For 30 minutes of Thursday night’s season opening game, Ohio State looked like a team in turmoil. The offense was inconsistent and the pass defense got sliced apart by Indiana quarterback Richard Lagow to the tune of 278 yards.
For 30 minutes of Thursday night’s season opening game, Ohio State looked like a team that belonged squarely in the middle of the national championship hunt. The offense was explosive and the defense forced turnovers or three-and-outs on six of seven possessions to put the game out of reach.
What a difference a halftime can make.
“The 3rd quarter was obviously the change in the game,” said OSU head coach Urban Meyer. “J.T. (Barrett) still misfired on some deep balls, but the crossing routes were working big for us.”
After struggling to move the ball during the first half, the Buckeyes seized control of the game with one of those crossing routes in the third quarter. First, junior WR Parris Campbell took one, turned upfield, got a big block from Terry McLaurin and then outran everyone else to give Ohio State a 27-21 lead it would never relinquish.
On the next possession, it was junior WR Johnnie Dixon catching a pass over the middle and capitalizing on a block from Binjimen Victor to zip through the defense and extend the Buckeye advantage.
“Both sides of the ball, obviously we started off slow,” Campbell said. “At halftime, Coach Meyer just said what our motto is, which is 4 to 6, A to B. And that’s just ‘go as hard as you can.’ We knew that if we just came out in the second half and put it all on the line, just swing as hard as we could, we would come out with the win.”
After going 10-for-21 for just 95 yards in the first two quarters, J.T. Barrett went 10-for-14 for 209 yards and three touchdowns after the break, but OSU offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson said it all started with some halftime adjustments in the run game.
“They had changed, not dramatically, where the linebackers and safeties were fitting, and we were working to the wrong guys a few times and basically running into some loaded looks. So we got it clean at halftime, got it simplified, got the run game going, got JT (in) rhythm, those crossing routes there, the one to Johnnie and the one to Parris were huge.
Senior center Billy Price said that after the sluggish start, all it took was some minor tweaks to get the offense firing on all cylinders.
“I think it was a coaching change. There were some things made schematically that changed – we’re going to attack them this way, this way, this way,” said Price. “Coaches made the changes and put us in a position to win.”
It was a similar story on the defensive side of the ball. While Ohio State’s fans sweated out a 14-13 halftime deficit, in the locker room, the Buckeyes weren’t worried.
“We were great,” said senior LB Chris Worley. “We knew what we were going to expect coming in. We didn’t get anything new that we didn’t expect. We knew our corners were going to come back and make some plays and they did.”
Worley said that some of the defense’s first half struggles were simply the result of young players trying to do too much.
“The one they scored on (Jerome Baker) early on, one of our corners was misaligned. He honestly did some hero stuff, seeing the man open and ran under. It honestly wasn’t even his man.”
Once those young defenders settled down and the Buckeye pass rush worked its magic, OSU stopped the Indiana offense dead in its tracks. After gaining at least one first down on seven of eight first half possessions, the Hoosiers went three-and-out on four of their first five drives after the break, then turned it over on a fumble and interception on the next two. To Urban Meyer, the results spoke for themselves.
“I will have to see the videotape, obviously (the defensive backs) must have played better, Meyer said. “I kept looking up saying, ‘What the heck is going on here.’ I saw back shoulder fades and fades, and (after halftime) they just seemed to play much better.”
“It wasn’t honestly anything we didn’t expect,” said Worley. “It was a bunch of quick game, take a shot over the top, because we knew they couldn’t block our defensive line. Every time (Indiana QB Richard Lagow) held it, he got hit. It was a lot of great coverage, it was just better catches. We knew that they were going to live by that and they were going to die by it.”