COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Ohio State’s 77-21 victory over the Toledo Rockets was filled with great play by quarterback C.J. Stroud, a strong red zone ground game and multiple turnovers – finally!
Here is more on those three takeaways:
C.J. Stroud is scary good
It’s no secret to anyone who follows college football that sophomore C.J. Stroud is currently putting up ridiculous numbers. It isn’t so much the numbers but the actual throws that are turning heads.
Stroud has shown a much better ability on the roll this season, and his patience and ball placement are second to none. There’s no better evidence of that than his second quarter touchdown throw to Julian Fleming, an 11-yard dart that Stroud placed where only Fleming could catch it. The end zone was congested yet Stroud found a way to fit the football into a tight window.
“I thought he had a good week of practice,” OSU coach Ryan Day said. “His attitude was excellent. His work ethic was excellent. I thought the time to put it on his own was excellent. We had a tough week of practice. We did. We were physical on Tuesday, physical on Wednesday, and got a ton of reps. We felt that we needed to do that and he embraced that. And it’s a lot, you know, as a quarterback. You take a lot on, but his attitude was excellent. His energy was excellent today and he played really well. I think he fed off having Jaxon (Smith-Njigba) and Julian (Fleming) back in the lineup too. It’s great.”
Stroud has thrown nine touchdowns and no interceptions in the last two games and has averaged 13.8 yards per passing attempt. That’s dealing it, and he’s been able to do it from all kinds of formations and from all kinds of body and arm angles.
“You saw a wide variety of variety throws,” Day said. “We saw some in the red zone, on third down and that’s where you make money as a quarterback is in the red zone and on third down. We talked a lot about staying on schedule and making sure we didn’t have any three-and-outs in this game. That was important.”
Offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson believes that the playbook is always wide open because there isn’t much Stroud can’t do.
“Sam Bradford was the first guy who I thought had the quickest mind and I would say C.J.’s rivals his,” Wilson said. “Not only the ability to have a quick mind, but the ability to see and process. I think he sees things very, very clearly. The way it works with Coach Day and (Quarterbacks) Coach (Corey) Dennis, he’s very much in sync with what Coach Day wants him to do, where his eyes need to be and what his looks are.”
For his part, Stroud gave most of the credit to the guy catching the ball.
“What a catch on the sideline and then that second touchdown; he just had crisp route-running and body language,” Stroud said of Fleming. “I definitely think Julian has a lot more football ahead of him and he’ll continue to be great.”
Red-zone run-game thrives
While Stroud generated most of the headlines, the Buckeyes ground game did its fair share of heavy lifting. OSU had four rushing touchdowns, all in the red zone, including an old-fashioned fullback dive from Mitch Rossi early in the third quarter.
OSU averaged 6.4 yards per carry on 44 runs and rolled up 281 yards on the ground. Freshman Dallan Hayden became the first Buckeyes back this season to eclipse 100 yards, netting 108 yards on 17 carries. He also scored his first career touchdown and got a lot of second half action after an injury to TreVeyon Henderson and first-half excellence from Miyan Williams.
Wilson said the Buckeyes made a concerted effort to get tougher in the red zone, and that starts with the ground game.
“I think the emphasis was more on trying to get the run game going because it gets really hard even though we throw the ball so well,” he said. “I know Coach Day, (Receivers) Coach (Brian)Hartline and Coach Dennis always work up the best red zone plan to throw the ball, but those windows and spaces get tighter. So your ability to run the ball in the red zone is really when you can be a better red zone offense. That was the emphasis of all offseason: to be a little bit better in the run game. We are building that way. I think as the run game goes, you stay on schedule, you get more manageable as you get play-action. That’s helped the low red offense. The emphasis was more on can we run the ball better and can we run the ball in tough situations. Right now, we aren’t where we need to be, but we are getting better at that and that’s good to see for our team.”
The Buckeyes had four red zone rushing scores – one from Henderson, one from Hayden, one from wideout Emeka Egbuka on a jet sweep and one from Rossi.
Hayden getting a lot of work this early in the season showed that the Buckeyes aren’t terribly team at running back. He was expected to redshirt in 2022, but an offseason injury to Evan Pryor thrust him up the depth chart. When Henderson left the game against Toledo, the burden was on Williams for the first half, then Hayden came in to finish off the Rockets for the bulk of the second half. Walk-on T.C. Caffey even got into the act, gaining 57 yards on six carries.
“(Dallan)’s practiced well,” Day said. “He’s taking care of the football and so is TC quite honestly. Both of those guys have done a nice job in practice. But the number one thing for those guys is that you have to take care of the football because if they can build trust with those coaches now, obviously the offensive staff, myself, (Running Backs) Coach (Tony) Alford, that’s the number one thing. Protection and take care of the football. They’ve done that, and now they let their natural ability take over. To see them in for the first time, to play like this, you can see (Dallan’s) quickness in the hole, with good vision, with power. He’s got a chance to be really good.”
Turnover zeros become turnover heroes
Ohio State entered the Toledo game as one of eight teams in college football to not gain a turnover in the early part of the season. It’s a huge part of coordinator Jim Knowles defense, something that the Buckeyes are generally good at (top 20 in two of the past three seasons) but had not yet completed in 2022.
That all changed when Ronnie Hickman intercepted Toledo quarterback Dequan Finn on the Rockets first drive of the second half.
“It was on a play that we enjoyed a lot this week – we actually talked about it a lot,” Hickman said. “Just me being able to see the quarterback’s eyes and see wherever they like to throw the ball. I had a feeling it was going to the boundary right there. I just looked at him and knew.”
The Buckeyes also corralled a fourth quarter fumble to add to the turnover bounty, and the excitement on the sidelines was obvious.
“It felt great,” defensive lineman Jack Sawyer said. “We’ve been wanting to get a couple of turnovers here and there. The last couple weeks we weren’t able to do it. So we’ve been harping on that, attacking the ball and making sure we’re catching overthrows and stuff like that. We knew they were coming. We were playing really good defense, and it’s just a matter of time for that to happen. We were all excited. We were all really excited on the sideline, seeing the first takeaway of the year. It meant a lot to us.”
Other staples of Knowles’ aggressive defense are tackles for loss (tied for seventh), sacks (tied for 27th) and opponents third down conversions (20th). So while it is still a work in progress, the Buckeyes defense is making strides.
And they say turnovers come in bunches, so don’t be surprised if Ohio State starts operating like a thief at Christmas time over the next few weeks.