Domination of Toledo gives Ohio State football momentum as Big Ten play begins | Analysis

Bill Rabinowitz
The Columbus Dispatch

After freshman walk-on TC Caffey scored the 11th Ohio State touchdown against Toledo, TV cameras caught Buckeyes coach Ryan Day flashing a huge smile.

Day is not a dour guy, but his in-game intensity seldom abates.

But he had plenty of reason to enjoy Saturday night, especially at that moment. Caffey’s tackle-breaking 49-yard run was worth celebrating. So was the rest of the Buckeyes’ 77-21 victory.

Ohio State coach Ryan Day leads his team onto the field prior to Saturday's game against Toledo.

With a hungry, experienced team, expectations for this OSU team have been sky-high all year. Season-opening victories over Notre Dame and Arkansas State were less than overwhelming. The passing game faltered unexpectedly against the Fighting Irish, and Ohio State let the Red Wolves hang around longer than expected.

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Toledo is no juggernaut, but the Rockets are expected to be Mid-American Conference contenders. Other than a few big plays created by dynamic Toledo quarterback Dequan Finn, Ohio State completely dominated the Rockets.

Wisconsin receiver Chimere Dike celebrates after catching a pass against the New Mexico State on Saturday.

The Buckeyes’ 763 yards of offense were the second-most in program history. C.J. Stroud was nearly flawless in throwing for 367 yards and five touchdowns.

It was exactly the kind of performance Ohio State wanted as it begins Big Ten play next week against visiting Wisconsin.

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“Next week, we have a conference opponent so everything's going to be even harder,” Day said. “Usually, we wait till Sunday to move on to Wisconsin. We'll do that as we leave the stadium tonight.”

That’s the proper approach for a coach, and Wisconsin has been an upper-echelon Big Ten program for years. The Badgers will try to follow its blueprint of relying on their run game and stout defense.

“When you get into Big Ten play, it’s a line-of-scrimmage league,” offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson said. “It’s a tough league. It wears on you week after week after week. We're starting with a big challenge with a great line-of-scrimmage team on both sides when Wisconsin walks in into the Shoe.”

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But this is also a Badgers team that lost 17-14 at home to Washington State last week. The truth is, if Ohio State plays close to the way it did Saturday night, it should face only a couple of genuinely stiff challenges in the Big Ten.

Many of Ohio State’s upcoming opponents did not cover themselves in glory on Saturday. Michigan State, which Ohio State plays Oct. 8 in the Buckeyes’ first road game, lost badly at Washington. Indiana needed plenty of fortune to outlast Western Kentucky in overtime. Northwestern lost to Southern Illinois. Rutgers barely beat Temple.

Penn State and Michigan will give OSU a legit challenge

To be sure, Penn State and Michigan will be legitimate challenges. The Nittany Lions won at Auburn 41-12, which might say as much about Auburn’s problems than Penn State’s strength. Still, a road game in State College, even it’s not a White Out night game, is no easy task.

Michigan looked impressive in another blowout, but a non-conference diet of Colorado State, Hawaii and UConn represents empty calories. The Wolverines are clearly good. How good is hard to gauge.

Day has consistently preached the importance of toughness this year, especially since that was an issue in 2021. Physical toughness is only part of the equation. For the Buckeyes, maintaining the mental toughness to play to their lofty standard regardless of the competition will be crucial.

As Wilson has pointed out, the Buckeyes had the nation’s best offense statistically last year, only to falter at key times in their losses to Oregon and especially Michigan.

“As good as the offense might look, the offense is not (judged to be) good until the end of the year and you can see how tough and how consistent it is,” Wilson said. “We’ve got enough skill. Coach Day will do a great job as we put the game plans together to get guys opportunities to make plays.

“But the great teams are tough. They're consistent. They play week after week, and they find ways to get W’s.”

Ohio State is unlikely to play as well throughout Big Ten play as it did against Toledo. But Saturday also showed how dominant the Buckeyes can be.

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