Ohio State Offense Roars Back to Form, Rivals Season’s Best Performances in Destruction of Purdue

By Griffin Strom on November 13, 2021 at 9:05 pm
C.J. Stroud and Garrett Wilson
Barbara J. Perenic/Columbus Dispatch/USA TODAY NETWORK

It didn’t take long for Ohio State’s offense to rinse out any sour taste left over from the past two weeks.

Six minutes and nine seconds into Saturday’s matchup with Purdue, the Buckeyes had already equaled the touchdown totals they produced on offense against both Penn State and Nebraska. Less than three-and-a-half minutes of game time later, Ohio State surpassed that number with its third score of the opening quarter. With nine minutes to play in the first half, the Buckeyes had finished all six of their drives with touchdowns, only breaking that streak to tack on a field goal before halftime.

Purdue scored 17 points of its own in the first half, with some impressive numbers in the passing game to boot. But Ohio State’s 45-point total rendered all of them utterly irrelevant.

The Buckeyes didn’t have as extraordinary a second half, but in the end, the damage came out to 624 yards – tied for their most of the season – and eight touchdowns with just one punt on the night. Ohio State scored points on nine of its 11 drives, and one of the other two drives was the final drive of the game, on which the Buckeyes had the ball on the Purdue 8-yard line but chose to kneel down and run out the clock.

“At the end of the day, I feel like as an offense, this was our best game,” C.J. Stroud said after the win.

Perhaps the most frustrating trend for the Buckeye offense against Penn State and Nebraska was its failure to punch the ball into the end zone when it had the ball in the red zone. Ohio State reached Purdue’s 25-yard line on five different drives in the opening half, and punched in touchdowns on four of them.

Ohio State opened the game with a 21-yard touchdown pass to Garrett Wilson, who went on to finish the day with four total scores, and TreVeyon Henderson punched in a touchdown on a 3-yard run on the very next drive. Back in the red zone early in the second quarter, Stroud hit Jaxon Smith-Njigba for a 20-yard score, and Wilson hauled in a 12-yarder in the end zone just 14 seconds later following a special teams turnover.

“We had challenges the past two weeks. Well, not challenges, but we wanted to do more on the offensive side,” Smith-Njigba said. “So we emphasized that in practice and we were at full force and we were ready to go this week.”

The Buckeyes got right back to the red zone on their opening drive of the second half, and Stroud went right back to Wilson, who snatched some Boilermaker ankles en route to another touchdown on a catch-and-run score. The final touchdown of the game punctuated a trip to the red zone once again, as Stroud found Chris Olave for a 5-yard score.

“That’s what we’re striving for,” Ryan Day said after the game. “We want to make sure every drive we’re scoring touchdowns, and it was much better tonight.”

When Ohio State wasn’t scoring from short-range, it was doing so from behind the midfield marker. Henderson was shot out of a cannon on a shotgun handoff in the first quarter on which he went untouched to the end zone on a 57-yard dash to the left. Wilson had a 51-yard touchdown run of his own in the second quarter, taking an end-around to the outside and then all the way to the goal line.

In fact, the run game as a whole was redeemed from back-to-back sluggish performances in the past two weeks. Ohio State failed to reach 100 yards on the ground against Nebraska, but finished the first half against Purdue with 174 yards in the run game. After scoring no rushing touchdowns for the first time all season against the Huskers, the Buckeyes had three at halftime against Purdue.

Henderson, who had been limited to fewer than five yards a carry in the previous two games, ended Saturday with the type of performance Ohio State fans have come to expect from the true freshman. Henderson finished with 98 yards and two touchdowns on just 13 carries.

Not to be outdone, Miyan Williams had his second career 100-yard rushing performance, leading the Buckeyes with 117 yards on 14 carries, though the bulk of that work came in the fourth quarter.

With 263 yards on the ground, the Buckeyes had their best team rushing performance since their third game of the season against Tulsa, and their second-best of the year overall.

Despite putting up numbers against Penn State and Nebraska that would make most other quarterbacks blush, Stroud received his share of criticism after those games, as he tossed two picks against Nebraska and overthrew his share of targets during sputtering offensive efforts overall. Against the No. 15 pass defense in the country on Saturday, though, Stroud returned to Heisman contender form, finishing with 361 yards and five touchdowns while completing 31 of his 38 pass attempts.

“I thought C.J. had the best preparation of the season this week. He was on his game,” Day said. “They brought some different things that made it challenging, but he really put a lot of work in, and I was glad to see it get paid off like that.”

Stroud didn’t do it by himself, as multiple members of his wide receiver corps aided him with standout plays and monster statistical evenings in their own right. On the heels of an all-time record-setting 15-catch day against Nebraska last week, Smith-Njigba had another night to remember, leading the Buckeyes with 139 receiving yards on nine catches.

Wilson’s four-touchdown game saw him finish with 177 yards from scrimmage, a new career-high, with a season-high 126 receiving yards making up the bulk of the production.

On any other night, Chris Olave’s stat line would have looked stupendous. With nine catches for 85 yards and a touchdown on Saturday, the California native was something of a third banana during another excellent showing from Brian Hartline’s loaded position room.

“It’s just real scary. I feel like it’s hard for defenses to cover all of us,” Smith-Njigba said. “It doesn’t really matter if I’m covered; someone’s open, usually. That’s what we work on and that’s what we do.”

Aside from the wideouts, Stroud also benefited from the play of an offensive line that gave up no sacks against George Karlaftis and the rest of the Boilermaker defensive front.

The last two efforts of the Ohio State offense going into Saturday were not quite poor enough to result in Buckeye losses, but they might have been if the defense had not limited the opposing offenses to low-scoring outputs. Against Purdue, the Buckeye defense was not as stout, allowing 30 or more points for the first time since Week 2, and 481 total yards.

However, when the Buckeye offense is firing on cylinders – as it has more often than not in 2021 – there don’t appear to be all that many teams around the country that could hope to keep pace.

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