- ESPN staff writer
- Joined ESPN in 2011
- Graduated from Central Michigan
Whether the intended message was that quarterback C.J. Stroud is firmly planted in the Heisman race, that the defense is playing at a championship level or that this team belongs in the College Football Playoff, Ohio State made a statement on Saturday.
The No. 4 Buckeyes didn’t show any weaknesses in a 56-7 blowout win against Michigan State — a victory that sent a message to the rest of college football and — perhaps more importantly — Ohio State’s next opponent, Michigan, that this team is undoubtedly one of the country’s best.
It was an emphatic victory over the No. 7-ranked team, viewed prior to the game as a potential challenger for the Big Ten championship and a spot in the playoff. Both teams boasted potential Heisman candidates in Stroud and Spartans running back Kenneth Walker III, but it was Stroud and the offense who put on a show.
Stroud threw for 432 yards and six touchdowns, becoming the first quarterback to throw for five touchdowns in the first half of a game against Michigan State since Drew Brees in 1999, and first to throw six touchdown passes in one game against the Spartans.
If Stroud wasn’t considered a front-runner for the Heisman Trophy prior to this game, he is now.
It’s easy to forget that Stroud is only a first-year starter as he has put up video game-like numbers all season. He has had help, though, with a group of talented receivers who have made defenses look lost frequently.
Chris Olave broke records of his own in this game and has been a consistent target for Stroud all season. Olave caught two touchdown passes in the first half that pushed him past David Boston for the most career receiving touchdowns at Ohio State with 35.
Olave was one of four receivers to catch a touchdown from Stroud in the first half, with Garrett Wilson bringing in two and Jaxon Smith-Njigba and Julian Fleming hauling in a touchdown each.
The offense scored a touchdown on its first five offensive drives of the game for the fourth time this season. No other program has achieved that feat more than once this season.
There were no questions about how talented the Ohio State offense was coming into this game, though, as most of the concerns surrounded the defense. Any questions were all but erased in this game.
The Buckeyes’ defense held Walker to only 24 yards rushing on five attempts in the first half and 25 total yards for the game. Ohio State also limited quarterback Payton Thorne to 158 yards through the air, as he completed only 14 of 36 passes.
With a consequential game against rival Michigan on deck, Ohio State will now travel to Ann Arbor with both teams ranked in the top seven of the College Football Playoff rankings for the first time since 2016, when the No. 2 Buckeyes beat the No. 3 Wolverines 30-27 in double overtime.
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