Ohio State Buckeyes: Takeaways and questions from the first month of the season

OSU plays at Rutgers at 3:30 p.m. Saturday

Ready or not, Ohio State will return to Big Ten play this week with a trip to Rutgers after wiping out Akron last week.

The first month of the season revealed some truths about the Buckeyes while leaving other questions unanswered.

Here is a rundown of things to know — and to try to find out.

1. The kids are all right.

True freshman TreVeyon Henderson is the headline contributor from the class of 2021, but Denzel Burke is not far behind.

Henderson leads Ohio State with 439 yards rushing and broke Archie Griffin’s OSU single-game freshman rushing record with 277 yards against Tulsa. He’s the No. 5 rusher in the Big Ten and leads the nation with an eye-popping 9.5 yards per carry.

Burke has started every game at cornerback and, according to Pro Football Focus, has played more snaps than anyone on defense. He has 12 tackles and has broken up a team-high six passes while being targeted by opponents aware of his inexperience and trying to pick on him.

Defensive tackle Tyleik Williams is tied for the team lead with three sacks despite not playing much until Week 3, and classmate J.T. Tuimolau has played himself into the rotation at end.

Several members of the ‘20 class (some of whom redshirted last year) are also making a mark, topped by quarterback C.J. Stroud.

Miyan Williams started the first two games at running back and is seventh in the country in yards per carry (7.8) while Luke Wypler has stepped in at center and played well.

On the other side of the ball, Cam Martinez is providing another option in a secondary that has had ups and downs so far while true sophomore Cody Simon has been one of the team’s better linebackers.

2. Ohio State has a good offensive line again, and the receivers are as good as advertised.

Despite having to shuffle the whole line and play without a projected starter all season, this unit has looked good for the most part.

PFF has graded the Buckeyes as the No. 3 run-blocking unit in the country, while rating it No. 18 in pass blocking.

Tackles Nicholas Petit-Frere and Dawand Jones along with reserve guard Matt Jones have all graded out above 80 (“Pro Bowl level” for PFF) on the year while Thayer Munford, Paris Johnson Jr. and Wypler all have received solid grades as well.

Meanwhile, Garrett Wilson, Chris Olave and Jaxon Smith-Njigba rank in the top 10 in the Big Ten in receiving yards and the top 14 in yards per reception. They have been productive and explosive every week as a unit.

3. The defense? Not so much.

A dominant performance against woeful Akron perked up the numbers to a certain extent, but they still aren’t good.

The Buckeyes rank next-to-last in the Big Ten and 89th nationally in total defense (410.8 yards allowed per game) with the pass defense (12th/102nd) and run defense (82nd/13th) almost equally at fault.

They have struggled on third down (ranking 14th in the Big Ten and 113th nationally) while allowing 23.2 points per game (67th/12th).

The advanced stats actually look better with Ohio State ranking No. 32 in defensive SP+, which takes into account strength of opponent and is adjusted for game tempo while combining play-by-play efficiency and ability to prevent big plays, but the unit has not passed the look test, either.

Minnesota gashed the Buckeyes at times, Oregon moved the ball at will on the ground and through the air and a pedestrian Tulsa unit put up more than 500 yards.

4. Questions remain at quarterback.

Stroud is No. 9 in the country in passing yards per game (321) and No. 8 in yards per completion despite playing with pain in his right (throwing) shoulder.

He missed last week’s game to rest that shoulder, and all true freshman Kyle McCord did was throw for 319 yards and a pair of touchdowns in his place.

Both were named Big Ten Freshman of the Week after their first start, but what’s next?

Stroud has garnered some groans from fans at times, but that is more a function of expectations than a reflection of his play.

Though far from perfect, he performed well for a player making his first start on the road against a Big Ten team and his second at home against a top 10 team (Oregon).

McCord performing well in an actual game could give Day something to think about moving forward if Stroud struggles — especially if Stroud’s shoulder status could impact his ability to play his best.

5. Will some veterans step it up?

The flip side of so many young players playing big roles is a handful of veterans who were expected to blossom this season have not done much.

Freshmen biting as pups are fun stories, but it’s a long season and sledding will get tougher against older players as the Buckeyes get into the Big Ten grind.

Getting more production from players such as Zach Harrison, Tyreke Smith and Taron Vincent on the defensive front would likely do wonders for the defense, as would Sevyn Banks solidifying his spot in the cornerback rotation.

6. How will the staff manage the defense?

Oregon’s win depended heavily on exploiting Ohio State’s predictability on defense.

With Matt Barnes taking over the play calling, the Buckeyes mixed up coverages the last two weeks and showed a greater willingness to blitz.

Developing and identifying the best players to put on the field will also be crucial, a process that still seems to be underway as the beginning of October and return of Big Ten play loom.

7. Can the offense be more efficient?

Big plays have ruled the day for the Ohio State offense, but breakdowns at critical junctures cost the Buckeyes points against the Ducks.

They’ve shown more faith in the running game since, but the level of competition hasn’t been the same, so this remains something to watch.

The defense may not be likely to turn into a dominant unit, but a balanced offense could lessen pressure on the stop unit.

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