Missed Opportunities Plague Ohio State Offense in Wisconsin Win

By Andy Anders on October 29, 2023 at 2:10 am
Kyle McCord vs. Wisconsin

Through three quarters of play on Saturday, Ohio State had seven drives reach Wisconsin territory. It scored on only three of them.

Despite big outings from both Marvin Harrison Jr. and TreVeyon Henderson, the latter of which returned from injury against the Badgers, it still felt like something was missing in Ohio State’s offense. Not a big enough hole to cost it the game, but certainly big enough to fall short of team expectations.

“We’re all frustrated that we’re not able to finish off some of those drives,” Day said. “When we get into those plus-territories, we’ve got to finish them off. There’s a lot that goes with that. Certainly the coaching is a big part of it.”

Whether a dropped pass here, an interception there or a busted protection some other place, Ohio State is still not making the plays it needs to finish drives on a consistent basis.

It's part of the reason why the Buckeyes only managed the 24 points they did despite gaining 5.9 yards per play against the Badgers.

The Buckeyes’ struggles in opposing territory started on the game’s first series. It took three plays for OSU to move from its own 35-yard line to Wisconsin’s 40, but soon it faced a 4th-and-3. Wisconsin outside linebacker C.J. Goetz flew around the edge against Ohio State right tackle Josh Fryar, strip-sacking Kyle McCord for a turnover on downs.

Ohio State settled for a field goal after reaching the red zone on its next possession, then drove 54 yards in six plays to reach the Badgers’ 9-yard line two series later.

McCord rolled to his right off play action and tried to force a ball through coverage near the pylon, but the pass was intercepted by Wisconsin safety Preston Zachman.

“I think he would tell you, on the first (interception), it was just a bad decision,” Day said. “It was first down, the play was designed to go to the tight end, the tight end got caught up. It was not how we designed it and the ball should have gotten thrown away.”

Three plays prior to that pass, a potential 19-yard touchdown strike was dropped in the end zone by Henderson. Henderson had more than 200 all-purpose yards for the Buckeyes on Saturday, but that play stands out as one he likely wishes he had back.

“We had a linebacker out one-on-one, and you can see, it was one heck of a route he ran,” Day said. “We just didn’t connect on it. We spent a bunch of time on that route. That was like getting stabbed in the heart.”

That wasn’t the only time McCord threw an interception in Wisconsin territory, despite entering Saturday with just one pick through seven games.

Top Badger corner Ricardo Hallman jumped a pass over the middle intended for Harrison, recording his team-leading fifth interception of the year. 

“The corner came off on cover three,” Day said. “He’s reading the flat defender and that corner, he just came right off. He took a chance and he made a nice play. I don’t really blame (McCord) for that play. I don’t. There’s going to be times where, when you’re pushing it down the field, things like that are going to happen. So I told him, ‘Hey, the corner came off, let’s just play the next play.’”

After Ohio State took a 17-10 lead in the second half, it again reached Wisconsin’s side of the 50-yard line in an effort to build its advantage to two scores.

With a 3rd-and-8 at the edge of Jayden Fielding’s field goal range at the 28-yard line – what would be about a 45-yard field goal attempt – Wisconsin sent a blitz that got to McCord in short order. He threw the ball ever-so-slightly forward while being hit, but with no receiver in the area, it was intentional grounding. Ohio State had to punt on 4th-and-17 from the Badger 37-yard line.

A near-identical scenario unfolded on the Buckeyes' next drive when they faced 3rd-and-8 at the Wisconsin 41-yard line. This time the Badgers blitzed all-out, McCord chucked it out of bounds in desperation as they got to him almost instantly and he was again flagged for intentional grounding to force a punt.

“In general, we get into a two-score or a one-score game, we’re trying to make it a two-score game, we get around the (Wisconsin) 30-yard line, we have to make sure we’re in field goal range and give Jayden an opportunity,” Day said. “Two times, we didn’t do that. So that was an opportunity that was missed.”

Still, when Ohio State needed a touchdown in the fourth quarter to seal its victory, it ran the ball three straight times for 45 yards to cross the goal line, capped by a climactic 33-yard jaunt from Henderson.

“Our team at halftime has had a good look in their eye all year knowing that they want to come out and play really well in the fourth quarter,” Day said. “You’re seeing us do that. We’re playing well in the fourth quarter. I’d like to see us even play better in the first half, but we are finishing games the way we’re supposed to finish them. Well – we’re finishing games. I think there’s ways that we can finish them better. But at the end of the day, the goal is to keep winning. We’ve got to keep doing that. And we know the challenges are going to get bigger and bigger down the stretch.”

Still, the expectation for Ohio State is to score on almost every drive, per Day’s own admission. Particularly when it gets as many opportunities as it does on Saturday.

“We’re playing well in the fourth quarter. I’d like to see us even play better in the first half, but we are finishing games the way we’re supposed to finish them.”– Ryan Day

And as the Buckeyes hit their stretch run of the season, cashing in such chances gain more and more importance.

“The teams we’re playing are good teams, they’re well-coached, they have good players,” Day said. “We want to go on the road and be road warriors and win these games on the road and it’s not always going to be the way you want it. But yes. You know what we want to get done. You know the expectation. So still things we’ve got to get better at.”

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