EVANSTON, Ill. – Ohio State has had reason to celebrate after the first halves of each of its first seven games this season.
The Buckeyes entered halftime in each of their first seven games this year leading by at least 17 points, and they’ve scored at least 21 points in the second quarters of each of their last six games. They haven’t had to make halftime adjustments or battle for four quarters to wrap up a win all year.
Among all of Ohio State’s dominant first halves this year, though, Friday night’s second quarter against Northwestern ended in the most emphatic fashion.
With just 59 seconds left to play in the second quarter and already holding a commanding 28-3 lead, Ohio State certainly didn’t need to be aggressive and try to score more points before halftime – especially since Northwestern had the ball.
But a spectacular 54-yard punt by Drue Chrisman, downed by long snapper Liam McCullough at the 1-yard line, had the Wildcats backed up against their own end zone, so Ryan Day wasn’t content to simply allow them to run out the clock. Instead, as Northwestern conservatively ran the ball just trying to avoid a safety, Day called three straight timeouts – forcing the Wildcats to punt the ball out of their end zone and giving the Buckeyes the ball back on Northwestern’s side of the field.
Ohio State took over just 35 yards away from Northwestern’s end zone, and the Buckeyes’ goal was to put kicker Blake Haubeil – who had never made a field goal longer than 47 yards in his Ohio State career before Friday – in position to make a half-ending field goal. That didn’t quite go as planned, as a holding penalty against Thayer Munford pushed the Buckeyes back closer to midfield.
Following an 8-yard gain on a screen pass to J.K. Dobbins, Justin Fields spiked the ball at the 38-yard line with just four seconds remaining. At that point, the Buckeyes could have opted to take their chances on a Hail-Mary pass and had Fields chuck a deep ball into the end zone, or they could have just run the ball one more time and been content to take their 25-point lead into the break.
But Day decided to put his faith in his kicker, and give Haubeil the opportunity to kick a career-long 55-yard field goal.
Haubeil drilled the kick through the uprights, right down the middle with room to spare, and his teammates erupted from the sidelines to celebrate with him before running into the locker room with smiles on their faces as the tens of thousands of Ohio State fans who made the trip to Ryan Field cheered.
“We had to make a decision,” Day said after the game. “And he had made one before, so we said we’ll give him a shot to make it. And it was good to see the team rally behind him like that. It goes to show you the confidence the team has in him, and also just the chemistry of our team in general. I think it kind of put an exclamation point on the whole half.”
There were plenty of moments to remember from what was another dominant performance – particularly, the 24-point second quarter – for Ohio State on Saturday. Dobbins had a 68-yard run in the second quarter, and Fields completed four total touchdown passes, including two to Chris Olave. Sevyn Banks and Amir Riep both had interceptions in the fourth quarter, when Master Teague also had a 73-yard touchdown run. Chrisman had a tremendous night punting the ball, as his first three of his five punts were all longer than 50 yards and his last three of his five punts were all downed inside the 20-yard line.
But Haubeil’s kick, and the sequence that led up to it, was perhaps the defining moment in a 52-3 victory that was yet another statement win for the 7-0 Buckeyes.
“I think that was big going into the second half,” Fields said. “I think it kind of gave the team juice. Because this stadium, of course, it’s not like our home stadium. I think of course the fans showed up here, but I think that kick definitely gave the team momentum going into the second half.”
“I think it kind of put an exclamation point on the whole half.”– Ryan Day on Blake Haubeil's 55-yard field goal
For Haubeil, who had made 15-of-20 field goal attempts in his Ohio State career going into Friday night but had not yet had a signature moment, the 55-yard make is one that should be a big confidence-booster for the junior kicker going forward.
Haubeil’s 55-yard field goal is tied with two 2004 kicks by Mike Nugent, a 1997 kick by Dan Stultz and a 1966 kick by Gary Cairns for the second-longest field goal in Ohio State history. Tom Skladany holds the school record with a 59-yard field goal against Illinois in 1975.
Haubeil was already “very confident” that he could make a kick like that going into Friday’s game, but he appreciated that Day had the same confidence in him to give him that opportunity.
“Justin’s obviously an extremely talented quarterback. He absolutely could have gotten it to the end zone there at the end of the half,” Haubeil said. “And for Coach Day to put us out there as a unit, that definitely says a lot about the trust and faith he has in us. So I absolutely love the fact that he put us out there. It is a blessing.”
He also appreciated the way his teammates reacted to the biggest moment of his Ohio State career to date.
“Just the love and support the team has shown throughout the year, it just made it that much more special,” Haubeil said.