Offense was not a problem for Ohio State in 2021. The Buckeyes led FBS in scoring (45.7 points per game). They led FBS in total yardage (561.2 — 25 ahead of 2nd-place Western Kentucky). The Buckeyes were 3rd in passing yardage (380.9 per game) and 3rd in yards per carry (5.54). But OSU went 11-2 because of defensive struggles and an inability to play well from behind in big games (Oregon, Michigan).

The initial inclination is to say that when a team leads FBS in scoring and yardage, there’s nowhere for the offense to go but down. Yet coach Ryan Day’s Buckeyes might well prove that wrong.

Yes, OSU could fall back a step in a few of the statistical measures of effectiveness. But if the offense continues to pile up points and ends up leading a season more successful than 11-2, Buckeye fans would probably call that better. There’s plenty of reason for optimism.

Start with personnel, where CJ Stroud began 2021 as the first OSU starting quarterback without a prior Buckeye pass attempt in decades. All Stroud did was play his way into Heisman contention — 72.0 completion percentage, 4,435 passing yards and 44 touchdowns to 6 interceptions. Quietly effective all season, Stroud has done nothing to dissuade oddsmakers, who installed him as the Heisman Trophy favorite for this season.

The backfield is similarly stacked. Promising freshman TreVeyon Henderson officially established himself as the next great back in 2021 with 1,255 yards rushing, 15 TDs on the ground, 312 receiving yards, and 4 receiving TDs. Backup Miyan Williams topped 500 rushing yards and 7 yards per carry, and he also returns.

The passing game is a tougher call, even though Jaxon Smith-Njigba returns after rewriting the OSU record book with 95 catches and 1,606 yards. The Buckeyes lost NFL entrants Chris Olave (65 catches, 936 yards, 13 TDs) and Garrett Wilson (70, 1,058, 12), but the cupboard is far from bare.

That became clear in the Rose Bowl, when Olave and Wilson opted out against Utah, giving a preview of 2022 for the young receivers behind them. Marvin Harrison Jr., consigned to the bench for most of the year, caught 3 touchdowns in his first start. Julian Fleming (5 catches for 35 yards) and Emeka Egbuka (3 catches for 46 yards) also flashed the skills that will help to replace the stars they watched last fall.

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OSU is restacking the offensive line, but they have a promising mixture of experience and versatility. New line coach Justin Frye, who arrived from UCLA, will have a chance to imprint his own philosophy on those Buckeyes.

Thinking about better or worse for OSU’s offense is … well, complicated.

Passing offense: Very slightly worse

Again, given what OSU managed a season ago and the loss of a few stars, it’s probably not realistic to expect the raw statistics to be quite the same in 2022. Even among the returning players, statistical efficiency might give way to taking a few more chances. Consider Stroud. Yes, he was a Heisman finalist, and yes, he threw just 6 interceptions all season.

But without Olave and Wilson, Stroud will probably take a few more chances in 2022 than he did in 2021, and by throwing at inexperienced receivers, a few more errors will probably ensue.

Stroud still put up big numbers in OSU’s pair of losses, but he did it averaging just 8.0 and 9.0 yards per pass. This season, Day will expend less energy protecting Stroud and more time encouraging him to emphasize the big-play strike capabilities of the offense.

So here’s a more specific definition than very slightly worse. The Buckeyes will put up more points per game in 2022, will throw for slightly fewer yards per game, and will double the number of interceptions. And if it ends with a national title, somebody will say, “How could you say it would be worse?”

Rushing offense: Slightly better

This is where there’s room to grow. Henderson is brilliant, but Day and Co. are very clearly working to not burn him out. Only 3 times in 2021 did he have 20 carries, and he never eclipsed 28 in a game. Miyan Williams was effective when used, but he topped 9 carries just twice and did not play in 3 games.

The issue was not using the ground game. Sure, the Buckeyes topped 200 yards 6 times. But in OSU’s 2 losses, the Buckeyes ran the ball just 61 times for 192 yards. Only twice in 2021 did OSU have 40 rushing attempts in a game. That will change.

Between the influence of Frye, a massive number of blowouts, and a more defined running back rotation, OSU will run the ball more and more effectively in 2022. Look for Henderson to have 1,500 rushing yards and Williams to reach 750. OSU’s effectiveness might go down slightly from 5.54 yards per carry.

But the Buckeyes ended up 47th in FBS in rushing (180.3 yards per game) and 112th in rushing attempts (32.5 rpg). Both numbers will go up. Pencil in OSU for 37 rushes per game and an average of 200 rushing yards per game. And that might be the big difference between 11-2 and 13-0.

Special teams: Worse in kicking, better on returns

It’s hard to improve on Noah Ruggles’ 2021 campaign. He missed 1 kick all season, going 20-for-21 on field goals and connecting on all 74 extra-point tries. He will return and no doubt OSU will be fine. But it is literally almost mathematically impossible to be better.

Meanwhile, OSU hasn’t had a kick return touchdown since 2010. Egbuka flashed impressive speed last year (29 yards per return), and given the number of speedy standouts, surely some Buckeye will slip a return for a score at some point.

Overall: Statistically worse, but really better

Buckeyes fans will get this. It’s not a yardage title they’re after, or even a scoring title. OSU probably had the best offense in the nation — statistically — in 2021. But they lost 2 games. And that’s at least 1 too many for where the Buckeyes want and need to be.

So this is the thing: Maybe OSU scores a few less points than last season. Maybe they gain fewer yards. But if the offense can grind out wins, the Buckeyes would be happy with Craig Krenzel and 3-yards-of-dust. No danger of the grinding days of yore coming back, but ultimately, success for OSU’s offense isn’t about records or yards or points. It’s about wins. And they’re in position to help deliver more of those in 2022 … which is what really matters.