COLUMBUS, Ohio - The Ohio State Buckeyes come into the second week of the college football season looking to play better defense, while the Oregon Ducks need to improve their offensive output. Which team improves the most between their individual needs will likely come out on top this Saturday.
Looking at the matchup overall, the physicality of the matchup could also be a key indicator of the final outcome. Here’s a look at the offensive and defensive matchups heading into the football game.
Ohio State Offense Versus the Oregon Defense
First-year starting quarterback CJ Stroud provided good and bad moments during his first start against Minnesota. The talented redshirt freshman went 13 of 22 for 294 yards, four touchdowns, and one interception.
With a talented receiving core that could several players to the NFL, there’s no doubt that the Buckeyes should be able to pass the football on the Ducks defense. There is one unknown factor.
Will defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux play? After being in a walking boot because he was rolled up during game one, Thibodeaux may or may not play. He’s a possible top three pick in the 2022 NFL Draft so that’s big news, and he’s a pass rusher. If he’s not available to harass Stroud, look for Ohio State’s passing attack to be able to hit more big plays.
With Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave leading the charge, Ohio State’s passing attack can be lethal. Even true freshman running back TreyVon Henderson is one to watch. He took a pass 70 yards for a score against Minnesota. Henderson’s speed is fantastic, and that’s a theme with Ohio State offensive skill position players overall.
Up front, Ohio State’s offensive line is considered to be one of the nation’s best. Will the Buckeyes keep Stroud upright for the majority of the game? Oregon is probably going to come after Stroud. Should be a good matchup in the trenches.
Then there’s Ohio State running back Miyan Williams. He can be explosive. The redshirt freshman only played in four games last season, but he’s come on to become the lead runner for the Buckeyes.
After nine carries, 125 yards and one touchdown against the Gophers, he’s a player to watch. The Ducks must keep Williams in check and not allow any long touchdown runs.
Oregon Offense Versus the Ohio State Defense
The Ducks need to control the football and keep the Buckeyes off the field. That means that quarterback Anthony Brown not only needs to throw and run the football well, but also needs to make good judgments with protections up front, as well making an audible to get the Ducks into the best possible play.
There’s no room for Brown and the Oregon offense to be wasting opportunities against a team that will likely score more than 30 points against the Oregon defense, or just about any other defense for that matter. Brown must get the Ducks into the best play, time and time again.
Beyond that, Brown needs to improve his passing. Against Fresno State, Brown finished 15 of 24 for 172 yards and a touchdown. That’s okay against the Bulldogs, but not against the Buckeyes. Brown needs to create more chunk-yardage passing plays; 20-plus yards or more will be the key.
Can Brown accomplish this? Well, his receiving core also needs to make it happen. Brown completed a 26 yard pass to wide receiver Mycah Pittman and a 32 yard pass to Johnny Johnson III in game one. There were no down-the-field passing plays that wow a crowd, or for that matter, scare an opposing defensive coordinator. If that category does not change against Ohio State, the Ducks could be in trouble.
The reason for Oregon’s need to hit a few deep passing plays would be keeping Ohio State’s linebackers and safeties from crowding the line of scrimmage. The Buckeyes were really bad at stopping the run against the Gophers, allowing 203 rushing yards. Motivation alone will likely mean the Ohio State defense will play better against the run. There could be some scheme changes as well.
Look for Ohio State to come out very aggressive against the Ducks and force Oregon to throw. That's why hitting a deep shot to Johnson, for instance, could change the complexion of the game.
That’s when Oregon running backs like Travis Dye and CJ Verdell will be awarded with more space. Both players can produce big plays. Against Fresno State, the Ducks running game was solid, but the two running backs combined for just 138 yards. Against Ohio State, those two need to reach closer to 170 or 180 yards rushing if the Ducks are to come out on top.
Note: Brown is a quarterback, but he’s also an adept runner. He popped a 30 yard run against Fresno State and his athleticism could be valuable against the Buckeyes. Watch for him to scramble a few times to gain enough yardage to move the chains, and he could call his own number and run the football during a quarterback draw or quarterback power, etc.
Beyond Obvious Skill Players, Ohio State Players to Watch
**Starting left tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere is a future NFL player and one that can match up with the physical skills of Thibodeaux, assuming the Ducks defensive end plays. Petit-Frere’s ability to keep pressure off of his quarterback and open running lanes will be critical regardless of Thibodeaux’s injury status this Saturday, however. He’s a really good player that simply needs to play a great game.
**The Buckeyes linebacker core did not play any place near to the standard of past Ohio State linebacker cores while playing Minnesota. That must change against the Ducks, as each player needs to fill gaps better and be in a better position to make plays against the run and the pass.
**It's time for Haskell Garrett to make his mark. The defensive tackle needs to be a prime time player against the Ducks.
**Which Ohio State cornerback steps up? The Buckeyes are known for cornerback play, but there was not a true stalwart from the cornerbacks against Minnesota. There is plenty of talent at cornerback though.
**Zach Harrison possesses incredible upside at defensive end. Will this be his breakout game of 2021.
Beyond Obvious Skill Players, Oregon Players to Watch
***The interior of the Oregon offensive line -- from guard to guard -- will be the key for Oregon in this game. Keep Ohio State’s defense honest by playing power football and moving the chains. That starts with the interior offensive line paving the way for Dye and Verdell.
***Oregon linebackers Justin Flowe and Noah Sewell, both future NFL players, need to be dominant. They combined for 19 tackles against Fresno State.
**Slowing down Ohio State’s power running game does not just fall on Flowe and Sewell. Brandon Dorlus, a defensive tackle, needs to play well. Getting a few extra run stuffs and/or tackles for loss will be key for the Oregon defensive line overall.
Final Thoughts and Prediction
Ohio State will do what it needs to do to keep the Ducks off balance defensively, and improve from its game one miscues. Look for fewer mental errors from the Buckeyes, and it will keep Oregon off balance defensively.
Meanwhile, the Ducks will hold their own offensively, but not enough big plays will hinder their overall scoring output. The Buckeyes get it done at home.