Football: Five takeaways from No. 4 Ohio State’s 56-7 victory against No. 7 Michigan State

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Redshirt freshman quarterback C.J. Stroud makes a pass during the Ohio State-Michigan State game Saturday. Ohio State won 56-7. Credit: Gabe Haferman | Asst. Photo Editor

Ohio State flexed its offensive muscles against Michigan State Saturday, posting 655 yards of total offense, breaking passing and receiving records in the process.

No. 4 Ohio State almost put up 50 points in the first half, as the second-string defense allowed the only Spartans touchdown of the game and freshman quarterback Quinn Ewers made his Buckeye debut, handing it off twice to end the game.

Here’s what we learned in Ohio State’s 56-7 demolition of No. 7 Michigan State.

C.J. Stroud has separated himself as the Heisman Trophy frontrunner

After the first quarter, redshirt freshman quarterback C.J. Stroud became the seventh signal caller in Ohio State history to throw for six touchdowns in a game — all coming in the first half.

After the first quarter, Stroud was on pace to throw for 964 yards and 12 touchdowns on 64-for-68 passing. Those are absolutely absurd numbers mostly seen only in video games by the most skilled players.

After a week of an uptick in the number of screen passes and a 43-yard touchdown pass that got called back for a penalty against Purdue, Stroud’s vertical passing ability was on display against the Spartans, who entered Saturday’s game as the worst pass defense in the country.

He had 10 completions of 15 yards or more, connecting on touchdown passes of 23, 43 and 77 yards.

Stroud entered the week as the Heisman Trophy frontrunner , and his odds just got better after torching Michigan State’s defense, completing 91 percent of his passes — including a program-record 17 straight in the first and second quarters — for 432 yards and six touchdowns.

He will have his hands full facing Michigan’s pass defense next week, which is second in the Big Ten, allowing only 178.4 yards through the air per game.

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Wide receivers senior Chris Olave (2) and junior Garrett Wilson (5) celebrate after Olave’s touchdown during the Ohio State-Michigan State game Saturday. Ohio State won 56-7. Credit: Mackenzie Shanklin | Photo Editor

Ohio State’s three-headed monster of receivers had a field day

There have been two times in Ohio State history where three receivers have had over 100 yards each: Sept. 11 against Oregon and Saturday.

With Ohio State’s borderline air raid offense, Stroud has thrown the ball at least 30 times a game with Saturday as the most recent example.

Wide receivers sophomore Jaxon Smith-Njigba, junior Garrett Wilson and senior Chris Olave create a matchup nightmare for defensive coordinators with their next-level route running and pass-catching abilities.

The typical route combinations are Olave on a fly, Wilson on a 10- to 15-yard out route and Smith-Njigba on a drag route.

It’s a simple formula that works, as it creates space for them to get open and in space. Once any of the three have their hands on the ball, their adept agility can make anyone miss, turning a short completion into a long gain.

Olave and Wilson both had seven catches and two touchdowns for 140 and 126 yards, respectively, while Smith-Njigba snagged 10 passes for 105 yards and a touchdown.

Kenneth Walker III silenced by Buckeyes defense

This performance by Ohio State’s defense was reminiscent of 2017 against Penn State.

At the time, former Nittany Lions running back Saquon Barkley came in highly touted, ranking near the top in all of the major rushing categories while nearing the top of the Heisman polls.

Sound familiar?

Michigan State junior running back Kenneth Walker III checked all those boxes, entering the game averaging 147 yards, including an incredible five-touchdown performance against Michigan Oct. 30.

Barkley returned the opening kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown, but on offense all he managed were 44 yards on 21 rushes for a minimal 2.1 yards per carry.

Walker wasn’t even the Spartans’ leading rusher Saturday, carrying the ball a surprisingly low six times for only 25 yards.

He toted the rock for 10 and 15 yards, respectively, on Michigan State’s second drive of the game. The drive ended with a missed field goal, as the Buckeyes drove down and scored their third touchdown of the game to make it a 21-0 ballgame.

After that, Walker only got three more carries, as the Spartans’ desperation showed through redshirt sophomore quarterback Payton Thorne’s season-high 36 passing attempts.

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The Ohio State Buckeyes stand together and sing Carmen Ohio with fans after the Ohio State-Michigan State game Saturday. Ohio State won 56-7. Credit: Mackenzie Shanklin | Photo Editor

Special Senior Day for Ohio State

The big storyline coming from the game is Olave finishing his Ohio State career at the ‘Shoe by breaking David Boston’s touchdown receptions record in the second quarter.

However, there were other Buckeyes in the mix on their Senior Day.

Tight ends Jeremy Ruckert and Mitch Rossi each had catches of 28 and five yards, respectively, while 5-foot-9, 195-pound running back Robert Cope had his first two career carries go for four yards to end the game.

Wide receiver Sam Wiglusz had career highs of two catches and 14 yards, including a 9-yard completion in which he broke the first down chains — an important stat that won’t show up in the box score.

Defensive linemen Tyreke Smith and Haskell Garrett each had two tackles and one for loss, while the latter recorded a sack.

The seniors sang “Carmen Ohio” for the final time at Ohio Stadium, but they have as many as four more games to cement their mark in Ohio State history.

Prepare to see crossed out M’s around campus –– it’s Michigan week

As the players jogged off the field at the ‘Shoe Saturday, the stadium PA announcer came over the loudspeaker and said, “Now, it’s beat Michigan week.”

The Game has returned after last year’s Ohio State-Michigan game was canceled due to COVID-19 issues within the Wolverines’ program.

In 2020, Ohio State head coach Ryan Day was rumored to have said that the Buckeyes would “hang 100” on Michigan, while Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh said his team will break the program’s eight-game losing streak “or die trying” after last month’s loss to Michigan State.

The Buckeyes open as seven-point favorites for the most touted rivalry in college football, after an average margin of victory of 21 points in the last three seasons.

The stage is set for noon Saturday in Ann Arbor, Michigan, as the two storied programs renew their hostile feud on FOX.

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