Ryan Day is now in his 4th full season leading Ohio State and has amassed an impressive overall record of 34-4. Last season State was 11-2 with losses to Oregon and Michigan. The Buckeyes last action was in the Rose Bowl on January 1, where they outlasted Utah 48-45.
You can sum up Ohio State last season easily: high octane offense, hit or miss defense.
In fact, the offense, which will again be led by sensational QB CJ Stroud, was ranked #1 nationally in total offense (561.5 ypg) and scoring offense (45.7 ppg), and Stroud is the straw that stirred the drink. The 6-3 sophomore was a dead-on accurate passer last season as a freshman, completing 71.9% of his passes good for 4,435 yards and 44 TDs while tossing only 6 interceptions. There is every reason to believe that he can be even better as he moves to his Sophomore year. Gone are Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson but last year’s leading yardage receiver, Jaxon Smith-Njigbuh returns for his Junior year after hauling in 95 catches good for 1606 yards and 9 TDs. Joining him as a starter should be former five star prospects Emeka Egbuka and Marvin Harrison Jr (Yes, he is the son of THAT Marvin Harrison).
While the Buckeyes in 2021 were pretty much a pass first offense, they were plenty able to run the football when they wanted. Sophomore running back TreVeyon Henderson is coming off an outstanding freshman campaign that saw him gain 1,248 yards on the ground while going in for 15 TDs. Henderson can also catch the ball, last year he had 27 receptions and scored another four times through the air.
Defensively last year the the Buckeyes were a little schizophrenic. Not so good on one hand, 59th nationally in total defense and 96th in stopping drives on 3rd down they gave up 87 points combined in their last two games, but they also ranked highly in making big plays: sacks and forcing turnovers.
In order to improve his defense Ryan Day has brought in a new defensive coordinator and Irish fans should be familiar with him. Jim Knowles, who last year was at Fiesta Bowl opponent Oklahoma State, takes over the Buckeye defense this season. Of course, you may recall that Jack Coan torched Knowles’ defense last January 1 for 509 yards and five TDs.(In fairness, Knowles had already left for Columbus). The Irish however were unable to establish any consistent ground game, gaining just 68 yards via the rush. Overall Knowles built a reputation in four years at Oklahoma State for putting outstanding defenses on the field in the offense happy Big 12.
At Knowles’ disposal will be Linebacker Tommy Eichenberg who racked up 17 tackles in the Rose Bowl and was second overall in tackles on the team and two veteran corners in Cameron Brown and Denzel Burke.
The Buckeye place kicking game is worth mentioning because Senior Noah Ruggles is a stud. Last year he was perfect on 74 extra point attempts, and 20-21 on field goals including 4-4 on attempts over 40 yards. Interestingly, Ruggles never was asked to try anything longer than 46 yards.
Losses to Oregon and Michigan last year are an indication that despite the high-flying offensive numbers, Ohio State was vulnerable against teams capable of scoring points. That is why Jim Knowles was brought in. How long it takes him to shore up the Buckeye defense is not known, but to expect significant change right away is a lot to ask. Word out of Columbus is that Knowles loves the depth he has to work with, and felt he was ahead of schedule in the installation of his tricky 4-2-5 system.
So, the match up with the Irish looks like strength on strength, weakness on weakness. Pitting ND’s strong defense against Ohio State’s explosive offense and ND’s question marked offense against Ohio State’s defense that was quite vulnerable a year ago.
On paper the old adage is that good defense beats a good offense, but expect an extraordinary offense on the field for the Buckeyes. Additionally, home field advantage and a young QB in Tyler Buchner making his first start as well as a head coach making his regular season debut all work against the Irish in this one. Is an upset out of the question? Of course not, if it happens it will have to be powered by a strong ND grand game, no more that 1 interception thrown by Tyler Buchner, and a defense that gets after CJ Stroud. Those things are all possible.
Latest Vegas Line: Ohio State -17 The Fighting Irish Preview Pick: Ohio State 34- ND 27