A Deep Dive Into 2021's Strangest Stats Can Tell Us a Lot About What to Expect For The 2022 Ohio State Football Season

By Johnny Ginter on August 19, 2022 at 10:10 am
Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud

College football is weird!

Pretty much at every level; if you attempted to explain to a space alien the many, many foibles of this incredibly goofy sport, you'd be halfway through an explanation about an exotic dancer's pet monkey biting a kid before they'd zoom back off to Alpha Piscis Austrini, vowing never to return to this silly planet.

But luckily (unfortunately?) you're stuck here with me, and Eleven Warriors' 2022 Ohio State football season preview! Today we're going to take a look at the fascinating fringe of Buckeye football reality from the past season, as shown by the various statistics that are created as a football season progresses.

I've written a variation of this article about 10 times now, and while in the early days it mostly served as a way for me to keep track of how many times an Urban Meyer-led team shanked a kickoff out of bounds (well over 30, by my count, and it was always funny) I've always found it fascinating to see what Ohio State football looks like from a slightly off-kilter perspective.

I also think that it's instructive for the upcoming season. There's a lot about this team and this sport that we may not notice, especially when we're caught up in the inertia and emotion of the moment, so this is a good opportunity to see what Ohio State football was truly good at, what they struggled with, and what hopefully they can improve upon in 2022. This time I'll be looking at individual players that we can expect to make a big impact in the upcoming season, along with some random stats that make me laugh.

C.J. Stroud

The straw that stirs the drink. It's weird to think that there was ever a quarterback controversy in Columbus (although, frankly, I thought it was weird at the time as well), but Stroud is very likely the best quarterback in the country going into the 2022 season. How weird was his 2021?

  • Stroud was a remarkably accurate quarterback in 2021, completing almost 72% of his passes. He was even better on 3rd down with 4-6 yards to go, completing 20 of 22 attempts for an average of 15 yards per completion.
  • However, on 3rd downs with 7-9 yards to go, Stroud completed only 59.1% of his passes. But that percentage goes back up to 81% with 10 or more yards to get the 1st down.
  • Stroud's highest rated game as a quarterback was actually against Rutgers, not Michigan State, mostly because Stroud averaged 19.4 yards per completion against the Scarlet Knights. Hyper accuracy (Stroud completed over 90% of his passes against Sparty) isn't quite as important as what you get out of the passes you do complete.

Jaxon Smith-Njigba

Still, somehow, probably the most underrated college football player in America. Arguably the best wideout on a team that had two wide receivers drafted in the first round, Smith-Njigba will have all of the attention he can handle in 2022.

  • In 2022, JSN had seven games with 100 or more receiving yards, but he came very close to adding three more to that total with games against Akron, Indiana, and Penn State that saw him catch 93, 99, and 97 passing yards, respectively.
  • Smith-Njigba really turned it on in the final five games of the season; of his 1606 receiving yards in 2021, 958 of them came in crunch time (with, of course, a huge chunk of that against Utah in the Rose Bowl).
  • Smith-Njigba is an absolute backbreaker on first down. He had 36 1st down receptions in 2021, but the wild part is that he averaged almost 21 yards per catch on those passes.
  • He returned eight punts in 2021, and wasn't that great at it!

Denzel Burke

The breakout star on a defense that needed some optimism, Burke comes into 2022 as the guy Jim Knowles will lean on heavily in the secondary to lock down opposing WR1's. What it'll look like when opposing teams start gameplanning around him remains to be seen, but it'll definitely be interesting.

  • Burke had only one interception in 2021, against Rutgers (which itself was a pick-six). However, he did manage 12 pass break-ups, including three against Minnesota in the first game of the season, which caused Buckeye fans to take notice of the guy.
  • Over a third of Burke's solo tackles and over a quarter of his total tackles came against just one team: Purdue, in mid-November. In that game 10 of his 11 tackles were solo.

TreVeyon Henderson

Possibly the best young running back in the country in 2021, he still has a lot to prove in 2022 as consistency will be key. He had a lot of highs last season, but there were still some surprising lows that Buckeye fans might want to keep in mind going into this year.

  • For example, Henderson didn't rush for over 100 yards in any of Ohio State's final five games in 2021, averaging a mediocre 5.3 yards per carry over that time period. Against Michigan in particular he had probably his worst game of the season, running for just 74 yards and 4.35 yards per carry.
  • Henderson also struggled on 3rd down; at 3.89 yards per carry, he was able to get the 1st down less than half the time he was called upon.
  • Still, let's not get it twisted, Henderson is incredibly talented. In the second half of games he averaged 8.25 yards per carry overall, and in the middle third of the field (from his own 40 yard line to the opponent's 40 yard line), Henderson averaged over 10 yards per carry.
  • Against Maryland and Indiana in back-to-back weeks, Henderson had six total touchdowns. I just find that kind of funny.

Tommy Eichenberg

The linebacker who looks to be one of the defensive leaders in 2022 had a fairly unremarkable season until he exploded (figuratively, not literally, that'd be horrible) on the field in the Rose Bowl. Can he keep it up?

  • Well, maybe, if every game is played on actual grass. On FieldTurf? About four tackles a game. On that sweet Pasadena grass? 17! Makes you think!
  • Eichenberg had an interception against Rutgers, which, again: take that, Rutgers.

Noah Ruggles

An incredibly consistent weapon in 2021, Ruggles is back in 2022 to build on a season where he was 20 for 21 on field goals and perfect on extra points.

  • The above is somewhat surprising for a guy who barely hit on 70% of his field goals during his time at North Carolina, but it's definitely a good sign.
  • He did shank a single kickoff out of bounds, against Oregon. That's okay, Noah. We forgive you.

What kind of weirdness awaits us in 2022? We'll see soon!

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