With two games to go in the regular season, Ohio State head coach Ryan Day was happy to finally have a dominant win with a stress-free second half, and he hinted he might have seen it coming after a hard-fought 35-16 win at Rutgers.
“Although it was a little clunky at times, I said that a lot of guys graded out well,” he said of the Rutgers game. “I felt like watching the film that was encouraging. It was coming.
“So I kind of felt like something like this was right around the corner. We were knocking on the door.”
“Clunky” has been used to described the Ohio State offense more than once this season, but Day hopes his team is gaining momentum at the right time of the year.
Getting healthier no doubt helps.
No. 1 running back TreVeyon Henderson, No. 2 receiver Emeka Egbuka and top tight end Cade Stover have all missed time with various injuries, but they were all in the lineup together Saturday night for the first time since the 17-14 win at Notre Dame on Sept. 23.
That made life much easier for quarterback Kyle McCord, who also looked to be getting around better on a sprained ankle that has bothered him off and on since September.
“I felt like my footwork was definitely better today,” McCord said after completing 24 of 31 passes for a career-high 335 yards and three touchdowns. “That’s something we focused on during the week, just having a good base and having weight distribution right. The O-line did a great job in pass protection. I don’t really think there was a time today I dropped back and had pressure in my face. I was able to step into throws the way I wanted to so I think that’s a credit to the boys up front.”
On defense, the health picture is a little different.
The Buckeyes (10-0, 7-0 Big Ten) played the Spartans without either of their normal deep safeties, Lathan Ransom and Josh Proctor, or middle linebacker Tommy Eichenberg.
They did not miss a beat with Sonny Styles and Malik Hartford handling the last line of defense and Cody Simon filling in for Eichenberg.
Day sounded hopeful Eichenberg and Proctor will be back in time for the Michigan game if not this week when Minnesota comes to town, but Ransom’s status seems much more in doubt. The senior from Arizona was spotted using a knee scooter to keep weight off his lower left leg Saturday night. He suffered a non-contact injury late in the win at Wisconsin on Oct. 28.
The Buckeyes cut back some practice time last week, something Day said might have helped the Buckeyes look fresher against the Spartans than they did at Rutgers, their second road game in a row.
“Coming off of last week we really focused on, ‘All right, now we’re in November. We got to be playing our best,” Day said. “You play for championships here November and December. This is where it all counts, and we wanted to take a step this week. And it was just when things get bigger, the focus gets more narrow, and it was just about playing as hard as we possibly can and executing at a high level.”
This week they have a dual challenge of preparing for one opponent while not looking ahead to another.
Michigan is waiting for a visit on Nov. 25, but first is Ohio State’s home finale against the struggling Golden Gophers.
While 10-0 Wolverines are aiming for another Big Ten title and College Football Playoff appearance, Minnesota is still trying to get bowl eligible.
Coach P.J. Fleck’s team is 5-5 this season and coming off consecutive losses, including a head-scratching 49-30 loss at Purdue on Saturday.
“I think this is what I’ve been talking about all year, just continue to improve and grow each week,” McCord said. “Now that we’re in November, we have to play our best football.
“I think the urgency has been passed down from the coaches to the players. I think we knew as an offense this had to be a good week for us and a step in the right direction, and I think it was, especially in the first half. We were rollin’. I would have liked to have finished the second half a little bit better with the possessions we had, but overall definitely a step in the right direction.”
Minnesota at Ohio State, 4 p.m., BTN, 1410