Ohio State wrapped up its non-conference schedule on Saturday night with a dominating win over Toledo. Now the games become even more meaningful, and with a stingy Wisconsin defense on deck, this was the perfect time for the offense to fully click and build confidence.
Lets roll with the 10 Instant Observations from the blowout win…
1. Spare me the “it was Toledo” retorts. University of Toledo, Toledo Central Catholic, Toledo School for the Blind, doesn’t matter. That was a pretty much flawless offensive performance. C.J. Stroud was in a Rose Bowl-esque zone with his accuracy and timing. The receivers made outstanding individual plays. The running backs all flashed and the offensive line mauled. The Buckeyes will play worse defenses than Toledo’s in the Big Ten this season. That was a clinic.
2. Stroud is the best anticipatory thrower of the football that Ohio State has ever had. By a lot. Justin Fields was the better athlete, a physical marvel with a great arm and mind, but nobody has come through this program with the ability to throw receivers open the way Stroud does. He makes two or three throws every game where you wonder what on earth he saw to pull the trigger. He made at least three of these in the first half tonight. The throw down the seam to Stover, the ball that dropped between five defenders down the right sideline, and the first touchdown to Fleming.
3. We were finally given a glimpse of The Julian Fleming Experience tonight and you really have to feel good for Julian right now. It has not been an easy few years in Columbus as Fleming has just really struggled to stay healthy. Tonight’s performance could very well be more impactful on this team than the two touchdown contribution to the box score. For one, there is absolutely nothing better for a guy in Fleming’s situation than to build some confidence. That could do absolute wonders for this kid’s future. But it’s also yet another player that has to be accounted for. We knew Smith-Njigba is a star, we knew Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka, even with limited snaps last year, were budding stars. But if Fleming emerges as a “surprise” difference maker in this offense? Game Over.
4. Loved what I saw from Dallan Hayden tonight. Maybe it was the fresh legs, maybe it was the O-Line opening up big holes, maybe it was the adrenaline of getting meaningful carries in a night game at The Shoe as a true freshman, but he just had a lot of juice out there. He was really hitting the seams hard, getting his pads down, and finishing runs. Thankfully it looks like TreVeyon Henderson’s injury isn’t a long term thing, (think it was just precautionary to sit him tonight) but the Buckeyes could absolutely get away with having Hayden in the rotation. I also don’t think it’s a coincidence that a coaching staff once hell bent on taking two running backs in this recruiting class has pumped the brakes a bit on that since Hayden started to emerge in fall camp.
5. There were varying opinions about playing Jaxon Smith-Njigba tonight but I think Ohio State made the right call. Yes, it’s easy to say this knowing he made it through the game without incident, but this was my stance on the message board over the last week, so I’m not Monday Morning QBing this thing. Sure they would have won tonight without him, but this offense was not firing on all cylinders the first two weeks and say what you want about Wisconsin’s offense, that defense is always a tough test. Building some confidence and some cohesion ahead of that game outweighed the risks here.
6. Just like we all predicted, it’s the Year of the Tight End in Columbus. And why wouldn’t it be when your starting tight end was playing linebacker for you just one pregnancy term ago?
7. Never in a million years would I punt on 4th and 3 from the opponent’s 39-yard line in the midst of near-perfect offensive execution. That is all.
8. If Ohio State is going to get where it wants to go this season, the Buckeyes will have to go through at least a couple of quarterbacks who are better than Toledo’s Dequan Finn. But this was a great test and learning experience for this defense as Finn is one of the nation’s more mobile quarterbacks and he hurt the Buckeyes a couple of times in this game with his legs, both as a runner and in buying time to make a throw. Getting a look at this type of quarterback now, doing some things well, and also having some teachable moments is a net positive. And you have to give Finn some credit, that was a hell of a throw on the first touchdown and he was just about dead to rights in the backfield on the second one, really impressive individual efforts on both plays.
9. If there is one position I still am a little concerned about with three weeks of data now, it is the cornerbacks. I like the talent level in the room (though the depth concerns me), but there is still a lot of youth and there have been a not so insignificant amount of one-on-one battles lost against three opponents who don’t have receivers who should put the fear of God into you. The glass half full here is that, again, it’s a fairly young group with plenty of talent and I think things can, and likely will, improve, but I’m still not quite settled there yet and I thought I would be at this point. In the preseason, I felt that the cornerback room would be a surprise strength of the team. Hasn’t been the case yet. It’s going to be at least a few weeks before the Buckeyes face a good group of receivers (Michigan State maybe? PSU?) and I’ll be very curious to see how things go when that happens.
10. My top five right now- 1. Georgia 2. Ohio State 3. Michigan 4. Alabama 5. USC (the matchup with Fresno State tonight should be interesting).