Ohio State football: Grading Buckeyes after win vs Rutgers
Ohio State-Rutgers was such a mismatch on Saturday in Piscataway, New Jersey, that OSU’s 56-21 victory looked like a moral victory for the Scarlet Knights.
It’s “almost” true because football coaches are famous for saying that there are no such things as moral victories. What is true is that Rutgers fought hard for four quarters and, unbelievable as it may seem, nearly doubled its point total for the season against Big Ten opposition. Rutgers had scored only 24 points in six B1G games coming in.
Nevertheless, even though OSU never needed to get out of third gear, the talent gap was so obvious that there was never any question that the Buckeyes would win, never a doubt that it would be a rout. According to school research, OSU is the first team since Nebraska in 1971, and just the second in 100 years, to win each of its first 10 games by at least 24 points.
The win was also lucky 13 for Ryan Day, who became the second coach in OSU history to start his career 13-0 including Day’s 3 games last year as interim coach during Urban Meyer’s suspension. Meyer holds the record for best start at OSU, winning his first 24 games in 2012-13. Carroll Widdoes started 12-0 in 1944-45.
Here are 5 things I liked and 3 I didn’t like from Ohio State’s easy victory.
5 things I liked
Shaun Wade interception: The Buckeyes defense got the game started exactly the way they would want to, forcing turnovers on the first two Scarlet Knights drives. Those turnovers led to 14 quick OSU points and the Buckeyes were on their way to a rout. But the interception by Shaun Wade was the real highlight. The junior cornerback tipped the pass from Johnny Langan to himself, then kept his concentration and snagged the interception while falling.
Fields’ accuracy: Sophomore quarterback Justin Fields came into Saturday’s game completing 68.2 percent of his passes, 13th best in the country and third in the Big Ten. He did even better against Rutgers, completing 15 of 19 — 79 percent — for a career-high 305 yards and 4 touchdowns. He improved his mind-bending touchdown-to-interception ratio this season to 31 to 1.
Two terrific catches: OSU kept its starters in on offense for just one drive in the second half and what a drive it was. Chris Olave made a ridiculous, did-we-just-see-that catch at his shoestrings, trapping the ball against his legs while drawing a pass interference penalty (that OSU obviously declined):
On the next play Fields hit tight end Luke Farrell in the end zone for a 14-yard touchdown. Farrell, running near the end line, reached out for a one-handed grab that was also highlight-worthy. OSU had a 42-7 lead and most of the starters had the rest of the day off.
Hill’s record chase: Senior receiver K.J. Hill had 4 receptions, giving him 182 for his career and bringing him within 9 of David Boston’s school record of 191 catches. Hill also caught a pass in his 44th consecutive game in scarlet and gray, just four away from tying the record set by Gary Williams, who caught passes in 48 consecutive games from 1979-82. One of Hill’s catches went for a 35-yard TD in the second quarter, giving the Buckeyes a 28-7 lead.
Nobody got hurt: This is always a positive aspect for any team in any game. But the question of how long coaches should keep starters in a lopsided game came to the forefront Saturday when Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa suffered a season-ending hip injury against Mississippi State. Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban caught some heat for keeping his star quarterback, already hobbled after ankle surgery a few weeks ago, on the field late in the first half with his team ahead 35-7.
Ryan Day could well have faced similar questions had any of his offensive stars gotten injured on that first drive of the third quarter, but none did. So the Buckeyes will be fairly healthy heading into two huge games in the next two weeks, against Penn State and Michigan.
3 things I didn’t like
3rd down breakdowns: OSU came into the game No. 2 in the nation in 3rd-down defense, allowing just 25.8 percent (34 of 132) on the season. But Rutgers converted 3 of its 5 attempts on 3rd down in the first quarter including Isaih Pacheco’s 26-yard TD run on 3rd and 3. The Scarlet Knights converted 6 for 17 (35 percent) for the game so it was not terrible for OSU, but it was below par considering how putrid Rutgers’ offense had been coming in.
Sporadic sloppiness: Some of this came with the second stringers in the game long after the outcome had been decided. But OSU made some uncharacteristic mistakes in the first half as well, resulting in an outcome that — though again, it was one-sided — was less overwhelming than one might have expected.
Day told the Big Ten Network on the field immediately after the game that OSU was a “little sloppy in the second half with the second and third (team) guys out there.”
Arnette had to sit out: The OSU staff 100% made the right call in having star cornerback Damon Arnette sit out Saturday’s game with a hand injury. He had been playing with the injury and the Buckeyes simply decided that, to let him heal before the two big season-ending games, they could beat the Scarlet Knights well enough without him. Still, it’s too bad that the senior’s streak of 24 consecutive starts over the past two seasons ended.