“I think when you look at the CFP, and I don’t know where it was based off the last year, but I think the winning team usually scores 49 or 50 points,” Ohio State head coach Ryan Day said. “So everything’s gonna have to be on point.”
Prior to the season, Ohio State appeared to have the makings of an all-time great scoring unit: The Big Ten’s reigning quarterback and offensive player of the year (C.J. Stroud), single-season receiving yards leader (Jaxon Smith-Njigba), a freshman All-America running back (TreVeyon Henderson) and three starters from a solid offensive line all returned from a squad that led the nation in scoring in 2021 at 45.7 points per game.
Tight end was a question mark, and so were two starters up front, but there was talent and experience to be tapped into in both areas.
Losing a pair of NFL receivers drafted in the first round last spring was a concern, but less so considering the coaching and recruiting Brian Hartline has been doing for that position.
Ultimately, the Buckeyes put up big numbers again, including 44.5 points (No. 2 nationally and 492.7 total yards per game.
Stroud again was named the conference’s top quarterback and offensive player while earning a second-straight invitation to the Heisman Trophy ceremony as a finalist for the award.
Cade Stover developed into a standout tight end with Mitch Rossi adding depth, and the offensive line overall played well despite new guards Donovan Jackson and Matt Jones suffering some ups and downs.
Henderson missed all of four games and parts of multiple others because of a foot injury, but Miyan Williams and Dallan Hayden combined for over 1,000 yards when he was unavailable.
Henderson was out and Williams limited by an ankle injury in the Michigan game, but converted linebacker Chip Trayanum managed 83 yards on only 14 carries against the Wolverines.
Smith-Njigba appeared only briefly in three games because of a hamstring injury, but Marvin Harrison Jr. became a go-to receiver while Emeka Egbuka was one of the better No. 2 options in the country and Julian Fleming provided another big-play threat.
Overall, the ingredients to score a lot of points remained in place, and the Buckeyes produced overall numbers comparable to last season.
Yet the offense had a hard time replicating them when they were needed the most.
Notre Dame held the Buckeyes to 21 points in a season-opening win, and Michigan allowed just 23 in the season-ending defeat.
In between, Ohio State mostly romped overmatched foes, but there was an uneven performance at Penn State, where the defense directly contributed seven of the 44 points and gave the Buckeyes the ball in Nittany Lion territory multiple times.
The offense no-showing or looking like a shell of itself has been a common theme in Ohio State losses not only since Day became head coach in 2019 or his arrival as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in 2017.
The theme goes all the way back to 2015, the season after an incredible three-game postseason run that saw the Buckeyes roast Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon to claim Big Ten and national championships.
While they have averaged 42.2 points per game in 77 games since then, that drops to 20 in their 11 losses.
It’s a trend Day acknowledged needs to change if Ohio State is going to take advantage of its new lease on life in the CFP and knock off the defending champion Bulldogs, who average 39.2 points per game and allow 12.8.
“You’re gonna have to score points against a team like this,” Day said. “That’s for sure. "
What that requires remains to be seen, but Day expressed hope Stroud will have all his weapons at his disposal aside from Smith-Njigba, who is done for the season.
The whole group, coaches included, could benefit from a new mindset as well.
“I just think when it all gets taken away from you, it makes you kind of sit there and realize that you’re going to have one shot to go play Georgia or whatever team you play,” Day said. “We have to let it all out and let it go. There will be no fear of failure. We will play as hard as we possibly can and be aggressive.”
Saturday, Dec. 31
Ohio State vs. Georgia, 8 p.m., ESPN, 1410