COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Arguably the biggest game of Ohio State’s regular season goes down this Saturday when the No. 3 Buckeyes play the No. 12 Oregon Ducks at noon at Ohio Stadium. This will be Ohio State’s first game inside a packed Horseshoe since Nov. 23, 2019.
Ohio State is coming off an up and down 45-31 road win over Minnesota in which C.J. Stroud made his first start at quarterback while 14 freshmen played for the Buckeyes, including nine true freshmen.
The last time Ohio State and Oregon squared off ended with the Buckeyes winning the first College Football Playoff national championship in 2014.
Stroud was named Big Ten freshman of the week for his performance against the Gophers. After enduring a slow first half, Stroud threw for nearly 300 yards and four touchdowns with all four coming in the second half.
The Buckeyes now turn their attention to Oregon — currently the highest ranked team they’ll play all season. But the Ducks struggled in week one barely edging out Fresno State 31-24 thanks to a late fourth quarter touchdown on fourth down.
Here are two things Ohio State needs to do to win and two things to watch for in the game.
Slow down Brown
Oregon quarterback Anthony Brown thrives out of the pocket. Oregon designs runs for the fifth-year senior and prefers having him rollout when passing to utilize his athleticism. Brown attempted 24 passes and ran 16 times, and that strategy won’t change against the Buckeyes.
“He can make the run when it needs to be made,” bullet safety Ronnie Hickman said. “Just preparing right for him and just recognizing certain plays in certain formations and stuff like that and adjusting to it as the game goes on.”
Ryan Day actually knows Brown on a close level since the OSU coach recruited Brown to Boston College in 2017 where he spent three years with the Eagles before transferring to Oregon before the 2020 season.
Stopping Brown on the ground starts with slowing down Oregon’s running backs. It sounds simple enough but Ohio State struggled to do so against Minnesota, which left the Buckeyes susceptible to the play-action pass. In all fairness, OSU faced the largest offensive line by average size in the country in the Gophers as well as one of the best running backs in the country in Mohamed Ibrahim who unfortunately suffered a season-ending lower leg injury late in the third quarter.
Oregon’s game plan against Fresno State was virtually identical to Minnesota’s strategy versus the Buckeyes. The Gophers ran the ball 50 times and passed 25 times while the Ducks had 49 carries and 24 pass attempts. Oregon coach Mario Cristobal prides himself on developing top-tier linemen, so expect Oregon to try and challenge OSU at the line of scrimmage.
Thrive in small ball
Ohio State ran 48 plays on offense against Minnesota and averaged a school-record 10.3 yards per play. The Buckeyes amassed 495 yards, which is great. But 296 of those yards came on five plays and all of those plays were a touchdown. Oregon likely won’t be as susceptible to giving up as many big plays as the Gophers did since the Ducks have three game changers on defense (see below). Explosive plays will be a big part of the Buckeyes offense this season given the amount of playmakers they have but grinding a team down by averaging six yards a run and 10 to 12 yards a pass will lead to more success against more talented defenses like Oregon. Keep an eye out to see which Ohio State running back gets the most reps after Master Teague did not play in the second half against the Gophers.
Will Kayvon Thibodeaux be available?
Kayvon Thibodeaux is ranked as the top-rated pass rusher this year by Pro Football Focus (PFF) and is a projected top-five draft pick by all of the experts. He made his presence felt early on against Fresno State forcing a strip sack that led to a touchdown, but the sophomore rolled his ankle in the win and has been described as day-to-day by Cristobal. He’s their best player on defense but not the only one who can make plays, which was highlighted by Oregon’s four sacks, four forced fumbles and eight tackles for a loss against the Bulldogs.
Oregon has two other playmakers on defense who could affect Ohio State’s offense, most notably inside linebacker Noah Sewell, the brother of offensive lineman Penei Sewell who was drafted seventh overall in 2021. Noah returns after a stellar 2020 season in which he was named the Pac-12 freshman defensive player of the year. He’s also on the Butkus Award watch list for the nation’s top linebackers and will be tasked with finding ways to make Stroud uncomfortable. The Ducks also have cornerback Mykael Wright who’s ranked as a top 10 cornerback in the country by PFF.
How many Buckeyes will play on defense?
Ohio State played a staggering 24 players on defense, in part to find out who’s good enough to play on a regular basis. Seven Buckeyes made thier first collegiate start against Minnesota, including six on defense.
Two of those starters were true freshman cornerback Denzel Burke and redshirt freshman cornerback Ryan Watts after veterans Sevyn Banks and Cam Brown did not play due to injuries. Ryan Day has not said whether either player will be available against Oregon and Ohio State’s injury report is set to come out at 9:00 a.m. Saturday. After the win over Minnesota, Day provided some insight into why OSU played so many defenders.
“We have a lot of depth and so we’re playing a lot of depth right now,” Day said. “Maybe it sorts out a little bit differently as we watch the film and guys solidify some spots but until then it was really close in a lot of positions and we’ll have to look at it and see if maybe we need to have a little more continuity in certain positions but guys deserve to play and we’re going to play depth and I think that’s going to serve us well especially down the road.”