Noah Ruggles’ Reliability Plays Crucial Role for Ohio State in Back-to-Back Wins

By Dan Hope on November 6, 2021 at 7:08 pm
Noah Ruggles

For the third year in a row, a player who transferred to Ohio State in the offseason is making a major impact for the Buckeyes. This one, though, didn’t come with nearly as much fanfare as the last two.

When Justin Fields transferred to Ohio State in 2019, he was expected to be the star quarterback that he ultimately proved to be. When Trey Sermon transferred to Ohio State in 2020, he was expected to be the key player that he ultimately became, leading the Buckeyes in rushing and almost singlehandedly leading Ohio State to a Big Ten Championship Game win over Northwestern by breaking the school rushing record.

Noah Ruggles’ transfer to Ohio State in June, on the other hand, wasn’t hyped up as a roster move that would change the course of the Buckeyes’ season. At the time, he wasn’t even guaranteed to be the Buckeyes’ kicker, as he competed with Jake Seibert for the kicking job in the preseason. If any transfer was going to make a major impact for the 2021 Buckeyes, most expected it would be former USC linebacker Palaie Gaoteote, who’s instead been a backup for his first nine games for a Buckeye (though he did have four tackles on Saturday against Nebraska).

In Ohio State’s last two games, however, Ruggles has proved to be a crucial addition for the Buckeyes – one that they might not have an 8-1 record without.

After making four field goals to help lead Ohio State to a nine-point win over Penn State last week, Ruggles did the exact same thing against Nebraska on Saturday, when he made all four of his field goal attempts – including a pair of 46-yard kicks – to help lead Ohio State to a 26-17 win on a day where the Buckeyes scored just two offensive touchdowns for the second game in a row. By contrast, Ruggles' Nebraska counterpart, Chase Contreraz, made just one of his three field goal attempts.

In the process, Ruggles – who is now 15-for-15 on field goals for the season – became the first kicker in Ohio State history to make four field goals in back-to-back games.

Ohio State hasn’t had to rely on its kicker to win games often in recent years. Before last week’s game against Penn State, last year’s game against Northwestern – in which Blake Haubeil went 3-of-4 in a 22-10 win – was the only time Ohio State had even attempted four field goals in a game since Drew Basil went 4-for-5 in Ohio State’s 26-21 win over Michigan in 2012.

Ryan Day surely would have preferred not to have to do so in both of the last two games. The reason why the Buckeyes had to do so was because they managed to score just two offensive touchdowns in both games – something that had only happened two total times in Day’s tenure as head coach before the last two games – even though the Buckeyes crossed midfield 10 times against Penn State and nine times against Nebraska.

Fortunately for Ohio State, it was still able to turn a majority of its drives into Nebraska territory into points because of the rock-solid consistency of Ruggles. Day said his confidence in the special teams standout influenced Ohio State’s play calling on its final scoring drive of the day, when Ruggles made his second 46-yard kick of the game to turn a one-score lead into a two-score lead with just 1:29 to play. The kick all but sealed Ohio State’s victory, after TreVeyon Henderson gained 11 yards on a 3rd-and-16 screen pass.

“When your defense is playing well, then you can play a little bit to that,” Day said. “On that screen pass, we were just trying to get them into field goal range somewhere inside of 50 yards, and it’s a good feeling when you have a guy that you feel strong about, and he’s been coming through the last couple of games.”

Day might have been more hesitant to have Ruggles kick 46-yard field goals in a close game earlier in the season, as both Day and special teams coordinator Parker Fleming indicated going into the year that their focus was making sure that their kicker would be able to make short field goals consistently rather than whether he would have the range to make long field goals.

Now that Ruggles is nine games into his Ohio State career and still hasn’t missed a single kick, however, he’s earned the trust of Day that the Buckeyes can rely on him to make a field goal when they need him to – which they’ve needed him to often in the past two games.

“He’s become a weapon for us. And that’s huge,” Day said. “You have to have that in big games when it gets tight. You’d like to sit here and think you’re gonna blow out every team. It doesn’t work that way. These teams are too good. And so every point counts, every possession counts and to get three points is huge, especially when your defense is playing well like they did today.”

Day acknowledged after the game that he did not think the Buckeyes would not rely on Ruggles so heavily in multiple games when they brought him in as a transfer, and Ruggles said he didn’t expect that either. The last two games have been a big change for Ruggles from the first seven games, in which he kicked just seven total field goals.

If Ruggles can continue his consistency, he could be on his way to breaking Ohio State’s single-season record for field goal percentage, which was set by Basil when he made nine of 10 field goal attempts in 2013. Ruggles, though, says he isn’t thinking about his statistics or setting any records or even the situation in the game when he’s kicking; he’s just trying to do his job consistently every time, and that approach has served him well so far.

“Every kick’s the same to me,” Ruggles said. “Even in those pressure situations, I try to just make it seem like any other kick, and I think that’s why it works.”

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