Ohio State football: Buckeyes building on success as rise continues into second half of season

·5 min read

Oct. 24—Ohio State started the second half of the season the way many expected them to start the first: Looking dominant on both sides of the ball.

The fifth-ranked Buckeyes scored on every possession of the first half, and the defense took advantage of a wounded Indiana offense to pad its stats during a 54-7 victory.

"I just think it's always been about us, and that's what we have to focus on," Ohio State head coach Ryan Day said. "We knew as we headed into this game we kind of figured that we had no record, we were 0-0. This is the first win in the second half of the season and that's the way we're looking at it, but I thought we came out and played well."

Whether or not the early expectations were realistic based on the youth of Day's team, the angsty early part of the season seems to be in the rearview mirror.

"I think that the biggest step this week we took was just no worrying about anything, just doing everything we can to help the team win and relying on each other," senior tight end Jeremy Ruckert said. "I think that's the biggest thing going forward is just being able to rely on each other, and play after play just knowing that whoever the play's gonna go to, we have confidence they're gonna make the play."

Redshirt freshman quarterback C.J. Stroud looks to be in total control of the offense, the offensive line has been dominant, the tight ends are helping in myriad ways, freshman running back TreVeyon Henderson has provided a spark and the receiving corps is as deep and explosive as advertised.

That unit, which was putting up big numbers even when the rest of the squad was still trying to catch up early in the season, has benefited from the improvement on the other side of the ball, too.

Perhaps the most noteworthy development over the past few weeks is Ohio State's ability to play complementary football.

The Buckeye offense has avoided putting the defense in bad positions, and the defense and special teams have gotten the ball back quickly and often provided good field position.

On three straight possessions Saturday night, Ohio State got the ball near midfield and then twice in Indiana territory during a scoring barrage that knocked the Hoosiers out early.

"That to me is where you just play with the ultimate confidence," Day said Saturday night. "When you're getting the ball back at midfield like that, that's kind of the way it felt in '19, and that's the way it felt tonight," Day said. "You feel it on the sideline, there's just so much confidence, and then the minute we get the ball back we feel like we're gonna score."

For the fourth game in a row, though, it can be said the competition left something to be desired.

The Hoosiers played Ohio State tough last season and were ranked in this preseason, but they have scuffled against a tough schedule. IU faced Ohio State with serious limitations in the secondary and was down to its fourth-string quarterback at times Saturday night.

The narrative could continue into next week when Penn State comes to Columbus for another game that may not be as big a challenge as previously thought.

The annual clash between the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions is always highly anticipated, but this was shaping up to be one of the biggest with both teams ranked in the top 10.

Penn State has stumbled the last two games, though, with a loss at then-undefeated Iowa and then heavy underdog Illinois.

The Nittany Lions also have questions at quarterback.

Starter Sean Clifford was hurt against the Hawkeyes and largely ineffective against the Fighting Illini while appearing to play through pain, so his status is in question.

Penn State's proud defense was also gutted by Illinois, a much more surprising outcome than the offense struggling to score points.

Bret Bielema, in his first season as head of the Fighting Illini, appeared to channel his days as the head man at Wisconsin as Illinois churned out more than 300 yards rushing Saturday in Happy Valley despite lacking much of a pass threat.

Penn State will bring questions on both sides of the ball into Ohio Stadium, but Day will be more worried about his team anyway.

"It's just a matter of going out there every single day in practice and trying to execute at a high level and being really hard on ourselves — our standard is hard," Day said. "If we don't complete a pass or we miss a protection or something like that, we're hard on ourselves. And that's what you want.

"These guys, they like football, and so we know that we got to get back there and get our rest. We've got to get right back on this film here with Penn State because they have a very, very good defense. This is going to be the biggest challenge of the year coming up. So, it's good. We do have some confidence, and we are playing at a high level, but that's not going to mean anything if we don't do it again next week."

SATURDAY'S GAME

Penn State at Ohio State, 7:30 p.m., ABC, 1410

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