5 things I liked during a frustrating Ohio State vs. Rutgers game
Well that was … frustrating.
You know when a team is so much better, but it doesn’t really show up for the entire game? That’s what we had Saturday night, as Ohio State looked completely uninterested in playing Rutgers for the last two quarters of its 49-27 victory.
Of course, the good news for Buckeyes fans is that their team was so dominant in the first half it made little to no difference. Ohio State looked like the third-ranked team in the nation for a half, and in the end, that was enough. And while many will debate the performance in the second half, there was still much to like in Columbus.
Of course, Justin Fields was his usual amazing self, and while the score may not reflect how good he was, with apologies to Mac Jones, Trevor Lawrence and Kyle Trask, I can’t believe there is anyone playing better quarterback in the nation.
But even taking Fields out of the equation, I found 5 things I liked about this game:
1. Avoiding the slow start
Each week, I think we see how the Buckeyes are working out the kinks in their game. The offense is damn near perfect right now. And because the sport has become so centered on offense, Ohio State is a legitimate national championship contender. They will be able to score on anyone, and keep up with anyone. And it was obvious again from the start of Saturday night’s game.
The Buckeyes started on defense, and forced a quick three-and-out (hat tip to New Jersey native Javontae Jean-Baptiste for a nice tackle for loss) that gave the ball quickly to the offense. Master Teague III got the ball rolling with a 26-yard run, then got a tough 2 yards on a 3rd-and-1 before Fields found Jameson Williams wide open for a 38-yard touchdown. Like that, Ohio State was rolling.
As long as the offense is flowing like this, the Buckeyes will be able to compete with anybody.
2. Play calling
I was very complimentary of the offensive play calling against Penn State, but during the first half of Saturday’s game, I felt like it was a bit stubborn. Every time Ohio State punted, it seemed like it was because it was trying too hard to establish the run game. I know the Buckeyes made it a focus coming into Saturday night, but when you have what could be the best quarterback in school history, along with (arguably) their best-ever wide receiver combo in Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson, I felt like I’d fly with this trio every time — even on fourth downs, like they did against Penn State.
Then, just when I really wondered what might be going on, the Buckeyes unleashed their offensive weapons. Olave reeled in five passes for 64 yards and 2 touchdowns, Wilson caught 6 passes for 104 yards and a score, and Fields finished with 5 touchdown passes and rushed for another.
As it turned out, it was the perfect mix. The run game got its work, and Fields was able to continue his magical run with these two stud receivers.
3. Exerting their will
Even though the team sleep-walked through the second half, these Buckeyes came out and quickly established who would win the game. Rutgers coach Greg Schiano showed early on that he was going to empty the playbook with trick plays when he called the Frank Wycheck throwback on the kickoff. And it worked — sort of. It was a preview of things to come.
But Ohio State only allowed three points the entire half — and that was due to multiple penalties on the drive. For the most part, the defense stayed one step ahead to help build a 35-3 halftime lead.
Good teams come out and take control when they’re facing overmatched opponents. Ohio State put this team away early. Therefore, these Buckeyes are good, no matter how they fared in a second half that didn’t matter.
4. The fake punt
Maybe this goes along with the play calling. Then again, maybe this goes along with the idea of exerting your will. But I liked this play enough that it deserved to be in its own category.
Up 14-3, it looked as if Rutgers had the momentum in the second quarter when it forced Ohio State into a 4th-and-8 from its own 36. Instead, Ryan Day inserted backup running back Steele Chambers as the upback for the punt. Chambers took the direct snap, blasted through a hole, turned on the afterburners and rushed 38 yards to the Rutgers 26.
Six plays later, Fields was on the run when he found Olave with a ridiculous pinpoint throw into the back of the end zone for a 6-yard touchdown and a 21-3 lead.
The fake punt was a taste of Schiano’s own medicine, tactical and brilliant. Most important, it worked, and the Buckeyes were on their way to another victory.
5. There are a lot of improvements to make
Maybe the most important thing about this win is Day has a lot to discuss with his team, mainly the defense. And I like that.
While the offense is — for the most part — humming, the defense is still a work in progress, and anything that can keep the team focused is a good thing. Day can talk about things like penalties, which both the defense and offense struggled with Saturday night. (There were 9 total for 74 yards and offensive lineman Harry Miller had three himself for holding). There was the lost fumble. There were multiple big plays (some of them of the trick variety) given up by the defense.
There was the fact that Ohio State was outscored 24-14 and gave up nearly 300 yards of offense in the second half.
That certainly looks ugly. And I think you can characterize this win in the same way.
It will result in a week of getting refocused for the Buckeyes.