Even With Key Losses In The Receiving Corps, Ryan Day's Passing Attack Is Primed To Deliver

By Chris Lauderback on June 21, 2022 at 10:10 am
C.J. Stroud rewrote Ohio State's record book in 2021.

It's wild to think Ohio State's 2022 passing game should again be one the nation's truly elite despite losing a combined 135 receptions, 1,994 receiving yards and 25 touchdown catches from the 2021 attack following the departures of wideouts Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson. 

But that's where Ohio State sits thanks to Ryan Day's creative playcalling, consistent recruiting wins from Day and Brian Hartline, and the return of quarterback C.J. Stroud and receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba, combined with ongoing sensational player development. 

Stroud in particular gives Ohio State what every top-flight program craves; the best quarterback on the field in 99% of games in an era where the team with the better signal-caller is damn near a given to advance to the winner's circle on any given Saturday. 

As a first-year starter in 2021, Stroud rewrote Ohio State's single-season record book in completing 71.9% of his throws to break Justin Fields' 70.2% standard, recording a 186.6 passer rating to again best Fields while averaging 369.6 passing yards per game to eclipse Dwayne Haskins' 345.1 yards per game mark. 

Oh and he also threw 4,435 yards and 44 touchdowns against six picks as the Ohio State passing attack carried a historically bad defense to an 11-2 record including a win over Utah in the Rose Bowl. 

That's not to slight the running game which ranked No. 3 in country in yards per carry and No. 47 in rushing yards per game (180.3 ypg). That said, the ground game averaged just 4.12 yards per carry in a loss to Oregon, 3.00 in an uneven win over Nebraska and 2.13 yards in the loss in Ann Arbor. 

OSU PASS YPG: 2017 - 2021
2021 380.9 68%
2020 262.5 51%
2019 263.1 50%
2018 364.3 68%
2017 262.8 52%

Metrics aside, I think most fans would agree the offensive line, which basically featured four tackles, looked a lot better in pass protection than it did road grading, particularly against better run defenses. 

Within the realities of a virtually unstoppable passing attack with a solid if not spectacular run game, Day's playcalling saw Ohio State throw the ball 54% of the time, easily the most since he arrived as an assistant in 2017. In fact, only the 2018 offense, which relied on Haskins' cannon, touched even 50% of the total plays resulting in passing attempts over the last five seasons. 

Stroud, Smith-Njigba, Olave and Wilson certainly took advantage of the playcalling as 68% of Ohio State's total offensive yards came through the air, right on pace with the 2018 squad, and again, way more than the other three seasons Day patrolled OSU's sideline in any capacity.

2021 380.9 68%
2018 364.3 68%
1998 304.4 60%
1995 268.4 56%
2019 263.1 50%

The Buckeyes' 380.9 passing yards per game set a single-season school record, standing a full 16 yards per game clear of the second-most prolific season (2018) and nearly 118 yards per game better than the fifth-most prolific season when Fields and company averaged 263.1 yards per contest in 2019. 

With Smith-Njigba back for another season after a mind-blowing 2021 campaign resulting in single-season school records for receptions (95) and receiving yards (1,606), Ohio State is in solid position to once again light up the scoreboard via its aerial exploits.

Of course, it'll take more than Stroud and Smith-Njigba to keep the passing game in rarified air. 

For Ohio State fans, that's where the expectation is Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka pick up where they left off in the Rose Bowl when Olave and Wilson sat out, giving the young duo a platform to shine. 

Across the full season, Harrison (11 catches, 139 yards, 3 TD) and Egbuka (9 catches, 191 yards) didn't put up big numbers but for a school touting the desire to rotate up to six receivers, it simply didn't make a ton of sense to evenly distribute snaps with the top three guys being so ridiculously good. 

But now is the time for Route Man Marv, Egbuka, Julian Fleming and others to show they're up to the task with the reality reps will be plentiful. 

Day, Hartline, Stroud, Olave, Wilson, hell anyone you ask inside the program insists Harrison and Egbuka in particular are ready to blow up and past history says it's probably not too tall a task. And lest we forget running back TreVeyon Henderson is an electric receiving threat out the backfield coming off a 27-catch, 312-receiving yard season as a true freshman.

That said, it is too much to ask of the passing game to account for 68% of the offense's total yards again? Is that even a national championship-caliber formula? 

In this era of college football, being able to air it out is a must but there's something to be said for being able to run when you want/need to, no matter what kind of defense is on the other side of the football. 

Assuming Ohio State's 2022 offensive line is a little more balanced than the 2021 group, it'll be fascinating to watch how Day elects to attack defenses on a week-to-week basis with an eye on winning his first national title. 

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