Senior Day in Ohio Stadium unfolded just as it should with No. 2 Ohio State throttling Minnesota, 37-3, to set up a showdown of unbeatens next weekend in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Ryan Day's squad started the day saluting its seniors and ended it ensuring it would have a chance to clinch the Big Ten East and advance to the Big Ten title game if it can get past the Wolverines next weekend.
The Buckeyes started slow in this one thanks largely to consistently terrible field position but broke the game wide open with two touchdowns less than a minute apart to start the second half.
Knowing we all want to launch into Hate Week, I'll try to keep Five Things from the 34-point win over Minnesota on the brief side.
YESTERDAY'S JACK SAWYER - MODERN DAY WARRIOR
After what sorta felt like a wasted 2022 season as he learned the Jack spot and his traditional defensive end position, Jack Sawyer didn't exactly come out firing on all cylinders in 2023. That said, his impact on games continues to grow in the back half of this season, much like we saw from Zach Harrison last year, highlighted by yesterday's career day.
The Pickerington product posted six tackles, a career-high 3.5 tackles for loss, a sack, a quarterback hurry and a forced fumble in a dominant showing. Entering yesterday's action Sawyer had 2.5 tackles for loss on the season.
Sawyer posted a TFL for -2 yards on Minnesota's second possession to throw it off schedule, blew up a screen play for a 3-yard loss on the following empty possession, and on the next series, got great pressure on a 2nd-and-14 to force an incompletion before eventually stopping a 3rd-and-5 play for no gain to force another punt.
He saved his best for last though as his strip sack of Athan Kaliakmanis on Minnesota's first possession of the second half was recovered and returned by fellow defensive end JT Tuimoloau to the Gopher 6-yard line. Kyle McCord found Marvin Harrison a few snaps later to make it 27-0 Buckeyes.
Just a spectacular performance from Sawyer and one the Buckeyes would love to see duplicated next weekend in the Big House.
Yesterday marked wide receiver Emeka Egbuka's third game back since missing nearly a month with a high ankle issue. In the first two contests he recorded a combined six touches for a modest 45 yards including just one catch for 12 yards in last weekend's win over Michigan State. In both, he looked like a guy easing back into things.
Against Minnesota however, Egbuka's burst was back as he tallied six touches for 83 yards (all in the first half) while also providing typical upper tier blocking on the edge including on TreVeyon Henderson's 75-yard touchdown dash in the third quarter.
With Ohio State leading 7-0 and taking possession for its third series of the day, Egbuka tallied 31 yards via catches of five and 26 yards, the latter moving the ball to the Minnesota 29 before the Buckeyes settled for a 47-yard field goal and a 10-0 lead.
On Ohio State's fourth possession Egbuka ran eight yards around the right edge on 3rd-and-2. On the next play he hauled in a 23-yard reception. Finally on another 3rd-and-2, he took a pop pass 21-yards around the edge to set up 1st-and-Goal from the Minnesota 6-yard line. Jayden Fielding kicked a 26-yard field goal four plays later to take a 13-0 lead with just over four minutes left in the first half.
On a day in which Marvin Harrison Jr. only had three catches for 30 yards, Egbuka finding his stride was important. More than that, posting a game showing he's back in the groove should be a confidence booster for all involved ahead of next weekend's high-stakes matchup.
HENDERSON STAYS HOT
TreVeyon Henderson was again on fire with 17 touches for 172 yards and two touchdowns with 146 of those yards and both scores coming on the ground.
The headliner was a shifty 75-yard touchdown jaunt on the first play of the second half to give Ohio State a 20-0 lead and trigger a 17-point third quarter outburst. That said, his 9-yard run to open the scoring flashed one of his patented jump cuts enabling an untouched breeze into the end zone.
Henderson has rushed for over 100 yards in four of his last five games.
It can't be stressed enough how much Ohio State needs Henderson to be his 100% healthy self next weekend. Beyond the home run threat which forces defenses on their heels, I continue to be impressed with his burst and toughness between the tackles which has been a knock on him in the past.
He's indeed running with purpose and he's complementing tenacious running with being a strong receiving threat.
In 2021 against Michigan, Henderson totaled 128 yards and two touchdowns including five catches for 53 yards. I can see Day looking to exploit his versatility as a receiver next weekend as well on wheel routes, screens and check downs. Henderson needs 20+ touches in Ann Arbor in my opinion and all signs point to him being poised to deliver.
Henderson producing would take some pressure of McCord which should be a chief goal of Day's going into the game.
Speaking of Ohio State's quarterback, this was another game where within it, there were points where I was confused at what he was/wasn't seeing and frustrated with his pocket presence and/or ball placement but then I looked up and saw he completed 67% of his throws, two of which went for touchdowns and he didn't turn it over while taking just one sack. (Which, Randall Cunningham was getting sacked on that one as Josh Fryar turned in his at least once per game olé.)
He missed an open Julian Fleming for six and on the same play could've also targeted a wide open Cade Stover. He limited receivers' ability to tack on yards after catch due to poor ball placement - a low and away toss to Xavier Johnson comes to mind - and his 212 passing yards were his fewest at home this season and second-fewest this season (189, Rutgers).
For Ohio State to prevail next weekend, it really needs McCord to just manage the game which means zero turnovers above all, while limiting sacks by way of effective pocket presence and focusing on the higher percentage throws. Day can't ask him to carry the load.
In five road games this season McCord has eight touchdown passes with four interceptions whereas in six home contests, he's racked up 14 touchdown throws without a pick.
Let's not ask him to win it. That's a job better suited for the defense, Henderson and Harrison.
BULLETS LOOK LOCKED AND LOADED
One thing Ohio State seems poised to bring to The Game that it hasn't the last two years is a shut down defense.
So far this season the Silver Bullets faced two top-20 scoring offenses in No. 15 Penn State (37.7 ppg) and No. 16 Notre Dame (36.8 ppg) and held them to 14 and 12 points, respectively. Entering yesterday's action, Michigan ranked No. 10 at 39.0 points per contest.
Notre Dame also ranked No. 11 in yards per play (6.81) entering yesterday's games and Ohio State held the Irish to 5.48. Before beating Maryland yesterday, Michigan ranked No. 17 nationally averaging an extremely on brand 6.66 yards per play.
Minnesota's offense is obviously hot garbage (4.90 ypp entering yesterday) and the Buckeyes held it to 3.33.
Ohio State held the Gophers to 159 total yards making it back to back weeks of holding opponents under 200 yards of offense - the first time that's happened since 2019 according to our own Dan Hope.
The Buckeyes also made it back to back games keeping the opponent under 90 passing yards and the 70 rushing yards allowed was Ohio State's best since holding Penn State to 49.
The Bullets also stopped Minnesota on 9-of-12 third down tries and held the Gophers to 10 first downs. Sawyer's noted forced fumble returned by Tuimoloau to deep in Minnesota territory and a Jordan Hancock pick also led to 10 points.
Even playing a bunch of reserves late, Ohio State had a shot at a shutout until midway through the fourth quarter in another outstanding showing despite being without Mike Hall Jr., Tommy Eichenberg and Lathan Ransom.