Analysis: Off week doesn't slow Buckeyes, who continue to put early struggles in past
It is safe to say that Ohio State’s off week did not stunt the Buckeyes’ momentum.
Before being idle last week, Ohio State crushed its three previous opponents by a combined score of 177-37. With a daunting schedule the rest of the Big Ten season, the Buckeyes knew they needed to keep the pedal to the metal.
Well, they certainly ran over Indiana. Saturday night’s 54-7 rout at rainy Memorial Stadium was a thorough beatdown and extended OSU’s winning streak over the Hoosiers to 27 games.
The Buckeyes’ struggles the first three weeks of the season keep receding into the rear-view mirror.
"I just think it's a different team," Ohio State coach Ryan Day said.
During their off week, Buckeye coaches made it a point to avoid complacency.
“We had some hard practices in our bye week,” quarterback C.J. Stroud said. “It wasn't like, just go home and relax. It was like, OK, Tuesday and Wednesday we're going to pound, and we're really going to try to keep our momentum, which I think was really smart.”
Since returning from a shoulder injury that kept him out of the Akron game, Stroud has played like a Heisman Trophy contender. On Saturday, he threw for four touchdowns and 266 yards against an Indiana defense depleted by injuries at cornerback. In his past three games, he has thrown 14 touchdown passes and no interceptions.
When the Buckeyes went three-and-out on its first third-quarter drive, it snapped a streak of 19 straight possessions directed by Stroud that ended in touchdowns (excluding a kneel-down before halftime against Maryland).
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"I just feel like our momentum is growing as a team, not just me," Stroud said. "It's not about me at all."
The Buckeyes don’t have a weak link on offense. Freshman running back TreVeyon Henderson scored three touchdowns — two rushing and one receiving — with his combination of speed, vision and strength.
The offensive line continues to provide air-tight protection in the pass game and continually opens holes in the run game. Good luck to any secondary that has to cover Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson and Jaxon Smith-Njigba. Tight end Jeremy Ruckert caught Stroud’s final two touchdown passes.
Stroud has reached the point where he’s unafraid to make almost any throw. On the first play of Ohio State’s second possession, Stroud completed a 32-yard pass over the middle to Smith-Njigba between three Hoosiers, a throw some NFL quarterbacks wouldn’t dare to make.
On defense, Ohio State dominated after a shaky start, continuing the unit’s much-improved play. True, this wasn’t the Indiana offense of a year ago that scored 35 points against the Buckeyes. Quarterback Michael Penix Jr. is injured, and Ohio State temporarily knocked backup Jack Tuttle out of the game on his touchdown pass that capped a 75-yard touchdown drive on IU’s first possession.
Tuttle’s replacements were a freshman and a walk-on sophomore. It wasn’t pretty. The Buckeyes allowed only 53 yards the rest of the game. Ohio State had 14 tackles for loss, including five sacks.
"It was great to see those guys running around," Day said. "It looked like they were having fun out there, and that's good. That's part of the energy and the confidence that we want.”
Afterward, though, the mood was businesslike. Ohio State’s biggest tests remain.
"We've got to get back there and get our rest and get right back on this film here with Penn State," Day said, "because they have a very, very good defense, and it's going to be the biggest challenge of the year coming up.”
But with each week, Ohio State looks more and more to be— again — the class of the Big Ten. Penn State does have a stout defense, but its offense was mostly inept in a stunning nine-overtime loss to visiting Illinois on Saturday.
Michigan and Michigan State remain undefeated heading into their showdown next week. But neither has dominated Big Ten opponents the way Ohio State has.
"It's good we do have some confidence and are playing at a high level,” Day said. “But that's not going to mean anything if we don't do it again next week.”
The way the Buckeyes are playing, it seems likely that they will.