It wasn’t the greatest week of college football action. After last week, where we had the epic Tennessee-Bama game, and then Utah and USC closed us out with a thriller after midnight, this week was pretty quiet, all things considered. Syracuse almost pulled off an incredible upset over Clemson, but came up just short at the end.
There were just no real heavyweight bouts.
In fact, there really isn’t a whole lot to get excited for between now and conference championship weekend. I’ve put together a viewing guide for the next 5 weeks:
- (2) Ohio State at (13) Penn State
- (7) TCU at West Virginia
- Florida vs. (1) Georgia (neutral site in Jacksonville)
- (19) Kentucky at (3) Tennessee
- (9) Oklahoma State at (22) Kansas State
- Michigan State at (4) Michigan (even though Sparty is terrible, this is a rivalry game and it’s usually pretty fun. Don’t have very high hopes for it this year, though. UM is -22.)
- THE RETURN OF TUESDAY NIGHT MAC-TION: Ball State @ Kent State, Buffalo @ Ohio
- WEDNESDAY NIGHT MAC-TION TOO?!? CMU @ NIU, WMU @ Bowling Green
- Friday: Oregon State at Washington, both teams unranked but both teams 6-2 currently
- (3) Tennessee at (1) Georgia
- Texas at (22) Kansas State
- Clemson at Notre Dame
- (10) Wake Forest at (24) NC State (Wake Forest is #10?!?)
- Florida State at Miami (should at least be entertaining, hopefully?)
- (6) Alabama at (18) LSU
- 3 games of Tuesday night MAC-tion, 3 games of Wednesday night MAC-tion
- (1) Georgia at Mississippi State
- (6) Alabama at (15) Ole Miss
- (21) UNC at (10) Wake Forest
- (1) Georgia at Mississippi State
- (7) TCU at Texas
- Purdue at (17) Illinois
- 5 games of Tuesday/Wednesday night MAC-tion total.
- USC at UCLA
- Georgia at Kentucky
- Utah at Oregon
- Illinois at Michigan
- Michigan at Ohio State
So there are some decent games this weekend, with Penn State vs. Ohio State leading the pack. But we have to wait until November 5, when Tennessee goes to Georgia, to see a real heavyweight bout.
Is Ohio State’s Offense Overrated?
Thoughts as I’m watching the game:
- Stroud does not handle pressure well. Iowa is blitzing and making him uncomfortable and he looks like a totally different player.
- Stroud took the worst sack I’ve ever seen in college football:
- How many early timeouts did Ohio State have to burn? Their offense looks totally out of sorts.
- I have a big issue with the play calling for Ohio State. They don’t ever run it consistently enough to get their backs into a rhythm and wear down the defense.
- And it seems like they’re always going for the home run on offense. It’s like they have no pass plays that are designed to go for 5-10 yards. Actually, there was a 4th down where they did call one, and it worked perfectly. But they don’t use those plays until 4th down.
- I feel like other teams have a good arsenal of nickel and dime/dink and dunk plays—just quick little pop passes or flip passes or screens or just short route passes. Ohio State doesn’t.
- Now it’s fair to say that they have so much talent they don’t really need to dink and dunk people. They can beat you straight up.
- But Ohio State under Ryan Day has historically been bad in the red zone. I remember the reason they lost to Clemson in the playoff in 2019 was because they couldn’t get touchdowns in the red zone. They should have won that game by 20, but they kicked 2 field goals in the first half when they were inside the 5 yard line and another from the 16. They were also bad in the red zone last year. And now those issues are rearing their ugly head once again.
- I feel like Ohio State’s offense just can’t really operate in the compressed quarters of the red zone. It’s designed to go vertical, take advantage of all that speed the receivers have. It’s the best in the country between the 20s. But inside the red zone, it sputters.
- Now prior to this Iowa game they were the best red zone offense in the country as far as touchdown percentage.
- But that’s because they didn’t play anybody who could stop them.
- Now that they’re playing a real defense, the offense looks considerably less scary. Like a finely tuned race car when it starts to rain—just thrown into complete disarray.
- And then he makes those throws to Harrison Jr. and then Egbuka toward the end of the third quarter. Wow.
- I take back everything I just said:
- The Ohio State offense relies heavily on rhythm and timing. The announcers were talking about this a bit. When the rhythm and timing is off, they can be a mess. But when it’s on, it’s on. There’s nobody that’s going to stop them.
- And this Iowa team has a great defense. They play a pro-style defense, where they just sit back there in a zone coverage. They’re very different from what defense most other college teams play. They basically just hold serve and wait for you to make a mistake, and their speciality is stopping you once you get into the red zone.
- I thought they were holding up pretty well against Ohio State’s offense, all things considered.
Thoughts AFTER the Game
- Okay, with a little more time to think on it, here’s where I am: Iowa is a legitimately good defense. I don’t know the next time Ohio State will face a team as tough as Iowa on defense, honestly. So I don’t think it’s something to be ashamed of that Ohio State was having some trouble with Iowa.
- Even as bad as Iowa’s offense is, they’ve been competitive in most of their games. No one has done this to them so far this season other than Ohio State. Their worst loss to this point was 14 points, and Ohio State just beat them by 44.
- The most points Iowa had let up prior to Saturday was 27 to Michigan, and in that game it was a 20-7 Michigan lead, and Iowa had the ball at the Michigan 6 yard line with about 5:45 to play facing a 4th & 2. Iowa didn’t get it, but they were within 6 yards of making that a 20-14 game with about 5 minutes to play. It was actually a lot closer than you’d think if you didn’t watch the game. Yes, Michigan was never in any real danger of losing, but that game wasn’t decided until the very end.
- Meanwhile, the Ohio State-Iowa game was decided by about the end of the first half. It was just much, much easier for Ohio State to beat Iowa than it was for Michigan to beat Iowa.
- No team has beaten Iowa under Kirk Ferentz this badly since his first year as Iowa head coach in 1999, when they lost 49-3 to Michigan State (which was coached by none other than Nick Saban at the time). Iowa went 1-10 that year.
Worst losses in Iowa history:
The last time Iowa let up more than 54 points was 1995, when they lost to Ohio State 56-35.
Iowa only had 59 points against all season this year prior to the Ohio State game.
No team has ever scored 50 or more points against a Kirk Ferentz Iowa team. Joel Klatt pointed out that since 2015, Iowa has only let up more than 40 points 4 times: in the 2015 Rose Bowl against Stanford with Christian McCaffrey, a 44-41 win over Iowa State in 2015, and the 42-3 loss to Michigan in last year’s Big Ten Championship game.
And look: Michigan really did run up the score in that Big Ten Championship Game. It was 14-3 at halftime, 21-3 at the end of the third quarter, and then Michigan poured on 3 fourth quarter TDs to really make it look like a complete beatdown. Michigan scored their last touchdown of the game with 1:25 left to play, and they were throwing the ball on that drive, too. It wasn’t like they were just running it and they happened to score; no, they were deliberately running the score up as much as possible. And that’s a consistent trend for Michigan under Harbaugh–they run the score up all the time, whenever possible.
I am an Iowa alum. I’ve written about this team and this offense and how bad they are. There’s really nothing more that can be said about them: Brian Ferentz is incompetent but because he’s the head coach’s son, he’s untouchable.
But I watch a lot of Iowa games, obviously, and I have never once seen them get beaten down this badly. Normally Iowa is competitive in almost all of their games, but not this one. This was one of the worst beatdowns Iowa has suffered in a long time. Ohio State made Iowa look like a MAC team.
When I think of the worst Iowa losses of my lifetime, I immediately think about the Stanford game with McCaffrey. That game was 35-0 at halftime. McCaffrey had 172 yards rushing, 104 receiving yards, plus a 63 yard punt return TD. He looked like Reggie Bush’s high school highlights. It was maybe the greatest performance I’ve ever seen from a running back in a single game. I turned it off at halftime.
But even that game was a bit different from this Ohio State game. The thing I remember most about that Stanford game was just how incredible Christian McCaffrey was. Yes, Iowa played like crap, but the takeaway was more just along the lines of, “How are you supposed to stop this guy? This is ridiculous.”
The Ohio State game was really more of a full spectrum embarrassment. Iowa had 81 total yards of offense at the end of the first half, which included three turnovers, another turnover on a blown-up fake punt, and just five first downs on 8 total drives.
Yes, the Iowa defense was able to hold the Ohio State offense to field goals on four separate possessions, which is why the score was 26-10 at halftime instead of 42-10, but I want to just review those five possessions and see whether it was really the Ohio State offense getting dominated or if it was self-inflicted errors.
- On the first drive Ohio State had, off the INT, they had the ball at the Iowa 27, 3rd and 9, and Stroud just missed a wide open Egbuka around the 12 yard line. Stroud had all day to throw, perfectly clean pocket, and Egbuka was open. Stroud just sailed it. I think it was miscommunication.
- The next time Ohio State was held to a field goal, it was a 3rd and 3 from the Iowa 20 after a Petras fumble. They tossed it to Miyan Williams, and he got blown up in the backfield. I didn’t really like the play call for Ohio State, it seemed a little too cute. Just run it up the gut, man. But it is what it is. I’ll say Iowa won that one.
- The next field goal for Ohio State, the third one (after the fake punt attempt), I just thought it was a terrible no-call by the refs. It was 3rd and 9 from the Iowa 17, Stroud threw towards Smith-Njigba in the endzone, and the Iowa defender just straight up pushed JSN out of bounds without even making an attempt to turn his head and play the ball. It was a terrible no-call, it should’ve been DPI in the endzone, but it wasn’t and Ohio State had to settle for a field goal. Maybe they shouldn’t have been in a 3rd and 9 situation, but that’s on the refs for not calling the PI. It was blatant.
- Ohio State’s next possession, they were starting with normal field position after an Iowa field goal. They got the ball to their own 47 and faced a 3rd and 5. Iowa blitzed, got good pressure, and Stroud threw it away in a hurry in the direction of Egbuka, but nowhere close to being caught. It was just good defense by Iowa there. Iowa won this one and forced the punt.
- On Ohio State’s ensuing possession, they had great field position starting at the Iowa 32. Ohio State’s punt pinned Iowa inside their own 5, and then of course Iowa went 3 and out, punted, and Ohio State returned it all the way to the Iowa 32. Eventually Ohio State would be faced with a 3rd and 2 from the Iowa 24, and tried to run it up the gut, but Iowa stonewalled it. Iowa sold out against the run and won, but then Ohio State moved the chains on fourth down with a nice roll out pass to Egbuka. Then, facing a 3rd and 7 from the Iowa 8 yard line, Iowa blitzed Stroud and forced a hurried pass which fell incomplete in the endzone. Another win for Iowa.
So those are the six possessions of the first half where Ohio State’s offense didn’t look great. I would credit Iowa’s defense with a win on three of them. One was just a mistake by Stroud and Egbuka, and the other was a terrible no-call by the officials.
And then actually there’s one more possession that people will point to in an effort to discredit the Ohio State offense. It was the first possession of the second half, in fact the first play. Stroud felt some pressure, moved around to elude it in the pocket, and then threw down field to Julian Fleming, who was in triple coverage. It was a bad throw to begin with, but Jack Campbell wound up picking the ball off. However, after the replay, I thought it was pretty clear that Campbell didn’t actually catch the ball. It clearly hit the ground, but nobody reviewed it and the call stood. Of course, on the next play, Iowa had Padilla in and he fumbled the snap, giving the ball right back to Ohio State immediately. So I guess it was a Ball Don’t Line moment.
Still, bad decision by Stroud to throw that ball. Even though it wasn’t a real interception, he deserved to be picked off for throwing that ball in the first place.
On the next possession, Ohio State had some bad rushing attempts including one that was blown up in the backfield. And then Stroud took the worst sack I’ve ever seen on third down around midfield.
After that possession, I thought Ohio State’s offense looked significantly better. Stroud was handling the pressure a lot better, his throws were on point, and they were able to execute in the red zone.
I think a lot of how this game went had to do with the fact that Iowa was by far the best defense Ohio State had faced this season. And Iowa’s specialty is stopping you in the red zone, too. It’s what they do. I just don’t think Ohio State was used to encountering this much resistance from an opposing defense, and it definitely had them off-kilter for a least 2 and a half quarters.
But their defense was so dominant it was excused. I know the detractors will say Iowa’s offense is terrible and anyone could’ve done this to them. But as bad as Iowa’s offense is, nobody has made them look this bad this year. Iowa was held to 158 yards of total offense, and 31 of those yards came on a 4th quarter drive when the game was already 54-10. Iowa’s longest drive was 44 yards and it resulted in a 49 yard field goal. That was the only time their offense showed anything even resembling a pulse. Iowa coughed up the ball 6 times in this game, and again, people are going to say it’s just because Iowa sucks on offense. But this Jim Knowles defense that Ohio State is running is designed to force turnovers like that. It’s designed to confuse the quarterback and the offensive coordinator, disguise the coverage, and make you hesitate in the pocket.
Ohio State’s defense had 5 sacks and 3 hurries on just 24 dropbacks, meaning one out of every 3 QB dropbacks, the Iowa QB was under duress.
I will just say, however, that Iowa usually has a strong offensive line. Other than defense, it’s what Iowa is known for: sending offensive linemen to the NFL. But this year, their offensive line is bad. Not just for Iowa standards, but bad bad. Uncharacteristically bad. This is probably why the Iowa offense is so bad overall, as in terms of skill position personnel, it’s not much different from previous years. They have a couple of tight ends, Sam LaPorta and Luke Lachey, who, while they don’t put up much in the way of stats, are going to eventually be playing in the NFL. I think the real problem for Iowa this year is that their offensive line is just nowhere near where it usually is.
But still, none of the opponents Iowa has faced before Saturday dismantled them like Ohio State did.
- at Ohio State: 6 turnovers, 5 sacks allowed, 3 QB hurries | 24 pass attempts | 158 total yards
- at Illinois: 1 turnover, 5 sacks allowed, 6 QB hurries | 36 pass attempts | 222 total yards
- vs. Michigan: 0 turnovers, 4 sacks allowed, 5 QB hurries | 31 pass attempts | 281 total yards
- at Rutgers: 0 turnovers, 3 sacks allowed, 1 QB hurry | 17 pass attempts | 277 total yards
- vs. Nevada: 0 turnovers, 3 sacks, 0 QB hurries | 26 pass attempts | 337 total yards
- vs. Iowa State: 3 turnovers, 1 sack, 4 QB hurries | 27 pass attempts | 150 total yards
- vs. South Dakota State: 2 turnovers, 2 sacks, 2 QB hurries | 25 pass attempts | 166 total yards
They had 6 turnovers combined before the Ohio State game. It’s fair to say Ohio State’s defense looked good because of how bad the Iowa offense is, but then if that’s all there is to it, when why didn’t any other team wreak this much havoc on the Iowa offense? Why didn’t Michigan do this to them?
All I’m saying is that it’s not fair to just completely dismiss what the Ohio State defense did. I think they deserve a little bit of credit for playing so well.
Overall, I kind of get why the naysayers are coming out and calling Ohio State fraudulent after that game. Their offense didn’t look good for most of it, and while their defense was great, it was against a historically bad offense.
What I don’t particularly understand are the Michigan fans who are crowing about Ohio State’s performance in that game. It’s like they forgot that Michigan played Iowa and failed to truly put them away until the very end. Their excuse was that Michigan had to play Iowa on the road while Ohio State got them in Columbus, but I don’t think that’s sufficient to explain why Michigan won 27-14 and Ohio State won 54-10. The bottom line is that it was just vastly easier for Ohio State to beat Iowa than it was for Michigan to beat Iowa.
I think Ohio State fans are a little too concerned with their offense after this game. It looked like a hot knife through butter in the last few games against Wisconsin, Rutgers and Michigan State. I mean, Ohio State just absolutely avalanched those teams. But Iowa is a legitimately great defense right now. Way better than Wisconsin, Rutgers and especially Michigan State defensively. They are top-10 in the country for a reason. I don’t think there’s a team out there in the country that would just buzzsaw this Iowa defense. I think a lot of top teams would struggle against the Iowa defense for a few quarters, until the dam just breaks because Iowa’s offense can’t stay on the field. Iowa literally runs a pro-style defense that is predicated on the idea that most college football quarterbacks are just too inexperienced to figure out how to read it and attack it. It’s designed to flummox and confound you.
Does anyone think Ohio State played particularly well on offense? No. But the combined effort between offense, defense and special teams (they made 4 field goals) was enough to beat Iowa 54-10, which I think is the worst loss of the Ferentz era at least that I can remember.
- Perhaps it was a bit of a struggle to try to re-integrate Jaxon Smith-Njigba into the offense after he was out for most of the season. This was his first game back in I believe 4 weeks. And the Iowa defense is not a team you want to be trying to recalibrate your offense against. Ohio State’s offense did not look good at all when JSN was on the field, but after he left the game (he may have re-tweaked his hamstring, but they said he was on a pitch count and was scheduled to leave the game after a certain amount of snaps) they looked dramatically better. I am not saying JSN is the problem or that they’re better off without him, not at all. But it’s possible his return disrupted some of the timing and rhythm they’d built up in his absence, and that it was going to take a little while to re-integrate him back into the mix.
- If this is what Ohio State “struggling” looks like, I think they’ll take it, considering how other teams like Georgia, Bama, Michigan have fared against lesser opponents this season. Like, if beating Iowa 54-10 is Ohio State’s “bad game,” then I will take that over, for example, what Georgia did against Kent State, or what Bama did against Texas.
That doesn’t mean Ohio State doesn’t have things to fix on offense. Personally, I think Ohio State is their own worst enemy on offense sometimes. They have enough high-end talent on that offense that no one can stop them but themselves. Unfortunately, they do that sometimes–in fact a little too often.
They are so talented and so explosive that I think they get a little too over confident sometimes and try to just land the knockout blow on teams immediately. I feel like there’s almost an arrogance to them sometimes, where they kind of look down on the idea of piecing together long scoring drives, grinding it out on the ground with the run game, and, as I went over earlier, “dinking and dunking” their way down the field at times.
They feel like, why do that when we can just launch a 65 yard bomb to Julian Fleming, or get down the field in three plays? Or have one of the running backs bust off a 75 yard TD run? But you have to show the opposing defense some respect when it’s warranted, otherwise you’re going to run into trouble. I don’t think Ohio State, through their offensive play calling, showed Iowa’s defense enough respect. They thought it would be a cakewalk, and it wasn’t, so they struggled.
This play they ran against Iowa is a perfect example of the type of play they should run a lot more of going forward:
It was a 4th and 2 situation, the play was designed to get 2-3 yards. And it did! In fact it got like 6-7 yards. That’s a successful play in my book.
Ohio State needs to learn that sometimes it’s okay to run those types of plays on first and second down–aka not just when it’s a do or die desperation situation. It’s not beneath them to dink and dunk their way down the field.
I swear back when Clemson was in their heyday winning National Championships with Watson and T-Law, they were running plays like this all the time. Why not run a play like this on first down sometimes, pick up 5-7 yards, and put yourself in a good situation on second and third down?
You will never go broke taking a profit, even if it is a small one. Plus, running plays like these will make the defense have to account for them, which will open up the deep ball.
I also feel like they need to be more particular about establishing the run. Against Iowa it seemed like they were only interested in taking shots down field, but then when they’d get into a third and short situation, they’d be like, “Okay, now it’s time for our running backs to pick this up.” And they’d call a run, but it would get blown up.
If you only run in short yardage situations–i.e. only when you “need to”–you can’t expect the run game to be super effective. Rushing attacks are based a lot on rhythm, momentum and gradually wearing the defense down. In other words, the more you run, the better you are at it, typically. You have to wear down the defense over time.
But if you haven’t done that, you can’t just expect to be able to pick up 4-5 yards on the ground on command, especially not against a legitimate defense. They’re not going to be worn down, and on top of that your run game will not have built up any sort of rhythm, confidence or momentum.
You can get away with it against overmatched teams, but not against a defense like Iowa, or Penn State. The running game is something you invest in over the course of the game, and it rewards you by paying major dividends later in the game after you’ve worn the other team’s defensive front down.
Obviously Ohio State’s coaching staff knows all this. But I think they just believe they can beat most of the teams they play without really lifting a finger–just let Stroud air it out and before you know it the score will be 35-7 at halftime and it’s over.
Another part of it is that Ryan Day really, really wants CJ Stroud to get the Heisman this year, and I think at times in games where the outcome is never in doubt, he is guilty of prioritizing CJ’s stats over everything else. Like I think he sometimes calls plays based on how much it would help CJ’s statline, and thus his Heisman case, over actually winning the game or sticking to the gameplan. He wants CJ to finish with 5,000 yards an 60 touchdowns this season, and the problem is I feel like sometimes that takes priority over everything else.
I get why he wants to do it. First and foremost for CJ, but also for himself–to validate himself as a coach, as a QB developer, as a playcaller, as an offensive genius, etc. But, more importantly, for the program–in other words, to boost recruiting. Being able to tell a QB recruit that you coached and developed a Heisman winner is massive. It would be such a big selling point for the Ohio State football program if CJ Stroud were to win the Heisman this year. I get it. Justin Fields finished 3rd in the Heisman race in 2019 (and Chase Young 4th), Stroud finished 4th last season–this is supposed to be the year.
However, I just felt like there have been some moments this season where it seemed like Ryan Day was coaching for the Heisman above all else. Now, in fairness, the only time they were in a close game (Notre Dame) they were committed to running the ball down the stretch of that game and putting it away by chewing up clock. There has been no moment this season where I thought Ohio State was prioritizing the Heisman over actually winning the game. They understand that while stats are great and everything, losing kills the Heisman campaign.
It’s a small issue I’m raising here, admittedly. But I am theorizing that part of the reason Ohio State’s offense looked so suspect against Iowa was because Day was calling plays with the Heisman in mind. I think he underestimated Iowa’s defense.
Big picture, I think Ohio State is going to be scary for a while. Ryan Day has that offense playing at an elite level. They are routinely one of the top offenses in the country. They are a lock to be top-5 every year, and most years they’ll be #1 in the nation. It’s them, Tennessee and USC. I think Ryan Day, Josh Heupel and Lincoln Riley are the top three offensive minds in the country
But now Ohio State has got the defense figured out. After last season, losing to Michigan the way they did, getting dominated on the ground, it was a gut check moment for Ohio State. Not only were they exposed in a major way, they were exposed against their greatest rival, in front of the whole country. It was extremely embarrassing for Ryan Day and those players. But it wasn’t just the Michigan game. It was also the Rose Bowl game against Utah as well. They kind of got carved up by Utah, too. 226 rushing yards at 5.1 yards per clip, 463 yards of total offense allowed–Utah also made that Ohio State defense look silly. And that game was played in the beautiful Southern California sunshine, not a blizzard in Ann Arbor. So you can’t blame the weather.
Now, Utah was a very good team last year, and it’s not like it was some big embarrassing thing for Ohio State to really get locked into a dog fight with them. And Ohio State ended up winning the game in thrilling fashion, 48-45. But Ohio State was down 35-21 at halftime, and it was starting to feel like the Michigan game, and the Oregon game: Ohio State goes down 2 scores, scores to bring it within 1, but they can’t stop the other team, so it just goes right back to 2 possessions the next time the other team gets the ball. Even though Ohio State won, it was still clear that things had to change on defense. And they have changed.
So Ryan Day, after the Rose Bowl, decided to clean house on not only the defensive side of the ball, but also the offensive line. He brought in a new offensive line coach, Justin Frye. But then he looked around the country and tried to find the best defensive coordinator he could find. Ohio State went 11-2 last year and won the Rose Bowl, but in Columbus it was like they went 3-9, especially because they lost to Michigan. It was a crisis, and Ryan Day understood that at Ohio State, 11-2 is not good enough. The expectations each year are to beat Michigan, win the Big Ten, make the playoff, and compete for a National Championship. Nothing less.
And the one thing preventing that from happening was the defense. The offense under Ryan Day was elite, National Championship-caliber. But the defense was not. So Ryan Day zoned in on Jim Knowles, the defensive coordinator for Oklahoma State. Oklahoma State is not traditionally known as a defensive powerhouse, and they play in a conference, the Big 12, that is notorious for not playing defense and being all offense. And Jim Knowles had Oklahoma State in the top-5 nationally in yards against, top-5 in yards per play allowed, #6 in the country in rushing yards per carry allowed, and #10 in scoring defense. Jim Knowles was clearly one of the best, if not the best, defensive coordinators in the country. Him, Brent Venables, Jim Leonhard of Wisconsin, Dan Lanning and Kirby Smart at Georgia, Phil Parker of Iowa, Luke Fickell of Cincinnati, Gary Patterson at Texas (formerly of TCU) and of course Nick Saban–those are the best defensive minds in college football right now. And Ryan Day went out and got Jim Knowles. He offered him $1.9 million a year to make sure Ohio State’s defense was taken care of.
At the time, Knowles was the 4th-highest paid coordinator in the sport, behind Brent Venables at Clemson, Tony Elliott at Clemson (offensive coordinator), and Mike Elko at Texas A&M. All three of those guys left to become head coaches elsewhere in the offseason, so I believe Knowles is now the highest paid coordinator in the country.
From the looks of it, he’s earned every penny thus far, although it’ll really be put to the test against Penn State this weekend. The thing is, though, Knowles only has 7 games under his belt. He’s still in the process of implementing his defense at Ohio State. It’s still a new system, and he hasn’t even really had the opportunity to bring in his “own guys” as far as recruits that he believes fit his system best. Now, it helps that there was already a ton of talent on the Ohio State defense when he came in, but the fact remains that he’s not yet fully hit his stride at Ohio State yet. So I expect the defense to keep getting better and better, both as the season goes on and as the years pass. Once guys get more comfortable in the system, then they begin to play looser.
Ohio State under Knowles is now 5th nationally in points allowed per game, 3rd in passing yards against, 8th in rushing yards against, tied for 6th in rush yards per carry allowed, #2 nationally in total yards allowed per game, tied for 5th in average yards per play allowed, and #1 in the nation in fewest first downs allowed per game.
This year, they are vastly better.
Ohio State had a weak schedule last year around this time (besides Oregon) and they were nowhere close to as good as this year’s team is defensively at this point.
People seem to have forgotten just how bad Ohio State’s defense was last year and the year before.
Let me just run through some of their defensive lowlights from last season, as there were a lot of them. Because while they got exposed by Oregon, Michigan and Utah, those were just the games the national audience saw. But they were not isolated incidents at all. Ohio State’s defense was terrible last year–consistently and pretty much throughout the season.
- Week 1: They played Minnesota on the road and won 45-31. It was in the rain, it was CJ Stroud’s first game, but the score was 38-31 with 5 minutes to play. And it was because of the defense. They let up 203 rushing yards to Minnesota, and that was even with Mohamed Ibrahim blowing out his knee late in the third quarter. When he got hurt he had 163 rushing yards on 30 carries, a healthy 5.4 yards per pop. Tanner Morgan was also 14/25 passing for 205 yards, 8.2 yards per attempt. Ohio State’s defense low-key got shredded by Minnesota last season. If Ibrahim didn’t get hurt, Minnesota might have won that game. Ohio State’s defense allowed Minnesota to pick up 24 first downs and go 8/14 on third down. It was bad right off the bat.
- Game 2 was Oregon. Ohio State allowed 269 rushing yards on 38 attempts and 3 rushing TDs. That was when people took notice of how bad their defense was, but it was bad against Minnesota the week prior. They also let up 236 passing yards on 35 attempts to Anthony Brown.
- In game 3, they played Tulsa. They were more buttoned up against the run, allowing just 73 yards on 28 carries. However, they allowed 428 yards passing to Tulsa’s QB Davis Brin on 54 attempts. So 501 yards of offense allowed to Tulsa. This might have been the worst defensive performance of the season. Not Oregon, not Michigan–Tulsa. It showed that they had no pass defense, either.
- Ohio State then went through a stretch where they beat Akron 59-7, Rutgers 52-13, Maryland 66-17, and Indiana 54-7 (allowed just 128 total yards in this one).
- But then they ran into Penn State, who they had at home in Columbus. Everyone thought it would be a blowout, Ohio State is back on track, etc. etc. But it was a very close game throughout. They could never really separate even though they were clearly a superior team. Penn State was only able to manage 33 rushing yards on 29 attempts, but they let Sean Clifford torch them for 361 yards through the air on 52 attempts. That was a one-possession game until there were about 2 minutes left. And that was not a good Penn State team, either. Last year Penn State went just 7-6.
- The next game, they went to Nebraska and really had to sweat out a 26-17 win. The offense sputtered, and although they outgained Nebraska 495-361 overall, it was a one possession game until Ohio State got a field goal with under 2 minutes to play. I know Nebraska was the “best 3-9 team ever” last year, but they were still 3-9.
- After Nebraska was Purdue. Ohio State won 59-31, but only because the Purdue defense was no match for their offense. They got out ahead early and were up 45-17 at halftime. But their defense couldn’t really stop Purdue. Aidan O’Connell just kept on throwing the ball and eventually racked up 390 yards passing on 52 attempts for 4 TDs, zero INTs. Ohio State benefitted from Purdue fumbling early just after Ohio State had gone up 14-7, so Ohio State was able to steal a possession and jump out to a 14 point lead. And then Purdue punted on their next possession, which enabled Ohio State to go up 28-7. But that would be the second and last time Purdue would punt all game (the other time was their very first possession). Purdue would fumble the ensuing kickoff, giving Ohio State a short field and enabling them to go up 35-7, and that was pretty much it, but if you were really paying attention to that game, you could see Ohio State’s defense simply could not stop Purdue unless they got a turnover. O’Connell was doing whatever he wanted out there, absolutely dissecting that Ohio State defense. Purdue turned the ball over twice and Ohio State was able to force just two punts, and they won by 28–aka 4 possessions. But they could not stop Purdue at all. So even though they appeared to have won in blowout fashion, it was alarming.
So that’s 6 games for Ohio State last year that were extremely concerning that all happened BEFORE the Michigan game, and we all know how that one went.
Honestly, what Michigan did to Ohio State last year was similar to what Ohio State did to Purdue. Ohio State’s defense, due to being completely incapable of stopping Michigan, put the offense in a position where it needed 7 points on every possession. Anything less and the game was over. It’s pretty much impossible to be perfect under that sort of pressure, and so you inevitably fall behind by 2 possessions, then 3, then 4. Ohio State was behind Michigan by 2 possessions in last season’s game, while Purdue fell behind Ohio State by 4 possessions.
Anyway, their defense was horrible last season, and it wasn’t just the Oregon and Michigan games. It was like half the season, which means they weren’t just playing bad, they were bad.
This year they are significantly better than they were last season.
I don’t think their defense is elite; I think the numbers are lying just a bit. They’ve just played some really bad teams that are incompetent offensively and that has kind of overly-inflated their defensive numbers.
However, their numbers right now are basically top-5 in every important category, which is elite, so even if they’re a little bit “overvalued” or inflated, and even if they fall back down to earth somewhat against legitimate competition, they’re still going to land in the good to very good category overall. I tend to lean on the side of believing their defense is closer to the “very good” category than it is the “merely good” category (but not quite in the “elite” category). This is because of Jim Knowles, who might be the best defensive coordinator in the country. I just think he’s so good at his job, and he has so many elite athletes at his disposal, that he will not be outfoxed by anyone out there. What I mean is, if Ohio State encounters a team that is doing some stuff that they don’t have an answer for, and the other team is having some success on offense, Jim Knowles can make the correct adjustments to get the game back under control. And he will never find himself in a situation where his defense just can’t hold up against the other team’s offense because of all the talent on the Ohio State defense–there are NFL-caliber players on that Ohio State defense at every level. They’re not going to get manhandled.
The worst that can happen to Ohio State’s defense, in my mind, is they go up against a worthy foe and the whole game is a dog fight. Think about a game like Ohio State vs. Clemson in the 2019 playoffs, or the National Championship game last season between Bama and Georgia, at least for the first three quarters of the game: those were two evenly-matched elite level teams. Nobody was going to dominate that game. The Ohio State offense was not going to dominate the Clemson defense, nor vice versa, and the Clemson offense was not going to dominate the Ohio State defense, nor vice versa for that. It was going to be back and forth the whole way, with neither team really able to gain a decisive edge, and with the knockout blow coming very, very late in the game.
And there are only a handful of teams out there that will be able to get into that type of game with this Ohio State team: Georgia, Michigan, Bama and Tennessee. Although I do believe Tennessee’s defense would have major problems with the Ohio State offense, and it could turn into one of those games like I described above, where Ohio State’s defense is at least capable of getting a stop, while Tennessee’s is not, and thus Tennessee’s offense is required to score a touchdown on every single possession or else they will fall behind with no way of surging back.
There are, however, a few teams out there that are in a category just below what I would consider to be an “even match” for Ohio State, and Penn State is in that group, along with teams like Clemson, TCU, USC and probably Utah (arguably UCLA and Oregon as well, but I’m not quite as sold on them.) I would consider this the category of teams that are probably going to be overmatched by Ohio State on a neutral field, but could win if a few things bounce their way, namely having homefield advantage, winning the turnover margin by 2+, forcing field goals in the red zone, and busting a few big plays.
Like, for instance, if Ohio State were to play Penn State in Happy Valley (which they are this weekend) and Penn State gets a pick six, a long touchdown run on a busted play, and forces Ohio State to kick field goals at least 3 times, then Penn State can beat Ohio State. The expression people use is that Penn State would have to drag Ohio State out into deep water and really take Ohio State out of their comfort zone.
Again, it’s a matchup where basically everything would have to go Penn State’s way, so it’s a low-probability outcome, but it’s certainly possible. To further explain what I’m talking about, consider that Iowa forced four Ohio State field goals and got a defensive score, and they still lost by 44 points. Iowa is a team that has no chance at all of beating Ohio State, and we saw that play out on the field. Even though a lot of things went Iowa’s way, it was nowhere near enough to even make the game competitive.
However, if Penn State gets a defensive score, forces 4 field goals, and really throws a monkey wrench in that Ohio State offense for two and a half quarters, Penn State is a good enough team where they would have a real shot at beating Ohio State. Plus the game is at Penn State this Saturday.
Penn State is good enough offensively that they can probably actually make Ohio State pay for kicking field goals instead of scoring TDs, whereas Iowa simply could not.
On top of that, Ohio State and Penn State have always played close games. Ohio State vs. Penn State last ten games:
- 2021: Ohio State W, 33-24 (Columbus)
- 2020: Ohio State W, 38-25 (State College)
- 2019: Ohio State W, 28-17 (Columbus)
- 2018: Ohio State W, 27-26 (State College)
- 2017: Ohio State W, 39-38 (Columbus)
- 2016: Penn State W, 24-21 (State College)
- 2015: Ohio State W, 38-10 (Columbus)
- 2014: Ohio State W, 31-24 2OT (State College)
- 2013: Ohio State W, 63-14 (Columbus)
- 2012: Ohio State W, 35-23 (State College)
So Ohio State is 9-1 in the past 10 meetings, but most of the games have been very close, especially the ones in Happy Valley.
And when you also consider that the 2020 matchup in Happy Valley was during the Covid season with limited to no fans in the stands, you have to go back to 2018 to find the last time Ohio State was faced with a true road environment in Penn State. And they really had to rally back to win that one late if I recall correctly. Upon further review, Ohio State was down 12 early, and then down 12 with under 7 minutes to play and was able to mount a comeback and win 27-26.
The 2016 game was a Penn State win, albeit in somewhat lucky fashion: they blocked a punt in Ohio State territory in the 4th quarter, and then later blocked what would have been a field goal that would’ve put Ohio State up 24-17 with 4:35 to play–and returned it for a touchdown. Ohio State blew a 21-7 fourth quarter lead. And the 2014 game in Happy Valley went to double overtime.
So basically you’d have to go all the way back to 2012 to find the last time Ohio State was able to beat Penn State by multiple scores in Happy Valley, and in 2012, I think that was right after the whole Sandusky scandal had rocked Penn State. Penn State’s program was in a bad place back then.
The bottom line is that this is likely to be a close game. Excluding 2020, every Ohio State-Penn State game in Happy Valley is really close over the past decade. It has even been close in Columbus, with Ohio State winning the last three games by an average margin of just 7 points.
Anytime you go back and watch old highlights of this game, you see lots of pro-level talent on the Penn State side. That 2018 game against Ohio State they had Miles Sanders, Pat Freiermuth and KJ Hamler–they’re playing in the NFL right now. Penn State may not have quite as much high-end talent as Ohio State does, nor as much depth (which the real separator between Ohio State and the other good teams in the Big Ten), but they are pretty much right there when it comes to having stud athletes that can and will play at the next level one day.
Michigan just gashed this Penn State defense for 418 rushing yards, and normally you’d think that would be the game plan for Ohio State. But Ohio State looked straight up bad running the football against Iowa outside of a few plays. Sure, Iowa has a better defense than Penn State (arguably much better going by stats), but Penn State is not going to get gashed on the ground again like they did against Michigan. I know they’ll be much tougher against the run. And I think Penn State got a big boost of confidence following the Michigan game by dismantling Minnesota 45-17 on Saturday.
And any Ohio State fan can tell you that even if this defense is a bit over-inflated statistically, it is still much better than last year’s team was defensively. We just went over that. Last year’s team gave up 500 yards of offense to TULSA.
Alabama Is Not That Good
The refs are back on Bama’s side again:
So one week after committing SEVENTEEN PENALTIES, this week Alabama was only flagged three times for 20 yards. And Mississippi State was flagged 10 times for 100 yards.
Yeah, I’m sure the most penalized team in the FBS, Alabama, suddenly got way more disciplined in just a week. The team that committed 17 penalties last week and 16 against Texas earlier in the year, yeah, they are suddenly now buttoned down and disciplined.
That seems like home cookin’ to me. And Saban probably chewed somebody in the SEC officiating office out as well.
Anyway, for what is now becoming an annual tradition, Alabama beat up on Mississippi State immediately following a loss. Last year, they pounded Mississippi State 49-9 a week after losing to Texas A&M. In 2019, the week after losing 46-41 to LSU, they went down to Starkville and beat the Bulldogs 38-7.
Only this time it wasn’t as much of a beatdown. Yes, Bama won 30-6, and yes, Mississippi State only scored at the very end to avoid the shutout. But the total yardage was 293 Bulldogs, 290 Bama.
Mississippi State held Bama to 29 rushing yards on 27 attempts. Huh?
I think this game was a bit closer than the final score indicated. Not as close as the total yardage figures would make it seem, but definitely not as lopsided as the final score.
On MSU’s second drive of the game, they ran 13 plays for 57 yards, got down to a 4th and 3 from the Bama 15 but failed to convert and came away with no points.
Bama got a TD on a long drive after that, but then MSU ran a 15 play, 39 yard drive down to the Bama 26 and missed a 43 yard field goal. Bama scored another TD after that.
On the next drive, MSU took a big gamble by going for it on 4th and 1 from their own 29. They didn’t get it, and Bama promptly scored another TD four plays later to make it 21-0. Bama would kick a field goal on their ensuing possession after forcing a three and out, and it was 24-0 at halftime.
In the third quarter, MSU would again turn it over on downs in Bama territory. They had a 14 play, 50 yard drive that got down to the Bama 31, but faced with a 4th and 12 and a kicker that had already missed from 43 yards, they decided to go for it and didn’t get it.
Again, it was not a close game by any stretch. But MSU had some opportunities, they just failed to capitalized on any of them until very late in the game, when they added a “don’t get shutout” TD.
Bottom line: I am ready to write off Bama. It sounds crazy, and it’ll probably come back to bite me in the ass somehow because underestimating Saban has never worked out for anyone.
But I just don’t see this Bama team winning the SEC Championship, which is what they’ll have to do if they’re going to make the playoff. I think there’s actually a good chance Bama loses another game before they even get to the SEC Championship game.
With the way LSU is playing right now (they just beat down #7 and previously undefeated Ole Miss 45-20), and with the fact that Bama has to go to LSU to play them and it’s going to be a night game, I really think LSU is going to take down Bama on November 5. LSU doesn’t have as good of an offense as Tennessee, of course, but they have a much better defense that was able to hold Ole Miss’ prolific offense to just 20 points.
I think LSU is actually pretty good right now. They’ve flown under the radar this season, and many people wrote them off after they lost in week 1 to Florida State, but Florida State is a decent team this year, and LSU only lost that game because they allowed an extra point to get blocked at the very end. LSU’s quarterback Jayden Daniels is pretty good, especially at keeping plays alive with his legs and running for free yardage and first downs.
I think LSU beats Bama.
And then there were 6 of them…
Going in to this weekend, there were 9 undefeated teams in college football:
- Ohio State
Quinn Ewers was 19/49 passing against Oklahoma State.
I’ve already written a ton in this post and I’m kind of burnt out on it, but man. 19 of 49 passing. That is not great, folks.
But then again, Quinn Ewers is basically the age of a true freshman right now. I think it would only be fair to cut the kid some slack.
Texas A&M is a Mess
After losing to South Carolina on Saturday night to drop to 3-4 (after starting the season ranked #6 in the preseason polls), things have gone from bad to worse in College Station:
Texas A&M has indefinitely suspended three freshmen members of the football program — cornerback Denver Harris, wide receiver Chris Marshall and offensive lineman PJ Williams — as a result of a locker room incident last weekend vs. South Carolina, according to The Athletic. The details of the specific incident that led to the suspensions is unclear at this time. TexAgs was first to report the news of Texas A&M suspending the three players.
The rumor is that they were caught smoking weed inside the locker room, possibly even before the South Carolina game.
If that’s true, wow.
Texas A&M is unraveling. Jimbo Fisher has lost control of his program.
They spent all that money to buy the #1 recruiting class in the nation, and this is what those recruits are doing. Unreal.
At first the idea of firing Jimbo Fisher and paying his $95 million buyout seemed unthinkable.
It’s still pretty outlandish, but it’s thinkable now.
I wonder how much longer he lasts there.
If they lose this weekend to Ole Miss and fall to 3-5, what then? They still have Florida, Auburn and LSU left on their schedule after Ole Miss. Florida and Auburn are foundering programs right now, but LSU is suddenly looking like the real deal.
And here’s the thing: while Florida and Auburn are foundering programs, so is A&M. They could very well beat A&M. A&M is a bad team, and bad teams lose to other bad teams. It’s what they do.
What if A&M finishes like 6-6 or something? Or what if they go 5-7 and miss a bowl game?
The only guaranteed win on their schedule remaining is UMass. I’m certain they’ll win 4 games.
I am not certain they’ll win 5 or 6 games.
I can see them losing to Ole Miss, beating Florida because it’s at home, losing to Auburn on the road, beating UMass, and then going into the LSU game at home with a 5-6 record needing to win that game to become bowl-eligible.
And I don’t think they’ll win it.
If A&M goes 5-7, do they just say screw it and swallow the $95 million poison pill?