A new era of Ohio State Buckeyes football opened up on Saturday at Ohio Stadium, and it opened with a bang as the Buckeyes rode four first-quarter touchdowns to a 45-21 win over Florida Atlantic.
In head coach Ryan Day’s first game patrolling the sideline in an official capacity, his offense put together scoring drives on its first four possessions to effectively put the game away just eight minutes into the game.
Quarterback Justin Fields, making his highly-anticipated debut, didn’t disappoint early on. On the fourth play from scrimmage, Fields raced 51 yards to the endzone to get the scoring started and give the Buckeyes an early 7-0 lead just under two minutes into the game.
Following a three-and-out from the Florida Atlantic offense on its opening drive, and a 36-yard punt return by Demario McCall, Fields and the offense went back to work.
The Buckeyes needed only two plays to find paydirt again, with Fields connecting with tight end Jeremy Ruckert for 25 yards to put OSU up 14-0 with 11:05 left in the first quarter.
Fields connected with wide receivers Binjimen Victor and Chris Olave for touchdown passes of 32 and 29 yards on the next two drives to increase the lead to 28-0 before an outgunned Florida Atlantic team had crossed midfield on offense.
However, the good vibes disappeared as quick as they filled Ohio Stadium as the offense sputtered the rest of the first half, failing to add to its point total and taking a 28-3 lead into halftime.
A suffocating attack from the Buckeye defense held the Florida Atlantic offense without positive total yardage in the first half, led by Chase Young’s five first-half tackles and 1.5 sacks.
Florida Atlantic opened up the second half with a 10-play, 65-yard drive that resulted in a field goal to cut the Buckeye lead to 28-6 with just over 11 minutes remaining in the third quarter.
The two teams traded punts before the Ohio State offense was able to get back in the end zone. Fields connected with Ruckert again, this time on a 3-yard pass, to up the score to 35-6 with 2:37 left in the third quarter.
Ruckert finished with four catches for 38 yards and the pair of touchdowns on the day.
With several of the Ohio State defensive starters off the field at that point, Florida Atlantic found success throwing the football against the Buckeyes’ secondary late in the second half. Owls quarterback Chris Robison engineered a 15-play, 75-yard drive that ended with a touchdown run by running back Larry McCammon III.
Florida Atlantic completed its two-point conversion attempt to cut the Buckeye lead to 35-14 just over a minute into the fourth quarter.
Ohio State would add a J.K. Dobbins touchdown and a 46-yard field goal from Blake Haubeil over the final 10 minutes of the game, and Florida Atlantic added a Robison touchdown pass to close the scoring.
Fields finished with 18 completions on 25 attempts, for 234 yards and four touchdowns through the air. He added 84 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries.
The Buckeye offense finished with 469 yards of total offense, outgaining Florida Atlantic by 241 yards. Senior safety Jordan Fuller led the defense with seven total tackles, four of which were unassisted.
Jashon Cornell and Malik Harrison recorded a sack each, and Robert Landers was credited with a half of a sack to go with Young’s 1.5 sacks.
Following the game, Fields said he felt comfortable early on with the help of his teammates getting his mind in the right place before he took the field. He said he wasn’t surprised by anything he saw from the Florida Atlantic defense, although he added they gave him “some crazy looks.”
“I think I did pretty good overall,” Fields said of his performance. “Of course, there’s always room to improve. But we just have to keep working as a unit, and just keep getting better in all aspects of the game.”
Earlier this week, Day said his moment to appreciate being the head coach at Ohio State would come when he and the team were running out of the tunnel before the game. Following the game, Day called that experience “humbling” and said the energy in the stadium early on fed into the team’s performance in the early going.
Of his team’s fast start, Day said, “I thought we came out to a great start early on. We were kind of clicking on both sides of the ball. Hit a little bit of lull there, but overall, a great start.”
Day had put an emphasis on his team playing “clean” throughout the offseason, aiming to tackle well, limit penalties, and take care of the football. He called the tackling “good” and added that other than Dobbins’ fumble, of which he said, “we have to fix,” the performance was “clean and a good start.”
Asked about the play of Fields, Day said he thought his quarterback played well, specifically in making good decisions and managing the game. Later asked if he saw enough that Fields needs to work on moving forward, Day smiled and responded, “Oh yeah,” adding, “Protections. Reads. Decisions … Overall, a lot to learn from.”
Day continued to emphasize today’s performance was “a start,” saying, “You know, we have a really good team coming in here next week who is well-coached, and you guys know (head coach) Luke (Fickell) and those guys are going to be prepared. We’ve got our hands full, but the good news is we have a lot to learn from in this game.”
He later said, “It’s hard to be 1-0. It doesn’t matter how you shake it. When you’re in college football, (there’re) a lot of good programs, a lot of good coaches, and (we’re) proud to be 1-0. But we know what is ahead of us. This journey … the goal is to be 1-0 on Saturday … we know in the back of our minds that we’ve got a really good team coming in here (next Saturday).”
Ohio State will return to action next Saturday when it welcomes the Cincinnati Bearcats into Ohio Stadium. Kickoff is scheduled for noon.
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.