The No. 3 team in the country has lost for the second time in as many weeks to open the 2021 college football season.
No. 12 Oregon went on the road and ran over and around No. 3 Ohio State in a 35-28 win on Saturday. The Ducks rushed for 269 yards and three touchdowns as they consistently got to the edge on Ohio State’s defense and took advantage of the Ohio State secondary’s tendency to play man coverage.
The Ducks sealed the win with less than three minutes left after C.J. Stroud overthrew Chris Olave and his pass was picked off by Verone McKinley. While Stroud threw for 484 yards, the Oregon defense made stops when it needed to — including on three fourth downs. The Buckeyes went for it on fourth down in Oregon territory five times on Saturday. It only converted two of those attempts.
The defeat is the first regular season loss of Ryan Day’s tenure at Ohio State. He was 22-0 in non-College Football Playoff games as Ohio State’s head coach before the loss.
Oregon entered the game as a 15.5-point underdog without star defensive end and potential top-five NFL draft pick Kayvon Thibodeaux and starting linebacker Justin Flowe. Thibodeaux injured his right ankle against Fresno State in Week 1 and traveled with the team to Columbus but didn't suit up. Thibodeaux and Flowe were among five defensive starters who weren't able to play against the Buckeyes.
Oregon's offensive success
The Ducks averaged over seven yards a carry against Ohio State’s defense. CJ Verdell had a 77-yard TD run and had 20 carries for 161 yards and another score while QB Anthony Brown rushed 10 times for 65 yards. Brown was 17-of-35 passing for 236 yards and two touchdowns.
Oregon looked a little nervous in the fourth quarter after Ohio State pulled within a touchdown and the home stadium got really loud. But the defense bailed the offense out after a quick three-and-out.
Oregon forced Ohio State to punt after just four plays thanks to a holding penalty on third down. Oregon quickly went three-and-out again and left the door open for the Buckeyes but Stroud’s overthrow effectively ended the game on the next drive.
First Clemson, now Ohio State
Clemson was at No. 3 entering the season and lost 10-3 to then-No. 5 Georgia in Week 1. That loss exposed a weakness along the offensive line for Clemson. Saturday's loss exposed a defensive weakness for Ohio State.
The Buckeyes allowed nearly six yards a play in 2020 and over 300 yards passing per game as opposing quarterbacks completed two-thirds of their passes a season ago. And it's hard to see how there was much defensive improvement this offseason after watching Saturday's performance.
There’s still plenty of time for Ohio State to improve, of course. And if the offense converts one or two more of those fourth downs, then perhaps the Buckeyes win the game. Conversely, did Day think he had to go for it on fourth down as much as he did and not settle for field goals because of his defense?
Either way, it’s clear that this isn’t an Ohio State team capable of winning a national title without some significant improvement defensively. And losing safety Josh Proctor to what looked to be a serious right-leg injury on Saturday doesn’t help. There’s still plenty of time for Ohio State to make the playoff for a third consecutive season. But it’s now an uphill climb.