The No. 7 Buckeyes have hit their stride this season with back-to-back convincing wins while outscoring their opponents 111-20 in that time.
Here’s five takeaways from the latest Ohio State (4-1, 2-0 Big Ten) victory — a 52-13 shellacking of Rutgers (3-2, 0-2 Big Ten).
The week off was good for C.J. Stroud
Earlier this week, head coach Ryan Day said that quarterback C.J. Stroud’s week to get healthy was an opportunity for him to watch and learn, correcting the early-season accuracy mistakes, and the redshirt freshman certainly showed out.
He completed 17 of his 23 passes Saturday, good for his highest completion percentage of the season at a whopping 73.9 percent.
His 330 yards and five touchdowns helped propel him to sixth in the Football Bowl Subdivision with a 181.87 passer rating.
Arguably his best play of the season came on the Buckeyes’ final scoring drive of the first half.
Stroud took the shotgun snap, scrambled to his right to avoid the blitzing Scarlet Knights defense, slipped through a would-be tackler before firing a strike to the far side of the field to senior wide receiver Chris Olave who took it the rest of the way for the 56-yard score.
With Stroud’s shoulder back to good health, saying after the game that it felt good to throw without pain, expect similar performances from the Empire, California, native moving forward.
Ball-hawking defense finding its footing
The Buckeyes picked off Rutgers senior quarterback Noah Vedral three times — the first time the Silver Bullets had done that since intercepting three of Nebraska then-sophomore quarterback Adrian Martinez’s passes Sept. 28, 2019.
Freshman cornerback Denzel Burke got a little redemption after having a clear interception against Tulsa called a reception for redshirt senior wide receiver Sam Crawford Jr..
This time around Vedral gifted Burke with an overthrow on a slant route. Burke leapt in the air, high-pointed the ball and ran it back for the second score of the game.
In the second half, sophomore linebacker Tommy Eichenberg and redshirt freshman cornerback Ryan Watts intercepted Vedral on consecutive drives.
Ohio State has seven interceptions on the season to tie for 10th in the FBS, looking up to Iowa’s 12 which leads the nation.
The unit also recorded six break ups, adding to its 38 passes defended on the year which trails Hawai’i for the country’s best mark.
This has been a significant climb for the same unit that just two weeks ago allowed 428 yards to Tulsa redshirt junior quarterback Davis Brin.
Defensive touchdowns becoming a trend
Burke’s 23-yard interception return extended Ohio State’s lead to 14-0, but with the way the Buckeyes manhandled the Scarlet Knights defense on their first offensive possession, the defensive score wasn’t going to play a huge factor into the final score.
In weeks past, though, the defense has come through with timely touchdowns to swing the momentum in Ohio State’s favor, leading to eventual victory.
Not necessarily in the last three games against Tulsa, Akron and Rutgers, respectively, but against Minnesota, graduate defensive tackle Haskell Garrett’s scoop and score paid great dividends to the outcome.
The Buckeyes are tied for 21st in the turnover margin at a plus-four mark and tied for the country’s best mark of four defensive touchdowns.
If the defense can keep up this pace of flipping a score or two in Ohio State’s favor, that could prove to be the difference in ranked games against No. 4 Penn State, No. 11 Michigan State and No. 9 Michigan.
Ruckert inching closer to record
Senior tight end Jeremy Ruckert ran an angle route in the second quarter, stopping on a dime before cutting back to the middle of the field for a 19-yard touchdown reception.
The score was the Lindenhurst, New York, native’s first of the season and 10th of his career, inching him closer to Jake Stoneburner’s 13 career touchdowns — the most in Ohio State history for a tight end.
Ruckert had his best game in 2021, hauling in four passes for 40 yards and the lone touchdown.
He took advantage of Rutgers’ zone defense, running curl routes where Stroud could deliver easy pitches-and-catches to move the chains.
Against Ohio State’s remaining opponents , Ruckert has 11 catches, 82 yards and two touchdowns in his career — both scores coming against Penn State in 2020.
Youth movement in Columbus
The quarterback is a redshirt freshman, the running back is a true freshman as well as the leader in the secondary.
Stroud, TreVeyon Henderson and Burke, respectively, provided big boosts to the Buckeyes Saturday as they have in 2021.
Stroud came back from his one-week hiatus to go 17-for-23 with 330 yards and five touchdowns in a little over a half of work.
Henderson — similar to last week against Akron — got the majority of his carries in the first two frames, being relieved by running backs graduate Master Teague III, sophomore Marcus Crowley and freshman Evan Pryor in the second half.
He broke his first carry of the game off the left tackle with a great sealed block by Ruckert to spring for a 44-yard touchdown run.
The Hopewell, Virginia, native finished with 71 yards on eight carries. He ranks fourth in the FBS with 9.44 yards per carry.
Burke, surprisingly, did not record a pass break-up against Rutgers, despite matching the second-best clip in the Big Ten this season with six.
Experienced players on both sides of the ball like Olave, junior wide receiver Garrett Wilson, the offensive line and senior linebacker Teradja Mitchell would certainly appreciate some help on the field, and the younger starters have stepped up as a strong supporting cast ahead of a two-month Big Ten gauntlet.