Barely three minutes into Saturday's game, Ohio State already had a two-touchdown lead on Rutgers.
And the Buckeyes didn't even receive the opening kickoff.
On the first defensive play of Ohio State's 56-21 win against Rutgers at SHI Stadium, Shaun Wade intercepted a pass. On the second play of the Scarlet Knights' second possession. Wade recovered a fumble. Within four plays after each turnover, the Buckeyes scored touchdowns, giving them a 14-0 lead with 11:59 remaining in the opening quarter.
“Our defense is pretty good,” J.K. Dobbins said. “They've been great all season. Whenever they do that, it's easy for us.”
“It definitely gives us momentum in terms of field position and just getting the team going,” Justin Fields said.
“It just flips the momentum,” Chris Olave said. “We think we've got the best defense in the country. So when they do that, we try to take the opportunity and score. That's what we did, and we capitalized on it.”
Davon Hamilton, once again, played a role in a defense that held Rutgers to seven points and 117 yards in the first half.
The redshirt senior defensive tackle had one sack in his career until the eighth game of this season. Hamilton, who had a sack against the Scarlet Knights, has four sacks in the past three games. Don't ask him to explain his recent run of success, though.
“I don't know,” Hamilton said. “It's just kind of happening.”
Hamilton believes he's seeing rewards from improvements made heading into his fifth season at Ohio State.
“I feel like the difference this year for me has been consistency,” Hamilton said. “In years past, I wasn't as consistent as I could have been. But nowadays, I feel like I'm more consistent.”
“We've kind of looked at film, not even from this last year but the years before,” Hamilton said. “I have a lot of ups and downs, what was going on with my game. He just challenged me to be consistent. I feel like I've met that challenge so far.”
A fellow senior, Jordan Fuller, played his final college game in his home state of New Jersey on Saturday. He had a pair of tackles.
“It was great,” Fuller said. “Especially just looking in the stands and seeing some people I know from when I was little, just when I was in high school. Seeing all the support is amazing. I can't thank them enough for coming out here in this cold weather. It's great. I can't wait to see my family right now.”
Rutgers managed 21 points against Ohio State, the most by the team in the history of the matchup.
Most success from the Scarlet Knights came against the backups on defense. For interim head coach Nunzio Campanile, though, it was hard to complain.
“Super opponent,” Campanile said. “Really talented team. Very well-coached.”
“Obviously the execution isn't perfect, but I think they are really proud of that to be able to go out there,” Campanile said. “And as I told them, we haven't put 21 points on a lot of teams, so to put 21 points on them is a good day I guess in some ways.”
Among the backups who had a strong performance was Jaelen Gill, a second-year H-back from Westerville.
Until Saturday, he had five catches for 24 yards in his career. Gill only had a pair of catches against Rutgers, but he made them count. His first reception came for six yards to convert on a 3rd-and-5 situation, and his next catch went for a 32-yard touchdown.
“I thought Jaelen's had one of his better weeks of practice this week, and then low and behold, he makes a big run, and so they go,” Day said. “That's typically how it works. It's one of those things where as a player, the more opportunities you have, the more you have a chance to make a play and make a name for yourself. So you've got to take those opportunities. Especially in games like this. How rare is it to be in a season like this where those guys get so many reps? I don't know if it's happened ever before. But I can't imagine there's been more second- and third-string guys who have gotten reps like this during a season. It's unique, and I think that our guys have gotten better, some more than others.”
Earlier in the day, before the Buckeyes kicked off, Alabama's Tua Tagovailoa suffered a hip injury that will end his season, likely finishing his college career.
“I did hear that he's out for the season,” Fields said. “I'm just going to be praying for him and I hope he gets better.”
Naturally, that led some to wonder when Day should pull Fields from what everybody knew would be a blowout of Rutgers. The starting quarterback remained in the game until after the first drive of the second half, which ended with Fields throwing a 14-yard touchdown pass to Luke Farrell.
“You do the best you can to try to make some decisions,” Day said. “At halftime, we're up 28. We just felt like that's not enough. All of a sudden, you come out there in the second half and go three and out and they score, it's 21. That's not enough. So we felt like we needed to come back out. Now, we did take J.K. out. We said we're just going to kind of throw the ball. And that first drive, we knew we had the ball coming out of the second half. We were going to try to get it out of his hand quick. We went down and scored, and it worked the way we thought it would. And then it goes to 42-7 and we thought that was enough, and then we pulled those guys and played the rest of them.”
“Coach keeps reminding me to play it safe and be smart in terms of taking hits and just throw the ball away,” Fields said. “I take that into account, make sure I go down and don’t take any big hits.”
With all games against ranked opponents out of the way, the Buckeyes can now look ahead to their long-awaited end-of-season stretch.
It begins on Saturday with a game against Penn State with a Big Ten title game berth securable with a win.
“We're kind of just focused on one game at a time, but at the same time, this is the most important two games of our season,” Hamilton said. “Kind of looking forward to it.”
“We want to celebrate this one and talk about what we've got coming too,” Fuller said.
“We know going into it, it will be tough,” Dobbins said. “It's a great team. They've been playing great. We're just going to try to keep having that edge on them. So whatever we can do to do that, we'll try it.”
The thinking by most is that Ohio State will need to play its starters full games. The Buckeyes have had the luxury of playing their backups extended snaps this season.
Dobbins, though, questioned that notion.
“Why does it have to be a four-quarter game?” Dobbins said.
“Well, if I do play for four quarters, then I'll be ready for it,” Dobbins said. “And I know both of the teams we have coming up, they're great programs, great teams. So it will be tough. We'll see what happens.”