Offensive Errors, Red Zone Woes Rear Their Head Again in Ohio State’s Win Against Nebraska

By Griffin Strom on November 6, 2021 at 6:54 pm
C.J. Stroud
© Dylan Widger-USA TODAY Sports

Stoic and straight-faced in Saturday’s post-game press conference, C.J. Stroud’s demeanor did not match the satisfaction he expressed verbally.

The Buckeyes notched another hard-earned win against a tough out in the Big Ten with a 26-17 victory over Nebraska on the road. But beyond the end result, another uncharacteristic performance from the Ohio State offense explained the mixed emotions harbored by the Buckeye quarterback immediately afterwards.

For the second straight week, the previously high-powered Ohio State offense mustered just two touchdowns all game. More troubling is that the Buckeyes did not find the end zone at all in the second half and failed to score a touchdown on their final nine drives to end the game. In fact, Ohio State’s 26 points were the fewest it has scored in a regular season game since a 26-6 win over Michigan State in November 2018.

“I’m not smiling right now, because of course I wanted to do more, and I feel like I shouldn’t have forced the ball on some of those plays,” Stroud said. “I’m happy we won at the end of the day. You win, you move on, it’s like March Madness. Definitely got to enjoy the win, but we have to play a lot better.”

Ohio State’s 1-for-6 touchdown conversion rate in the red zone against the Nittany Lions was alarming, but appeared likely to be a one-off. That proved not to be the case against Nebraska, as the Buckeyes broke the plane on just one of three trips to the red zone and wound up settling for field goals on four drives into Husker territory.

With the run game sputtering all afternoon, much like it did against Penn State, Stroud was asked to shoulder a considerable load on his shoulders Saturday, throwing the ball 54 times just as he did in the loss to Oregon. Stroud completed 36 of those passes for 406 yards and a pair of touchdown passes against Nebraska, but those stats hardly tell the whole story.

Stroud threw two interceptions – his first since Week 3 against Tulsa – including one in the first quarter and one in the fourth. After the game, Stroud pointed the blame at no one but himself for those mistakes.

“Some things weren’t clicking in the run game, and they put it on me to execute the pass game,” Stroud said. “I feel like we did that well. Of course we had two turnovers, which was blatantly my fault. But other than that, we played really well. Definitely we got to start executing and finishing drives, I feel, but for the most part, I feel like as an offense, we played well.”

Luckily for the Buckeyes, neither of those turnovers resulted in points for Nebraska. But the California native nearly made his most costly error on a crucial play in the final two minutes of the ballgame.

Holding onto a slim 23-17 lead, Ryan Day elected to pass the ball on 1st-and-10 from the Nebraska 34-yard line. Stroud had the ball quickly dislodged from his hand on a sack from the Husker pass-rush, and a mad scramble for possession ensued from both teams. Second-year center Luke Wypler fell on the ball, Noah Ruggles hit an eventual field goal and crisis was narrowly averted.

“If we have a little bit more protection, there was something coming open there,” Ohio State head coach Ryan Day said. “I thought we had the right coverage, and we just didn’t execute. So we got to do a better job there.”

That was far from the only ugly scene for the Buckeye offense on Saturday.

After racking up self-inflicted wounds in the form of seven penalties on offense against the Nittany Lions, Ohio State would’ve had seven once again Saturday if not for the Cornhuskers declining two of them.

The Buckeye offense still finished with five penalties, including two holding calls, an ineligible receiver downfield penalty, an intentional grounding and a delay of game. Three of those backed the Buckeye offense up when it was in Nebraska territory, and another stalled Ohio State just before midfield.

“Certainly too many penalties on offense, just shooting ourselves in the foot across the board,” Day said.

Although the offensive line was not to blame for all of the Buckeye penalties, the unit had plenty of troubles anyway against the Huskers, who were credited with two sacks and four quarterback hurries. Stroud was flushed out of the pocket on numerous occasions Saturday and had several additional passes that came close to being picked off in addition to his two interceptions.

Stroud’s decision-making will certainly be dissected following the win, but the Buckeyes’ lack of consistency on the ground did him no favors.

Ohio State finished with 90 yards rushing on a total of 30 attempts for the day, which was not only the Buckeyes’ first game without topping the century mark on the ground this season, but the first time they’ve failed to do so since 2018’s 49-20 upset loss to Purdue.

“I’ll have to go back and look at it and see exactly what it was. I think we can do a better job with the runs, right now we’re not getting as much as we’d like on it,” Day said. “We’ll go back and figure that out.”

Much like last week, Day thought the final score could have been a lot more lopsided if the Buckeye offense had played as cleanly as it did through most of the month of October.

But once again, Stroud, Day and the Buckeyes are much happier reflecting on their struggles in a close win than they are after a loss.

“We’re gonna watch it and think, ‘Boy, we could’ve won it by three touchdowns or more if cleaned some things up,’” Day said. “But this is a good team, they’re a good defense. We knew that coming in. I said that, and I believe it.”

View 177 Comments