2021 Game Preview: Ohio State vs Oregon
Ohio State will host Oregon at home in what was supposed to be the second game in a home and home series between the two schools but last year’s game in Eugene was cancelled due to COVID, and the schedule set forth by both conferences when they returned to play did not include non-conference games. This heavyweight matchup will carry significant weight for the winner of this game as it impacts their chances of making the College Football Playoff when being compared with other teams. History has shown that a loss didn’t immediately eliminate a team from a chance at making the playoff, but the conversation will look back at this game, and a win could be the difference between getting in, and not.
The last time these two teams met was in the 2015 National Championship Game, which Ohio State defeated the Ducks, and Heisman winner Marcus Mariota, on the legs of Ezekiel Elliott. Although there will be no confetti dropping for the winner of this game, the teams will compete at a marquee slot on FOX, as Big Noon Kickoff will be there for Ohio State’s second straight game. The kickoff time might put a disadvantage for the Ducks, who would be playing at 9am PT, but you can be sure head coach Mario Cristobal will have his team as ready as they prepare for a chance to give the PAC-12 some national credibility.
After a week 1 of great matchups, this game and the Cy-Hawk game between Iowa and Iowa State will be the focus games for college football. (Sorry Alabama, bur Mercer is not a marquee opponent.) This will also be the first game back for for the fans and the Ohio State Marching Band. After a year of watching the games on TV, seeing this game live and in person will be as exciting as any game in recent memory. Expect the Scarlet and Gray faithful to be a factor and hope to help their team win.
Head Coach: Mario Cristobal (4th Season)
2021 Record: 1-0
Location: Eugene, OR
Ohio State Preview: This offseason, there were two big questions surrounding this Ohio State team, and part of the answers were revealed against Minnesota. The first question was how was CJ Stroud going to play after taking over for Justin Fields. We wrote in the recap article about Stroud’s play, but ultimately it was a tale of two halves. He looked every bit of a freshman quarterback getting their first start in a hostile environment on the road by completing 8 passes, for 48 yards and an interception, overthrowing a few balls in the process which would have gained big yardage. In the second half, he passed for 246 yards for 4 touchdowns on 5 completions for an average catch rating of 49.5 yards. If he is able to string together a full game like he was in the second half, the Buckeye offense will be humming, and score at will against a potentially depleted Oregon defense who would be without one of the best lineman in the country.
The second question is can the defense turn it around after one of their statistically worst defenses in their storied history. The answer at the time after one game is there are still issues to be fixed. Take away the long run on the 4th and 1 conversion, and the stats look a little more respectable, but the Silver Bullets gave up 403 yards and 31 points to a Minnesota team that many though the Buckeyes would keep in check. This might have to do with the missed tackles and the rotation scheme dialed up, but the Buckeyes will have to be a bit more conservative on who is in the game against a team with playmakers at the skill positions.
Ryan Day and Kerry Coombs addressed these questions this week to the media and expressed they see the same things everyone else is seeing. Day even went as far to say that the rotations on defense will be more limited as they try to get their best 11 out there. He even mentioned that he will limit the carries between the running backs, and based on performance, we should see a heavy dose of Miyan Williams and TreVeyon Henderson. The defense could get some help as safety Josh Proctor has been able to practice, and Sevyn Banks and Cameron Brown should be back to take over their starting roles at corner. The way Denzel Burke and Cody Simon have been playing though, they should be getting some solid reps along with Teradja Mitchell to help back up the back 7. Coombs addressed the tackling issues by dedicating time on Monday’s and Tuesday’s practice to fix technique.
CJ Stroud will get his second start, and his first start at home. For the season, he has completed 13 of 22 passes for 294 yards with 4 touchdowns and 1 interception. He also has three rushes for 13 yards. If he passes over 235 yards in this game, he will have the most passing yards for a quarterback for their first two games, and potentially increase the chance Ohio State will come out victorious.
Miyan Williams is the leading running back, with his 9 rushes for 125 yards and touchdown. Ohio State might be implementing a 1-a, 1-b running back rotation with TreVeyon Henderson who flashed his speed and talent against Minnesota. He touched the ball 3 times (2 rushes, 1 receiving) and had 85 all purpose yards. They only thing that might keep him off the field is his celebrating.
The dynamic duo of Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson are still a force to be reckoned with. Olave leads the team with 117 yards on 4 catches and 2 touchdowns. That gives him 24 total touchdowns in his career, tying him in 5th place with Brian Robiskie. With 1 touchdown, he would tie Santonio Holmes for 4th place, and 2 touchdowns will earn him 4th place all alone, trailing only David Boston (34), Devin Smith (30) and Cris Carter (27). Garrett Wilson leads the team in receptions with 5 catches for 80 yards and a touchdown.
Oregon Preview: The first thing that comes to mind when you discuss Oregon is their uniform combinations courtesy of Nike. Ahead of their biggest non-conference game this season, the Ducks will be sporting an all white uniform with green accents for the wings. You can check their uniform promotional trailer here:
Getting down to the business end now, Oregon looked a little rattled in their first game against Fresno State, who rallied to go ahead of the Ducks in the 4th quarter before scoring the final 10 points in the last 8 minutes to secure the win. It is easy to say they might have been looking ahead to this weeks game, or that they did not want to show too much for Ohio State to dissect in the film room, but the win is what mattered, and they were the only team in the PAC-12 North to win this past weekend. The Oregon offense was only able to put up 358 yards, and the defense gave up 373 yards. The biggest different was their defense was able to recover 3 fumbles to help their starting field positions in the first half of the game.
The biggest question for the Ducks going into this game is if future 1st round draft pick Kayvon Thibodeaux will be available to play. He was injured during the third quarter of the Fresno State game, which was a big part of the Bulldogs comeback to take the lead. As of Wednesday, Mario Cristobal had indicated that Thibodeaux’s status will be a game time decision, but without a clear yes or no, there is a good chance he does not play to prevent further risking injury. The Ducks defense will get back defensive backs DJ James and Jamal Hill, who were suspended for Oregon’s season opener after they were charged with shooting people with an Airsoft gun in August. They will be tasked with slowing down Olave and Wilson.
There will be a familiar name on the Oregon sideline for Buckeye fans with offense coordinator Joe Moorhead, who was the OC for the Penn State team who beat Ohio State in 2016. He will have a quarterback in Anthony Brown who will also be taking his second start. He showed off his dual threat ability with 172 passing yards for 1 touchdown and 56 yards rushing with a touchdown. His allusiveness could give the Buckeye defensive line some fits if he is able to get past them and to the second level.
Running backs CJ Verdell and Travis Dye are both dynamic backs with experience who can break the game open. Verdell leads the team with 74 yards rushing and a touchdown. He rushed for over 1000 yards in both 2018 and 2019 and averages 5.4 yard a carry. Dye has over 1900 rushing yards for his career, and averages 5.9 yards a carry.
At wide receiver, Johnny Johnson III will be the main one to watch. He leads the team with yards for the season with 74 yards on 3 receptions, and was on the other end of Brown’s passing touchdown. The senior receiver has nearly 1700 yards receiving for his career, and 16 touchdowns. Mycah Pittman will be another name and player to watch. he has 40 yards for the season. Both receivers are fast, and it will be a matchup that could decide the outcome of the game against the Ohio State defensive backs.
Oregons defense will still be a challenge even if Thibodeaux is not able to suit up. Freshman Noah Sewell at linebacker, who was a 5 star prospect in the 2020 class, will be the quarterback of the defense, and could see some matchups against the Ohio State tight ends.
Buckeye Spotlight: CJ Stroud. Once more, the spotlight will be on him for this game, and how quickly he is able to feel comfortable with running the offense. If he is able to play like he did in the second half, the Buckeyes can let the talented athletes showcase their ability, and make it real tough for Oregon to catch up. If he plays like he did in the first half, this could be a long day for the Buckeyes.
Duck Spotlight: Anthony Brown. Brown had a good first game, but was also sacked 3 times against Fresno State. His dual threat ability will make him dangerous against the Buckeyes if he is able to get to the second level if a play breaks down and he is forced to scramble. He will also have the support of his running backs, who are dangerous in open space.
Water Cooler Stats of the Game: 9-0 and 2-5. These are the low hanging fruits, but ones that need to be addressed and discussed when talking about this game. Ohio State all time versus Oregon is 9-0, with the most recent matchup ending with Ohio State holding the CFP Trophy as National Champions.
The other stat is 2-5, which is Ohio State’s record against Power 5 conference opponents on week 2. Their wins were against #2 ranked Texas in 2006 in Austin, TX, and #12 Miami (FL) in 2010 at home. The “experts” though are going to hone in on the loses , most notably the home losses to #2 Texas (2005), #3 USC (2009), Virginia Tech (2014), and #5 Oklahoma (2017).
Prediction: Ohio State took a half to get into a rhythm, and their defense never really got to get confidence with the liberal use of subbing, but I anticipate Ohio State will be more conservative with how they rotate personnel because of the stakes of this game. Oregon’s defense will be impacted if Kayvon Thibodeaux is not able to play. The Ducks will depend on Brown to make plays for them, and hope that their running backs, who have ran for 1000 yards in their careers, are able to attack the Buckeyes front line similar to what Ibrahim was able to do, but I expect the Buckeye defense to buckle down on the run, and force Brown to pass. If the Buckeyes can keep their defense off the field long enough to let their offense get a groove, this game could get ugly, and the talent of the Buckeyes is showcased for this heavyweight matchup.
Ohio State 42 – Oregon 24
Photo Credit to Eleven Warriors