In a 76-5 blowout victory against Miami (Ohio), Ohio State had a chance to get its less experienced players into the game, and they shined.
Jameson Williams caught a 61-yard touchdown pass, his first of his career. Chris Chugunov and Gunnar Hoak threw their first touchdowns as Buckeyes. Steele Chambers scored his first touchdown. Dallas Gant picked up 1.5 sacks, the first of his career.
But the reserves weren't the only players to do something for the first time.
Even though Jeff Okudah has worked his way into the first-round NFL draft pick conversation, he didn't have an interception – until Saturday. He finally picked off his first pass at Ohio State, intercepting Brett Gabbert in the second quarter.
“I'm feeling pretty good about that, just to get a monkey off my back, so to say,” Okudah said. “But I'm just excited about what the future of the Silver Bullets defense holds more so.”
With one interception down, Okudah has made some progress to his goal of picks this season. However, he still won't publicize that number.
“That's still something I've got in my back pocket,” Okudah said. “I won't speak on that.”
Early in the game, Miami (Ohio) gave Ohio State's secondary a bit of trouble. Gabbert completed passes for nine, 12 and 13 yards on the first two drives of the game when the Buckeyes were playing Cover 3.
Ohio State responded by adjusting to play press man for a portion of time, harkening back to what the secondary did last year.
“We played man 90 percent of the snaps last year, so it wasn't anything crazy,” Okudah said.
“That's why that was all put in our packages,” Greg Mattison said. “That's why you don't want to be the type of team that you're standing here and you say, 'What happened?' Well, we were playing man and we couldn't cover them, or you're playing three deep and they hit the slants underneath. You always want enough bullets to be able to turn to the next thing, and that's what's great about seeing it. You say, 'OK, this is what they're doing. OK, fine. Then we'll do this.' And then it gets to the point where you want to go back and forth without them knowing what you're going to do and they look alike.”
“We're not about how many defenses we have on our call sheet,” Mattison said. “I've been there. I've seen that, and that's not what you want. To me, it's what the players can play, and what they play fast and hard at, and is that good enough for you to win with. And if it is, then you're great.”
Miami (Ohio) offered a bit of an unexpected test early in the game.
The RedHawks scored the first five points of the game, beginning with two points from a safety and then tacking on three points from a 21-yard field goal. The Buckeyes didn't score until the 5:16 mark of the first quarter, and the touchdown from J.K. Dobbins gave them their only points of the opening quarter.
“I don't think they needed to wake up. I think we came in ready for this game,” Mattison said. “But I think they did some things that we hadn't seen, so it's a real tribute to our players and our coaches for adjusting to that and getting it rectified and then go play.”
“Coach always tells us that we're going to eventually get punched in the face so it's about how we responded,” Justin Fields said. “I think we responded in a great way. Just have to keep doing it.”
Even though he called the first five or six minutes of the game "not great," Ryan Day certainly wasn't displeased with how the rest of the game transpired.
“I thought we had a good week of practice,” Day said. “I thought the coaches did a great job preparing them, and I'm really proud the way the guys came out and played. To come out like that after three weeks and a week of a lot of people telling us how great we were, to come out and dominate like that is pretty impressive.”
Jim Harbaugh, after Michigan's 35-14 loss to Wisconsin, gave almost the complete opposite of that answer in his post-game press conference.
That game, which began at noon, ended as Ohio State kicked off its 3:30 p.m. game. So, is there any chance Mattison, a former Wolverines assistant coach, knew the result of the Michigan-Wisconsin matchup?
“I don't,” Mattison said. “Nope. Nope. I don't have any idea. Go ahead. Next question?”
Greg Mattison asked if he saw what happened to his former program, Michigan earlier in the day.— Eleven Warriors (@11W) September 22, 2019
Smiles I don't. Nope. Don't have any idea. Next question? pic.twitter.com/thGJNlbBWB
Offensively, Day had to feel pleased with how his team converted within the 20-yard line.
The Buckeyes scored on seven-of-eight trips to the red zone. Twice, Fields rushed for touchdowns – from six yards, then from seven yards – which has proved to be a weapon near the goal line.
“I think it's a great thing that I can do,” Fields said. “And I think it opens up the offense a lot. J.K. and I, just the defense doesn't know where to go. And plus our receivers down there, they're great receivers and that opens up the offense a bit.”
By pairing Fields' rushing ability with multi-tight end packages, under-center formations and five-receiver looks, Day has given this offense loads of wrinkles.
“I think that's the key to really good college coaching is the ability to adapt to your personnel and have the ability to go in and out of personnel groupings, spread or under center, two tight ends or three tight ends,” Day said. “And I think Kevin (Wilson), Mike (Yurcich), (Greg Studrawa), Tony (Alford), Brian Hartline, everybody's doing a really good job of making sure we have some variety in our game. But we've got to keep going on that.”
One of those new wrinkles? The long-awaited quarterback sneak.
Fields converted a sneak in a 4th-and-2 situation in the second quarter, picking up four yards behind a strong push from the interior of his offensive line.
“I loved the quarterback sneak today,” Josh Myers said. “I was fired up about it. That was awesome. That was awesome. I was fired up about it.”
“I was ready for it if the time came, and when I looked over, I was pretty sure that's what we were going to do,” Myers said. “It was also something we had seen in their defense, though, that we thought we could exploit if need be.”
Unprompted, Josh Myers admits to being a big quarterback sneak guy. pic.twitter.com/NMMPwj7wcO— Colin Hass-Hill (@chasshill) September 22, 2019