Analysis: After another blowout, Ohio State heads to off week brimming with confidence

Bill Rabinowitz
The Columbus Dispatch

Ryan Day is not ready to call his Ohio State team close to a finished product.

That may very well be true, but it is also undeniable that the Buckeye team that lost to Oregon and played patty-cake with Tulsa until the fourth quarter is on a roll as it enters its off week.

Since that Tulsa game three weeks ago, Ohio State has outscored Akron, Rutgers and Maryland 177-37. Of course, the Zips, Scarlet Knights and Terrapins are far from championship-caliber teams. But you play the teams that are on the schedule, and the Buckeyes (5-1) dominated all of them, the latest Saturday's 66-17 thrashing of Maryland.

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Now they take a week to heal and prepare for a tougher second half of the season. After a trip to Indiana, Penn State looms, and the regular season ends with Michigan State and Michigan, both of whom are undefeated.

After Tulsa, such a schedule would have felt like a minefield. Now it seems challenging but manageable. Ohio State’s offense is clicking and its defense has shown major improvement.

C.J. Stroud looks like a different quarterback after resting his sore shoulder against Akron and taking that week to regroup. Stroud didn't play badly early in the season. He just looked like what he was — a redshirt freshman who had never thrown a collegiate pass. Now he looks in complete command of the offense.

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This is an offense that showed it can grind to score, as it did on a 17-play, 88-yard drive for its first touchdown. But this offense’s identity is its explosiveness. Ohio State’s other seven offensive touchdowns required a total of less than 12 minutes of game time. None of them lasted as much as 3 minutes.

Ohio State defensive end Jack Sawyer celebrates after a sack on Saturday. The Buckeyes sacked Taulia Tagovailoa five times and allowed only one run longer than 12 yards.

For the second straight week, Stroud threw for five touchdowns. He completed 24 of 33 passes for 406 yards without a turnover.

Stroud understands that he has an enviable supporting cast. Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson and Jaxon Smith-Njigba are as talented a wide receiver trio as there is. Freshman running back TreVeyon Henderson is a special talent. The offensive line is elite.

"I just have to do my job, my part," Stroud said. "I feel like we're starting to roll and getting momentum. We're finally getting used to how each other plays."

Day has deployed a balancing act when discussing Stroud, praising his development while making it clear it’s just the beginning.

“I think he's executing at a fairly high level right now,” he said. “Still has a lot to build on.”

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Day likes the way Stroud sees the field, his decision-making and the timing with his receivers.

“That's allowing us to run the offense and to be very efficient,” he said. “Is he there yet? Absolutely not. He's still got a long way to go. But I'm very encouraged with what I've seen the last two weeks.”

Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud threw five touchdown passes for the second straight week.

The same could be said about Ohio State’s defense. Tulsa gained 501 yards against the Buckeyes. It was the fourth straight game, starting with Alabama’s rout of OSU in last year’s College Football Playoff championship, that the Buckeyes’ defense had been a sieve.

So Day reassigned responsibilities on his defensive staff, giving secondary coach Matt Barnes play-calling duties from coordinator Kerry Coombs.

“I think when you go through a loss, you have to figure out what the issues are and how to get them fixed the best you can,” Day said. “You're not always going to be right. You want to act — but you also don't want to overreact — and identify exactly what kind of team you have. It goes back to personnel, scheme and coaching. … You do the best job at that moment to make a strong decision because that's what leadership is. We'll see how it plays out. We still have a lot of football left.”

Day awarded the game ball to Coombs for how he’s handled the past few weeks.

On Saturday, the defense was solid against a Maryland offense that can be explosive. The Buckeyes sacked Taulia Tagovailoa five times and allowed only one run longer than 12 yards. For the fourth straight game, Ohio State had an interception returned for a touchdown, this time by Craig Young.

Ohio State receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba leaves the field following Saturday's 66-17 win over Maryland.

The defense isn’t consistently dominating, but it is way ahead of where it was three weeks ago.

“I think there were a lot of guys who just didn't have a lot of experience, and maybe there wasn't a lot of confidence in the fact that they could do it themselves but also that the guy next to him could do it,” Day said. “It took a while to get some guys some reps under their belt and gain some confidence.”

What Day said next about the defense could apply to the whole team.

“We're still nowhere here,” he said. “We've got a long way to go. But you can see it's a different team right now. There's a different walk. There's a different look in our eye.”


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