COLUMBUS — Ohio State wasted no time diving into the start of some new eras.
Ryan Day unveiled a sharp, scarlet-and-gray suit to help put his stamp on the program. Justin Fields delivered one of the most productive first quarters for a new starting quarterback in school history. And a rebuilt defense with four new assistant coaches left little doubt that a major turnaround is in the works for the Buckeyes.
Maybe the No. 5 Buckeyes weren’t flawless on Saturday at the Horseshoe. But they flexed their incredible potential right out of the chutes against Florida Atlantic, which was more than enough to allow them to cruise through the rest of the afternoon and shake off any season-opening rust in a 45-21 win over the Owls.
The Buckeyes can certainly play better. But for Week One, there surely won’t be many complaints from Ryan Day about that tuneup performance, which Lettermen Row is starting to break down right here with Snap Judgments.
Heisman Hype will build for Justin Fields
Debuts can hardly get any better than the one Justin Fields dialed up in the first quarter of his opening game for Ohio State. The sophomore quarterback showed off his dazzling speed with a 51-yard touchdown run, he threw for three more scores and officially got the ball rolling for a Heisman Trophy campaign.
Fields also showed in the second quarter that he’s not a finished product, but some inconsistency and growing pains at this point with the Buckeyes were always expected. What mattered more for Ohio State was that it could see Fields take his dual-threat ability to the field, it started to get a feel for his strengths and weaknesses to shape future game plans and he got some valuable experience. For the coaching staff, the fact that Fields had to deal with a bit of adversity might actually be a bonus since it can go back to work focusing on how far he still has to go knowing that it’s not always going to be easy.
But when he’s rolling, Fields has already offered a couple reminders that he has the skills to head all the way to New York for the Heisman ceremony if he keeps growing.
Silver Bullets are back for Ohio State
There will obviously be tougher tests down the road for the Buckeyes in games where the talent disparity isn’t as glaring as it was against Florida Atlantic. But the Owls still represented a decent early barometer for the rebuilt Ohio State defense, and the early returns were overwhelmingly positive.
Chase Young was as dominant as advertised, which helped make up for the fact that Ohio State was short-handed at end without Jonathon Cooper available and with Tyreke Smith and Tyler Friday apparently dealing with injuries as well. The linebackers were absolutely flying around for the Buckeyes, and Malik Harrison looks ready to take the next step. And the secondary appears completely rejuvenated and poised to become one of the best units in the country with Jeff Okudah leading the way.
Ohio State is clearly on the right track defensively.
Turnovers blemish offensive outing for Buckeyes
The turnover problems on offense were easier to stomach for Ohio State during training camp because it could chalk them up to the rise of the defense. But Day won’t be happy with the lateral that fell to the turf for one giveaway and the fumble coughed up by J.K. Dobbins in the second quarter, and protecting the football will again be one of the top messages to his team heading into a much stouter matchup with Cincinnati next week.
Considering how often turnovers were brought up during practice in August, that’s certainly an issue that will bear watching as Ohio State looks to get the attack cleaned up and more efficient. A national-title contender simply can’t afford to be careless with the football.
Ohio State left room to grow on both sides of ball
Maybe it was all happening too easily for Ryan Day’s liking, so he pulled back the reins. Maybe the Buckeyes just got a little overconfident after absolutely crushing Florida Atlantic right out of the starting gates. Or maybe the Owls deserve a bit of credit for adjusting and making life more challenging in the Horseshoe.
Whatever the explanation might be, Ohio State didn’t put together a complete performance from start to finish — which is both understandable for Week One and probably a useful tool for the coaching staff when the program gets back on the practice field. The Buckeyes need more consistent work from the offensive line, the tackling can’t afford to slip on defense and even the play-calling on both sides at times left something for a new coaching staff to work on together.
The talent for Ohio State is undeniable, and it looked terrifying when it was rolling early on. But there is still a much higher gear waiting for the Buckeyes to tap into down the line.