ARLINGTON, Texas — In its first real test of the 2018 season, Ohio State may not have received an A+, but the Buckeyes certainly posted a passing grade.
In a 40-28 win over TCU at AT&T Stadium, the Buckeyes grabbed a bit of early momentum, allowed the Horned Frogs to punch back and take a lead, and worked through the adversity to make momentum-changing plays en route to the win.
Acting coach Ryan Day said the Buckeyes faced a dose of adversity for the first time this year but also responded to it in a positive way.
"When you go up against somebody like TCU, a really well-coached team, really talented team, I think that's a really good team we just played. And we get in a tough spot; we're down. How are you going to respond? You really don't know that. You practice every day. You think you know how you're going to respond. But to see how the guys responded today gives us something to look back on."
It was Day's third win in as many tries. He'll now hand the reigns back over to head coach Urban Meyer who can return to the sidelines next Saturday against Tulane. When asked about what it felt like to end his interim coaching tenure undefeated, Day stayed humble.
"We're just so excited to get Coach back next week. And, obviously, the culture that he's built here is amazing and the foundation that he's built here. And that's what got us through these first three games and through preseason. The players that have been recruited here and coaches that are here have kept this thing going."
While Day returns to his offensive coordinator and quarterback coaching duties, Buckeyes signal caller Dwayne Haskins will try and continue a magnificent start to his sophomore season. Against the Horned Frogs, Haskins completed 24-of-38 pass attempts for 344 yards and two touchdowns.
It was the seventh-best passing performance in program history, topping Troy Smith's 342-yard outing against Notre Dame in 2005. Haskins now completed 66-of-91 passes for 890 yards alongside a 11-1 touchdown-interception ratio.
Against the Horned Frogs, however, he faced looks he hadn't seen before. According to Day, he handled the situation well.
"This was a test to see where he was at. I thought he passed. There were a couple times he scrambled, took a shot. He scored on the pull down in the red zone, took a couple hits on a couple sacks early in the game, hung in there, made some big throws, and, again, worked through some adversity along the way."
Haskins was also complimentary of Day. Alongside defensive tackle Dre'Mont Jones in the postgame press conference, both said they'd give Day an A++ in the grade book.
In practice, Haskins faces Jones' unit every day. He said that's one of the reasons he had success against TCU.
"(TCU) is a really great defense. But, like I said, I go against the best defense in the country every day in practice. And being able to get used to those rush men coming every day and playing games like this on Saturday, you're more prepared for it. But a great defense at TCU. Played really hard and didn't make too many mistakes. We got to capitalize on key moments. And we eventually did throughout the rest of the game."
Wide receiver Parris Campbell made just two catches in the contest. But it was a 63-yard touchdown reception that cut TCU's lead to 21-19, starting a string of 20 unanswered points in a span of 4:01.
"I'm always just a patient player. I know the swing of the game. In the swing of the game you never know where it's going to come. You always got to stay patient. Couple times, I felt like I was missing a few today, but I stayed level-headed and stayed calm and knew it would come eventually. "
Haskins' backfield mate J.K. Dobbins went over 100 yards rushing for the first time this season. The sophomore carried the ball 18 times for a total of 121 yards, an average of 6.7 yards per carry. The La Grange, Texas native did so in front of friends and family.
"It's a blessing. Playing (in Texas) all my life and coming back home and having a great game is a blessing."
Haskins, Dobbins and the Buckeyes' offense racked up 526 yards of total offense. Their defense gave up 511 but came up with two huge scoring plays to aid their efforts.
Off a Nick Bosa strip-sack in the first quarter, Davon Hamilton pounced on a loose ball in the end zone before Jones scored on a 28-yard interception return midway through the third. Jones talked about that play and what he saw before giving the Buckeyes a lead.
"With a quarterback like that, I know he likes to run. And on that play in particular, he was a little hesitant and running on the outside. So I sat back to see what happened, and I read it perfectly. The ball came directly towards me."
Jones' pick-six was just one of three turnovers in which the Buckeyes' defense forced. On the Horned Frogs' final drive, linebacker Malik Harrison came away with a game-clinching interception. Harrison commented on TCU's speed, something that was as advertised.
“We’ve got a couple of guys on the team with a lot of speed on offense. It still was a little different because the last two teams we played didn’t have a lot of speed. We just had to come together and adjust to it.”
Ohio State now sets its sights on Tulane, who they meet at 3:30 p.m., Saturday in Columbus. As Campbell eluded to, the Buckeyes will take the lessons they learned in Texas into their contest.
"As a team we had to stay level-headed. As an offense, things got going early, got punched in the mouth. Biggest thing was for us to stay calm, level-headed and keep swinging. I'm happy we did that."