In case you didn’t know, college football is back.
Ohio State opened the 2021 season with a 45-31 win over Minnesota on the road Thursday, and all 14 teams in the Big Ten now have a game under their belt as the new year is underway.
Along with the return of college football comes our weekly stock report, which is chock full of ups and downs not only at Ohio State but also across the Big Ten and FBS as a whole after a jam-packed opening week of play.
Ohio State’s Freshman Running Backs
Ohio State’s running back rotation was one of the most pressing questions surrounding the Buckeye offense entering the season, and if Thursday’s opener was any indication, the youngest members of Tony Alford’s quartet will (or should) be seeing an increase of touches moving forward.
While returning starter Master Teague and redshirt sophomore Marcus Crowley combined for a ho-hum 48 yards on 12 carries, their freshman counterparts had no trouble making a splash, as Miyan Williams and TreVeyon Henderson totaled 210 yards from scrimmage on 12 touches of their own.
Folks, hes a freshman. pic.twitter.com/Jl9vmjZAYC
— Eleven Warriors (@11W) September 3, 2021
Williams, a redshirt freshman, led the way with 125 yards on the ground on just nine carries, including a 71-yard touchdown on the Buckeyes’ opening possession. Henderson, a true freshman, nearly mirrored it in the second half with a 70-yard touchdown reception in which most of the work was done via run after catch.
For those that had hoped one or two of the Buckeyes’ exciting young options in the backfield could emerge as a star for the offense this season, it appears the prospects of that happening have only increased after one game.
Last season’s Ohio State opener, another matchup with a Big Ten foe in Nebraska, was highlighted by a defensive touchdown from cornerback Sevyn Banks, who returned a fumble for a score in the lopsided win. The Buckeye defense produced another such moment on Thursday, as a Zach Harrison strip sack freed up the ball for a Haskell Garrett scoop-and-score that Ryan Day referred to as a “game-changer” for Ohio State.
The sack. The strip. The scoop. The score. pic.twitter.com/JomWq0hjVK
— Eleven Warriors (@11W) September 3, 2021
The touchdown took the contest from a tight 24-21 affair to a two-score 31-21 advantage for the Buckeyes, who never allowed the margin to get closer than seven points thereafter.
It wasn’t the only touchdown for Garrett in recent memory, as the 2020 All-American took his first trip to the end zone just last December against Michigan State, when the Buckeye defensive tackle intercepted a Spartan pass behind the goal line for a quick six points and his first-ever score.
Kerry Coombs and company had plenty of surprises for onlookers when it came to the Buckeyes’ defensive rotations on Thursday, starting with the starting lineup alone, which featured a whopping seven first-time starters on the 11-man unit.
At cornerback, Denzel Burke became the first true freshman to start his first game for the Ohio State defense since Andy Katzenmoyer in 1996, but there were new faces all over the place for the Buckeyes. Redshirt freshman Ryan Watts was another first-time starter at corner, sophomore Lathan Ransom made his first start at cover safety, Ronnie Hickman got the nod at bullet, Teradja Mitchell and Tommy Eichenberg made their first-ever starts at linebacker, and Taron Vincent started his first game at defensive tackle.
As far as the secondary is concerned, a couple potential starters could be back as early as next week, with Sevyn Banks and Cameron Brown both working through apparent injury issues at cornerback. However, many of the relatively inexperienced Buckeyes that started the game for Ohio State on Thursday could be here to stay moving forward.
Ohio State’s Pass Protection
Perhaps the most surprising twist of the Buckeyes’ preseason was the revelation that Thayer Munford would move from left tackle to left guard, freeing up space for Dawand Jones to step into a starting role at right tackle as Nicholas Petit-Frere moved to the opposite side of the line.
Ohio State debuted the retooled lineup to great effect on Thursday, as the Buckeye offensive line did something that it didn’t do in any game during the 2020 season: give up zero sacks.
C.J. Stroud had plenty of time to operate in the pocket, even if he did miss more than one wide open target downfield in his first-ever start, but the redshirt freshman quarterback was credited with just three carries after the game. Stroud did take one good lick in the first half, but the hit came on a run beyond the line of scrimmage, and not behind it.
Indiana was all the rage coming off of its breakout 2020 season, a year in which head coach Tom Allen won the Big Ten’s Coach of the Year honor, but Kirk Ferentz and Iowa quickly extinguished that momentum when the teams matched up for their first game of the year on Saturday.
The No. 18 Hawkeyes didn’t just win, they dominated No. 17 Indiana pillar to post to finish with a thorough 34-6 beating of the Hoosiers.
Worth the wait. Hawkeyes 34 Indiana 6. Go Hawks! pic.twitter.com/4Zx3OSyDNB
— University of Iowa (@uiowa) September 4, 2021
The Hawkeye defense picked off Indiana quarterback Michael Penix Jr. three times and held the Hoosiers without a touchdown for the day. On offense, Iowa outgained Indiana 158-77 on the ground. Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras only needed 145 yards passing on 13 completions to help hand Indiana a setback loss and propel Iowa up the rankings heading into the second week of the season.
The Nittany Lions were done no favors in the scheduling department, opening the 2021 season with perennial Big Ten heavy hitter Wisconsin after turning in one of their worst seasons in recent program history in 2020.
Despite the challenge in opponent, James Franklin and company needed a win to convince the country – and themselves – that 2020 was an anomaly. Penn State did exactly that on Saturday, knocking off the 12th-ranked Badgers 16-10 in a low-scoring affair that saw no points scored on either side until the third quarter.
— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) September 4, 2021
The Penn State defense held Graham Mertz under 200 yards passing and without a touchdown for the game, and picked the Wisconsin quarterback off twice. The typically prolific ground attack of the Badgers averaged just three yards per carry on the day despite rushing the ball 58 times.
Now having won five straight games dating back to last season, it’s safe to say Penn State has momentum back on its side once again.
Kenneth Walker III
KENNETH WALKER ALREADY AT 200 YARDS
— PFF College (@PFF_College) September 4, 2021
Mel Tucker and Michigan State kicked off its season with a bang this weekend, knocking off defending Big Ten West division champion Northwestern 38-21 on the road, and Wake Forest transfer running back Kenneth Walker III announced himself as a star in the process.
In his first game as a Spartan, Walker rushed for 264 yards and four touchdowns on just 23 carries, including a 75-yard score on his very first attempt. Walker earned the Big Ten’s Offensive Player of the Week award for his efforts, and the conference is now on notice after a breakout performance in his league debut.
Notions of a completely fixed Buckeye defense
Ohio State’s 2021 defense featured plenty of new personnel on Thursday, but after allowing 31 points and 408 yards of total offense to Minnesota in the season opener, it’s clear that Coombs and company have not completely turned things around.
In fact, the Buckeyes gave up slightly more yards to the Gophers than they allowed to opponents on average last season, and the only teams to put up more points on Ohio State last season than Minnesota did Thursday were Indiana and Alabama.
Day believes there’s a lot to build on after the opener, but with quite a jarring amount of rotational fluidity against Minnesota, it appears the Buckeyes still have some figuring out to do when it comes to who their go-to guys will be on defense.
Sure, if you’re looking for video game scores across the first week of college football games, you will find them.
More eye-popping, though, was the high volume of defensive struggles that took place this past weekend, with very few points scored at all in a number of big-time games.
We’ve already discussed the 16-10 Penn State-Wisconsin contest that was scoreless at halftime, but Georgia’s 10-3 win over Clemson was ever more of a slow burn as far as offense is concerned. Virginia Tech knocked off No. 10 North Carolina by a score of 17-10, No. 7 Iowa State survived a scare from Northern Iowa with a 16-10 win, and Montana knocked off No. 20 Washington 13-7.
Georgia held Clemson to 2 rushing yards tonight pic.twitter.com/5eOssjdlM5
— PFF College (@PFF_College) September 5, 2021
Only 18 teams in the country scored more than Ohio State, with two of those teams hailing from the Big Ten, and against all odds, Rutgers currently stands atop the conference in scoring offense following a 61-point outburst against Temple.
Michael Penix Jr. and the Hoosiers
Even after he suffered a season-ending injury at the tail end of the 2020 season, many confidently voiced the opinion that Penix was the frontrunner to claim the Big Ten’s Quarterback of the Year award in 2021. Indiana was viewed as a dark-horse threat to Ohio State after last year’s 42-35 game in the Shoe.
Forgive me, I meant to say Indinia.
OUR Indinia Hoosiers pic.twitter.com/CAPb4Keenm
— PFF College (@PFF_College) September 4, 2021
Those championing Penix and the Hoosiers may have had their head in the sand after Saturday’s proceedings, as Tom Allen’s team took a near 30-point drubbing while Penix himself threw three interceptions.
Penix’s final statline read 14-for-31 for 154 yards and no scores with three turnovers, and the mighty pass attack that gave the Buckeyes all they could handle a season ago suddenly looks uninspired to start the season.
“Just poor execution…”
— The Hoosier Network (@TheHoosierNet) September 5, 2021
The Hoosiers have a chance to lick their wounds against Idaho next week, but No. 8 Cincinnati is on the horizon thereafter, with the full Big Ten gauntlet soon to follow.
Ohio State’s uneven performance may have given some fans cause for concern entering the Buckeyes’ Week 2 matchup with No. 11 Oregon, but the Ducks had a far worse showing in their own opening game.
Fresno State pushed Oregon to the brink, even holding a fourth quarter lead before eventually dropping to the Ducks by a one-score margin to finish the game with a 31-24 loss. If not for a fumble from Bulldogs quarterback Jake Haener in the fourth quarter, at which point Fresno State had a 24-21 lead, the Mountain West program may have been able to pull off the upset.
18 STRAIGHT POINTS FOR THE ‘DOGS
— Fresno State Football (@FresnoStateFB) September 4, 2021
Even worse for the Ducks is that star defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux suffered a sprained ankle in the unimpressive win and remains questionable for this weekend’s matchup, which has seen Ohio State open as a 13-point favorite.
It had been 10 years since Clemson last lost two games in a row, even bridging more than one season, but that marker can now be reset after Dabo Swinney and company lost to No. 5 Georgia 10-3 on Saturday.
This will be the worst offensive output (3 points) under Dabo.
— Dennis Dodd (@dennisdoddcbs) September 5, 2021
You’ll need no reminder that the Tigers were last seen wilting to Ohio State by a 21-point deficit in last season’s College Football Playoff semifinal at the Sugar Bowl, which means Swinney and Clemson have now tasted defeat in each of the past two times they’ve taken the field.
Of course, without another presently ranked opponent on the remainder of the Tigers’ regular season schedule, it would be hard to rule Clemson out of CFP discussions come December, and particularly given Georgia’s caliber. Still, with losses to Notre Dame, Ohio State and the Bulldogs in the past six games, Clemson has routinely lost the big one as of late.
Clemson is 3-3 in its past six games dating back to last season.
— Griffin Strom (@GriffinStrom3) September 6, 2021
Things haven’t exactly gone smoothly for Ed Orgeron since leading LSU to the 2019 national championship alongside Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Joe Burrow.
The Tigers went 15-0 in ‘19, but have now lost six of their past 11 games, dropping the season opener to unranked UCLA in a disappointing 38-27 performance. LSU went 5-5 a year ago, but season-ending wins against Florida and Ole Miss helped bolster the Tigers to the No. 16 spot in this year’s preseason AP Poll.
“Bring your ass on, in your lil sissy blue shirt!”
— SI College Football (@si_ncaafb) September 4, 2021
LSU will certainly see its ranking plummet on Tuesday, along with the stock of the team and its head coach as the 2021 season moves forward.
High-Profile Quarterback Performances
College football fans hoping to be wowed by a wide array of preseason Heisman Trophy favorites in Week 1 likely left the weekend disappointed.
The preseason frontrunner was Oklahoma quarterback Spencer Rattler, but the third-year Sooner opened the season with two interceptions – including one on his second pass attempt of the year – in an all-too-close matchup with unranked Tulane, which lost by just five points to the No. 2 team in the country.
Spencer Rattler’s start vs. Tulane: 1-of-2, -5 yards, 1 interception.pic.twitter.com/RW9v2zApq8
— The Sporting News (@sportingnews) September 4, 2021
In the first game of the post-Trevor Lawrence era, new Clemson quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei began his Heisman campaign with a stat line of 19-for-37, 178 yards, no touchdowns and an interception in a loss to Georgia. Not to mention, Uiagalelei finished with -22 rushing yards on 14 attempts as he was under siege by the Bulldog front for much of the 10-3 defeat.
Georgia has sacked D.J. Uiagalelei 6 times through 3 quarters.
That’s tied for the most sacks any team has had vs Clemson under Dabo Swinney, and the most since South Carolina in 2012. pic.twitter.com/Gra57HP56l
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) September 5, 2021
Projected 2022 first-round NFL draft pick Sam Howell got off to a sluggish start to the season as well, completing 17-of-32 passes for 208 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions in a loss to unranked Virginia Tech. North Carolina began the year ranked No. 10 in the country.
We’ve harped on Penix’s tough outing enough already, but as far as the Big Ten goes, his poor performance certainly deserves a mention in this category as well.
New Alabama starting quarterback Bryce Young likely vaulted himself to the top of early Heisman contender lists with a 344-yard, four-touchdown performance against Miami (Fla.) on Saturday, but there’s still plenty of time for runs to be made across the board.