No team in the Big Ten likes to throw the ball downfield more than Ohio State.
The Buckeyes have completed four more passes of 30 yards than anybody else in the conference, and three more passes of 40 yards.
Iowa knew Ohio State was going to want to throw deep in Saturday’s game, and they prepared for it defensively by keeping their safeties back. What the Buckeyes didn’t expect, however, was that the Hawkeyes were going to be so paranoid about giving up the deep ball that they prepared offensively as well. They decided to turn the ball over six times in order to keep Ohio State from having a full field to work with.
That last part is facetious, of course, but had the Hawkeyes actually turned to that kind of twisted logic, there would have been some method in their madness.
Ohio State put a big number on the board in their 54-10 win over the Hawkeyes, but it wasn’t exactly pretty early on. Buckeye placekicker Noah Ruggles drilled three field goals in the first quarter, and added another in the second quarter. Ohio State led 26-10 at the half and had just one offensive touchdown.
As it turns out, those short fields against a productive Iowa defense make for a difficult combination.
“I think we just had to get into a rhythm on offense,” Ohio State head coach Ryan Day said of his slow-to-explode defense. “And when you gameplan, you pretty much start your mindset on the minus 25. Somewhere in there. And then you have plays that you work in and you kind of get yourself into the red zone. And it was weird, because we were kind of in plus territory all day early on, and just never got into a rhythm. We were just kind of throwing things because the field was getting a little compressed.”
Ohio State’s longest drive in the first half was 75 yards. Their next-longest drive was 24 yards. Both were scoring drives, but it was the longer drive that ended in a touchdown.
The Buckeyes eventually shook off the offensive rust and scored touchdowns on four-consecutive drives over the course of the third and fourth quarters. The longest of those drives was 90 yards, while the shortest was just 15 yards.
As further evidence of the Ohio State offense preferring the longer field, the 90-yard drive took just three plays, while the 15-yard drive took four.
The Buckeyes kept plugging away and eventually the dam broke.
“Yeah, that’s it,” Day said. “I mean, that’s, I guess, not what we’re used to here. But that’s the reality of it. And certainly the fact that there was 56 points on the board, a big part of that was the defense today. But when you’re playing against a really good defense, a top-10 defense, it’s not just going to happen all at once. It’s not going to be fireworks every series.
“But I give Noah credit, we were able to put points on the board and keep that momentum going. We felt like our defense was playing well, and we felt like if we had scored a few of those touchdowns down there in red zone, it would have been a different first half. But that’s okay, a lot to learn from there and grow.”
Ohio State quarterback CJ Stroud completed 10-of-17 passes for 105 yards and zero touchdowns in the first half against Iowa. The Buckeyes’ average field position in the first half was their own 47-yard line. In the second half, he looked more like he normally does. After throwing an interception with his first pass attempt of the second half, Stroud completed 10-of-12 passes for 181 yards and four touchdowns the rest of the way out.
The field position wasn’t much different, as the Buckeyes started on their own 43-yard line in the second half. But the comfort level grew and eventually a rhythm followed.
Rarely is a 54-point outing not good enough for an offense, but this wasn’t just any regular 54-point outing. The Buckeyes scored five offensive touchdowns, but four of them came in a about a 16-minute stretch of game action.
This performance was good enough to beat Iowa’s defense, but Day knows the competition is only going to get better.
“I think you saw when we had to move the ball down the field, we were a little bit better,” Day admitted. “And [Stroud] got into a rhythm that way. That’s probably the only way I could describe why that was. But yeah, I mean, they’re very, very good. They get their hands on balls. We had the one sack fumble early on, but we overcame it and we kept pushing through. And we know that we’re playing against good defenses and things like that happen. But we can’t continue to let those things happen. We’ve got to learn from them and grow. But I think it was healthy for us to get a good challenge today.”