Michigan

After Ohio State Football’s offense stumbles again against Michigan, where will Ryan Day make corrections?

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio State’s defensive mistakes in The Game were loud, harrowing and impossible to ignore.

In contrast, the Buckeyes’ offensive disappointments were more subtle. No pick-sixes or scoop-and-score fumbling. No wide open drops in the center of the field. Not even the fringing crush that Michigan thrived on in Ann Arbor a year earlier.

On the surface, the numbers don’t make much sense. Ohio State rushed nearly 500 yards, averaged a respectable 4.9 yards per carry, and put its top two receivers on 100-yard plays.

However, they also scored just three points in the second half and ended the season with their worst result since the opener against Notre Dame.

No question, the most notable feature of this game was the absence of Jaxon Smith-Njigba. TreVeyon Henderson, watching from the touchline, and Miyan Williams’ obvious limitations also lowered the offensive ceiling. Yet Michigan’s non-stars were still making big plays on Saturday. The Buckeyes lost traction in the first half and never regained it.

Throughout the game, OSU shot itself in the knee. While many of the issues are fixable and not systemic, the damage has already been done.

Left on the field

Coming into play, opposing attacks weren’t just stylistic opposites. Nor were they equally efficient. Ohio State scored touchdowns on almost 80% of its holdings in the red zone, ranking second nationally. Michigan ranks 64% in the 60’s.

Then the Wolverines turned that statistic completely in their favor.

After rushing for 81 yards in 12 games in the game’s opening series, Ohio State reached the end zone just once more. When it had opportunities to retire in the first half, it let Michigan hang around instead.

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The culprit was in large part a run play that failed to keep the offense on schedule, forcing OSU to throw on Michigan’s terms.

• The Buckeyes drove into the red zone on their second possession. A Williams run barely converted third and third places in the Michigan 14.

On the first down, Xavier Johnson got moving and ran the kind of backfield loops that made OSU wish they could have called out injured receiver Smith-Njigba. Michigan choked it for 1 yard. Williams ran up the gut on the second down, but the Wolverines slammed into the running gaps and held him without a win.

Ohio State rushed to the line to grab the ball in third place before Michigan could correct their staff. CJ Stroud threw for Emeka Egbuka but he stumbled after accidentally coming into contact with slot corner Mike Sainristil. Noah Ruggles kicked a 32-yard field goal.

• In the next series, OSU went as far as the Michigan 34. Williams, who carried the ball in third and fifth place, was almost certain the Buckeyes would try fourth place as well. The play-action pass to fourth and second was well protected, but Stroud’s pass was barely outside of Cade Stover’s one-handed reach. No points.

• Later in the first half, OSU started with their own 30 but immediately blasted a 24-yard run from Chip Trayanum and an 18-yard pass to Marvin Harrison Jr. A false start penalty (more on that later) finished second and -6 at Michigan 24 in second-and-11 at 29. Two incomplete passes to Egbuka later and Ruggles stepped in to kick a 47-yarder.

Three rides in the first half of the Michigan 35 earned six points. As the Wolverines began chipping away at their explosive touchdowns, they didn’t close a gap. They built a lead.

empty yards

Gee Scott Jr.’s nonsensical headbutt for an unsportsmanlike conduct that set up a first-and-35 scenario could be the most memorable single penalty of the OSU season.

A drive that started at Michigan 48 was pushed back to OSU 27 a game later. So while the offense rushed for 40 yards in three games — 8% of their total for the game — the drive garnered zero fielding yards. This is the possession known Saturday as a controversial punt decision and Monday revealed a controversial missed snap on an intended fake punt.

Donovan Jackson also committed a holding penalty prior to Scott’s violation that contributed to the yardage hole. The offense actually only committed two other penalties – false starts by tackles Paris Johnson Jr. and Dawand Jones.

However, Ohio State took what Michigan allowed on this ride with some passes underneath, and it sustained the day’s overall mileage.

On the line

Nothing killed OSU’s odds more than their 1-for-7 performance in third place in the second half. Several of those situations included head-scratching calls from Day.

• In third and third place at OSU’s 49 on his first drive of the second half, Day requested a pitch to Chip Trayanum. Michigan linebacker Junior Colson easily broke Cade Stover’s block, Sainristil was fully unblocked, and Trayanum was lucky not to lose length.

• On their first drive in the fourth quarter, OSU hit their own 32 for third and third place respectively. Michigan defensive end Braiden McGregor lined up wide like he knew what was coming, and maybe he did. He stormed through and punched away a bubble screen meant for former walk-on Xavier Johnson.

Down 11 with less than 12 minutes to play, OSU had to punt.

• The Buckeyes drove into the red zone on their next possession and made the Michigan 9. They tried play action again in third and fourth place, with Stroud waiting for Stover to cross the width of the end zone in a long game. Kris Jenkins moved Stroud with some pressure and when he threw a pass towards Stover Sainristil had closed and batted him away.

Ruggles’ 27-yard field goal made it a one-score play. Donovan Edwards’ 75-yard touchdown streak on the next move of the game from scrimmage made it academic.

It should be noted that Michigan committed one defensive penalty — a face mask violation on the game’s opening drive. It generated just six pressings, a stark contrast to the all-out attack at Ann Arbor last season. But Wolverine’s defenders abandoned seven passes and twice intercepted Stroud in the desperation period.

Ohio State reached the red zone four times and scored a touchdown. Michigan completely avoided the red zone while scoring their touchdowns.

The offensive that so often swept opponents off the field couldn’t be executed well enough to keep up on Saturday.

What’s next?

For now, set aside the slim chance that OSU could face Michigan again in the playoffs. The bigger question is how the offense that is the hallmark of this program can overcome this rivalry roadblock.

Stroud made two shots at Michigan and came up with 0-2. Kyle McCord and Devin Brown are fighting for the starting spot next season. We can expect them to bring a whole host of veteran talent to the Big House next November. The 2022 season also showed us that health can ruin those forecasts.

Heisman Trophy quarterbacks, elite receivers, big offensive line prospects — every box you’d want in a championship offense has been ticked. Now, two straight Novembers, that offense couldn’t get out of the way in the biggest game of the season.

Day made a number of external changes to address the issues central to last season’s loss. He needs to look inward after this performance.

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