's Kris Hutson quiets the Ohio Stadium crowd after a 30-yard reception.

Entering the game as a two-touchdown favorite, No. 3 Ohio State never held a lead during No. 12 Oregon's 35-28 win yesterday afternoon in sun-soaked Ohio Stadium. 

Losers of two of their last three games dating back to last season, Ohio State's defense has been an Achilles heel and yesterday was more of the same as Kerry Coombs' group was overmatched in both scheme and execution for most of the afternoon. 

Offensively, that put a ton of pressure on Buckeye quarterback C.J. Stroud and the rest of the offense and while the unit put up a ridiculous 612 yards of total offense, poor execution in key moments kept the point total to just 28. 

Buckeye Nation is obviously in an uproar - and rightfully so when it comes to Coombs' defense - but there should also be room to credit Mario Cristobal and certainly his offensive coordinator, Joe Moorhead, for coming in short-handed but with a perfect game plan which the Ducks executed to near-perfection. The more prepared team won yesterday. 

Normally, this is the part where I say "before we turn our attention to (insert next week's opponent)" but I know none of us are ready to do that quite yet. As always, here are Five Things from yesterday's disappointing outcome in the Shoe. 


Turns out, giving the defensive coordinator gig to a guy that's never been a defensive coordinator might've not been Ryan Day's best idea ever, although I'm sure Oregon offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead is cool with the decision. 

With Moorhead pulling the strings, Oregon amassed 505 total yards including 269 on the ground on a gaudy 7.1 yards per carry. 

After Oregon took a 14-7 lead into halftime via 245 total yards, the hope was Coombs and company would make some adjustments after repeatedly lining up in the same defense and getting beat on the same handful of plays. 

If any adjustments were made, they didn't work as Oregon score more points in the second half than the first (21 to 14), ran for more yards (167 to 102), averaged more yards per carry (8.4 to 5.7), fared better on third down (5/9, 56% to 3/7 43%) and averaged more yards per play (7.2 to 6.6) over the final two quarters. 

For the game, the Ducks posted touchdown drives of 65, 74, 75, 84 and NINETY-NINE yards. 

Oregon's 35 points were the second-fewest the Buckeyes have surrendered over the last three games dating back to last season. Minnesota posted 31 last week and of course Alabama tallied 52 in the CFP title. Over that same span, Coombs' defense is allowing 511 yards and 37 points per game. 

I also find it interesting there was so much talk of basically shortening the bench this week but it still felt like a lot of guys played on defense which has me wondering whether or not a team already void of even one star defender has clear-cut best players at most positions. I guess we'll see what the snap count report tells us in the coming days.

Coombs said in the postgame how he loves the scheme and loves the players but something has to change. No question, change needs to start tomorrow. 


I don't want to sit here and bitch for 1,600+ words about the defense so I'm going to find some positives. 

Considering how terrible Ohio State's pass defense was in 2020, it's been nice to see the 2021 group fare a little better through two games, particularly the cornerbacks. 

Minnesota's Tanner Morgan threw for just 205 yards last week with a weak 56% completion rate and Oregon's Anthony Brown wasn't much better, throwing for 236 yards via a dismal 49% completion rate (17 of 35). I know, I know, nobody's confusing that duo for Brady and Rodgers but still. 

Ohio State was without starting corners Sevyn Banks and Cam Brown last week and even this week, Banks was still out. 

That meant true freshman Denzel Burke and Brown did most of the heavy lifting at corner and the duo largely held up. Burke is showing a lot of promise and after three pass breakups last week, posted another yesterday. For his part, Brown logged three pass breakups versus the Ducks. 

Oregon's top two pass catchers yesterday were running back CJ Verdell (3 for 34) and tight end Spencer Webb (2 for 28). The top two wide receivers, Devon Williams and Jaylon Redd combined for just four catches four 53 yards on 13 targets. 

Yes, Ohio State's safety and middle linebacker (and strong side linebacker when used) situations leave a lot to be desired right now but the Buckeye pass defense hasn't been awful on the outside with Burke, Brown and Ryan Watts holding it down. 


Day lamented postgame not just Ohio State's inability to stop the run but the lack of production from its own rushing attack. 

Ohio State finished with 31 rush attempts for a lackluster 128 yards on 4.1 yards per carry. The 128 rushing yards serves as the worst output since 113 (on 32 attempts) in the 2019 Rose Bowl win over Washington. 

Sacks adjusted, Ohio State ran for 148 yards on 5.1 per carry and the combo of Miyan Williams and TreVeyon Henderson carried the rock 26 times for 131 yards, or 5.04 per try. 

In the second half, Williams and Henderson carried it 12 times for 67 yards, or 5.58 per attempt. So while Day felt like Ohio State couldn't run the ball, the fact is 5.58 in the second half isn't a bad average. 

The problem was that for four of Ohio State's six second half possessions (before the final two-play possession that is worthless to recall because the game was over), the Buckeyes were down 14 points and Day seemed to largely abandon the run. 

On those four possessions where Ohio State trailed by 14, Day dialed up 24 passes to 10 runs. During the final two possessions in which OSU trailed by seven, he called seven pass plays and two runs. Of course, time was running short at that point. 

None of this is meant to be critical of Day. He's obviously an expert play caller. It's just more that I'm not sure the running game was as bad as it seemed, particularly in the second half, and it's tough to call run plays when you're down two scores for what I'm sure felt like an eternity. 

All this said, with the issues Ohio State has on defense and the fact it still features a green signal-caller in Stroud, the Buckeyes need the offensive line to be elite, not just good, every single week to ensure Williams and Henderson eat. 


In his second career start, C.J. Stroud put up the second-most passing yards by a Buckeye quarterback in school history with 484, completing 35 of 54 attempts with three touchdowns and one costly pick. 

And just like last week, the game unfolded in the opposite manner in which Day hoped as the Buckeyes got behind and were basically forced to lean on Stroud way more than they'd prefer. 

Still, Stroud, for the most part, looked less timid/anxious than last week. He wasn't perfect and it's certainly suboptimal that his bad throws are usually high and hard, making them susceptible to picks. 

He completed 73% of his throws in the first half (16-for-22) with a touchdown but with the offense playing from down two scores for much of second half and largely going away from the run as already discussed, he completed a only 59% of his second half tosses (19-for-32) albeit for 294 yards with two touchdowns and the also noted pick. 

Stroud threw for 12 straight completions with two touchdowns during a stretch spanning midway through the second quarter into early in the third. The first score, a 27-yard strike to Garrett Wilson tied the game at 7-7 and the second, a 26-yarder to Jaxon Smith-Njigba, cut Oregon's lead to 21-14, immediately answering CJ Vardell's 77-yard run to start the second half. 

Over Ohio State's final three possessions - though the third and final started with 20 seconds left and was doomed from the start - Stroud completed just 4-of-8 throws for 47 yards and the pick.  

Bottom line is Stroud wasn't bad overall and was pretty damn good for stretches despite not being 100%. He was victimized by a couple drops, made a couple mistakes and late/bad throws, was too greedy on some third downs in what likely were four down scenarios, and was put in a position where he had to throw it 54 times in his second career start. 

Through two games, he's completed 63.2% of his throws for 778 yards with seven touchdowns against two interceptions. He's not Justin Fields but he's not the team's glaring issue. 


Last season as a true freshman, slot receiver Smith-Njigba recorded 10 catches for a shockingly low 49 yards in seven games. He did give fans a glimpse of his outstanding hands and body control with an acrobatic touchdown on his second career reception in a win over Nebraska. 

All spring and fall however, the talk was JSN had arrived and was ready to do serious damage as the third option behind All-American wide receivers Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson. 

The premonition didn't come to fruition in week one as Smith-Njigba recorded two catches for a modest 12 yards but yesterday was a completely different story. 

Despite Olave (12 for 126) and Wilson (8 for 117) doing work on a combined 30 targets, JSN was a huge factor hauling in seven catches for 145 yards and two touchdowns in 11 targets. 

After his longest grab was 15 yards last year, JSN posted four catches of at least 20 yards while his shortest was 12 yards versus the Ducks. 

Olave, Wilson and Smith-Njigba became the first Ohio State trio to go for at least 100 yards receiving in the same game. 


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