Ohio State hosts Oregon on Saturday for the most exciting game of Week 2.
This will be the first time the two teams have met since the 2015 National Championship, the first title game of the College Football Playoff era. Ohio State and Oregon were supposed to meet in Eugene last year, but the Big Ten and the Pac 12 cancelled their seasons before the game could happen. Both eventually played conference only schedules.
Both teams played closer games in Week 1 than they were hoping they would. While Ohio State got off to a shaky start, C.J. Stroud helped the Buckeyes overcome a halftime deficit and cover the spread. Meanwhile in Eugene, Oregon had to complete a fourth-quarter comeback to defeat Fresno State 31-24.
Most betting sites have Ohio State as 14-point favorites over Oregon, which is the same spread from the Minnesota game.
This game will be a key test for both games. As a matchup between two reigning conference champions, the result of this game will carry significant weight in the eyes of the college football playoff committee.
Ohio State vs Oregon Preview
Evaluating Week 1 of college football is a tall order. Teams across the country, like Notre Dame, Clemson, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Indiana, and North Carolina, either failed to win as decisively as they should have or simply lost to lower ranked teams.
Ohio State and Oregon both started shakier than they wanted. Whereas Ohio State played a tougher team and ultimately settled down late in the game, Oregon struggled in the fourth quarter. Fresno State was one yard away from extending a potential game-tying drive late in the fourth quarter.
Things started to go downhill for Oregon when the Ducks’ best player left the game.
Ohio State’s Offense vs Oregon’s Defense
Oregon needs Kayvon Thibodeaux at one hundred percent, or this is going to be a tough game for the Ducks.
If Thibodeaux plays, he will remind a lot of Buckeyes fans of Chase Young. He can play all over the line, he has the athleticism to win in a variety of ways, and more often than not, he gets into the backfield. Even if Thibodeaux doesn’t reach the backfield, he helps someone else on the line get there.
Thibodeaux left the game after two drives, and he caused two sacks and a forced fumble. But after he left, and even after he returned, Oregon lost the battle of the trenches. Hardly anyone on the defensive line could get pressure, and that allowed quarterback Jake Haener to settle in.
Whether this is correlative or just coincidence, after Thibodeaux left the game, Oregon blew their 21-6 lead and actually trailed Fresno State in the fourth quarter.
The only way they could put pressure on Haener was to blitz. Once you go past the line, you start getting to the strength of the Oregon defense. Justin Flowe and Noah Sewell were the top- and second-ranked inside linebackers in the 2020 recruiting class, respectively, according to 247Sports. The pair combined for 19 total tackles against Fresno State, two for a loss, a sack, and two forced fumbles.
Stroud will have to be aware of these two linebackers at all times, as they could come on a blitz and get to him in a hurry. The drawback is that a veteran quarterback can take advantage of numbers on the second level and find an open receiver before he gets hit. Haener did this well, though he is a senior and an experienced starter. Stroud may have more trouble with this than Haener did.
Ryan Day added more protection for Stroud in the second half of the Minnesota game. He might consider doing that against Oregon, since the Ducks will throw a lot of blitzes at the freshman quarterback.
Another drawback is that when Oregon’s best defenders are up at the line of scrimmage, it essentially takes removes their run-stopping abilities. Fresno State was able to run the ball on the outside of the formation and take advantage of the vacated spots on defense. TreVeyon Henderson might get some carries on the outside to counteract the blitz.
One other thing about this defense that stands out is their ability to force fumbles. They forced five fumbles against Fresno State, and recovered three of them. Oregon’s first two touchdowns and their game-tying field goal came off of those three recoveries. If Ohio State wants to make things tough on Oregon, then they need to make sure they aren’t giving the Ducks’ offense a short field to work with. Ball security should be a point of emphasis with the Buckeyes this week.
Ohio State’s Defense vs Oregon’s Offense
A quick look at the box score shows that Oregon quarterback Anthony Brown completed 15 passes, but ran the ball 16 times. This is going to be a test for Ohio State’s inexperienced linebackers.
While Brown has not been used like a true-dual threat quarterback over his career, he can still threaten defenses. Brown, a fifth-year senior, has only had double-digit rushing attempts once, when he had 11 against Rutgers in 2019. Was his 16 attempts last week a fluke, or is he turning a new leaf? It’s tough to say.
The Ducks rushed for 186 yards with three touchdowns, led by C.J. Verdell and Travis Dye. Over the last four years, the two running backs have combined for over 5,000 yards from scrimmage and 36 touchdowns. They did very well with what the offensive line gave them.
Here, we’ve reached the part where Day and defensive line coach Larry Johnson licked their chops in the film room. Oregon’s offensive line has taken a step back since 2019, when they had one of the best in college football. While their current line started all seven games of 2020, they were dominated by Fresno State. The line gave up two sacks, but eight tackles for a loss.
The Ohio State linebackers are going to be working hard to stop the Oregon rushing attack. Zach Harrison, Haskell Garrett, and the defensive line will be able to help by controlling the line of scrimmage.