COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — The College Football Playoff No. 1-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes have never lost to Rutgers in 10 games, but the reality crept in that it was possible after they went down 9-7 at halftime. But a huge second half gave the team a 35-16 win to keep that unblemished mark against the Scarlet Knights.
While that was the first time in 2023 that Ohio State trailed at halftime, it was far from the first time the team struggled through the first 30 minutes. Slow offensive starts have become customary for this Buckeyes team with Saturday’s game being the fifth time in six games OSU has scored 10 or fewer points before the halftime whistle.
But then, the tides shifted as they have all season for Ohio State when the second half began.
“I feel like this team finds a way,” head coach Ryan Day said. “They don’t panic. They keep swinging and they keep fighting.”
The Scarlet Knights had all the momentum heading to the tunnel and seemed to be on their way to scoring a touchdown during the first third-quarter drive. As they approached the red zone, Ohio State’s defense came up big with a game-changing 93-yard interception return touchdown from Jordan Hancock.
That moment silenced the Piscataway crowd and allowed the supercharged energy the defense gained to be transferred to an offense that desperately needed it.
Since returning from injury, running back TreVeyon Henderson has shown his highest potential and has been a game-wrecker against Big Ten defenses. The offensive line gave him huge holes to run through in the second half that led to a 128-yard rushing game, his third straight 100-yard game.
With Rutgers’ defensive backs able to shut down receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. for a majority of the game, Henderson was also called to help in the passing game. He led the team with five catches and had 80 receiving yards, including a 65-yard catch-and-run. In his last two games, Henderson has amassed 415 all-purpose yards.
Even with only four catches, Harrison Jr. still caught two touchdowns to keep pace in his shot at the Heisman trophy. His final touchdown ended a 28-point second half for the Buckeyes that led to the 19-point win. Even though Day wants better first halves, his team’s gutsy second halves have been an improvement from last season.
“We’ve been at halftime of these games and we want to play better in the second half this year and that was a huge part of our offseason,” he said. “I keep saying we can play better in the first half so that we don’t have to be in these situations, but the number one goal is to win games.”
The gutsy wins for Ohio State this season might not be the resume-building dominant victories people expect out of them. Despite its closest win ever over Rutgers, the Buckeyes character-building wins could be huge come time when a trophy is on the line.
“You have got to be able to respond to whatever comes your way,” Day said. “That is what championship teams do. They continue week after week to have the stamina to find a way to win.”