The 2021 college football season has been filled with upsets already, but perhaps none has been as surprising and impactful as No. 12 Oregon taking down No. 3 Ohio State 35-28 in Ohio Stadium on Saturday, handing the Buckeyes their first home loss since 2017. The shocking upset came after it was learned shortly before kickoff that the Ducks defense would be without star defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux and linebacker Justin Flowe.
In the end, their absence didn't matter much as it was the Ohio State defense looking short-handed. The Oregon offense did a phenomenal job of keeping the Buckeyes off-balance and taking what was given to it. Ducks quarterback Anthony Brown threw for 236 yards and two touchdowns, while running back C.J. Verdell feasted on the ground and in the air. Verdell finished with 161 yards rushing and 34 yards receiving with three total touchdowns.
Ohio State QB C.J. Stroud played well, becoming only the team's second signal caller to throw for at least 400 yards in a game (and the first freshman to do it), but his interception late in the fourth quarter proved to be the decisive blow. Still, he finished with 484 yards passing and three touchdowns while Ohio State had three receivers (Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson and Jaxson Smith-Njigba) finish with over 100 yards receiving.
Oregon's win over Ohio State snaps a 14-game losing streak by the Pac-12 against top 10 teams on the road in nonconference games. The last win came in 2009 when No. 3 USC beat No. 8 Ohio State 18-15 at Ohio Stadium. It was also the Ducks' first win over the Buckeyes as they were 0-9 in previous opportunities.
Here are my five biggest takeaways from this exciting upset.
1. Statement win for Oregon and the Pac-12
The last few years have been rough for the Pac-12 as it has repeatedly missed out on the College Football Playoff and fallen short in spotlight games like this one. While this win alone won't change the conference's narrative, if you combine with UCLA's win over LSU last week, the conference has already picked up big wins over ranked competition in the SEC and Big Ten. These are the kind of wins a conference needs to get to improve its reputation nationally and within the eyes of the CFP Selection Committee.
Of course, it's early September, so playoff talk is premature.
As for the Ducks, there weren't many people out there who believed in their chances of going on the road and beating Ohio State. Why would they? Oregon had never beaten Ohio State before Saturday, and considering all the starters the Ducks were missing on defense, it sure didn't look like the first win would come today. It did, and this win is an emphatic statement about the roster Mario Cristobal has built in Eugene, Oregon. They have recruited at an elite level, and the depth on display in this game directly results from that.
In the first few years of Cristobal's tenure, there's no way the Ducks pull off this upset having to rely on so many reserves at key spots. But in 2021? After stacking classes? It happened, and it's a great sign of what Oregon is capable of moving forward.
2. Joe Moorhead has his quarterback
It's important to recognize when you're wrong, and I was wrong about Brown. When the Boston College transfer was named the Ducks starting quarterback, I thought it would hurt this team's potential. I had nothing against Brown. I just felt he was limited and could only offer so much. In an era of college football where teams need elite QB play to reach the mountaintop, I didn't think Brown provided that.
I still don't think he's elite, but he's exactly what Oregon and its offensive coordinator need. What was particularly notable early in this game was how calm and collected Brown looked in an extremely hostile environment. There's no doubt his experience helped him. Meanwhile, Stroud looked nervous playing in front of a packed home crowd (though he would settle down and ball out, but more on that later).
Brown brings a great mixture of leadership and ability. He was excellent in the air, and when there were chances to move the ball with his legs, he took them (65 yards rushing). Brown might not be a future first-round pick, but he's a great fit with Moorhead and is more than capable of leading the Ducks to a conference title.
3. Ohio State must change defensively
Whether it's arrogance or a lack of ideas, the Ohio State defense hasn't shown much imagination through two games. It looks like a unit used to showing up to a game and being more talented than its opponent, so it doesn't feel the need to get creative. Just snap the ball, and we'll beat our guy and make plays.
Well, on Saturday, the Buckeyes defense went against an offense with plenty of speed and talent of its own, and it looked overmatched. The Buckeyes possess some of the most talented pass-rushers and defensive linemen in the nation, yet they managed only one tackle for loss on Saturday. The Ducks rushed for 7.1 yards per carry, getting seemingly every yard they wanted.
Ohio State stayed in its base defense and mainly played man coverage; Oregon was more than happy to keep running the same set of plays repeatedly until the Buckeyes proved they could stop it. By the time Ohio State adjusted and got those stops, it was too late.
Kerry Coombs took over defensive coordinator duties from Jeff Hafley last season, and the Buckeyes struggled to get sacks on opponents. That trend has continued through two games this season. Perhaps it's time Coombs and the Ohio State defense figure out ways to bring pressure instead of just thinking they can do the job just by lining up.
4. Stroud is good
The Buckeyes have plenty of areas to be concerned about, but Stroud isn't one of them. He got off to a slow start and missed some throws but finished the day with 484 yards passing and three touchdowns. Unfortunately, he also threw an interception late that helped finish the game.
Still, it wasn't Stroud's fault his offensive line couldn't get enough push up front against a short-handed Oregon defense. The Buckeyes averaged only 4.1 yards per carry on the ground and struggled in fourth down situations, converting 2 of 5 attempts. Stroud is going to be just fine.
5. Ohio State's playoff hopes are still alive
I know, I said I hate talking about the playoff this early, but I can already hear the hot-take artists telling you that the Buckeyes are done. They are not. Oregon is one of the best teams in the country and could end up in the playoff itself. Ohio State is probably still the best team in the Big Ten, and while it may not be as dominant as expected before the season, this is still a team that could run the table and win its conference, which will give it plenty of clout among the CFP Selection Committee. If Ohio State is 12-1 at the end of the season with its sole loss being against Oregon, you better believe it'll have a real shot at the playoff.