Ohio State launched it's national championship-or-bust campaign yesterday afternoon with a comfortable 52-17 win. Now that we've had 24 hours to digest the win, here are my biggest takeaways from the offensive performance.
**I would really prefer not to see Fields run the ball as often as he does. I realize that's not in his nature, and frankly he can't help it. The vast majority of the time, they aren't designed runs. I like the fact that he's mobile and that he can extend the pocket and his skillset is truly elite. But I admit I find myself holding my breath every single team he gets hit. Ohio State's championship aspirations largely (although not entirely) account for his health and productivity.
I realize that in 2014, they won the national championship after Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett both got hurt. If there is any program that knows its possible to overcome that adversity, it's the Buckeyes. I love having an athletic quarterback and there's nobody else in the country I'd rather see leading Ohio State. But I'm pretty risk averse by nature and seeing Fields exposed throughout the game - especially with as physically as Nebraska's defense played.
**Regarding Justin Fields' backup, we got our first glimpse yesterday at freshman quarterback Jack Miller III. Ryan Day wouldn't commit to naming a second string QB last week, but Miller got it the game for the final series. It was obviously limited action, but admittedly I was impressed. It's hard to get a read on guys when they're playing in garbage time, well after the outcome of the game has been decided. But you have to start somewhere. No offense to Gunnar Hoak, but I liked that Coach Day played one of the two freshmen yesterday instead. It's critical to get them some reps considering how little they've been able to do since they got on campus.
**Yesterday's entire first half felt like one giant reminder of how good J.K. Dobbins was last year. We know Master Teague is a good running back (he was third team All-Big Ten as a backup last year) and we know that Trey Sermon is a terrific athlete (2,000+ yards in three years at Oklahoma). But Nebraska's defense was perhaps tougher to run the ball against than I expected early on and it made me appreciate that much more how impressive J.K. Dobbins was in 2019.
I also loved what I saw from Steele Chambers in limited action. He was physical and ran hard, downhill. I want to see him get more touches against Penn State on Saturday.
Especially as the weather worsens for games in late November and early December, the Buckeyes are going to need to run the football effectively.
**Brian Hartline is the best receivers coach in the country and his group is elite. Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson won't surprise anyone with their talent. But this team feels like it has an entire roster of future NFL talent - or at a minimum, incredibly productive college talent - and we started to get a glimpse of that yesterday. Jackson Smith-Njigba's touchdown catch in the back of the end zone was one of the best catches I've ever seen live. I sure hope there is more to come there.
**I thought the offensive line was really good in pass protection, but struggled a bit to control the line of scrimmage in the run game. They wore Nebraska down late in the game and the score was comfortable, but considering Nebraska's defensive line featured an entire new starting group, I thought they were pretty effective. I thought Ohio State adjusted well to some of the stunts and blitzes they saw in the first half and I was glad to see there were no penalties on that group all game.
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