Nick McWilliams reporting – Ohio State entered the first week of the year as the clear favorite, and showed why throughout their 45-21 shellacking of Florida Atlantic.
But, for all the shining diamonds that are unearthed come a few pieces of zirconia.
The Buckeyes scored at will in the first, with new starting quarterback Justin Fields flashing the intangibles that garnered him freshman all-SEC honors.
Fields was 7-for-9 in the first quarter for 115 yards and three touchdowns, but went nearly silent in the second, going 3-for-7 for 57 yards.
As for the rest of the offense, they seemed to follow their quarterback, which is usually a positive sign. Just not when things are sputtering in place.
Even with a convincing 28-3 lead at halftime, Ryan Day’s team went seven drives without scoring, forfeiting the ball with four punts, two fumbles and the halftime break before tight end Jeremy Ruckert found the endzone for his second wide-open touchdown reception.
Sure, it’s a little bit overzealous to critique a team that covered their opening day spread and gave up negative yards in the first half.
But there were teachable moments that can stimulate growth.
Like Day said, there were enough “negatives” for Fields today, harboring learning during film sessions and practice.
Overall, Day was pleased with what he saw as a whole.
“There’s a couple things here and there we gotta fix. I thought the tackling was good. The ball security, I thought there was really the one play, the fumble by J.K. [Dobbins], we gotta fix. The bubble screen, it was kind of a free play we’ll fix fast. Other than that, we got a couple of penalties but I thought it was pretty clean.”
Defensively, Chase Young was all that was promised and more.
The man otherwise known as “Predator” went nearly unblocked on multiple plays, earning 1.5 tackles for loss and a sack and a half.
Jason Cornell and Malik Harrison each had a sack apiece, with Robert Landers picking up the other half sack.
Harrison gave his play a “solid B-plus,” but felt the linebacking corps played well as a whole.
Day raved about his defense all year long, and the progress they made seemed to show for the entire first half, netting -4 yards to the Owls in the first two quarters.
“What I was looking for was guys running to the ball and hitting. I felt that. I was watching Malik Harrison and Jeffrey Okudah coming to the ball. And you could feel the violence on the field. That’s what we want. We want that toughness.”
The Buckeyes big plays to kick off the day were thanks to Fields’ legs and some pretty broken coverage by the Owls. But, the fact that Day and Kevin Wilson were able to draw up plays that sent the secondary reeling early helped set the first quarter tone.
Overall, Ohio State played like a team that was inspired by an infusion of new talent, but showed some youth and inexperience elsewhere.
The message after the game under Day had a much different tone than one under Urban Meyer – Namely, even with mistakes, things remained upbeat, and focus was given to those who did their jobs.
Next week’s test against Cincinnati is one that promises new and tougher challenges. Luke Fickell returns to The Shoe, and the Buckeye offense meets a stout Bearcat defense, led by junior safety Darrick Forrest and a defense that registered 32 sacks as a whole.
Who knows what that game holds, but it should be a little more competitive from open to close than this one.
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