Ohio State football: Striving for perfection as strange season continues

Ohio State running back Trey Sermon, center, is tackled by Rutgers defensive backs Brendon White, left, and Avery Young during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020, in Columbus, Ohio. Ohio State won 49-27. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)
Ohio State running back Trey Sermon, center, is tackled by Rutgers defensive backs Brendon White, left, and Avery Young during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020, in Columbus, Ohio. Ohio State won 49-27. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)

Credit: Jay LaPrete

Credit: Jay LaPrete

Buckeyes 3-0 after 49-27 win over Rutgers

With the midpoint of the Big Ten football season nearly at hand, the biggest question (aside from whether or not the coronavirus will allow the season to be completed) is the same as it was before the season started.

Can anyone in the league beat Ohio State?

ExploreBuckeyes build big lead, sleepwalk to win over Rutgers

The top contenders appear to have changed, however.

Saturday night, No. 3 Ohio State took care of Rutgers 49-27 in a game that got sloppy after the Buckeyes opened up a 35-3 lead.

The Scarlet Knights had previously faced the Buckeyes six times and gotten closer than 35 points or scored more than 21.

They had also never played Ohio State in a nearly empty Ohio Stadium.

The announced crowd of 1,275 consisted only of close friends and family of players per Big Ten rules put in place to combat the spread of COVID-19.

“Not to make excuses for our guys, but one of the things that’s real is you go up 35-3 and it’s 8:30 or 9 o’clock and the stadium is empty," Ohio State coach Ryan Day said. "There’s no juice in the stadium, so we have to do that. We have to bring our own energy. It’s something we’ll talk about this week, coming out of that second half. We did it the first game. I thought we did a decent job last week as well. This week, not very good so we’ll focus on that this week.”

His players agreed afterward they weren’t satisfied with where they are at this point in a season that began with hopes of returning to the College Football Playoff.

“It’s not an excuse,” said linebacker Tuf Borland, who led the Buckeyes with six tackles and a sack. “You’re up big at half, you come out and you just kind of take the foot off the gas. That starts with me. That can’t happen so I’ll take some of that.”

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Justin Fields, who threw for 314 yards and five touchdowns, said he felt the team still has room to improve.

“I think we can get better in all aspects to be honest with you,” said Fields, who has accounted for 13 touchdowns in three games and thrown only 11 incomplete passes. “That’s what the film’s for, so we’ll just watch that and come in and see what aspects we need to improve upon.”

Next up is Maryland at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday. Like Rutgers, the Terrapins joined the Big Ten in 2014 and have not beaten the Buckeyes yet.

They came close the last time Ohio State visited, though, falling 52-51 in overtime two years ago.

The Terrapins are a surprising 2-1 on the season after soundly beating Penn State 35-19 last week.

That was just the third win for Maryland in 44 tries against the Nittany Lions, who might have been feeling a hangover from their home loss to Ohio State in Week 2.

ExploreRutgers pulls out all the tricks in loss

Sophomore quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa starred for Maryland for a second straight week, completing 18 of 26 passes for 282 yards and three touchdown passes against Penn State after throwing for 394 yards in a comeback win over Minnesota the previous week.

Maryland, a 43-3 loser to Northwestern in Week 1, is still in control of its destiny in the division race since a win over Ohio State would give the Terrapins the tiebreaker in the standings if neither team lost again.

At 0-3, Penn State is out of the Big Ten East race after entering the season widely considered to be Ohio State’s biggest threat in the division.

Michigan, at 1-2 after consecutive losses to Michigan State and Indiana, is all-but-eliminated, too.

That leaves Indiana looking like the biggest challenger to the Buckeyes. The Hoosiers, who entered the weekend ranked 13th, are scheduled to visit Ohio State on Nov. 21.

They have a developing young quarterback with a live arm in Michael Penix Jr. and an opportunistic defense that is the specialty of head coach Tom Allen.

To get ready for the Terrapins and then the Hoosiers, Day needs to see his team pick it up between Saturdays.

“We’ve got to practice better,” Day said. “If we want to be who we want to be — to be a great team — that has to happen on Tuesday and Wednesday. That’s something that’s going to be a focus this week.”

However, he conceded any win is a good win this season, especially with the Buckeyes playing only conference games and everything taking place under the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We’re critical, and that’s a good thing,” Day said. “We want perfection, and we’re looking for greatness.”

SATURDAY’S GAME

Ohio State at Maryland, 3:30 p.m., BTN, 1410

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