Oregon pulls away from Ohio State.jpg

Oregon's offense pulled away from Ohio State just enough on Saturday to earn a 35-28 upset in Ohio Stadium.

Legendary coach Woody Hayes once said "Nothing cleanses your soul like getting the hell kicked out of you."

On Saturday, No. 12 Oregon wore steel-toed boots and delivered a 35-28 lesson to the backside of the Buckeyes, a 14-point favorite, for four painful hours at Ohio Stadium.

How historic was it?

This marked the first time a Pac-12 team has beaten a top-5 foe on the road since Stanford won at Notre Dame in 1990. It was also the first time Oregon has ever beaten the Buckeyes, improving to 1-9 in 10 meetings.

Amazingly, third-year coach Ryan Day suffered his first regular-season loss and his first home loss, dropping him to 24-3 overall. So, perspective is necessary for those ready to hand out pink slips to all involved in the debacle.

Yes, the defense has issues. Yes, a first-year quarterback is suffering growing pains in key moments.

Larry Phillips mug shot

Richland Source managing editor Larry Phillips. He's led the Source newsrooms since 2016. 

Is the program at the precipice of destruction?

Hardly.

Does this particular squad have significant shortcomings?

Unquestionably.

"This is not fatal," Day said. "Certainly, it hurts."

It was a fascinating game in that the Buckeyes gained huge swaths of yardage (612 yards total), but squandered multiple scoring opportunities. The Ducks kept Ohio State out of the end zone just enough to win, even without their two best players, defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux and linebacker Justin Flowe.

On the other side of the ball, quarterback Anthony Brown guided Oregon to 35 points by getting the most out of 505 yards of total offense, including more than 7 yards per carry. Running back C.J. Verdell was a difference-maker too, racking up 161 yards and two TDs, including a backbreaking 77-yard touchdown dash.

What Minnesota probed in the opener, Oregon fully exposed -- OSU's defense has had significant holes since brilliant defensive end Chase Young left campus two years ago.

Ohio State doesn't pressure the quarterback at all, and struggles in a single-high safety alignment that Day (an offensive specialist) insists his team deploy. Defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs has never had such a title before Day tabbed him for that job last season, and it has not been a good fit to date.

The Buckeyes' success last year largely came from an offense that simply outscored everyone until reaching the college football championship game. That recipe covered for a substandard defense that was 122nd a year ago against the pass and may challenge that neighborhood this year against the run.

Offensively, the brilliance of Justin Fields has cast an understandable shadow over redshirt freshman C.J. Stroud, who is putting up enormous numbers with talented receivers amid minimal pressure courtesy of a veteran offensive line. Stroud threw 54 times (too many by the way) for 484 yards and three TDs against Oregon.

But he was just inaccurate enough at crucial moments (overthrows to Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson for potential TDs crippled two drives Saturday) and his hesitation to run or properly execute in third- and fourth-down situations were killers in a one-possession game against the Ducks. Third-down efficiency (6-15) and fourth-down efficiency (2-5) were negative stats compared to Oregon's performance, 8-16 and 1-1, respectively, with a veteran like Brown at the controls.

Three Buckeye receivers topped 100 yards receiving. Olave had 12 catches for 126 yards, Wilson made 8 grabs for 117, and Jaxon Smith-Njigba caught 7 passes for 145 yards. On the flip side, OSU's pass-run ratio (54-31) is not a gameplan that will protect its defense.

Ohio State moves the ball easily, yet scored just 10 first-half points last week at Minnesota, and only seven this week. Starts like that are disastrous against top teams when the OSU defense is going to allow 30 points per game.

Make no mistake, all issues are fixable. But they may only be corrected by experience -- a tough taskmaster.

Defensively, the Buckeyes are a predictable unit that seasoned quarterbacks diagnose easily. Ohio State is unable to effectively rush the passer despite a line that features four 5-star recruits in the past four recruiting classes.

Defending the run has been even tougher. On Saturday, Oregon scored three touchdowns and had a key third-down conversion all on the same play, a simple sweep around left end with the tight end cracking back to block the linebacker.

So far, through two games, the Buckeyes are a mess across the board defensively and they just don't make plays. Oregon had 73 offensive snaps and the Ohio State defense had 1 tackle for loss, no sacks and created no turnovers. Stats like that will keep quality foes in every game.

Still, the problems and the defeat do not mean the end of anything, as Day noted -- except perhaps a trip to the college football playoff.

The last two times OSU absorbed a home loss to a non-conference foe, 2017 to Oklahoma and 2014 to Virginia Tech, the Buckeyes rebounded to win a Big Ten championship and their ensuing bowl game. The 2014 squad won a national championship.

It's hard to see that kind of future for a defense that best resembles a turnstile so far, and is exacerbated by being unable to create turnovers that would mask its deficiencies.

Yet the Buckeyes are fun to watch. They're going to score a ton of points, and they will contend in the Big Ten.

Those items just might have to suffice this season.

Larry Phillips is an award-winning sports writer, editor and columnist who has covered the Buckeyes for more than 30 years.

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