COLUMBUS, Ohio — At this very site more than two months ago, in the place they call the Horseshoe, when the weather was much warmer and the college football landscape much more unpredictable, the Oregon Ducks waltzed in here to produce what still is considered to be the best victory of the 2021 season: Oregon 35, Ohio State 28.
On that very same field on Saturday, amid the chill of a Midwestern November day, the Horseshoe served us up another best this season: a butt-kicking.
The best butt-kicking.
Maybe the best, most stunning butt-kicking involving such highly-ranked teams in college football history: No. 4 Ohio State 56, No. 7 Michigan State 7.
It is the biggest margin of victory in a game featuring two top-seven teams since 1945, when top-ranked Army downed No. 6 Penn 61–0. The Cadets that year held the advantage of having World War II warriors all over the field.
Let’s get to the Buckeye superlatives from Saturday, shall we?
• They scored more points on Michigan State than any other team—and they did it when they hit 42 by the middle of the second quarter.
• Their quarterback, C.J. Stroud, broke a school record with 17 consecutive completions in the first half.
• They had 500 total yards in the first two quarters.
• And, in a striking statistical snapshot of this affair, Stroud threw as many touchdowns in the first half as Michigan State had first downs (six).
It unfolded in such a way that you might have assumed players from another Mitten State team, Eastern Michigan, slipped into Sparty jerseys overnight.
Surely this wasn’t a team that won its first eight games of the season, a program on the brink of giving its second-year coach Mel Tucker a 10-year, $95 million deal (as of kickoff, reports were that he hadn’t signed said deal—a ghastly mistake in hindsight; Mel, find a pen as soon as you can).
But let’s be honest, the outcome—an Ohio State blowout—wasn’t so much of a surprise. The Buckeyes were favored by nearly 20 points, possessing one of the country’s hottest passing offenses against a defense that was the worst at stopping the pass.
The Spartans had shown signs of a paper tiger, too (after all, the CFP selection committee saw that long ago, right?). Purdue waxed them on Nov. 6. They needed a massive second-half comeback to beat Michigan, flirted with disaster against Indiana and went to overtime with Nebraska.
But this? This?!
At one point on Saturday, Ohio State had scored 42 points, in 23 minutes of play, on 38 plays. Stroud launched himself to the top of the Heisman race, starting the game by completing 20 of his first 21 attempts. He threw touchdown passes of 77, 43, 23, 12, five and four yards. If his receivers weren’t open, they made spectacular plays (hello, Chris Olave!).
“A lot of the things I could kind of see before it happened,” Stroud said.
The result could have been worse, so much worse. For the most part, Day took the proverbial foot off the gas in the second half, and a few of his starters got a rest at an opportune time (even highly-touted freshman QB Quinn Ewers saw some snaps). Next week, the Buckeyes play at Michigan in The Game—to this point, the biggest game of the 2021 season.
If the Wolverines take care of Maryland on Saturday, the winner of The Game advances to the Big Ten championship. A victory there and the Big Ten East winner punches its ticket into the CFP.
For the most part, The Game is a regular season playoff game—a quarterfinal of sorts—and the chatter around such is already loud in Columbus.
“It’s a 365 days happening at the facility, our hatred for them,” Olave said.
Day acknowledged during his postgame news conference that he began thinking about the Wolverines before the Buckeyes finished off Sparty—a revelation most coaches rarely ever reveal. Everything is riding on The Game, Day said. Everything is on the line.
“Our focus is on the team up north right now,” he said.
The Buckeyes will be the favorite, probably by a fairly wide margin. They are hotter than just about any team in college football, and their offense is sizzling like no other. They’ve had 14 first-half possessions in their last two games and have scored on each one (13 touchdowns and one field goal).
But this unit has been sizzling for a while. Ohio State has gained at least 465 yards in every game this season. The Buckeyes have topped 575 in six of those.
It’s hard not to look ahead to a potential meeting of this year’s best offense against this year’s best defense (Georgia) in a potential national championship clash in Indianapolis, a less than three-hour drive from here. There’s plenty of football before such a game, but just think of the titanic collision between a team that gains 550 yards a game and one that allows 245.
The SEC vs. the Big Ten.
The Empire vs. The Alliance.
Kirby vs. Ryan.
Old school defense vs. high-flying offense.
Yes, what a duel it would be. And on Saturday, it felt closer to happening than ever.
The same place that gave us the best win in college football in September gave us the best butt-kicking in November. And what now? Here in central Ohio, they waste no time reminding you.
As Ohio State players exited the field and into the locker room, the jumbotron flickered from Saturday’s score to next week’s opponent. A giant blue and gold ‘M’ flashed across the screen.
The public address announcer boomed to the fans remaining in the stadium, “Michigan week starts now!”
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