COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Ohio State football team beat Akron 59-7 on Saturday night to improve to 3-1 on the season in a game where it could pick its score.
The Buckeyes looked great in every facet of the game, but it’s easy to do that when there’s a 654.12-point recruiting talent gap between you and the opponent. A win was never the point of what was nothing more than a glorified preseason game. This week was about finding answers to questions that will help you over the next eight weeks.
For the first time this season, OSU played a game where it accomplished that challenge instead of bringing new problems to the table.
Did the defensive line get home?
Ohio State’s defensive line spent the night in Akron’s backfield applying pressure, and whenever quarterback DJ Irons Jr. couldn’t escape, it ended in sacks. This week’s Outrageous Predictions focus on Larry Johnson’s players getting home, and they did just that. Haskell Garrett started the night off, then everyone else got involved resulting in a first half where they recorded four sacks and five tackles for loss.
The Buckeyes didn’t let up in the second half and finished the game with nine sacks. Players included in that were Garrett with three, Tyleik Williams with two, and Jerron Cage, Ty Hamilton, Antuan Jackson Jr., and Jack Sawyer with one each.
OSU needs its front four to get home consistently and cause pressure even more often. The rest of the defense’s success relies on it to be effective. It allows the back seven to have a simplified approach creating opportunities to make plays. Against Akron, that meant eliminating the passing attack — 115 yards — and interceptions by Ronnie Hickman — who turned his into a pick-six — and Cody Simon.
There were still times where Matt Barnes — who’s now calling plays — got creative by sending blitzes and changing up looks between single-high safety and two-safety looks. But the defensive line’s play set the tone and made everything that happened after a way to display aggressiveness. That’s the formula to a great Ohio State defense.
This was a performance the Buckeyes can build on. Now the challenge is making sure they repeat it against opponents better equipped to be on the field with them.
Where’s everybody on defense?
Ohio State’s still figuring things out, but it’s probably easier to project who may be where by the end of the season based on tonight.
The defensive end rotation will still have Zach Harrison, Javonte Jean-Baptiste and Tyreke Smith, but Sawyer and J.T. Tuimoloau are coming. Every snap they get, they show why they deserve more.
The interior starters are Garrett and Taron Vincent, with Jackson, Cage and Ty Hamilton rotating in. The way Williams has played the last two weeks suggests he should be part of that, providing a chance for Johnson’s rotation to once again be six-deep inside.
Teradja Mitchell and Cody Simon started together for the first time all season while Tommy Eichenberg and Steele Chambers rotated in. Those two are Ohio State’s best linebackers, and the snaps should reflect that. The only potential asterisk in that statement is if USC transfer Palaie Gaoteote IV starts carving out a role for himself as a former five-star recruit.
Denzel Burke and Cameron Brown are the starting cornerbacks. At best, Sevyn Banks rotates in. But in his limited action this season, he hasn’t been great. That shouldn’t be a problem in the regular season, but having a third guy will come in handy in the postseason regardless of if it’s in the College Football Playoff or a regular bowl game.
Safety is where things are interesting. Lathan Ransom seemed to be the answer at two spots — similar to Josh Proctor last year — the first few weeks, but Cameron Martinez has established himself as a real option at cover safety. Doing so frees up Ransom to move back to his natural position of free safety. He shared the role with Bryson Shaw against the Zips, but don’t be surprised if he gradually gets more snaps as the season progresses.
Everything looked good on defense on Saturday because it was a game against an overmatched opponent. But this week was about finding out who Ohio State’s best players are. Regardless of whether they’re a seasoned veteran or a true freshman, those players are starting to emerge, and the coaching staff acknowledges it.
Who was QB1 and how’d they look?
Kyle McCord got the start, and his first drive as a college quarterback went as follows: hand-off to TreVeyon Henderson for 12 yards, a throw to Garrett Wilson that was too high and a throw to Jaxon Smith-Njigba that was way too high.
Clearly, the fourth true freshman quarterback to ever start for the Buckeyes needed to settle in, and head coach Ryan Day helped him do that. He adjusted the play-calling, putting the onus on the weapons to be great, and each responded. Whether it was Henderson doing whatever he wanted as a running back, Wilson taking a bubble screen for 57 yards or Chris Olave taking a jet sweep for a touchdown.
Henderson finished with 93 yards and two scores on eight carries. Wilson had 127 yards on four catches while Smith-Njigba added five catches for 93 yards and a score.
Taking the weight off McCord’s shoulders allowed him to settle in, and then he started ripping off throws that explained why he was a five-star recruit. The freshman finished the night completing 13-of-18 passes for two touchdowns. He was also sacked twice.
McCord’s game was quality overall, though he did have moments of youth, such as an interception on a throw he didn’t need to make. But the bigger story is about how Day and offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson helped a young quarterback succeed in a new environment.
Whether McCord turns this into a starting job or Stroud comes back next week and takes back over after a week off, this is an approach the coaching staff can learn from.
Jack Miller replaced McCord in the second half and went 5-of-8 for 66 yards. He almost had a touchdown pass to Cade Stover but threw an inaccurate pass.
What about the young guys?
Emeka Egbuka’s first catch as a college football player went for 85 yards. He was the only guy under this category with the opportunity to make a play. The five-star recruit was the No. 10 player and top wide receiver in the 2021 recruiting class. There are high expectations for his career, but for now he’ll wait behind the nation’s two best receivers and another five-star.
His role so far this season has been reduced to being a kick returner. But with an extended role against Akron, he flashed what the future might hold for him.
Marvin Harrison Jr. and Jayden Ballard also played the bulk of the second half, each catching their only target of the game.
Jordan Hancock and Jakailin Johnson saw action on the final drive of the game. Johnson recorded a tackle, but also got a taunting penalty after an incomplete pass.
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