Dreadful defense dooms No. 3 Ohio State


COLUMBUS — An inept defensive performance and untimely mistakes on offense were too much to overcome for No. 3 Ohio State as the Buckeyes fell to No. 12 Oregon, 35-28, in Ohio Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

The loss marks the first at home for Ohio State since 2017 and the first regular season loss since Ryan Day took over as the head coach in 2019.

Quarterback C.J. Stroud threw for 484 yards and three touchdowns as part of an offensive attack that compiled 612 yards of total offense in the losing effort. Jaxon Smith-Njigba recored seven catches for 145 yards and two touchdowns, while Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave each also went over 100 yards receiving.

Miyan Williams and TreVeyon Henderson combined for 131 rushing yards on 26 carries for a rushing attack that was mostly held in check by the Oregon defense.

But it was the Buckeye defense that was the story of the game, for all the wrong reasons, as Oregon bullied their way to 500 yards of total offense. The Ducks controlled the line of scrimmage early and often, rushing for 269 yards led by running back C.J. Verdell’s 161 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries.

Ohio State threatened to open the scoring on each of their first two possessions, twice moving inside the Oregon 40-yard line. Both drives stalled, however, and the Buckeyes were turned away without points. Punter Jesse Mirco nailed a beauty at the end of the second drive, and the ball was downed at the 1-yard line.

Backed up to their own end zone, Oregon engineered a 99-yard drive to finally breakthrough on the scoreboard. Quarterback Anthony Brown’s 30-yard completion to Verdell had the Ducks at Ohio State’s 39, and three plays later it was Verdell busting into the end zone from 14 yards out to cap off the drive. Camden Lewis’ extra point was good and Oregon captured the 7-0 lead just seconds into the second quarter.

Still searching for their first points of the day, Ohio State finally mustered an answer midway through the second quarter. Stroud got the Buckeyes out and running with a 26-yard completion to Smith-Njigba, and four plays later, Stroud connected with Wilson for a 27-yard touchdown to pull the Buckeyes even with the Ducks.

But in a sign of things to come for the remainder of the afternoon, Oregon wasted no time in punching right back with little resistance from Ohio State.

It took just seven plays for the Ducks to recapture the 14-point lead as Verdell waltzed into the end zone from 14 yards out for his second touchdown of the afternoon. Lewis’ extra point gave Oregon the 14-7 lead with under five minutes remaining in the first half, and that margin remained heading into halftime.

The second half was more of the same for the Oregon offense, which needed just three plays on the opening drive of the half to increase their lead to 21-7. Once more, it was Verdell outrunning the Buckeyes 77 yards to the end zone as the woes continued for the Ohio State defense.

Stroud and the Buckeye offense responded with a quick answer of their own, marching 75 yards on eight plays before Stroud found Smith-Njigba on a 26-yard strike to bring the Buckeyes back within a touchdown. Noah Ruggles’ extra point 21-14 with 10:15 remaining in the third quarter, breathing some like back into Ohio Stadium.

Any momentum the Ohio State offense could muster simply wasn’t sustainable, however, behind a defensive performance that will not soon be forgotten by Buckeye fans. On the ensuing Oregon possession, Travis Dye found the end zone from five yards out to complete another touchdown drive. Lewis’ kick had the Ducks out in front, 28-14, as the game went to the fourth quarter.

Ohio State stayed alive in the early moments of the fourth quarter as Henderson’s 2-yard touchdown run momentarily got the Buckeyes back within a touchdown with 12 minutes remaining in the game.

But the next Oregon possession again yielded a Ducks touchdown as Ohio State’s defensive futility continued. Brown found Moliki Matavao on a 14-yard touchdown pass to increase Oregon’s lead to 35-21 at the 10-minute mark of the fourth quarter.

Stroud and Smith-Njigba kept Ohio State afloat late in the fourth quarter when the duo connected for another touchdown. Ruggles’ extra point brought the Buckeyes to within a touchdown as the clock ticked below the eight-minute mark.

In a now-or-never situation, the Ohio State defense finally found the stop they so desperately needed. Tom Snee’s punt gave the ball back to the Buckeyes with more than seven minutes still to play. The offense wasn’t able to capitalize on the rare stop, forcing the Buckeyes to punt the ball back to the Ducks.

Still down by just seven points, another stop by the Ohio State defense gave the Buckeyes one more opportunity to tie the game up. Oregon’s Verone McKinley III had other intentions, and his interception of Stroud sealed the deal on the Ducks’ upset as they were able to run off the final two minutes on the clock.

Following the game, Day was critical of the defense but also said there is plenty of accountability to go around.

“I thought at the end (the defense) got two big stops for us and we didn’t do anything with them,” Day said. “The offense has to do their part in this thing as well. Again, I dont think we established the run, and when the defense did get the offense the ball back, we didn’t do anything with it. There’s enough blame to go around here.”

Day, who was at times seen barking at defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs on the sideline, called the heated exchanges part of being in the moment. Day said he will need to watch the film to begin asssessing at what level the defensive issues are arising, whether that be in schemes, coaching, personnel, or some combination of the three.

Ohio State returns to action next week when they host Tulsa. Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m.


By Dillon Davis

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Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.

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