We are officially underway here in Columbus.
A 300-plus-day wait for college football to return in the capital city ended this weekend with Ohio State routing Nebraska, 52-17, after the score remained closer than expected for most of the first half.
With the season getting underway, the weekly stock report returns.
The Chris Olave-Garrett Wilson Duo
Justin Fields didn’t target anybody not named Chris Olave or Garrett Wilson until his final passing attempt of the first quarter. He had no reason to search for anybody but them.
If Saturday’s game was any indication, the Buckeyes might have college football’s best duo of wide receivers. Olave caught six passes for 104 yards, looking every bit like the player who became Fields’ top downfield threat a year ago in his second-ever 100-yard receiving game. Wilson, lining up largely out of the slot, set career highs in receptions (7) and receiving yards (129), which included him connecting with his quarterback for a beautiful 42-yard touchdown in the first quarter.
They combined for 13 receptions. The rest of the team has seven catches. Nobody else reeled in more than two passes. But who cares? With Day calling plays and Fields throwing darts, Olave and Wilson are talented enough to build everything else around.
Let’s throw this back to a moment from last year. Remember when Josh Myers said these words?
Unprompted, Josh Myers admits to being a big quarterback sneak guy. pic.twitter.com/NMMPwj7wcO— Colin Hass-Hill (@chasshill) September 22, 2019
Well, hopefully he still digs the quarterback sneak because it worked multiple times on Saturday and will certainly remain in Ryan Day’s playbook moving forward.
How much confidence does Day have in this play? He went to it on 4th-and-1 from Ohio State’s own 33-yard line in what was a tie game. That tells you everything you need to know. Fields picked up three yards in that instance, and he gained three yards on a 3rd-and-1 sneak in the first quarter, too.
We already knew Ohio State had a star quarterback. We knew he could contend for the Heisman Trophy and end the season as a top-five overall 2021 NFL Draft prospect.
Yet somehow, even with those high expectations, Fields still managed to impress and open eyes. He appears to be even better than he was last year, when he had 41 touchdowns passes compared to three interceptions and ran for 10 more scores.
Fields completed 20-of-21 passes for 276 yards and two touchdowns. His only incompletion fell to the ground when Olave leaped for an on-target deep ball, caught it, but then got his feet taken out mid-air and lost control when sent back to Earth. Fields added 54 rushing yards and a touchdown on the ground on 15 rushes.
Cherish this season, Ohio State fans. Quarterbacks like Fields don’t come around every year.
Jaxon Smith-Njigba’s Right Foot
You don’t need me to recount what happened on Jaxon Smith-Njigba’s first career touchdown catch. I assume each of you saw it then watched the replay uninterrupted for 15 minutes.
If you want to see it again, here you go.
Were going to watch this on loop forever. pic.twitter.com/9Ps3JWC3Lw— Eleven Warriors (@11W) October 24, 2020
This play left me with only one thought: He’s a backup. A backup!
On Saturday, Smith-Njigba ensured those in Columbus would see plenty more of him as the year goes on. He might be a backup for now, but he showed he deserves more balls coming his way as soon as possible.
This story hasn’t received enough play nationally. Maybe it’ll come in due time.
Either way, we can’t possibly go through this week’s stock report without mentioning it. Haskell Garrett got shot in the face while trying to break up an argument, suffering a through-and-through wound in his right cheek in late August, and didn’t miss a game despite the football season starting less than two months later. And not only was he back on the field this weekend, but he recorded his team's first sack of the season and earned honors as Ohio State’s Defensive Player of the Game.
Kerry Coombs said it best: It’s a miracle.
What happened on both Oct. 14, 2017 and Oct. 24, 2020? Ohio State beat Nebraska, Rutgers won a road Big Ten game and Greg Schiano was victorious.
Schiano deserves credit for leading the Scarlet Knights to a win against Michigan State in East Lansing this weekend. His next task: Getting this program to the point where it wins a conference game away from home more than once every three years.
Plenty of people wondered how Michigan entered the weekend favored to beat Minnesota. A couple of days ago, a certain colleague of mine (Hello, Kevin) wrote, “I have no idea how Michigan is favored in this game.” Oops. Vegas knows. Vegas always knows.
The Wolverines waltzed into Minneapolis on Saturday, stole P.J. Fleck’s rowboat, took it on a joy ride and went home with a 49-24 victory.
You don’t just come into The Stadium That Tom Allen Built and leave with a win. Behind the outstretched arm of Michael Penix Jr., Indiana toppled Penn State for a 36-35 overtime victory.
Bloomington, officially, is a college football town because Tom Allen exists. Don’t believe me? Watch this.
The Two Starting Running Backs
Master Teague and Trey Sermon didn’t exactly light the world on fire this weekend with their performances. Eleven Warriors' own Kyle Jones went into his bag to break down why their mediocre performances shouldn't cause panic. Still, though, they left something to be desired, with Sermon picking up 55 yards on 11 carries and Teague rushing 12 times for 41 yards.
The caveat: How impressive do they even have to be when this team has Fields at quarterback? That’s a fair question. But as Day said after the game, the team will need to see more from its rushing attack moving forward, and that includes from the two featured tailbacks.
A year ago, Ohio State spoiled the fan base. Week after week, the Buckeyes steamrolled Big Ten opponents. All of them, in fact. Rarely were regular-season games even competitive beyond the first half. Finding any areas of weakness was exceedingly difficult. A combination of Fields, Dobbins, a quality receivers group and dominant offensive line made the offense deadly, and the defense teemed with first-round NFL draft picks, including Chase Young and Jeff Okudah.
What happened on Saturday wasn’t flawless. It was a 35-point win, but there were certain areas that will get picked apart ahead of the upcoming game with the Nittany Lions. The running game wasn’t up to snuff. An offensive line that people – or, uh, myself – think can be the nation’s best had their struggles early. The defense struggled to contain quarterbacks Adrian Martinez and Luke McCaffrey as runners.
It served as a helpful reminder: Last year’s team running through the Big Ten with often flawless blowouts every single week was an anomaly. More often than not, even teams like Ohio State have some issues to work through. That’s just normal.
Imagine being a Nittany Lions fan right now.
Your best player (Micah Parsons) opted out before the season. You recently learned your best offensive player (Journey Brown) might be lost for the season with an undisclosed injury. You just lost in overtime to Indiana on a heartbreaker to start out the season on the worst note possible. You’re staring down a primetime, under-the-lights Week 2 matchup on ABC with Ohio State – otherwise known as Ohio State, Ohio State, Ohio State, Ohio State, Ohio State, Ohio State, Ohio State, Ohio State, Ohio State, Ohio State, Ohio State, Ohio State, Ohio State, Ohio State, Ohio State, Ohio State, Ohio State, Ohio State, Ohio State, Ohio State, Ohio State, Ohio State! – that threatens to have your team opening the year with two losses for the first time since 2012.
Oh, and you can’t even really point to the future with an abundance of optimism considering Penn State’s 2021 recruiting class is ranked in the bottom half of the Big Ten and features exactly zero of Pennsylvania’s top-10 prospects.
Tough times in Happy Valley right now. On Saturday, if things go the Buckeyes’ way, it could get even worse.
Photo credit: Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports