Day, Haskins make most of opportunities

Ray Stein The Columbus Dispatch

ARLINGTON, Texas — Whether they paid the stagecoach-holdup prices to witness in person or watched from afar on big-screen clarity, a bleary-eyed Buckeye Nation had a lot to unpack after Ohio State’s 40-28 victory over TCU on Saturday night in AT&T Stadium.

Let’s rifle through the luggage:

Next man up. OSU football players consistently toe this company line, whether the displaced party is a blocker on the kickoff unit or the head coach being punished for not reacting properly to allegations of domestic abuse by a subordinate.

In the latest cases, the Buckeyes also expertly walked the walk.

First, the coaching situation. While Urban Meyer relaxed (!) at home or cleaned the gutters or whatever the past three Saturdays, Ryan Day handled game-day decisions as easily as he would negotiate a trip to the store for a carton of eggs.

Granted, the Buckeyes were never going to crack against Oregon State and Rutgers, but Day and the other OSU assistants never lost faith when the skillet got hot against an excellent, athletic TCU team.

Which leads to the second example of resilience. Defensive end Nick Bosa, OSU’s best player this season if not its most valuable, went down with an apparent groin injury early in the second half.

At the time, the Buckeyes trailed 14-13; within five minutes their deficit would be 21-13. But rather than mope, Ohio State’s defense dug deep and began controlling play, stuffing the Horned Frogs on three straight possessions.

That stretch also included the game-flipping play, when defensive tackle Dre’Mont Jones charged through a gap, perfectly read a shovel pass by TCU quarterback Shawn Robinson and returned his gift interception 28 yards for a touchdown. It was the second score of a 20-point burst in a little more than four minutes that took OSU from eight points down to 12 points up.

“I would say the defensive score was the biggest one,” Day said afterward. “We didn’t turn the ball over, and we got three turnovers, two of them for scores. That’s huge.”

Goodness, that QB. Three games in, two against Wet Toilet Paper State, is no time to anoint anyone as the best player at his position in school history. But what throws can’t Dwayne Haskins Jr. make, and what Ohio State quarterback have you been able to say that about?

Granted, offensive football in 2018 is a different animal than when Woody and Earle became one-name-only icons, and three games is a microscopic sample size.

But Haskins is a relentless force with a football in his right hand, unafraid to make an audacious throw (try two hands, Rashod Berry) and unfazed when his receivers develop a case of the drops or his center’s pitches arrive low and inside.

Tests await, for sure — defenses will adjust by disguising coverages or adding blitzes, foul weather will come into play, etc. But the youngster is a born passer who can deliver the ball to swift receivers in space, and that’s not a sight Buckeyes fans are accustomed to.

Big disappointment. Is it too early to think ahead to the College Football Playoff? Of course it is. But of course it’s not, not when at least one Power Five conference is automatically eliminated by the format.

To that end, OSU’s winning performance against the Horned Frogs was as much about December as September. Once Big Ten play begins in earnest, high-quality wins may be as difficult to spot as a white rabbit in a snowstorm.

Only five of 14 conference teams are unbeaten after three weeks, a list that includes Indiana, Minnesota and Iowa. Penn State is there, too, and the Buckeyes’ game in Happy Valley in two weeks may turn out to be a marble grab in a weak conference.

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