True freshman quarterback Kyle McCord overcame a tough beginning to his first collegiate start while a stout front four anchored the defense during a much-needed blowout win over Akron, 59-7, last night in Ohio Stadium.
McCord, on the field in place of the injured C.J. Stroud, teamed with running back TreVeyon Henderson, defensive end J.T. Tuimoloau and cornerback Denzel Burke to give the Buckeyes four true freshman starters in the game, marking the first time that's happened since 1944 which comes with a bit of an asterisk as it occurred during World War II.
Ohio State trailed 7-0 early before rattling off 59 straight points.
Veteran receiver Garrett Wilson surpassed the 100-yard receiving mark for the second time this season and seventh time of his career with 124 yards while Henderson ran it eight times in the first half for 93 yards (11.6 ypc) with two touchdowns before giving way to backups.
The much-maligned Ohio State defense held a decidedly terrible Akron offense to 229 total yards and forced a pair of interceptions.
Yes, it was Akron but the Buckeyes did what good teams are supposed to do against bad teams - they stomped the Zips out and got the cover. It's hard to tell just how much progress was made, particularly on defense, after such uneven performances the three games prior but it does feel like interim defensive coordinator Matt Barnes is adding concepts to Ohio State's base defensive sets and certain guys are finally rising to the top of the depth chart.
With Big Ten play resuming next week against a respectable Rutgers team, we take a last look at Five Things from Ohio State's throttling of the Zips.
Lol that was quite the shaky start for Kyle McCord as his opening drive featured a way-off-target toss toward Garrett Wilson, followed by what turned out to be a backward pass on a botched wide receiver screen, and capped off by airmailing a throw in the direction of Jaxon Smith-Njigba to force a punt.
For the remainder of the half however, McCord found his stride completing 11-of-12 passes, including eight-straight during one stretch, for 207 yards and two touchdowns.
He got plenty of help from his receivers as Wilson turned a short throw into a 57-yard gain and a couple of shovel passes also gave his stats a boost. That said, he had his moments. His 34-yard touchdown toss to Smith-Njigba was nice recognition of a defender with his back to the ball and while the pass wasn't perfect, it was safe and effective. He also found Smith-Njigba on a 23-yard crossing route on the ensuing possession with a crisp and confident strike over the middle.
McCord led Ohio State to points on six of nine possessions and his final game passing yardage of 319 set the school's freshman record.
I'm not sure we have a quarterback controversy on our hands but it was great to see McCord get some reps and there's no doubting his talent.
COMING OUT HOT
Yeah, the offense's opening possession was a dud and the defense gave up a first quarter score but it seemed clear both sides of the ball were focused and playing with the type of energy you'd expect, but shouldn't take for granted against a team Ohio State was expected to beat by like 50 points.
After scoring just 30 total points in the first half of the previous three games, the Buckeyes put up 38 in the opening half last night.
Yep, it was Akron but I'm sure it felt good to play from ahead for virtually the entire game and it's probably been under-discussed how playing from behind and playing in tight games puts a ton of pressure on an inexperienced quarterback and inexperienced back seven to find its stride.
With McCord hitting open targets and Henderson gashing the Zips behind a dominant performance from the guys in the trenches, the offense tallied four touchdowns and a field goal across seven first half possessions.
The defense got into the act as Ronnie Hickman recorded his second interception of the season and took it 46 yards to the house giving Ohio State a 35-7 lead with 4:46 before intermission. How about Hickman so far this year? Dude had 11 tackles in the opener, 10 against Oregon and posted picks in back-to-back weeks through four games.
On a defense continuing to search for clear starters and its identity, Hickman's been an absolute rock through the first month of the season.
LARRY JOHNSON'S UNIT GOT THE MESSAGE
Both Day and Larry Johnson lamented the lack of disruption from the defensive line over the first three games during media sessions this week and Johnson made it clear he expected more.
In response, the front four, despite playing without Tyreke Smith, Javontae Jean-Baptiste and Taron Vincent - overwhelmed Akron's offensive line to the tune of nine sacks, good for a tie for the fourth-most in school history.
Veteran tackle Haskell Garrett paced the attack with three sacks, my guy true freshman Tyleik Williams recorded two in the fourth quarter and the quartet of Jack Sawyer, Antwuan Jackson, Ty Hamilton and Jerron Cage posted one each. All this after the front four had four sacks across the first four games.
Williams was outstanding once again, posting both his sacks on third downs to kill drives while leading the team with six stops. Through for games, the reserve is second on the team in tackles for loss (3.5) and tied for the team lead in sacks (3.0).
Akron running back Blake Hester averaged a modest 3.9 yards per carry for the game and in the decisive first half, Zips quarterback DJ Irons felt constant pressure, influencing a 7-for-15, 63-yard passing performance with a pair of interceptions.
For the 20th time in this article, it was Akron, but the reps and confidence can't hurt.
Sadly, the juiciest storyline of the night came when fourth-year linebacker K'Vaughan Pope appeared to rage-quit the team mid-game after incorrectly coming on the field as part of a substitution package before Teradja Mitchell waived him off.
Pope flipped out on the sidelines, had a moment with linebackers coach Al Washington and eventually walked up the tunnel before being retrieved by an OSU staffer. Unimpressed, Day sent him off the field entirely.
Moments later, Pope tweeted "fucc ohio state" before deleting and following up with a "good lucc to my teammates 100" but, uh, yeah.
This of course comes just days after another veteran reserve linebacker, Dallas Gant, entered the transfer portal causing many to wonder what's up with the team's culture or at least the linebacker room.
Hey, what do I know but I don't think Day is in a fight to save the team's soul, as one media member put it. I understand the assertion, I just don't agree.
My take is both Gant and Pope - while being evaluated by multiple OSU coaches over the last many years - haven't been able to get on the field and that's an on them, not a large handful of coaches all misdiagnosing the contributions they could give to the team.
And I'm sure it hurts when younger guys like Cody Simon and Tommy Eichenberg this year, or even a vet like Tuf Borland last year, see considerably more playing time.
That said, there's something to said for being a good teammate and committing to everything it takes to earn a spot in the rotation.
For the few defending Pope, you think Master Teague should be stomping around the sideline and acting like a bad teammate because both TreVeyon Henderson and Miyan Williams have clearly leapfrogged him in the tailback pecking order? We'll obviously never see that because Teague is a class act and a great teammate.
I don't think Day is fighting for the soul of his program but I do think the fact the 2020 and 2021 classes are loaded with guys contributing early has created potential for guys who were "waiting their turn" to see better players basically take that turn from them.
Something for Day to manage, for sure, but I don't think there's a mutiny afoot. And I think winning games is the best salve for such situations. Well that and cutting loose anybody thinking they are above the team.
Speaking of the 2020 and 2021 classes, holy smokes there's some heat in there contributing early.
2020 players making significant contributions include Stroud, Smith-Njigba, Miyan, Paris Johnson, Luke Wypler, Ty Hamilton, Cody Simon, Lathan Ransom and Cameron Martinez.
The 2021 class, despite being true freshmen, is making an early mark headlined by Henderson, Burke, J.T. Tuimoloau, McCord, Emeka Egbuka, Tyleik and punter Jesse Mirco. Tons of guys are waiting in the wings like Marvin Harrison Jr. and Donovon Jackson, among others, and I really liked the attitude cornerback Jakailin Johnson brought to the field (minus the taunting call lol) in mop up duty.
Many of the pups contributing early have basically jumped veterans whether it be Teague, Sevyn Banks, Marcus Williamson, Marcus Hooker, Pope or others.
I'm not sure if this year's team is going to reach the preseason hype but even if that's the case, it's hard not to think Ohio State's future remains incredibly bright.