Ohio State turned in its third consecutive thoroughly dominant showcase against conference competition Saturday, coming off a bye week to blow the doors off Indiana 54-7 on the road.
The Buckeye offense had 44 points in the first half alone, and C.J. Stroud buoyed his Heisman Trophy stock once again with a 21-for-28 performance with 266 yards and four touchdowns passing. However, the redshirt freshman said after the game that the way the team is playing involves a myriad of factors outside of his individual success.
“It’s not about me at all. This is the most team sport ever. So I mean without these guys, especially my teammates – I was kind of down in the dumps going into the early (part) of the season, and my teammates just lift me up every day,” Stroud said. “They always tell me, like Jeremy (Ruckert) before every drive, he tells me, ‘Just do you. That’s what got you here, so just keep doing you.’ I appreciate just being around great people.”
Stroud heard the criticism from Buckeye fans and the outside world alike over the first three weeks, but has quickly learned to tune out any noise that might be detrimental to his bottom line.
“If it ain’t God, my family or my teammates, I could really care less about what people got to say,” Stroud said. “Of course I appreciate Buckeye Nation and they’re awesome, but they are – some of them are really critical. But I like that. It comes with the job, you got to know that comes with it. I’m blessed to even be at this university, I’m blessed to even rep Ohio State.”
The ball was so spread out among the Buckeyes’ many weapons that no Buckeye finished with 100 yards rushing or receiving, despite the team racking up 539 yards of total offense.
Still, Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson combined for seven catches, 83 yards and a touchdown, while TreVeyon Henderson finished with 95 yards and three total scores on the evening. Day said all three players would likely have wanted to play more, but that he couldn’t risk injury in the second half of the blowout win.
“It is a great problem to have, but at the same time, these guys practice all week and they put a lot of work in, and so for he and Chris (Olave) and Garrett (Wilson), to take those guys out, to not play, that’s hard,” Day said. “Because these guys want to play. But at the same time, as the head coach, for me to put them in there and see something happen to them, I wouldn’t be able to live with myself. So, have to make that tough decision, and they’re competitive, they want to get back in there.”
Another Buckeye that stole some headlines Saturday was senior tight end Jeremy Ruckert, who had his best performance of the year with five catches, 47 yards and two touchdowns. Ruckert said the team has begun to mesh well over the past few weeks, and given Ohio State’s recent run through the Big Ten, it’s not hard to tell.
“I feel like we’ve been steady through it, putting our head down and working every week. Some days the game plan is different than the others, and just not forcing anything and just playing free, the ball’s gonna come your way,” Ruckert said. “So I think that the biggest step this week we took was just no worrying about anything, just doing everything we can to help the team win and relying on each other. I think that’s the biggest thing going forward is just being able to rely on each other, and play after play just knowing that whoever the play’s gonna go to, we have confidence they’re gonna make the play, and C.J.’s gonna throw it to us. I feel like we’re in sync right now.”
Credit and praise must also be heaped upon Ohio State's defensive effort, as the Buckeyes held the Hoosiers scoreless after their first drive of the game, and limited the Indiana offense to just 128 total yards at Memorial Stadium.
The Ohio State defense backed the Hoosiers up deep into their own territory on several occasions, allowing for great field position for the Buckeye offense to begin a number of series. Day likened the complementary play of both units to the chemistry displayed by his 2019 roster.
“That, to me, is where you just play with the ultimate confidence. When you’re getting the ball back at midfield like that, that’s kind of the way it felt in ‘19, and that’s the way it felt tonight,” Day said. “You feel it on the sideline, there’s just so much confidence. And then the minute we get the ball back we feel like we’re gonna score.”
The Buckeye pass rush came alive, finishing with five sacks and 14 tackles for loss, and Ohio State safety Kourt Williams said that benefited the secondary tremendously on Saturday.
“That’s what it’s all about. When they get it done in the trenches, it just makes our job that much easier,” Williams said. “It felt like just every play they were back there, and that makes our job easier. So like I keep saying; we keep improving, watch out.”
Williams did not mince words when asked how good he feels the Buckeyes could be moving forward.
“As long as we keep doing what we’re doing, keep getting better, improving on things that we need to improve on, we’re gonna be a problem,” Williams said. “Yeah, unstoppable.”