Throughout August, Ohio State’s players focused on their work while the messy off-field saga that resulted in the suspension of their coach swirled.
Training camp provided some insulation, but only some. When a coach like Urban Meyer is gone, it’s impossible to pretend that everything is normal.
On Saturday, the No. 5 Buckeyes took care of what they could, overpowering Oregon State 77-31 in their season opener at Ohio Stadium.
“A lot of things the last month have been out of our control as players,” senior receiver Terry McLaurin said. “We just wanted to come out here and do what we love. We’ve been working so hard since the spring to get off on the right foot and have just been focused on being 1-0. It wasn’t all pretty today, but we got our goal.”Join the conversation at Facebook.com/BuckeyeXtra and connect with us on Twitter @BuckeyeXtra
McLaurin caught two of the five touchdown passes by quarterback Dwayne Haskins Jr., a sophomore who had a near-flawless debut as a starter. The five touchdowns — two came on shovel passes — and 313 yards on 22-of-30 passing were both Ohio State records for a quarterback in his first start.
“It’s been an 11-year dream,” said Haskins, who was a New Jersey resident when he first visited the Woody Hayes Athletic Center as an 8-year-old. “I was thinking about that yesterday: how far I came just to be here. I took a deep breath and realized it was finally here.”
If there were nerves, they didn’t show. He completed his first eight passes, and the Buckeyes offense never stopped rolling. The 721 yards gained was the most in school history other than the 776 yards piled up while Ohio State also scored 77 against Bowling Green in the opener two years ago. The Buckeyes scored touchdowns on their first five possessions Saturday.
>> Read more: Ohio State defeats Oregon State, 77-31 in season opener
“I thought we played with tempo today, and we were aggressive,” acting head coach Ryan Day said. “I thought we stretched the field horizontally, and we stretched it vertically, which is the goal.”
That’s the dimension Haskins’ arm is expected to give the Buckeyes. He also got plenty of help from a run game that gained 375 yards, including a career-high 186 and three touchdowns from Mike Weber.
Ohio State’s defense was much spottier against an Oregon State team that went 1-11 last year. After Beavers starting quarterback Jake Luton was injured during Oregon State’s first possession, the Buckeyes surrendered a 49-yard touchdown pass from Conor Blount to Trevon Bradford that briefly tied the game at 7.
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The Buckeyes gave up a touchdown with 19 seconds left before halftime to make it 42-14, and lightning and torrential rain caused a 72-minute delay. Ohio State’s defense took its time awakening from the extended break. It gave up 80- and 78-yard touchdown runs to Artavis Pierce in the first four minutes of the third quarter to make it 56-28.
Although the Buckeyes’ defensive line was often overpowering, the inexperienced back seven had its problems, especially with misdirection and screen passes. It didn’t help that standout safety Jordan Fuller was out with a hamstring injury.
“You can say that, and it’s probably very accurate to do so, but it’s not the standard of Ohio State football,” Buckeyes defensive co-coordinator Alex Grinch said. “It’s not what these players signed up for, and not what we as coaches signed up for, to say, well, it’s OK to be very average. It was a very average, at best, day.”
Those defensive blips will elicit some choice words in the meeting room, but Ohio State’s lead was never in jeopardy. The Buckeyes defense held Oregon State to a field goal after Haskins’ one big mistake — an interception thrown under duress — and the Ohio State offense kept humming.
Freshmen running backs Brian Snead and Master Teague III scored the Buckeyes’ final touchdowns.
On Monday, Meyer returns for the first time since he was placed on paid administrative leave Aug. 1, although he won’t coach the next two games.
“It was a little weird not seeing him on the sideline,” McLaurin said. “I’m not going to lie. But from a routine standpoint, everything felt the same, from our walk-throughs to our dinners to everything else. That’s just the culture of Ohio State football. But it was different not seeing coach Meyer out there.”