COLUMBUS — The quality of Ohio State’s performance was under review after its 49-27 win over Rutgers on Saturday night at Ohio Stadium.
What looked like another episode of OSU’s annual domination of the team that has been the laughing stock of the Big Ten in football in recent years in the first half became something different in the second half.
The No. 3-ranked Buckeyes were never in danger of losing the game. They never were threatened.
But after going up 35-3 at halftime, they allowed four touchdowns by Rutgers in a second half that was hard to describe as anything other than kind of disappointing.
“It is a tale of two halves,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said. “It was really a pretty dominating first half and then in the second half we didn’t play great. We didn’t close them out like they should have. I think we have to focus on practicing better and then we’ll play better.”
Asked how he felt about the game, Day said, “If you’d asked me at halftime I would have said I felt pretty good. But right now, kind of flat.”
Ohio State had 517 yards total offense but 353 of those yards came in the first half. Rutgers had 373 yards overall and 282 of those came in the second half.
Quarterback Justin Fields admitted he didn’t expect to be playing deep into the fourth quarter.
“To be honest, no. I don’t think anybody (among OSU’s starters) did. We let up too many points in the second half,” he said.
Ohio State’s passing game was the most consistent thing working for the Buckeyes. And it worked very well.
Fields was 24 of 28 for 315 yards and five touchdowns to lead OSU’s offense. Garrett Wilson had 6 catches for 104 yards and a touchdown. Chris Olave had five catches for 64 yards and two TDs.
Trey Sermon was the Buckeyes’ leading rusher with 68 yards on 12 carries. Master Teague gained 60 yards on 12 carries.
Maybe the biggest problem for OSU’s defense in the second half was missed tackles. “There were some missed tackles. There’s no excuse for anybody missing tackles,” Day said.
Linebacker Justin Hilliard said, “We’ve got to finish better. We’ve got to tackle better.”
Day found both good and bad in the Buckeyes’ performance.
“It was really a pretty dominant first half. Guys played well and then in the second half we just didn’t play great. We really should have dominated the first five or six minutes of the second half and allowed some of our other guys to get in the game. But that didn’t happen.
“Any win this year, any conference win is a good win. There were a lot of good things out there so I am not going to sit here and talk about all the bad things. We’re playing good football, we’ve got a lot of good players. We want perfection but we’re looking for greatness,” he said.
Ohio State scored five of the six times it had the football in the first half when it built its 35-3 lead.
OSU’s scoring started on its first possession when Fields connected with Jameson Williams on on a 38-yard touchdown pass with 10:05 left in the first quarter.
Rutgers cut the lead to 7-3 on a 30-yard field goal by Guy Fava on its next possession then forced OSU into its only punt of the first half. But it was all downhill for the Scarlet Knights after that until after halftime.
A 7-yard touchdown run by Fields on the first play of the second quarter gave Ohio State a 14-3 lead.
The Buckeyes followed that with a 6-yard touchdown pass from Fields to Olave and an 8-yard touchdown pass from Fields to Wilson, which was set up by a fumble recovery at Rutgers’ 32-yard line.
Teague’s 9-yard touchdown run with 1:22 left in the first half made it 35-3.
After punting only once in the first half, OSU punted on its first two possesions of the second half.
Rutgers cut the lead to 35-9 with 8:08 left in the third quarter on back-to-back trick plays.
First quarterback Noah Vedral jumped into the air like a shotgun snap had gone over his head, but actually the ball had been directly snapped to running back Isaih Pacheco, who carried it 66 yards to Ohio State’s 4-yard line.
On the next play, Vedral threw a backward pass to Raiqwon O’Neal, who took it four yards to the end zone on what was ruled a running play.
After missing a two-point conversion, Rutgers tried an onside kick and was credited with recovering it at OSU’s 43-yard line. But that ruling was overturned by a replay review.
Seven plays later, Ohio State had a 42-9 lead on a 7-yard pass from Fields to tight end Jeremy Ruckert.
Rutgers cut the lead to 42-15 on a 6-yard touchdown pass from back-up quarterback Johnny Langan to Jovani Haskins on the first play of the fourth quarter.
The Scarlet Knights went back to trickery to score another touchdown when Bo Melton took a lateral on a punt return and turned it into a 58-yard scoring play, which cut OSU’s lead to 42-21 with 12:46 to play.
OSU answered with a four-play drive that ended with a 33-yard touchdown pass from Fields to Olave, which made it 49-21 with 11:15 to play before Langan’s 1-yard touchdown run with 7:17 to play cut the lead to 49-27.