And just like that, Ohio State improves to 2-0.
The Buckeyes rolled past Nebraska for a 52-17 win at home versus Nebraska a week ago then followed it up by running through Penn State, 38-25, on the road. The games, however, didn’t start similarly whatsoever. Adrian Martinez wrapped up a four-play drive for six points to take an early lead in the season opener.
Ohio State ensured that didn’t happen again on Saturday, grabbing a quick 14-0 lead.
“I feel like we threw the first punch early,” Jonathon Cooper said. “But when it comes to a fight or a football game, you're going to get punches thrown right back at you. And it starts up front. In order to have a good game, you have to have a good offensive line and a good defensive line playing at their best. We know that on both sides of the ball, so we wanted to make sure that we got out on them early.”
The linemen on both sides of the ball controlled the game for the most part. Ryan Day specifically pointed to the offensive side of the ball when talking about the guys up front.
They helped Master Teague and Trey Sermon pick up 166 rushing yards while allowing only two sacks.
“I also thought the protection was really good,” Ryan Day said. “Their defensive ends are good players. They have a good rush, and I thought our offensive line played well. We had over 200 yards rushing, and I thought Master ran harder. We were getting four a shot, five a shot. And that's good. That keeps you in rhythm. You're able to control the game, which I thought we did. It was good to have balance.”
With a strong five-man line, the Buckeyes seemed fine to rely on them to get movement on the ground. Ohio State had 45 rushes compared to 34 passes.
“I thought we had good balance,” Day said. “We controlled the ball. Typically, for us, we try to run a lot of plays and time of possession usually isn't a big deal, but I thought we did a good job controlling the ball and having good balance on offense. And then I thought Justin (Fields) played excelled, threw some really good balls. Chris Olave made some really big plays.”
Fields, for the second week in a row, made a strong case to put himself at the front of the Heisman Trophy race despite playing just two games.
“He's really taken a step this offseason to become a leader,” Ruckert said. “It's kind of tough coming in as a transfer and really getting everybody behind you. But I feel like he did a great job of that last year, and he just carried off of that. We all rallied behind him. We know he's got 100 percent effort on every single play, in the weight room, in the meeting rooms and everything. And we know that he's got our back, so it's just our job to get his. I think you can see how much love we've got for each other on that field and how we'd just do anything for each other. That's just how we play. We're trying to play for each other. Not for ourselves. Stats will come if you just play hard every single play and just try and do everything you can for the guy next to you.”
Stats came for Ruckert on Saturday.
He scored twice in Week 1 in 2019, and he reached the end zone two times in Week 2 in 2020. Ruckert now has six career touchdowns as a Buckeye.
“We really preached all week trying to play tough and play physical, and I think not only the whole team, the tight end unit did a really good job of that just playing physical, sticking our nose in there,” Jeremy Ruckert said. “When you can really get after them and play physical, it opens up a lot of things out wide. That's really where we made a lot of our money today.”
One of Ruckert’s two touchdown was Ohio State’s final time in the end zone. It wrapped up a 12-play 75-yard drive that Day, quite clearly, never thought would end.
“I think I needed a drink after that drive,” Day said with a laugh. “That was 4th-and-1. We throw the ball. My heart was in my throat, I've got to tell you. And then we go down there. We're on the 1-yard line. We don't get in. And then we decide to throw the pass on 4th-down-and-1 on the 1-yard line. But you've got to be aggressive. One thing I learned early on was when you're calling these plays, if you put them in the game plan and you can execute them, you've got to call them in those moments. You have to trust it. It doesn't make it easy. I mean, it's stressful. But that was great execution.”
“The ball was in the air forever,” Ruckert said. “Just happy to catch it.”
Later in the fourth quarter, Marcus Hooker sealed the win with his first interception while at Ohio State – and it came in his home state of Pennsylvania.
“Marcus was opportunistic on that play,” Day said. “Really, really big play.”
In six days, Ohio State will welcome Rutgers (1-1) to town. For now, though, the Buckeyes are just pleased to walk out of Happy Valley with a win.
“Winning any game on the road in the Big Ten is important,” Ruckert said. “We knew that coming in that it was going to be a challenge, especially with them coming off a loss. We knew they were going to give their best shot. I think we really made a statement today about what kind of team we have, how we're not one-dimensional. We can do all different types of things. I think that's just a testament of our coaching staff, our strength staff and all of our players just working together and just trying to get our one goal: Just winning every game week by week.”
“It was a big step forward,” Day said. “To win this game on the road is a huge step for us. But there's a lot to be done. Absolutely, there's a lot to be done. We'll just keep going back to work. But I think that's really encouraging that there's a lot of work to be done and you still play like this and win like this.”