Oregon offense too much for Ohio State in upset win over Buckeyes

Bill Rabinowitz
The Columbus Dispatch

A long 657 days had elapsed since fans could watch Ohio State play a game in Ohio Stadium.

A grand return, this was not.

No. 12 Oregon exposed No. 3 Ohio State's defense in a 35-28 victory over the Buckeyes in front of 100,482.

It was the first regular-season loss for Ryan Day as Buckeyes coach.

“It was a game we were never in control of,” Day said. “They ran the ball and we didn’t do a very good job of running the ball, and because of that they were able to control the game.”

Ohio State had two chances to tie the game in the fourth quarter. But neither time could the Buckeyes get close to scoring range. The second drive ended when Verone McKinley intercepted a pass by C.J. Stroud on third-and-18 with 2:50 left. Stroud was flushed from the pocket and tried to lob a pass to Chris Olave, but overthrew it.

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Until then, Stroud had done his best to keep the Buckeyes in the game. The redshirt freshman threw for 484 yards and three touchdowns on 35-of-54 passing.

Oregon (2-0) had lost to Ohio State (1-1) in all nine of their previous nine meetings, including the 2014 College Football Playoff championship. Ohio State was a two-touchdown favorite after Oregon needed three scores from turnovers last week to prevail over Fresno State 31-24.

“We seemed a little out of whack today for some reason,” Day said. 

The Ducks' chances seemed to take a major hit when star defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux, injured last week, was ruled out before the game. The surprise absence of budding star linebacker Justin Flowe compounded Oregon's injury issues.

But the Ducks were undeterred and were a step ahead of Ohio State from the start. Seven years ago, the Buckeyes handled Oregon's tempo and overpowered the Ducks in the trenches.

This Oregon team doesn't try to play at the same pace, but it is no longer a finesse team overpowered by Buckeye linemen.

Ducks offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead had an answer for whatever Buckeyes defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs attempted. Oregon gained 505 yards, including 7.1 yards per run.

Three of Oregon's first four touchdowns came on almost identical plays – the Ducks ballcarrier went left and Ohio State's defense was nowhere to be found. CJ Verdell scored twice on 14-yarders in the first half, though the second was credited as a catch on a shovel pass. Travis Dye scored on a 6-yard carry in the third quarter against little resistance.

For good measure, Verdell broke a 77-yard touchdown run to start the third quarter and make it obvious that the Buckeyes were in for a long day.

Ohio State's offense gained 612 yards, but Oregon stopped the Buckeyes three times on fourth down. With the Buckeyes' defense struggling the way it did, scores on those drives were sorely needed.

Ohio State was out of sorts on both sides of the ball for most of the first half. Twice, drives ended when the Buckeyes couldn't convert on fourth downs in Oregon territory. Ohio State's opening possession ended when Stroud wasn't close on a throw to Olave on fourth-and-7 from the 31.

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The Buckeyes trailed 14-7 when Miyan Williams was stuffed on fourth-and-2 from the 39 in the second quarter.

Ohio State's only score came on a five-play, 70-yard drive capped by a 27-yard pass to Garrett Wilson.

Oregon's offense repeatedly found soft spots in the Buckeyes defense. The Ducks went 99 yards in 10 plays for their first score. Verdell scored on a 14-yard run to the left side on which Ohio State's defense seemingly vanished.

After Wilson's score, the Ducks answered with a 65-yard touchdown drive with Verdell scoring again from 14 yards.

Oregon took that 14-7 lead into halftime. The Buckeyes also trailed last week at Minnesota, but this had a different feel.

It got worse to start the third quarter. On third-and-3 from the 23, Verdell found an opening, raced past safety Bryson Shaw and fended off a late tackle attempt by cornerback Cam Brown for a 77-yard score to make it a two-touchdown game.

Ohio State then responded. The Buckeyes drove 75 yards for a touchdown, the final 26 coming on a pass from Stroud to Jaxon Smith-Njigba.

Ohio State needed its defense to stiffen, but it did not. Oregon needed only seven plays to answer the touchdown to make it 35-21, and the Buckeyes lost safety Josh Proctor to an apparently serious injury late in the drive. He was carted off the field with a leg injury.

Ohio State then was thwarted on its ensuing drive when a fourth-down pass to Olave fell incomplete despite contact with the receiver.

The Buckeyes scored the game's next touchdown when freshman TreVeyon Henderson followed a fourth-down pass to Garrett Wilson with a 2-yard touchdown. Ohio State made it 35-28 with 7:55 left when Smith-Njigba scored on a 15-yard pass on fourth-and-5.

After the Buckeyes' defense got a stop, Ohio State had a chance to tie with 7 minutes left. But two incompletions and a short pass to Chris Olave – the Oregon defender lowered his helmet on the completion but no targeting was held – forced a punt.


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