PISCATAWAY, N.J. — Ohio State put the Big Ten back on notice.
Those early-season struggles for the Buckeyes? Fuhgeddaboudit.
There will be stiffer tests down the line for the four-time defending conference champions than Rutgers, which may be scrappier than years past but still can’t come close to matching the talent at Ohio State. But the Buckeyes were back on the road with a bunch of young guys playing prominent roles and a quarterback coming off an injury — so absolutely throttling the Scarlet Knights on Saturday afternoon at SHI Stadium still carries some weight.
If it looked to the rest of the Big Ten like the door was creaking open, Ohio State showed how quickly it might slam again by the time 52-13 went final.
Ohio State effortlessly moved the football on offense and punched made it look routine to punch in touchdowns. A resurgent defense was flying to the football and generating points of its own. And whatever buttons the coaching staff has been pushing appear to be getting the results the program expects.
Bottom Line: Maybe it was only Rutgers, but Ohio State is rediscovering its identity and building momentum to defend its throne.
That’s where the Snap Judgments begin as Lettermen Row takes a closer look at what went down on a sunny Saturday in New Jersey.
C.J. Stroud returns with vengeance for Ohio State
The time off clearly worked. C.J. Stroud returned from his one-week break to rest his sore shoulder, and the redshirt freshman quarterback showed exactly how high his ceiling can be when he’s healthy. Stroud was absolutely ripping his throws over the middle of the field, he extended a play with his feet to set up a score for Chris Olave and he even took off on a few runs to help expand the arsenal. The former five-star recruit was tabbed to lead the Buckeyes for a reason, and likewise there was a good reason to let Stroud relax his throwing shoulder for a week. Both decisions were validated for Ohio State against Rutgers.
Ronnie Hickman becoming tackling machine for Buckeyes
There were surely no preseason short lists of MVP candidates on the Ohio State defense that included Ronnie Hickman. But nearing the midway point of the schedule, the dynamic hybrid weapon has become almost indispensable for the Buckeyes. If there is a tackle to be made anywhere near him, Hickman will deliver — and even if the play is going away from him, odds are he’ll arrive in a hurry. With the sophomore defensive back/Bullet having already shown that he can also be a turnover-forcing ballhawk, the way he racked up nine tackles in the first half alone was yet another step forward in his development into a star for the Silver Bullets.
Chris Olave resumes assault on Ohio State record books
There was never any concern about if Chris Olave would get rolling again, it was merely a matter of when. The Buckeyes have seen some funky defensive looks over the last couple weeks, and the drop in targets also coincided with an uncharacteristic drop two weeks ago that led to Olave adding an extra catching session with Gee Scott before practices on Tuesdays. The superstar senior was back to his old ways at Rutgers, cruising to another 100-yard outing and snagging a pair of touchdowns that will only make it more difficult for defensive coordinators to sleep as they prepare for Ohio State moving forward.
Young Ohio State defense growing up quickly
The tweaks to the schematic approach have clearly helped. But more than anything, it’s the energy and confidence Ohio State is now playing with defensively that is making the difference — and it starts with those young guys and the shift in personnel. The Buckeyes made a conscious effort to accept some short-term growing pains in the long-run interest of the defense, and there are undeniable examples of growth all over the field for the Silver Bullets. The pass rush is ramping up, the linebackers are relentlessly flowing to the football and the secondary has significantly tightened up agains the pass. The Buckeyes could be building something scary on defense as they keep growing.