Ohio State’s Offense Maintains Astounding Consistency While Defense Controls Field-Position Battle in Indiana Rout

By Dan Hope on October 24, 2021 at 1:59 am
C.J. Stroud and Chris Olave
Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch/USA TODAY NETWORK

On Ohio State’s opening drive of the third quarter of Saturday night’s game in Bloomington, Indiana’s defense accomplished something that no one had accomplished in two-and-a-half games.

For the first time since C.J. Stroud took a week off against Akron and returned to the starting lineup against Rutgers, Ohio State was forced to punt after a possession on which Stroud was on the field with the first-team offense.

In Ohio State’s previous two games against Rutgers and Maryland, the only times the Ohio State offense took the field with Stroud at quarterback and left without points were when the Buckeyes let the clock run out at the end of the first half. Ohio State scored touchdowns on all six of its first-half possessions against Indiana on Saturday night. Effectively, the Buckeyes’ first-team offense scored on 21 straight possessions across three games, scoring touchdowns on 20 of them, before Indiana forced that third-quarter three-and-out.

By that point, though, it was far too late for Indiana to have any chance of making a comeback in Saturday night’s game, as the Buckeyes’ six touchdowns in the first half – along with a safety on a botched punt by Indiana – gave Ohio State a commanding 44-7 halftime lead. Aside from that defensive stop, the Hoosiers never got anything else going in the second half, allowing Ohio State to cruise to a 54-7 victory.

Many of the same things that I wrote about Ohio State’s offense after the Buckeyes’ 66-17 win over Maryland two weeks ago could be written again after Saturday’s 47-point victory at Indiana. Once again, Ohio State’s offense was just about perfect, ultimately scoring touchdowns on seven of its first eight possessions before Stroud exited the game. The Buckeyes, who already led the nation in both points and yards per game before Saturday night’s 54-point, 539-yard outing, continued to make a strong case that they have the best offense in college football this year.

Stroud had another spectacular performance against Indiana, completing 21 of 28 passing attempts for 266 yards and four touchdowns, and has now thrown 14 touchdown passes with zero interceptions in Ohio State’s last three games. Freshman running back TreVeyon Henderson also continued to shine, gaining 95 yards and scoring three touchdowns on just 10 touches. Once again, the Buckeyes showed they could dominate defenses by both air and ground as they finished the night with 352 passing yards (Kyle McCord added 51 and Jack Miller added 35) and 187 rushing yards.

Ohio State’s offense has been astoundingly consistent since Stroud got a week off to get his shoulder healthy, and Ryan Day attributes that to the high standard the Buckeyes hold themselves to, which is to execute as consistently as possible.

“Really, it’s just a matter of going out there every single day in practice and trying to execute at a high level, being really hard on ourselves,” Day said. “Our standard is hard. If we don’t complete a pass or if we miss a protection or something like that, we’re hard on ourselves.”

It wasn’t just Ohio State’s offense that was spectacular against Indiana, though, as the Buckeyes’ defense held the Hoosiers to just 128 total yards, the lowest total of yards they’ve allowed in a game since 2017, when they held Illinois to only 105 yards. After Indiana drove 75 yards for a touchdown on its opening possession of the game, the Hoosiers crossed midfield just once on their remaining 10 possessions of the night.

Surely, Indiana’s quarterback situation played a huge part in that, as Michael Penix Jr. did not play due to a separated shoulder while Jack Tuttle was injured in the process of throwing the Hoosiers’ lone touchdown pass of the night. Although Tuttle was eventually able to return to the game, the Hoosiers’ signal-callers for most of the rest of the game were true freshman Donaven McCulley and walk-on Grant Gremel, Indiana’s third- and fourth-string quarterbacks.

Nonetheless, it was a dominant night for Ohio State’s defense, as the Buckeyes limited the Hoosiers to just 48 rushing yards on 37 attempts and 80 passing yards on 17 throws.

That defensive play allowed the Buckeyes to control the field position all night, while a 42-yard kick return by Emeka Egbuka and a 20-yard punt return by Garrett Wilson allowed Ohio State to start two of its seven touchdown drives on Indiana’s side of the field. It’s easier for an offense to score consistently when its defense is putting it in positions to succeed, and Day believes the complementary football the Buckeyes played gave them more confidence on both sides of the ball.

“That, to me, is where you just play with the ultimate confidence. When you’re getting the ball back at midfield like that, that’s kind of the way it felt in ‘19, and that’s the way it felt again tonight,” Day said. “You feel it on the sideline. There’s just so much confidence. And then the minute we get the ball back, we feel like we’re gonna score. When you get a three-and-out or you get a turnover, it steamrolls, and that’s a great feeling as a coach. When we can get those stops like that, it makes a huge difference.

“I think the defense has confidence in the offense, the offense is getting a lot of confidence in the defense, we feel like we’re playing pretty good on special teams. When you feel like that, when you’re not on your own, you have a bunch of guys with you, that’s when you have that confidence.”

Ohio State must continue working as hard as it has to get to this point, though, as there’s a tougher test coming next week. While Penn State lost in college football’s first-ever nine-overtime game on Saturday, the Nittany Lions will be the best defensive team Ohio State has played all season, as they’ve held their opponents to only 14.4 points per game through seven games. So while the Buckeyes’ offense has been nearly unstoppable so far in October, Day knows his team is going to need to continue to play well in all three phases next Saturday.

“We know that we gotta get back there and get our rest and we gotta get right back on this field here with Penn State because they have a very, very good defense,” Day said. “This is going to be the biggest challenge of the year coming up. So it’s good, we do have some confidence and we are playing at a high level, but that’s not gonna mean anything if we don’t do it again next week.”

View 52 Comments