The Columbus Dispatch
How did the Buckeyes grade on Saturday? Leaves are awarded on a zeroto-five basis.
Ohio State offense
They had excuses. How many teams could lose Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson, endure the letdown of not being in the College Football Playoff and proceed to light up the Rose Bowl and a tough-guy defense?
The Buckeyes did that and gave an amazing glimpse of what next year’s passing game might be. C.J. Stroud’s touch and ball placement was amazing. Smith-njigba was at his most spectacular. And the emergence of Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka are sure to cause worry among Big Ten defensive coordinators. Both running backs, Treveyon Henderson and Miyan Williams return, too.
Ohio State defense
Yes, the second half was better than the first, which at halftime coach Ryan Day called “ridiculous,” and not in a good way. But the Utes still finished with 463 yards and 45 points, good enough to win most games.
The Buckeyes held the Utes to 10 points after halftime but got a huge break when Utah quarterback Cameron Rising was lost to injury with 9:45 to play. The Utes immediately went conservative with the inexperienced Bryson Barnes taking over. At that point, Ohio State turned aggressive and turned up its intensity. Missed tackles were plentiful, as were open spaces in the middle of the field. New coordinator Jim Knowles, surely watching on TV, knows he has a huge job ahead.
Ohio State special teams
Ohio State gave up a 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the second quarter, then switched to a strategy of punter Dominic Dimaccio kicking short (and, once, out of bounds) the rest of the way. It was a vote of no-confidence in its own coverage ability, and the tactic afforded the Utes routinely good field position.
Egbuka continues to excel at kick returns, returning seven for a 31-yard average, and that was with a 75-yard return called back because of an incorrect holding call. His absence the past two games because of COVID proved significant as Julian Fleming was not an adequate fill-in. Kicker Noah Ruggles was his usual reliable self. With the game-winner, he finished his season 20-for-21 on field goal attempts and is considering returning to the team for another year.
Excellent job on the passing game, as usual. The rest is not so clear. the defense was sloppy and appeared confused too many times, and special teams surrendered on kick coverage. The Buckeyes came out flat but were lifted by the air show put on by Stroud and Smith-njigba.
Some credit is due, though, for second-half adjustments in both effort and intensity on defense, but based on Day’s postgame comments that seemed to be due mostly to players rallying each other at halftime.
Three quarters filled with thrills. Unless you’re a defensive purist, or coordinator, this was must-see entertainment. Records fell. Memories were made.
This was the biggest day in Utah football history, and the Utes came out fired up in what was basically a home game. But they never figured a way to stop Ohio State’s passing game. In particular, how to at least slow Smithnjigba. It was bad luck when Rising was hurt and probably was the difference in the game.
Officials were incorrect in flagging Fleming for holding on what would have been a 75-yard kickoff return by Egbuka. It was simply a good, physical block. Replay officials smartly, and surprisingly, stopped play to review and enforce an uncalled targeting on Utah on an OSU kick return. The ejection of Ohio State’s Jack Sawyer appeared to be an overzealous use of the “lowering the head” part of targeting, as the freshman from Pickerington was tackling a player who was going to the ground. It’s difficult to raise one’s head while heading to the turf.