'A blessing to be able to be healthy.' C.J. Stroud's five touchdown passes highlight dominant OSU win

Teammates celebrate with Ohio State Buckeyes tight end Jeremy Ruckert (88) after he scored a touchdown during the second quarter of a NCAA Division I football game between the Rutgers Scarlet Knights and the Ohio State Buckeyes on Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021 at SHI Stadium in Piscataway, New Jersey.
Bill Rabinowitz
The Columbus Dispatch

PISCATAWAY, N.J. — This wasn't supposed to be the typical Ohio State-Rutgers game.

This was supposed to be competitive.

Ohio State was favored by just more than two touchdowns over host Rutgers on Saturday. That's a far cry from the average 43-point margin by which the Buckeyes had outscored the Scarlet Knights in their previous seven meetings.

It turned out that not much has changed. Former OSU defensive coordinator Greg Schiano has returned the Scarlet Knights to respectability in his second tour of duty. But Ohio State is still Ohio State, and Rutgers is still Rutgers.

The Buckeyes jumped on the Scarlet Knights early and crushed Rutgers 52-13 in front of 51,006 at SHI Stadium.

No. 11 Ohio State (4-1, 2-0 Big Ten) led 45-6 at halftime after outgaining Rutgers 395-142, making the second half a formality.

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"Overall, I thought our team played with more toughness than we have in the past," Ohio State coach Ryan Day said. "This was an important game for us because I felt like Sept. 2, a month ago when we played Minnesota, we were a much different team. And I felt like that going into this week, but we hadn't shown it yet. I felt like we saw some glimpses of that tonight."

Quarterback C.J. Stroud showed more than glimpses. He was held out of last week's win against Akron after struggling with a sore shoulder against Tulsa. Stroud looked fully healthy while completing 17 of 23 passes for 330 yards and five touchdowns before resting most of the second half.

"I had a good week of practice and I definitely felt way better coming into this game with my shoulder," Stroud said. "That Tulsa game, I wasn't feeling right at all. But this week I could actually step into my throws and really put something into my throws without feeling like my shoulder's going to fall off, so it's definitely a blessing to be able to be healthy."

Day said he thought last week's time off and the ability to take a step back and observe might help Stroud. It sure looked like that was the case against the Scarlet Knights (3-2, 0-2). The redshirt freshman was poised and decisive, was able to move around to create plays, and even displayed a willingness to run.

Two true freshmen started the onslaught. Running back TreVeyon Henderson's first carry was a 44-yard touchdown. On Rutgers' ensuing possession cornerback Denzel Burke returned an interception 23 yards to make it 14-0 less than 3½ minutes into the game.

Ohio State kept landing haymakers. After settling for a field goal on its next possession, the Buckeyes scored touchdowns on their next four drives. On the first, Garrett Wilson scored on a 32-yard touchdown in which he caught a short pass and outran defenders down the sideline.

Stroud then threw touchdowns to Mitch Rossi and Jeremy Ruckert, before closing out the half with a dart to Chris Olave in the back of the end zone, taking a blindside hit in the process.

In his final drive, Stroud opened the third quarterback by leading the Buckeyes on a 10-play, 75-yard touchdown drive capped by an 11-yard pass to Olave.

Henderson carried eight times for 71 yards before entering the medical tent in the second quarter and not returning. Day said that was strictly a precautionary decision made by him and that Henderson could have played in the second half.

Ohio State's defense was almost as dominant as its offense, and that might be of greater significance considering how that unit struggled early in the season. The Buckeyes forced four three-and-outs in the first half and intercepted three of Noah Vedral's passes. Safety Ronnie Hickman, a New Jersey native, was credited with 12 tackles.

The only blip came when Rutgers' Aron Cruikshank caught a short pass on a crossing pattern and outran the defense for a 75-yard touchdown late in the first quarter to cut Ohio State's lead to 24-6.

"It's just a bunch of guys who are now maybe expecting to make plays," Day said of the defense. "Before, they really were just trying to get lined up. Everything they were doing was for the first time.

"I thought the defensive staff did a good job this week with the plan. I thought they mixed up the looks. I thought we created disruption in the backfield, and then we were able to create some turnovers."

Special teams also got in on the fun. The Buckeyes thwarted a pass on a fake punt coming on Rutgers' first possession. A year ago, the Scarlet Knights repeatedly used trick plays against Ohio State to turn a 35-3 halftime deficit into a more respectable 49-27 loss. Later, Haskell Garrett blocked the extra point on Rutgers' first touchdown.

Asked if this was the first time that his team looked the way he wanted them to look this season, Day had a simple answer.


He acknowledged that patience is not accepted at Ohio State but that it was necessary as the team struggled through most of September. Now, the Buckeyes are optimistic they have started to roll.

As Day put it: "Having a win like this, it's giving us a little bit of juice now as we head into the month of October, like, 'OK, there some tough times here, but we grew through it. We didn't panic.' Now we might have a good team as we head into October and November."


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