Bottom Line: Buckeyes turn in a complete game with incomplete roster

Ray Stein
Buckeye Xtra
Ohio State players including Chris Olave (2) and Justin Fields (1) celebrate a fourth-quarter touchdown run by backup quarterback C.J. Stroud.

With a body of work as thin as a toothpick, and its standing as one of the four teams in the College Football Playoff seemingly just as precarious, Ohio State needed to make a statement on Saturday. So the Buckeyes did just that, boldly showing that not only could they win big with a roster depleted by COVID but also that they could do so with random acts of center snaps. Leaves are awarded on a zero-to-five basis. — Ray Stein 

Offense (4 leaves) 

It was impossible to ignore the snaps that emergency center Harry Miller sent to the backfield, a Nuke LaLoosh display that would have sent most catchers crawling to the showers. Justin Fields, however, never batted an eye, scooping up grounders and fielding pop flies like a vacuum. Some of Fields’ best plays, in fact, were on wild pitches. His value to this team has never been more evident.

Defense (4 leaves) 

The second-half hiccup we’ve come to expect turned out to be a two-play burp in the third quarter that allowed Michigan State to score its only touchdown. Otherwise, the Buckeyes rolled with the punches and delivered most of the big blows. Haskell (the Rascal) Garrett’s pick-six was the highlight, but there were memorable, important plays turned in throughout.

Special teams (4 leaves) 

Drue Chrisman likely sensed that his punting would be a factor with so many of his teammates in sick bay, and his right foot delivered a bouquet of flowers (though it probably didn’t smell as nice). Chrisman averaged 53.4 yards on five punts, with one rolling dead at the MSU 1-yard line and another taking a 74-yard trip to the 2. Kickoff coverage still needs tightening. 

Coaching (5 leaves) 

That Ryan Day spent the afternoon on his couch, in his pajamas, with a hot tea in one hand and the remote in the other, was bad enough. The Buckeyes also left three assistant coaches at home, increasing the workload for those on hand. Kevin Wilson was conservative in his play-calling, sensibly, and still watched his team roll up 521 yards. Game ball to Larry Johnson, who had ’em ready. 

Fun (3 leaves) 

It was a 40-point margin played on a cold day (strike one) in East Lansing (strike two) with no fans on hand (yer out!). What’s to like? Well, there was mystery in every step, from seeing players on the field who usually don’t make an appearance until garbage time to roulette-wheel center snaps. Mainly, though, the thrill was watching Fields put on a composure clinic. 

Opponent (2 leaves) 

Who knew that the cupboards were so bare when Mark Dantonio stepped away? QB Rocky Lombardi was overmatched until he got knocked out, and Payton Thorne provided decent relief. The talent discrepancy narrowed the margins to razor-thin, and first-year coach Mel Tucker did himself no favors with a silly unsportsmanlike penalty and a lack of boldness in crucial moments. 

Officiating (3 leaves) 

OSU fans decried a holding penalty on Master Teague III that negated a Garrett Wilson touchdown, but it looked proper (and the Buckeyes ended up scoring, anyway). Less appropriate, it seems, was a personal foul call on OSU’s Ronnie Hickman for a slight shove in the back. And who’s to say about the 15-yarder for sideline interference against Ohio State? ABC cameras missed that one. 

rstein@dispatch.com