ANALYSIS: Evaluating Ohio State’s 2022 season by position group

Ohio State football finished 2022 one game short of playing for it all.

The ultimate goal was not accomplished, but then again it rarely is. The Buckeyes have played football for 133 seasons, and only eight ended in national championships.

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For the second straight season, Ohio State failed to beat Michigan or win the Big Ten, but 2022 is a little harder to wrap a bow on than 2021.

That’s because the Buckeyes came within a point of knocking off defending champion Georgia last weekend in the Peach Bowl, a game that would have sent Ohio State to Los Angeles to play TCU for the national title instead of the Bulldogs.

Here is an overview of what went right and what went wrong by position for Ohio State during the 2022 football season.

C.J. Stroud repeated as Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year and Quarterback of the Year.

The sophomore quarterback’s numbers weren’t quite as spectacular in his second season as a starter, but he still completed 258 of 389 passes for 3,688 yards with 41 touchdowns and six interceptions.

The California native also saved one of his best performances for last, completing 23 of 34 passes for 348 yards and four touchdowns against Georgia.

He did all that with a revolving door at running back and his best receiver out for most of the season.

Receivers remained strong despite health.

Jaxon Smith-Njigba was expected to be one of, if not the best receivers in the country, but he was hurt early in the season-opener and barely seen again.

His absence cleared the way for Marvin Harrison Jr. to become Ohio State’s Biletnikoff Award candidate as the sophomore from Philadelphia caught 77 passes for 1,263 yards and 14 touchdowns.

Fellow sophomore Emeka Egbuka was right on his heels, catching 74 passes for 1,1152 yards and 10 touchdowns while junior Julian Fleming caught 34 passes for 533 yards and six touchdowns.

Tight ends became a bigger part of the offense.

Cade Stover caught 36 passes for 406 yards and five touchdowns, and Mitch Rossi played in all 13 games to give Ohio State a second option at tight end and a fullback-type player to move around the formation. Former receiver Gee Scott Jr. also gave the coaches another option along with cameos from offensive lineman Josh Fryar when the staff wanted to go with three tight ends.

The offensive line was… about the same.

Much was made in the offseason about playing a more traditional lineup with two true tackles, two true guards and returning starter Luke Wypler at center this year after playing four natural tackles around Wypler in 2021.

The results weren’t much different under new coach Justin Frye. The running game improved, in part because of more opportunities, and the pass protection remained strong but short-yardage situations were an even bigger weakness for the Buckeyes.

They slipped from 52nd (72.4 percent) in the nation in Football Outsiders “Power” ranking, which measures conversions of third-and-2 or less and fourth-and-2 or less, to 117th (58.8), and they had more runs stopped for no gain or a loss this season (14.9 percent) compared to last (11.2).

Running backs were an enigma.

Three different backs ran for more than 100 yards in a game more than once, but injuries really prevented this talented group from taking off and likely held back the offense as a whole.

Miyan Williams (825 yards), TreVeyon Henderson (571) and Dallan Hayden (553) combined for 1,929 yards and 25 touchdowns, but with each having a different running style the coaching staff seemed to struggle to settle on a certain style of attack on the ground.

The defensive line improved.

Ohio State was more stout up front, improving from 51st nationally in Football Outsiders average line yards to 16th and from 62nd to sixth in short-yardage situations.

The Buckeyes also stopped more plays for a loss or no gain (21.4 percent compared to 16.1), though pass rush production remained lacking, especially beyond part-timers Mike Hall Jr. and Jack Sawyer. Those sophomores finished with 4.5 sacks apiece to share the team lead.

The linebackers took a big step forward.

Jim Knowles’ defense had its ups and downs (mostly the former early in the season and the latter in the second half), but the linebackers he coaches played much better the previous season. Tommy Eichenberg picked up All-Big Ten honors and led the team in tackles with 120 while Steele Chambers checked in No. 2 with 77 stops.

They benefited from the defensive line playing a more stout style that was less built on penetration and more on block destruction.

The secondary did not.

Knowles’ “safety-driven” 4-2-5 defense veered off the road and into a ditch late in the year, getting buried by big plays in losses to Michigan and Georgia.

Lathan Ransom made a near-miraculous return from a Jan. 1 broken leg to become one of the regulars at safety, but he was involved in multiple long touchdowns by the Wolverines and Bulldogs while Ronnie Hickman looked less comfortable playing in the middle of the defense after excelling in a run-stopping role the previous season.

Nickel Tanner McCallister saw his production drop off late, too, but cornerbacks Cameron Brown and Denzel Burke seemed to become more solid in the second half of the season as they got healthier.

Coaching was a mixed bag.

Day talked all offseason about competitive stamina only to see his team lose second half leads in both losses.

The Buckeyes started strong against Michigan, but some questionable play calls on both sides of the ball helped the Wolverines hang around and eventually pull away.

Day deserves credit for regrouping his squad to put its best foot forward for the Georgia game and for conjuring up a game plan that had the Bulldog defense befuddled, but Knowles struggled to figure out how best to deploy his players and got burned repeatedly.

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