No. 2 Ohio State overcomes slow start to demolish Iowa


COLUMBUS — An uneven performance in the first half gave way to a second-half onslaught for No. 2 Ohio State in a 54-10 beatdown of the Iowa Hawkeyes on Saturday.

Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud tossed four touchdowns in the second half to blow the game open, and a relentless effort from the Buckeye defense was too much to overcome for a historically-bad Iowa offense that turned the ball over six times on the day.

Marvin Harrison Jr. led Ohio State with seven receptions for 62 yards and a touchdown, and Emeka Egbuka added six catches for 80 yards and a touchdown. Julian Fleming made the most of his two receptions, which totaled 105 yards and a touchdown.

Iowa (3-4) entered the game ranked as the worst unit nationally in total offense, and those woes were on full display in Ohio Stadium right from the opening possession.

Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras was intercepted by Tanner McCalister on the first play from scrimmage, but Ohio State was unable to fully cash in on the field position. Noah Ruggles connected on a 46-yard field goal to give Ohio State an early 3-0 lead, but the struggles deep in Iowa territory were a sign of things to come for Ohio State in the first half.

Another quick Iowa punt on the ensuing possession gave Stroud and Ohio State their second opportunity of the game, but it was shortlived as the Iowa defense continued its recent trend of outscoring its own offense.

Iowa defensive end Joe Evans blew into the backfield untouched on the first play of the drive, drilling Stroud as he attempted to tuck the ball away and forcing a fumble. Evans recovered his own forced fumble and walked into the end zone for a 13-yard touchdown to give Iowa its first and only lead of the day.

Ohio State quickly reestablished control on the ensuing drive when Miyan Williams capped off a 10-play drive with a 2-yard touchdown run, giving his team a 10-7 lead with 4:30 remaining in the opening quarter.

Williams’ score was the only offensive touchdown of the first half, however, as Ohio State continued to be befuddled by the Iowa defense.

Ruggles added three more field goals to increase Ohio State’s lead to 19-10 late in the first half before the Ohio State defense took the scoring deficiency into its own hands to put the game away for good.

Backed up at his own 13 to begin the drive, Petras was intercepted for the second time in the half, this time by Tommy Eichenberg at the Iowa 15. Eichenberg made one cut and scooted past a pair of Iowa offensive linemen into the end zone for a touchdown and the first pick-six of his career, sending Ohio State into the halftime break with a 26-10 lead.

In what was, by far, its most frustrating half of football this season, Ohio State managed just 133 yards of offense in the first half despite holding a 16-point advantage. Ohio State’s dynamic running back tandem of Williams and TreVeyon Henderson was limited to just 28 rushing yards on 17 carries for an average of 1.7 yards per attempt, and they finished with just 57 yards on the day.

Despite its best efforts, the Iowa defense simply couldn’t overcome yet another punchless offensive performance, however, and Ohio State began to land some body blows in the second half to gain separation on the scoreboard.

After receiving the ball to begin the third quarter, Stroud and Ohio State’s offensive struggles continued temporarily as Stroud was picked off by Iowa linebacker Jack Campbell at the Ohio State 44.

In the most fitting sequence of the day, however, Iowa immediately squandered the opportunity on its first play following the turnover as Petra fumbled the snap. Taron Vincent recovered the loose ball at the Ohio State 45 to thwart the Iowa drive, and following yet another Iowa turnover on McCalister’s second interception of the game a series later, the Ohio State offense finally started to roll.

Stroud connected with Harrison for a 6-yard touchdown on fourth down from the Iowa 6 to increase Ohio State’s lead to 33-10 with 9:36 remaining in the third quarter. Stroud added a 13-yard scoring strike, this time to Egbuka, later in the quarter as Ohio State opened up a 40-10 lead.

Less than two minutes into the fourth quarter, Stroud continued his hot hand with a 79-yard touchdown pass to Julian Fleming as part of a run of eight consecutive completions, and he added a 3-yard touchdown pass to Mitch Rossi for good measure to cap off his big performance in the second half.

Following the game, Ohio State head coach Ryan Day said there’s a silver lining in the way his team continued to grind out the game when the big plays weren’t showing at the rate at which they’ve come to expect.

“That’s, I guess, not what we’re used to here but that’s the reality of it,” Day said. “Certainly, the fact was there were 54 points on the board, and a big part of that was the defense today. 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 (kicker) Noah (Ruggles) credit. We were able to put points up 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 in the red zone, it would have been a different first half. But that’s ok. There’s a lot to learn from there and grow.”

Stroud said the first half was “kinda weird” given how often the offense began possessions deep in Iowa territory following turnovers.

“It’s tough starting with the ball at the 30 or 40-yard line,” he said. “It’s hard to build a rhythm there. In the first half, we just have to execute better, but it’s good to get that under our belts though because we know the second half of the season is very tough, and you’ll have games like that where you’re not really clicking early. But once we got it going, I felt like we became the dynamic offense that we know.”

With the win, Ohio State improves to 7-0 on the season and 4-0 in Big Ten play. They hit the road for just the second time this season when they travel to State College, Pennsylvania to take on Penn State in a noon kickoff next Saturday.

Ohio State linebacker Tommy Eichenberg returns an interception for a touchdown during the second quarter of Saturday’s home game against Iowa. State linebacker Tommy Eichenberg returns an interception for a touchdown during the second quarter of Saturday’s home game against Iowa. Joshua Keeran | The Gazette

Ohio State wide receiver Julian Fleming hauls in a reception during the first quarter of Saturday’s Big Ten matchup against Iowa in Ohio Stadium. State wide receiver Julian Fleming hauls in a reception during the first quarter of Saturday’s Big Ten matchup against Iowa in Ohio Stadium. Joshua Keeran | The Gazette

By Dillon Davis

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Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.

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