Ohio State beat Youngstown State 35-7 on Saturday but dropped a spot to No. 6 in the AP poll after what some may say wasn’t a convincing enough win. The Buckeyes showed improvement in a few areas, but there are things Ohio State must clean up going into its game against Western Kentucky before heading to Notre Dame.
Here are some final thoughts on Ohio State’s win against Youngstown State, including film review of the quarterbacks and offensive line.
Two touchdowns to Marvin Harrison Jr.
Everyone left the Indiana game thinking that Emeka Egbuka and Harrison had to get the ball more, and Ohio State targeted them often in Week 2. The Buckeyes ran just 60 plays but threw to their star receivers a combined 21 times. Harrison had seven catches for 160 yards and two touchdowns on 12 targets, and Egbuka had five catches for 94 yards and a touchdown on nine targets.
I want to touch on the two touchdowns to Harrison. The first was a simple pitch-and-catch between Kyle McCord and Harrison:
— Big Ten Football (@B1Gfootball) September 9, 2023
It’s a coverage bust by Youngstown State, but there a few things here that I like. First, we wanted to see McCord make reads downfield more, rather than just the checkdowns he had against Indiana. He does that right away, as Harrison beats his defender with no safety help, and McCord reads it and makes the easy throw.
Second, I like this call from Ryan Day and Brian Hartline. That was Egbuka in the slot alongside Harrison. Putting them both on the short side of the field puts the defense in a tense situation.
The Penguins had the outside corner and the safety to cover both of them, which is never going to work. Youngstown State did a good job of bluffing its linebacker back into coverage, but it wasn’t enough because the safety still bit down on the Egbuka curl route. That leaves the corner, who is expecting safety help, in a bad spot.
I love this concept for Ohio State, especially when the numbers line up like they did here. Despite it being on the short side, which can limit spacing, Ohio State should use this more because it can put a lot of stress on defenses.
Here’s the second touchdown from Harrison:
Kyle McCord finds Marvin Harrison Jr. for their second TD connection of the first quarter.
— Big Ten Football (@B1Gfootball) September 9, 2023
First, I love the idea of Harrison in the slot. This is going to give a lot of teams trouble, because Ohio State can be multiple and versatile in its formations.
Aside from that, this isn’t the best throw from McCord, but it is another example of how special Harrison is. He adjusts to this throw and makes the catch look easy.
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Pass protection was much improved
I was actually excited to watch the offensive line in this game. I figured they would dominate in one-on-one matchups — because they should against an FCS team — but I wanted to see how their communication would improve. They were much better in pass protection.
Youngstown State generated pressure on just 15.8 percent of Ohio State dropbacks on Saturday, per TruMedia. Indiana’s pressure rate was 18.9 percent. Devin Brown was sacked twice and pressured on five of 17 dropbacks, but McCord was pressured on only one of 21 dropbacks.
This game was a good example of the offensive line’s growth, even if they’ll have to prove it more against Power 5 opponents.
Here Youngstown State sends some delayed pressure on third down. They send it from a few different angles, but I want to point out left tackle Josh Simmons. He struggled against Indiana, and although he had penalty issues on Saturday, he did a nice job here.
Off the snap, he blocks the defensive lineman in front of him, passes him off to Donovan Jackson and then picks up the blitzing defensive back. I love it. This is growth.
It’s just Youngstown State, but the communication improvement is a good sign for the future because that’s the type of thing that shouldn’t change between opponents.
This is another good example of Ohio State’s ability to pick up the blitz. Youngstown State sent five with a spy in the middle of the field. This is a terrific job across the board by the Buckeyes, and McCord is able to find Harrison for the conversion.
I’ll want to see this again when Western Kentucky comes to town, but this was a step in the right direction.
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Dominant interior defensive line play
The play from the interior defensive line this season has been surprising in some ways. I knew Michael Hall Jr. would be a star and that Tyleik Williams and Ty Hamilton would have strong seasons, but this group is deeper than I thought.
While we are still waiting for the edge rushers to live up to the preseason hype, I think we’ve seen a variety of players inside stand out.
Hall got his first sack of the season on Saturday. He didn’t get a sack on the following play, but his ability to win off the line of scrimmage and make the quarterback move right into Jaden McKenzie’s arms can be game-changing in a big game:
I didn’t expect to see a lot of McKenzie this season. But had a fantastic summer and has looked good in 23 snaps in two games.
What’s been really impressive is the interior’s impact on the run game. They are doing more than just taking double-teams and blocks for the linebackers. They’re making tackles too.
Hamilton made a nice tackle on second-and-1, preventing a first down. In the next play on third down, shown above, he makes a tackle with one arm. He’s being blocked here but still secures the tackle, preventing the first down. He’s been terrific this year.
And here’s an impact play by Williams, who read this screen the entire time:
Originally, I thought he fell down and just happened to get up right in front of the screen, but that wasn’t the case. He takes the first block and moves right upfield as they get out for the screen and makes an impressive open-field tackle. He doesn’t move like somebody who is 6 feet 2 and 290 pounds here.
The defensive tackles have been great this season.
Cam Martinez experiment might be over
I thought Martinez had a great offseason. He played well in the spring, though we didn’t get to see a lot of him in the summer. I thought he was going to be a big part of this defense.
He played 14 snaps on Saturday, but not many of them were meaningful after he gave up this 36-yard catch that led to the Penguins’ only points.
Ohio State sent five here and was relying on its secondary to hold up in coverage. Martinez ends up pressing the receiver a few yards off the snap and gets burned.
We saw more and more of Jordan Hancock at nickel on obvious passing downs after this play.
It’s the type of play that can’t happen against Youngstown State, where Ohio State is the superior team in terms of both athleticism and talent. Ohio State’s secondary will face a greater test in the next game against pass-happy Western Kentucky.
Third-and-short continues to be a problem
Ohio State has to figure out its third-and-short issues. In two games, it has faced third-and-3 or shorter eight times and converted just twice, per TruMedia.
I think some of these are Day play-calling concerns because Ohio State struggled in the same scenarios last year with three NFL offensive linemen, converting in such situations 61 percent of the time, which ranked 72nd.
In one instance, Day called a short-side HB toss that didn’t get the first down. It also didn’t stand because of a Simmons hold, but that doesn’t take away the call. Here’s an example of a good call that Ohio State can’t execute:
Running back Chip Trayanum has nowhere to go. He can’t cut right, which is where I think he wanted to go, because everybody is shedding a block there. He cuts left, where Simmons lost his one-on-one battle.
This shouldn’t be a problem against Youngstown State. Ohio State should be able to move the Penguins at will and convert this. The lack of third-down efficiency could come back and hurt the Buckeyes in big games.
Not enough edge pressure
I expected more from the players on the edge. That’s not to say players like JT Tuimoloau and Jack Sawyer have been overrated. I want to see how they do against Western Kentucky, who is going to throw it a lot, and Notre Dame, which has one of the nation’s best offensive lines, before I say if I’m worried. I think they could shine against the Hilltoppers and quiet critics, though I understand the worry from some.
Sacks are only a part of the story — Ohio State has three in two games by Hall, Tommy Eichenberg and Hero Kanu — but the Buckeyes’ pressure rate of 19.4 percent against Youngstown State was its third-lowest since 2019, per TruMedia, and it came despite the Buckeyes blitzing on 35.5 percent of dropbacks.
The Buckeyes have to pressure the quarterback. Even a quarterback hit can set the tone for a game.
One more thought: Devin Brown review
Let’s be honest: This is McCord’s team now. I wouldn’t be shocked to see Day stand at the podium Tuesday and announce that McCord is the clear starter. I think he should do it on Tuesday, end the back-and-forth and let McCord get a week of prep as the guy before Notre Dame week.
That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t dissect Brown’s performance, as he played 34 snaps compared to just six at Indiana. Let’s go over a three-play sequence from Brown that shows some of his good traits and what he needs to work on.
First, here’s his throw to Harrison, which should’ve drawn a pass interference flag:
I thought this was a great throw. Harrison makes this catch if he isn’t tackled in the end zone. Brown got good protection, which helps, but he also didn’t hesitate to make the deep read and put it in a position for Harrison to make a play on the ball.
Nobody ever questioned his arm strength, but this is good accuracy, as well.
He took a step back on the next play:
This was one of two misses on short drag routes. You can see that the pressure affected him here. He’s backing up to avoid the pressure and never gets a chance to step into this throw. It’s a throw he has to make.
Then there was the fourth-down throw — his best play of the day, in my opinion.
Right after the missed throw to Egbuka, he had this moment in which he steps into the pocket and uses his athleticism to escape and extend the play. I remember watching this live and thinking “Keep your eyes up.” He does just that.
At times, an athletic quarterback is clearly just looking to run, especially after feeling pressure the previous play. I think Alabama quarterback Jalen Milroe had that problem against Texas. But that wasn’t the case here for Brown.
He escapes pressure, keeps looking downfield and finds Gee Scott for a big fourth-down conversion.
When we talk about Brown’s athleticism, this is what we’re referring to. He doesn’t have Justin Fields-like athleticism, but he can extend plays with his legs.
He has a lot of talent. You can see why Day wanted to give Brown a chance to play, even if it’s pretty clear this is going to be McCord’s team.
(Photo of Kyle McCord: Jason Mowry / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)