Ohio State football: Grading the heartbreaking 2021 season
It was a memorable regular season for Ohio State in 2021, but often for the wrong reasons. The Buckeyes got off to an ugly start, with a tough first game at Minnesota then a home loss to Oregon. And of course, the finish … well, you know all of that. In between, the Buckeyes grew, changed, and looked like perhaps the most dangerous team in college football. But those first two games and the last game are the ones that folks will remember. That said, here’s a quick grade card on the 2021 regular season.
QB play: A
CJ Stroud was everything that the Buckeyes wanted him to be. Yes, in the two losses, he failed to take control of the game, but very little fault could be found with his play. Stroud will be a Heisman Trophy finalist and, had the Buckeyes won on Saturday against Michigan, he might well have won the trophy. Still, in a season where Stroud was something of an unknown, nobody can fault his play.
RB play: A-
TreVeyon Henderson had a ho hum finale against Michigan, with 17 carries for 74 yards. On the season, he was all he was expected to be. The only real knock on Henderson was that he didn’t turn into that prototypical OSU running back who would get 25-30 carries and grind out late victories. He had 20 carries in a game only 3 times, and got 25 carries only one. Miyan Williams and Master Teague were serviceable in relief, but it was Henderson’s season to shine and, in general, he did.
WR play: A
The Buckeyes’ wide receiver trio of Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson, and Jaxon Smith-Njigba took turns dominating this season. Olave still needs a big game in the bowl to reach 1,000 yards, but all 3 could conceivably reach that mark. The tight ends don’t really belong here, but they did fine.
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OL play: A-
The ugly moments of the Michigan game probably distort an excellent season. But in the finale, the OSU offensive line racked up frequent penalties and allowed way too many QB pressures and 4 sacks. The running game never really got going against Michigan, and that is partly because of the offensive line.
DL play: B-
The tackles weren’t bad, with Haskell Garrett having a solid season and Tyleik Williams surprising early in the season. The ends just never played with the production needed. Zach Harrison finished the regular season with just 3 sacks. Jack Sawyer and JT Tuimoloau showed flashes, but neither was ready to be the consistent presence off the edge that the Buckeyes needed. OSU had zero sacks against Michigan and no sacks against Oregon.
LB play: B-
Ohio State worried about the linebackers and indeed, started and finished the season without either a significant up-front push or much run support. In between, the youngsters really didn’t fare badly. Teradja Mitchell was the veteran presence OSU hoped he would be, and youngsters like Cody Simon, Tommy Eichenberg and Steele Chambers were competent, if not particularly exciting. There’s definitely room to improve here, but this group wasn’t awful.
DB play: B+
Ohio State struggled at times against the pass, but significantly improved in this area over last season. Denzel Burke was a surprise star at cornerback and Ronnie Hickman led the Buckeyes in tackles by roughly a mile. For a group that was feared to be the defensive weak link, the secondary was probably OSU’s strongest position group.
Special teams: A-
OSU was working with new kickers and punters and avoided any real problems in either area. Emeka Egbuka showed flashes of big-time potential as a return man, and OSU generally found ways to get its best athletes in on more plays.
The only things not to like were the ugly defensive issues that plagued the Buckeyes in Weeks 1 and 2 and then again in Week 13. Ryan Day changed defensive play callers and seemed to have fixed the issues that plagued OSU early. The way the Buckeye offense was rolling, it looked like the defense had to just be adequate to deliver a CFP spot. Unfortunately, against Michigan, the defense wasn’t adequate. UM just lined up and ran the ball downhill all day. When OSU had to have a stop, the defense looked somewhere between clueless and disinterested.
Was this a lost season? Definitely not. OSU was one of the best teams in the nation over the month leading up to the Michigan game. But Day will probably want some fresh defensive ideas to pull a game like Oregon or Michigan out of the fire a little more quickly.