Putting up 24 points and 296 yards of offense against Michigan State would be a pretty good day of work for most teams.
The Spartans entered Saturday night’s showdown in Columbus as one of the top defenses in the nation, allowing more than 17 points to just one of their first five opponents.
But it didn’t take a full game for Ohio State to do that on MSU. It didn’t even take a half.
OSU turned a 3-0 game into a 27-10 beatdown with a massive second quarter.
The numbers are astounding: 13 rushes for 163 yards and a touchdown, 9-for-11 for 133 yards and two more scores. The Buckeyes did it all in the span of just 6:44 of possession time.
It was a remarkable turnaround after the Bucks struggled for basically the first time all season, putting up just 16 yards of offense in the first quarter.
After the game, OSU head coach Ryan Day said the Buckeyes just got behind the sticks early and had trouble catching up.
“We got off schedule a little bit. We knew it was going to be hard to run against these guys. It always is,” Day said.
But the game swung on what seemed at the time like a relatively minor win. With the Buckeyes facing a 3rd-and-7 at their own 17, Justin Fields found K.J. Hill on a post pattern for 10 yards and a first down.
“We hit a third down in the second quarter, big third-down conversion, I think it was to K.J., and we got into a rhythm and we kind of go,” Day said. “I think we wore them down maybe a little more in the second quarter.”
On the next play, J.K.Dobbins went 13 yards over left end for another first down.
That’s when the Buckeyes broke out a run/pass option play to find the end zone. Fields tucked the ball and ran to his right on what looked like a sweep. When the MSU defenders came up to stop Fields, they left wide receiver Binjimen Victor wide open down the sideline.
Fields hit him, Victor pivoted upfield, juked a defender and then dove to beat another to the pylon. Just like that, the Buckeyes had a 60-yard touchdown and a 10-0 lead.
“If nobody’s out there then I can run,” said Fields. “It’s mainly a pass play, but of course if it’s not open you throw the ball away or tuck and run.”
After MSU answered with a touchdown of their own, the Buckeye offense went right back to work.
Fields picked up a 35-yard gain on the ground to convert a 3rd-and-5, then hit Luke Farrell in the middle of the field. Farrell caught the ball at the 7, then ran over a pair of Spartan defenders to score and make it 17-7.
“I saw the end zone and I was not going down,” said Farrell with a smile after the game. “Being a tight end, you have to take hits and keep going.”
The Buckeyes just kept going as well. When the Spartans cut it to 17-10 with a field goal, OSU answered yet again. This time it was running back J.K. Dobbins who took a 3rd-and-2 handoff over right guard and raced 67 yards for a back-breaking touchdown.
“That was a home run hit right there that I think really changed the game,” said Day.
When MSU couldn’t respond, the Buckeyes made the most of the last 1:46 of the half, driving 45 yards in 10 plays to set up a 43-yard field goal just seconds before halftime.
Just like that: 24 points and 296 yards in 15 minutes of football. This isn’t normal, especially against a defense as good as Michigan State’s.
Except that this Ohio State team has turned the second-quarter avalanche into a weekly event.
At Nebraska, they outscored the Huskers 24-0 in the second quarter.
Miami was on the receiving end of a 42-0 second-quarter explosion.
At Indiana: 23-7.
Against Cincinnati, it was 21-0 in the second.
The only game all season where they didn’t score 23 or more in the second quarter was the opener against FAU. That week, they scored 28 in the first quarter instead.
Maybe blame the nerves and adrenaline from the first game of the year.
Halfway through the regular season, OSU has won the first half by a ludicrous total of 200-32. And at some point, the second quarter domination stops being a coincidence.
Day said after the game that the Buckeyes’ willingness to stick with the run game was the key, and that then opened up the passing game.
“You have to wear them down. And you’ve got to cover them up,” he said. “The running backs have to turn four-yard runs into six. And then eventually over time, if you can start to run on them, you can maybe start to crack some. And that’s kind of what happened. But the key to that is some of those play-action passes. Those kind of got us going a bit.”