It’s not easy to find things to criticize about Ohio State football. The Buckeyes have lost 13 games in the last 10 years — and never more than 2 in any given year. They’re 63-4 at home over that span. But then, expectations at Ohio State trend as high as the achievements. So we’ve done a little digging and found 5 trends the Buckeyes need to turn around in 2022 — and how that might happen.

1. Don’t lose at home

In Columbus, the expectations are to make the CFP (and that might be a minimum). Over the past 7 years, Ohio State has lost home games in 3 of those years, including last year. Those are years the Buckeyes didn’t make the CFP. In the other years, OSU was in the Playoff 3 of the 4 seasons. For the mathematically inclined, that means that over the sample size, OSU has had a 75% chance of making the Playoff when it wins out at home and a 0% chance of making it when it doesn’t.

That formula will probably continue, which means that OSU should be golden if they take care of business at home. Sure, Iowa or Wisconsin could be pesky, but probably that home slate comes down to Notre Dame in the opener and Michigan in the finale. The Irish will be inaugurating a new starting QB and lost their top rusher and receiver from last season. Michigan, on the other hand, will be a matter of pride after last season’s tough loss. Ohio State hasn’t lost that match-up in Columbus since 2000.

2. Stop giving up 200+ yards on the ground

Kerry Coombs’s 2021 OSU defense was pretty beleaguered at times, but rarely more so than against the run in a handful of brutal games. Ohio State allowed opposing ground attacks to rush for 200+ yards 4 times last season. That the Buckeyes even went 2-2 in those games is a testimony to their offense, as the defense allowed 153 points in those 4 games.

How out of character was this for Ohio State?

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The 2019 and 2020 OSU run defenses allowed just 98 and 104 rushing yards per game. Those defense each allowed a single 200-yard rushing game — barely (200 by Wisconsin in 2019, 210 by Nebraska in 2020). Even the 2018 OSU run defense, which was the worst in years, gave up just 3 200-yard rushing games.

The good news is that the defensive changing of the guard can’t help but influence the Buckeye run defense. Jim Knowles’s Oklahoma State defense didn’t give up any 200-yard rushing performances last season. Ohio State returns a deep and talented defensive front, and there’s every reason to think the number of big rushing games allowed will go down — and the number of wins might accordingly rise.

3. End the pass-rusher drought

It wasn’t that long ago that Chase Young was terrorizing quarterbacks in Columbus. Young parlayed a 16.5-sack season in 2019 into becoming the 2nd pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, and Ohio State played in the College Football Playoff. Before Young, the last double-digit OSU sack artist was Joey Bosa in 2014. And folks in Columbus remember how THAT season ended.

Since Young, it’s been crickets on that dominant pass rush force for OSU. Granted, in an 8-game 2020 season, there wasn’t an opportunity to pile up numbers, but Jonathan Cooper’s team-high 3.5 sacks wasn’t much. Last season was more of the same, as tackle Haskell Garrett led OSU with 5.5 sacks.

Could OSU win without a dominant pass rusher? Sure. Would it help to offset the ACC/SEC blues from recent CFP struggles? Probably. Is there somebody who can fill that role? The good news is definitely yes. Whether it’s somewhat underachieving junior Zach Harrison (34 tackles and 4 sacks last season) or true sophomores JT Tuimoloau (2.5 sacks) and Jack Sawyer, OSU has big-time athletes to come off the edge. But who steps up — and whether they can be a double-digit sack compiler — will be key to OSU’s season.

4. Snap the return skid

Ohio State always has a plethora of speedy athletes and can afford to use many of them on special teams. So why on Earth has it been since 2010 that the Bucks last returned a kickoff for a touchdown? Or 2014 when they last returned a punt for a touchdown? Admittedly, there’s more than a flash of luck involved in a return score. But given the quality of athletes that OSU fields, this skid is a strange one.

Emeka Egbuka could be the answer to some of these woes. The speedy sophomore has definitely shown some wiggle on kick returns, taking one back 67 yards last year. The punt return situation is a little more of a mystery. Jaxon Smith-Njigba did the job at times in 2021, but Ryan Day might prefer one of his other speedy wideouts to take a crack. Whoever it is, OSU is overdue for a score in the return game.

5. Avoid the losses as a double-digit favorite

This was an old problem (2017, 2018) that popped up again and bit OSU last year. In week 2 against Oregon, Ohio State was a 14.5-point home favorite and lost. Back in 2018, it was a game at Purdue as a 12.5-point favorite that turned into a loss. And in 2017, it was an ugly 31-point loss at Iowa as an 18.5-point favorite.

Now, granted, for Ohio State much of the challenge is that they’re almost always favored by double digits. In the last 5 regular seasons, Ohio State has NOT been a double-digit favorite just 8 times. They’ve only been a regular season underdog once in the last 7 seasons. But as tough as the loss to Michigan was last year, it was the loss to Oregon that really knocked OSU out of the Playoff situation. Likewise in 2017 and 2018. Given what a juggernaut the SEC is perceived to be, Ohio State can’t afford ugly losses.

The good news is that OSU’s schedule doesn’t present a ton of under-the-radar contenders to upset the Buckeyes. Those big games to open and end figure to be relatively competitive in terms of point spread. In between, OSU does travel to Michigan State and Penn State, but that’s about as scary as it gets. Take care of business and head back to the Playoff.