Analysis: In hindsight, maybe Ohio State's victory looks better after a Saturday of upsets

Bill Rabinowitz
The Columbus Dispatch

It’s funny how a few hours can change the perspective of a game’s outcome.

Mid-afternoon on Saturday, Ohio State’s 45-12 over Arkansas State looked underwhelming. Sure, it was a comfortable victory. The offense clicked despite the absence of Jaxon Smith-Njigba, and the Buckeyes’ defense kept the Red Wolves out of the end zone.

But the Red Wolves trailed by only eight points late in the second quarter, and Ohio State’s penalties reached the point when Ryan Day’s hair would have been excused for turning gray instantly.

Ohio State Buckeyes wide receiver Emeka Egbuka (2) during the NCAA football game against Arkansas State in Ohio Stadium.

Regarding the victory as either a glass-half-full one or a glass-half-empty one would have been understandable.

Ohio State grades:How did the Buckeyes do against the Red Wolves?

Then the rest of college football happened. Alabama was lucky to beat Texas, a three-touchdown underdog, on a last-second field goal. No. 8 Notre Dame lost to Marshall, taking some of the luster off OSU's win over the Fighting Irish in the opener. No. 6 Texas A&M lost to Appalachian State. Georgia Southern beat Nebraska, which turned losing close games under Scott Frost into such a perverse art form that the Cornhuskers fired him on Sunday.

The conference that produced those three upsets: the Sun Belt Conference, home of Arkansas State. Fans of those schools should break out into an S-B-C! chant.

Ohio State football:Nitpicking comes with the territory for OSU.

Two weeks into the season, college football seems almost unmoored. Alabama is clearly not invincible. When the Crimson Tide crushed Utah State in its opener, that was considered a win over a decent opponent. Utah State lost 35-7 to Weber State on Saturday. Defending champion Georgia overtook Alabama as the No. 1 team in the Associated Press media poll.

September 10, 2022; Columbus, Ohio, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes running back Chase Brecht (33) is tackled by Arkansas State Red Wolves safety Trevian Thomas (9) at Ohio Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joseph Scheller-The Columbus Dispatch

In the Big Ten, it’s mostly too early to make definitive judgments, though Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh has seen enough to name J.J. McCarthy the starting quarterback over incumbent Cade McNamara following a 56-10 rout of Hawaii.

More:Joey Kaufman's Scarlet & Gray Matter

How bad is Hawaii, by the way? In its previous two games, it was outscored 112-27 by Vanderbilt and Western Kentucky.

The Big Ten’s East-West power imbalance remains intact for now. All seven teams in the East Division are 2-0, though against mostly overmatched opponents. In the West, only Minnesota is unbeaten.

Those inside the Ohio State program might look at the national landscape with bemusement, but the Buckeyes’ focus will be on their own improvement. Few teams look like finished products two games into a season. Ohio State isn't an exception.

More:Freshman DE Caden Curry flashes in Buckeye debut.

“I don't think I'm really ever satisfied,” quarterback C.J. Stroud said after throwing for 351 yards and four touchdowns against Arkansas State. “I don't think anybody on offense or defense is ever satisfied, no matter if we had a perfect game, which will never happen. You never play perfect.

“I don't know if we're supposed to be where we're at. I don't think that we're not where we're supposed to be, which is a good thing. We're definitely where we're supposed to be in certain aspects, but we've got to get better in other aspects.”

The passing game looked improved from the Notre Dame game. Marvin Harrison Jr. had a quiet game against the Irish. He caught seven passes for 184 yards and three touchdowns, displaying his advanced route-running, speed and hands.

Stroud averaged almost 22 yards per completion in connecting on 16 of 24 passes. Arkansas State geared its defense toward stopping the run game, but TreVeyon Henderson still averaged 8.7 yards in 10 carries with two scores, and Miyan Williams added 46 yards.

But the offense was far from flawless. The Buckeyes went three-and-out four times.

On defense, Ohio State didn’t allow a touchdown, but the Red Wolves did chew up time with four drives resulting in field goals. The run defense was stout, but Buckeye cornerbacks struggled. Ohio State needs Denzel Burke to return to his 2021 form.

Most galling to Day, though, were the penalties. Ohio State committed nine for 85 yards, which doesn’t tell the full story. A penalty on Teradja Mitchell for leaping over the punt shield gave Arkansas State a first down, nullifying an Emeka Egbuka punt return for a touchdown. (The Buckeyes were also called for a block in the back on the play.)

“That's unacceptable,” Day said of the penalties. “We've got to get that fixed.”

Next week’s game against Toledo is the last chance to do so before Big Ten play begins the following week against Wisconsin.

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Scarlet & Gray Matter: Analysis of the Buckeyes' win over Arkansas State, XCBottom line: How did Ohio State grade out after Saturday's game? XCAP poll: Ohio State still No. 3 in polls, XC