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Justin Fields throws five touchdown passes to lead Ohio State past Rutgers

Bill Rabinowitz
Buckeye Xtra

Ohio State spoke all week about measuring itself against itself, not against the inferior competition the Buckeyes will face in the Big Ten.

Rutgers, the league's bottom-dwellers for most of its short time in the Big Ten, figured to provide little resistance as a 38-point underdog, and the No. 3 Buckeyes did roll to a 32-point halftime lead in a 49-27 victory Saturday night at Ohio Stadium.

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Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback Justin Fields (1) throws a pass over Rutgers Scarlet Knights defensive back Avery Young (2) during the second quarter of the NCAA football game at Ohio Stadium in Columbus, Ohio on Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020.

The Buckeyes' passing game hummed as usual. Junior quarterback Justin Fields was close to perfect. He completed 24 of 28 passes for 314 yards and five touchdown passes, showing pinpoint accuracy and the arm strength and touch that makes him a Heisman Trophy contender. In the first half, Fields was 15 of 17 for 232 yards as Ohio State took a 35-3 lead.

The Buckeyes' defense did its part as well in the first half, allowing only 83 yards. 

But Ohio State didn't play up to its standard in the second half, largely because of several successful trick plays by Rutgers (1-2) in former Buckeyes defensive coordinator Greg Schiano's return to the Horseshoe as Scarlet Knights coach. The Buckeyes yielded 290 yards in the final 30 minutes.

"A tale of two halves," Ohio State coach Ryan Day said. "I'm really proud of the way our guys came out -- 35-3 at halftime, a  pretty dominant first half. Then in the second half, we didn't play very great. We didn't close them out."

Ohio State receiver Chris Olave (2) gets a lift from center Josh Myers after his second-quarter touchdown catch from Justin Fields gave the Buckeyes a 21-3 lead.

The Scarlet Knights tipped their hand by trying a cross-the-field lateral on the game's opening kickoff and never stopped trying to pull aces out of the deck. 

Rutgers' first touchdown was set up by a 66-yard run on a direct snap to running back Isaih Pacheco that the Scarlet Knights feigned to be a bad snap to the quarterback. Its third came when Bo Melton took another long lateral on a punt return and weaved 58 yards for a score to make it 42-21.

But at no point was the outcome in doubt. Ohio State scored touchdowns on five of its first six possessions. Fields started with a 38-yard score to Jameson Williams. He ran in from 7 yards to make it 14-3 and threw a beautiful 6-yard pass from Fields on a rollout to Chris Olave in tight coverage.

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That score was set up by a 38-yard dash by running back Steele Chambers on a fake punt.

Linebacker Justin Hilliard, who missed last week's Penn State game because of a false-positive COVID-19 test, forced and recovered a fumble at the Rutgers' 32, to set up an 8-yard touchdown pass from Fields to Garrett Wilson. The sophomore had six catches for 104 yards.

The Buckeyes' final score of the half came on a 9-yard run by Teague. Fields' final touchdown pass was a 7-yarder to tight end Jeremy Ruckert in the third quarter to make it 42-9.

Rutgers scored its second touchdown early in the fourth quarter after defensive tackle Taron Vincent was called for a face-mask penalty on a failed fourth-down attempt.

Then came the punt-return touchdown on the lateral. Schiano tried his second onside kick of the game. Ohio State recovered, and Fields threw to Olave for a 33-yard score to make it 49-21.

Rutgers scored on a 1-yard run by Johnny Langan with 7:17 remaining to account for the final margin.

"Obviously, the first half was very good," senior linebacker Tuf Borland said. "The second half was a little different. But we'll watch the film and get better from it.

"It's not an excuse, but you're up big at half, and we just kind of took the foot off the gas. That just can't happen. I'll take some of that (responsibility)."

brabinowitz@dispatch.com

@brdispatch