Opinion: Oregon win punctures Ohio State's aura of invincibility, prompts pressing questions

Paul Myerberg
USA TODAY

This loss wasn't the 49-20 debacle against Purdue in 2018, or even the sluggish 17-14 loss in 2015 to Michigan State.

In other words, No. 3 Ohio State's 35-28 loss at home to No. 11 Oregon wasn't an utter failure in effort or execution but a statement on the Ducks' development into one of the early favorites for the College Football Playoff. 

The questions stemming from this loss instead revolve around where the Buckeyes go from here, and specifically whether this team is capable of bouncing back from a rare early-season failure to meet the preseason expectations heaped on one of the most dominant programs in the sport.

►For one, is the ability of the Ducks' offense to dominate the line of scrimmage a harbinger of what's to come for this defense? "It needs to get fixed," Ohio State coach Ryan Day said.

►And is the second-half rally keyed by quarterback C.J. Stroud, who threw for 484 yards and three touchdowns, the turning point for a first-year starter stepping into the large void left by former starter Justin Fields?

►Or is his backbreaking mistake, an interception tossed with three minutes left, a signal that this OSU offense must feature more balance and reliance on the running game?

►Most of all, does the loss impact the Buckeyes' aura of invincibility heading into Big Ten play — making it far from an accepted certainty that Penn State, Iowa and others are playing for second place?

Fans react after an Oregon touchdown during the third quarter in Columbus, Ohio.

ANALYSIS: Oregon's win will reverberate through Big 10, Pac-12, CFP

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For the first time since 2014, the Buckeyes will head into the second half of September already playing from behind. That team didn't buckle: OSU ran the table after an early road loss to Virginia Tech and won the national championship under Urban Meyer in the first year of the playoff format.

That this year's team will climb back into the top four is far from certain given the increased depth and talent in the Big Ten and the Buckeyes' performance through two weeks.

Defensively, the Buckeyes were bullied by an Oregon team built in the image of Alabama. The Ducks ran for 269 yards, the most OSU has allowed in a game since Maryland went for 339 in 2018, and gained 7.1 yards per carry, the highest total against OSU since Indiana averaged 7.8 in 2014.

Ohio State tight end Cade Stover gets the ball knocked away from him by Oregon safety Verone McKinley III.

Meanwhile, last week's opponent, Minnesota, which led the Buckeyes at halftime and drew within a touchdown in the fourth quarter of a 45-31 loss, struggled to put away Miami (Ohio) in Saturday's 31-26 win.

Combined, the Buckeyes' two opponents have run for 472 yards. These struggles against the run should have offensive lines at Penn State, Wisconsin and Iowa salivating at the thought of controlling the tempo and sidelining Stroud and the Buckeyes' supremely gifted receiver corps.

If not, the unthinkable might happen: A playoff race that doesn't include the Buckeyes in a starring role. The possibility exists after a loss with immense implications for the role OSU will play in determining this year's national championship.

Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist reporter Paul Myerberg on Twitter @PaulMyerberg