Emotions were high for me during the Ohio State season opener against Nebraska on Saturday. As a Cleveland Browns fan, saying emotions were high usually is a bad thing. However, my emotions were very positive on Saturday as I could not be happier to have Buckeye football back. Now that it’s been a couple of days and I looked back at the game and thought about it, I felt it was a good time to discuss this game’s biggest takeaways.
1. Justin Fields is coming for the Heisman trophy award.
Last season, Fields finished in third place for the Heisman trophy award. This year, he doesn’t want anything holding him back from taking the trophy home. In August, Fields said, “Personally, I want to show everybody that I’m the best quarterback in the nation. Of course, I want to win the Heisman and do all that stuff, but the team comes first, so if none of that happens, I’m fine with the national championship trophy sitting in the front of the Woody.” Maybe he can do both?
Fields opened his season with a statement to the rest of college football. He finished with 20 completions in 21 attempts with 276 passing yards and two passing touchdowns. On top of that, he ran for 54 rushing yards and a rushing touchdown. The stats might not jump off the page like some of the other contenders, but his play was beautiful and effortless. He looked like the best player in the country and his season is just getting started.
2. The running game gives reasons to be worried.
Going into this season, the biggest shoes to fill were J.K. Dobbins’ at running back. Even so, there was a lot of promise with Trey Sermon and Master Teague leading the backfield. Teague received All-Big Ten Third Team honors as a back-up last year and Sermon was a top transfer from Oklahoma, averaging 6.1 yards per carry in his career. Both backs struggled throughout the game against Nebraska. Last year, Dobbins ran for 177 yards with an average of 7.4 yards per carry against Nebraska. This disappointing performance was not something fans expected.
Yes, Teague is coming off a major injury that caused us to think he would not be playing already. Yes, Sermon is still new to this offense. However, with the Buckeyes’ dominant offensive line and the passing attack from Fields, expectations were much higher. If the Buckeyes do not improve in the running game and rely too much on Fields, it will be tough to compete against top teams in the CFP. Still, it was only the first game and there is time to progress.
3. The defense needs some work.
I hate to be negative, especially when the defense only gave up 17 points, had three sacks and recovered two fumbles, including one for a touchdown, but I think I have valid reasons to be worried about the OSU defense. After producing one of the best defenses in college football last season, there was a lot of turnover, three of which were drafted in the first round. Because of that, I expected there to be a drop-off, but I didn’t think they would start by giving up 370 total yards against Nebraska. Against the pass, the defense was solid. The rushing defense gave up 210 yards, though, after allowing an average of 104 yards per game last year. The big plays were worrisome, which makes me miss Jordan Fuller. On the bright side, they picked it up in the second half and I think there is still promise here. It may just take some time.
4. The wide receiver group is the most talented on the OSU roster.
Ohio State lost three starting wide receivers from last season and I think they might be better now. Chris Olave looks even better than last season, finishing with six catches for 104 yards, even with an injury hampering him at the end of the game. Garrett Wilson was even better, though, with seven catches for 129 yards and a touchdown. These two guys will lead the team all season, but the young depth is still great. Jaxson Smith-Njigba might have the best catch we see all season with an acrobatic toe-tap touchdown. Julian Fleming and Jameson Williams both had one catch each but looked solid when in the game. I’m excited to watch this group all season with one of the best quarterbacks in the country.
5. Jack Miller may be the favored back-up over CJ Stroud.
Right now, this takeaway is not a big deal. However, it is almost certain that Fields will be leaving for the draft after this season. In that case, next year’s starter will be between freshmen Jack Miller or CJ Stroud (barring any transfers). Both are top recruits and there were no hints about who would be ahead in the depth chart. The Nebraska game shows it seems to be Miller as he went in on the last series and even scored a rushing touchdown. He didn’t throw any passes in the game, so it was tough to learn anything, but it is still interesting to note he went in over Stroud.