Big Plays Propel Ohio State to Victory over Minnesota in C.J. Stroud's First Start

By Dan Hope on September 3, 2021 at 2:39 am
TreVeyon Henderson

Ohio State scored six touchdowns in its first game of the season at Minnesota on Thursday night. All of them came on plays that started at least 32 yards away from the end zone.

The Buckeyes’ shortest touchdown of the day actually came from their defense when Haskell Garrett scooped up a fumble forced by Zach Harrison and returned it 32 yards to the end zone for a touchdown. All five of the Buckeyes’ offensive touchdowns came on plays of 38 yards or more.

On a day where Ohio State was breaking in a first-time starter at quarterback and its defense was clearly still working through the kinks, those big plays made all the difference for the Buckeyes to earn a 45-31 victory over the Gophers.

The first big play came on Ohio State’s very first possession of the game when Miyan Williams, making his first start at running back, broke free along the right sideline and dashed for a 71-yard touchdown. Williams admitted after the game that he was actually supposed to run left instead of right, but it ended up being an effective misdirection, as he proved he had enough speed to take advantage of an open lane and run all the way to the end zone.

“It felt like a dream, at first,” Williams said after the game. “And I was like, just gotta keep going. But it felt amazing.”

The rest of the first half proved to be a struggle for the Buckeyes, who scored three points on a Noah Ruggles field goal on their next possession but failed to score again for the rest of the half. Ohio State went into halftime trailing 14-10 after Minnesota’s offense scored two touchdowns, leaving the visitors in need of a spark going into the second half.

That spark came quickly on the first drive of the second half, when C.J. Stroud connected with Chris Olave on a throw across the field, which Olave caught at the 20-yard line and took the rest of the way to the end zone for a 38-yard score.

Two possessions later, with Minnesota back in front on the scoreboard 21-17, Wilson got wide open on a deep post on the first play of the drive and Stroud tossed him a deep ball right where it needed to be for a 56-yard touchdown.

Garrett’s fumble return came on Minnesota’s next possession to give Ohio State a 10-point lead. Then, after Minnesota made it a one-score game again with a field goal, true freshman running back TreVeyon Henderson made perhaps the biggest play of the night – at least on offense – when he used his elite speed to turn a 3rd-and-5 swing pass into a 70-yard touchdown.

Olave made another big play on Ohio State’s next series, getting open near the right sideline for a catch around the 40-yard line and then tip-toeing along the sideline to stay in bounds before weaving his way to the end zone for a 61-yard touchdown, which would ultimately be the final score of a 14-point victory for the Buckeyes.

Stroud wasn’t spectacular in his debut as Ohio State’s quarterback – particularly in the first half, when he completed eight of his first 14 pass attempts for just 58 yards – but thanks to the help he got from Olave, Wilson and Henderson in the second half, he finished the game with 294 passing yards and four touchdowns, and he certainly appreciated the assistance from his playmakers.

On Olave and Wilson, Stroud said: “Those are two of the best receivers in the country. The best receivers in the country. So thank God they’re on my team.”

Asked about Henderson’s big play, Stroud said the five-star freshman “made a great play, a great cutback” and said “he’s gonna be a hell of a player.”

Even though Stroud admitted that he “was kind of all over the place” in the first half, Ryan Day kept trying to dial up big plays in the passing game. Day and Stroud felt they would have opportunities to make those big plays, and that strategy ultimately enabled the Buckeyes to win even though they scored just one touchdown in the first half while their defense gave up 31 points on more than 400 yards over the course of the game.

“He and I had a conversation early on that we’re gonna keep swinging. No matter what happens. And we’re not gonna play it close to the vest. That’s not the way we do it. And he responded,” Day said. “But I think really, it was the guys around him. I think when you look at the defensive score that we got, that was huge. But then the guys up front. Chris, Garrett, those were big plays. And then obviously the play with Trey on that third down was big.”


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