After battling to a 49-26 win over Indiana on Saturday that was more closely contested than the final score indicated, Dwayne Haskins was just one of several Ohio State players who admitted what people might have already suspected: the Buckeyes didn’t have their best week of practice leading up to Saturday’s game.
“I'm not going to lie, we were probably still tired from last week,” Haskins said. “Definitely was a little low in energy in practice during the week.”
Ohio State was coming off of an exhausting win at Penn State, which not only required the Buckeyes to score two touchdowns in the final seven minutes to come away with a 27-26 win, but also required a late-night trip back from State College, Pennsylvania, which meant an early-morning arrival – head coach Urban Meyer said they got back at 3:30 a.m. – back in Columbus on Sunday.
It can take time to overcome that combination. The Buckeyes felt the effects during their practices on Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday, and that lingered over into Saturday.
“It wasn’t the best practices we had, and I think that’s just because the away night games are such a struggle, because you finish the game late, you get back late, you still have to be up the next day for practice, so I think it pays a toll on guys’ bodies,” said Ohio State wide receiver Johnnie Dixon.
Ohio State offensive coordinator Ryan Day also felt like the trip to Penn State took its toll on the Buckeyes.
“I think when you come home from a game that’s so late, you come in at 5 in the morning, with the emotions running so high, you just don’t sleep very well for a little while,” Day said. “And that takes its toll throughout the week with practice and some of the recovery. These are college kids that still have to go to class. These are not NFL guys that get to sleep in after a Monday Night Football game. So that takes a little time, and so I think that kind of leads sometimes to some letdowns.”
“I'm not going to lie, we were probably still tired from last week.” – Dwayne Haskins on the Penn State hangover
Nonetheless, the Buckeyes took care of business – which was something they didn’t do one week after their 39-38 win over Penn State last year, suffering a 55-24 loss to Iowa seven days later.
They won the game by 23. Haskins tied Ohio State’s school record by throwing six touchdown passes, and came just three yards short of tying Art Schlichter’s single-game school passing yards record by throwing for 455 yards. The Buckeyes are 6-0 and still control their own destiny toward their goals of winning the Big Ten and making the College Football Playoff.
Saturday’s game shouldn’t necessarily be directly compared to last year’s game at Iowa, as the Buckeyes were playing in front of their home crowd on Saturday, and the 2017 Hawkeyes were probably at least a slightly better team than the 2018 Hoosiers. Still, the Buckeyes’ margin on the scoreboard was 54 points better Saturday than it was in their post-Penn State hangover game last year, and they view that as a sign of growth.
“Every day at practice this week, we brought up the whole Iowa situation last year, and we weren’t going to let that happen this year. We weren’t going to have a letdown,” said Ohio State linebacker Tuf Borland. “Obviously sometimes when the defense doesn’t have it, the offense will pick us up and vice versa, and that just speaks to the brotherhood of this team and how close we are.”
Dixon attributed the better outcome on the scoreboard this time around to the work the Buckeyes have put in dating back to the summer, preparing them for times when they would face adversity.
“I think the thing that really put us in that position was all of our summer workouts,” Dixon said. “We used to go offense vs. defense, and we used to battle, so I mean, every day guys are out there nearly about to fight. So I think that’s what put us over the edge to help us once we get to the season to fight through that stuff, because we’re going at it every day.”
The Buckeyes weren’t satisfied with simply winning Saturday’s game, though, because they knew they could have played better. Ohio State struggled to move the ball in the running game, averaging only 3.2 yards per carry, and allowed Indiana quarterback Peyton Ramsey to pass for 322 yards, including 239 yards before halftime.
“Still not doing what we need to do in the run game. And that's something that's alarming. So we've just got to continue to work on that,” Meyer said. “Defensively was not what we expect in the first half. Guys are making plays on us. A combination of poor pass-rush and not blocking on your guys. We've been fine against the run, but the pass has been killing us and that's going to bite us. That’s something that we've got to get fixed.”
Given that they came with a victory – which is all that really matters in the end – the Buckeyes didn’t consider Saturday’s game to be a “letdown,” per se. But they did acknowledge that they must play better going forward if they want to keep winning the way they have.
“Even though we won, it didn't feel like one of the best games we played,” Haskins said. “We can keep getting better. A letdown? No, but definitely some room for improvement.”