With each passing week, Ohio State’s run of dominance becomes even more impressive.
On Saturday, the Buckeyes claimed their ninth victory of the season, crushing Maryland, 73-14. All nine wins have come by at least 24 points, and there’s no reason to think that streak won’t reach double digits – they might win by closer to 124 points against Rutgers in a week.
In order to sustain such a streak of beatdowns, Ohio State has kept its past results in mind, per Jeremy Ruckert, who likened it to postseason college basketball play.
“I think it’s something that you can look back on past years and how it’s gone,” Ruckert said. “We don’t want to be that team that just slips up one week and ends up costing us our whole season and everything we’ve worked for. We really have that in the back of our minds every week, just that it only takes one game. It’s like March Madness. That’s what coach Day’s saying. It’s like March Madness: one game you lose and you can’t go and do what we want to do in the end.”
With that mindset, Ohio State executed a precise onside kick after its second touchdown of the afternoon just 10 minutes into the game.
Blake Haubeil kicked the ball about 20 yards down the right sideline, and Chris Olave ran under it to catch it and give the Buckeyes an extra possession.
“There was something that we saw on film, Matt Barnes saw, and we thought that we had a real shot at it,” Ryan Day said. “And the guys practiced it during the week. It wasn’t one of those things that was a home run every time we did it. But you talk about competitive excellence, that couldn’t have been executed any better. That was as clean as it could be. It was cool to feel the excitement in the stadium about that kick; it was, like, wow.”
“We were all kind of huddled up over there,” Tuf Borland said. “We all kind of knew it was coming. I was nervous, I’m not going to lie. Blake did an excellent job, and Chris ran under it, so it was a good play.”
“It was executed well and there was just a feeling in the stadium, you could feel it was executed,” Day said. “And then from then on I just felt like the game kind of went like this. So anytime you can seal a possession in any game it’s a game-changer. Whether it’s a blocked punt or something like that, you still hold possession from somebody, it flips the scoreboard. We saw it, executed it and I thought it was well done all across the board.”
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Early in the game, Ohio State relied heavily on its aerial attack.
Though Justin Fields only played in the first half, he came 36 yards from his season high of 236 passing yards. He kept throwing to Olave, who had five catches on 10 targets for 43 yards and a touchdown. Day left the game feeling pleased with his team’s performance through the air.
“I would challenge the pass game this week,” Day said. “And I thought that we came out aggressive. What did we, we threw it 25 times in the first half? That’s pretty aggressive for us. That would be on pace for 50 in a game. That was good. We challenged the protection. We challenged the routes. We challenged everybody involved with it, the decision-making. And I thought, if you look at the first half, he was 16-for-25 for 200 and three touchdowns. Is that accurate? I think that’s right. That’s a pretty good half. So if you double that, that would be a game.”
On the other side of the ball, Ohio State had several defensive players step up due to Chase Young’s absence.
Davon Hamilton continued his ascendance, picking up a pair of sacks. The fifth-year senior defensive tackle entered the prior game against Wisconsin with just one sack in his career, and he now has three sacks in the past two weeks.
“I guess I’m just more experienced than I was a year before or even in years past,” Hamilton said. “I’ve really been trying to work on my craft and work on the things I’m not good at.”
“I think Davon really has had such an impact on this whole season but also the game, because he’s an inside presence,” Day said. “And when he can push the pocket, it makes all the difference in the world. And then when he does what he did today, which is just defeat a blocker and get a sack, it changes the mentality of the quarterback…I think Larry’s done a great job with Davon, his development over his career here. But he’s one of the most improved guys on our team and was in the offseason. And now he’s playing like that. It’s great to see a guy who has developed and having great success.”
As a 6-foot-4, 310-pound behemoth, Hamilton eschewed a possible comparison to Aaron Donald in favor of a fellow 6-foot-4, 310-pound defensive tackle who has represented the Philadelphia Eagles in four Pro Bowls.
“I kind of try to model myself after Fletcher Cox,” Hamilton said. “That’s kind of my favorite interior defensive lineman.”
Hamilton stepping up matter more than it usually would because Ohio State didn’t have Young rushing the quarterback. Earlier in the week, Young addressed the Buckeyes in the team room with a simple message.
“Basically he said he wasn’t going to be here and just to go out there and ball,” Hamilton said. “That’s kind of the whole message it was. It is what it is. We just have to deal without him right now.”
“Support. We’re just supporting him through everything,” Zach Harrison said. “That’s our brother.”
With Young out, along with fellow starting defensive end Jonathon Cooper, the Buckeyes had to figure out how to recover and generate a pass rush without their star. On Saturday, they managed seven sacks, their most in a single game this season.
“Obviously Chase is a great player,” Borland said. “We’ll miss him. But we’ve always preached next man up, next-man-up mentality. Be ready when your number’s called. Those guys up front today did a great job.”
“I think it just proves that we can get through adversity, we’re resilient and we can get through anything,” Tyreke Smith said. “Nothing can put us down. We’ve been knocked down before. We just keep on getting up and throwing punches. Coach J, he coaches us all the same. He’s a great coach. I think just everybody has something, a skillset to bring to the table. I just think everybody had to come to an elite level to play at their best today.”
Among the key contributors in the effort to replace Young was Zach Harrison, a freshman from Olentangy Orange. Harrison made his first career start on Saturday, signaling another step in what has a chance to be a special career at Ohio State.
“He’s a real athletic kid, real fast,” Smith said. “I think his get-off is everything. Get-off is everything on the D-line, and that’s what’s so crazy about him is that he’s so tall, strong, fast, and he can get off the ball, get off the rock. That’s key to getting to the quarterback. First it’s the get-off, then it’s your hand technique. I feel like he’s got that down pat, and then he’s using his hands more and more. In practice, he’s learning more and more, and his get-off is getting up to a different level.”
Like Young, Harrison entered Ohio State as a five-star prospect with expectations heaped on him. And though they’ll only spend one season in Columbus together, he’s following Young’s lead this year.
“Chase has helped me in a bunch of ways,” Harrison said. “Every time I get a rep, I look at Chase: ‘What did you see? What could I have done better?’”
“That’s really what I’m doing,” Harrison said. “I’m just follow in his footsteps, do what he does.”
The one mistake on an otherwise impressive first start came when Harrison flexed after a sack. That led to a penalty, negating his play. Afterward, he says the referee told him it was a penalty because the flex came over the quarterback.
“I didn’t even mean to flex long or anything,” Harrison said. “I was just trying to get excited, celebrate with my teammates and everything. I guess, looking back it, it was like, ‘Eh.’ But in the moment I didn’t think anything of it.”
“(The referee) said pretty much just got to be smart,” Harrison said. “You can’t flex on anybody. That’s like taunting.”
On the other side of the ball, another former highly recruited prospect made a couple plays. Tight end Jeremy Ruckert caught two passes for 30 yards, including a 23-yard reception on the second drive of the game.
“I never though I was going to play tight end,” Ruckert said. “I never did that all of high school, and I’ve really tried to buy into it this year, and I’m having a lot of fun, more fun than ever. So blocking someone in the Big Ten in November when the game’s on the line and then games like this, there’s nothing better.”
Tight end usage in the passing game has been more off than on this season, and that includes with Ruckert.
The sophomore tight end has seven catches for 73 yards and three touchdowns this season. In four games this season, he hasn’t caught a pass. Therefore, the majority of his contributions have come as a blocker.
“Our whole mantra of the Ohio State football team is competitive excellence,” Ruckert said. “When your number’s called, you go make the play, whether it’s pass protection, running routes, blocking for the run, anything you have to do. That’s what our tight end unit really buys in to do is we’re the most unselfish unit. Anything you need us to do, we’ll go and do it, and I think that’s the example that I was.”
A decent portion of Ohio State’s offensive success this season can be attributed to its third-down rate. The Buckeyes are converting a nation-best 58.2 percent of third downs, and they went 9-for-14 on third-down conversions on Saturday.
“It’s definitely something where if you win third downs, if you convert third downs, you’re going to win the game,” Ruckert said. “If you convert third downs and if you stop them on third down, that’s one of our plans to win the game.”