It might be hard to believe last season's No. 1 scoring and total offense could have room for improvement but if there's a next level for Ryan Day's juggernaut, it could come in the form of being more productive in the red zone.
With C.J. Stroud back to guide Day's attack, supported by the nation's best receiver in Jaxon Smith-Njigba and a dynamic tailback in TreVeyon Henderson, among a litany of other weapons, there's reason to believe the Buckeyes can step up their production inside the opponent's 20-yard line.
Last season, Day's red zone offense scored points 91.53% of the time, good for No. 12 in the nation however the Buckeyes scored touchdowns just 64.41% of the time, good for only 45th nationally.
|SEASON||RZ ATT||RZ SCORES||RZ SCORE %||NATL RANK||RZ TD||RZ TD%||NATL RANK|
The Buckeyes feasted in the red zone against opponents ranked outside the top-40 in scoring defense, posting a 94.12% scoring rate (7 games, 32-of-34). Even more impressive, Ohio State's offense recorded touchdowns on 28 of those 34 trips, good for a lofty 82.35% touchdown rate.
Finding the end zone proved a much tougher task against Ohio State's six opponents ranked inside the top-40 in scoring defense however.
In 25 red zone trips against six opponents that finished top-40 or higher in scoring defense in 2021, Ohio State put up points 88% of the time (22-of-25) but the Buckeyes found the end zone just 10 times, or a mere 40% of red zone trips.
In the season opener against Minnesota's eventual-No. 6 scoring defense, Ohio State settled for a field goal after Stroud completed one of three passes for one yard.
In 25 red zone trips against top-40 scoring defenses in 2021, Ohio State found the end zone just 10 times, or a mere 40% of red zone trips.
Over a month later, versus Penn State's eventual-No. 6 scoring defense, the Buckeyes made six trips to the red zone, recording one touchdown against four field goals and a turnover on downs. Stroud was just 2-for-7 for three yards while the running game recorded 40 yards on 15 carries including the lone touchdown.
The following week versus Nebraska (eventual No. 36), three trips to the red zone yielded a touchdown and a pair of field goals with Stroud completing 2-of-4 throws for three yards and a score. The run game tallied 20 yards on five carries.
Following those back-to-back struggles, Stroud caught fire against Purdue (No. 34), completing 5-of-8 in the red zone for 53 yards and three touchdowns. The rushing attack joined the party with 30 yards on six carries and a touchdown. A false start on the fourth red zone trip of the day triggered a field goal while the sixth and final trip of the day resulted in Ohio State taking two knees at the Purdue 6-yard line in what finished as a 59-31 victory.
A return to red zone mediocrity against Michigan (No. 8) saw the Buckeyes score touchdowns on just two of four trips. Stroud connected on 4-of-10 throws for 39 yards and a score although 25 of those yards and the touchdown came on the fourth and final trip with the game all but decided. The run game collected 18 yards on six tries as Ohio State kicked a pair of field goals alongside the two touchdowns.
Finally, in the Rose Bowl versus Utah (No. 35), Stroud completed 5-of-8 red zone tosses for 20 yards and a pair of scores - with an interception - while Day dialed up just one running play, good for nine yards. On five trips, Ohio State tallied two touchdowns, two field goals and the noted turnover.
Roll up those numbers against top-40 scoring defenses and Stroud completed just 19-of-40 throws for 119 yards with seven touchdowns. For its part, the rushing attack added 97 yards on 33 carries (2.68 ypc) with three touchdowns.
The Buckeyes committed six penalties against those same opponents and as a result, scored just one touchdown with five field goals.
This fall, a retooled offensive line, a stable of talented backs and receivers, and most importantly, a full year of seasoning under Stroud's belt figure to give Ohio State the formula for improved production inside the opponent's 20-yard line.
And while no singular metric can guarantee a national title, Ohio State's ability to generate touchdowns instead of field goals in the red zone against legit defenses should go a long way toward securing a Big Ten title and College Football Playoff berth.