Why Ohio State’s win vs. WKU was exactly the performance it needed before Notre Dame

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Malachi Corley dancing in the end zone felt like a defining moment for this Ohio State team.

No, there was never a fear that the No. 6 Buckeyes would lose to Western Kentucky on Saturday, even when that Corley touchdown cut the lead to four points in the second quarter. The Buckeyes could walk off the bus and win that game 10 times out of 10. The concern was that they would sleepwalk to a win.

Ohio State putting together another performance like it had against Youngstown State or Indiana wouldn’t instill confidence going into next week’s top-10 matchup against Notre Dame. And after the disastrous defensive drive leading to Corley’s touchdown, it looked like it might become a reality.

In seven plays, the Buckeyes had a pass interference penalty on Jordan Hancock, a coverage breakdown that led to a 34-yard pass to Corley, a forced fumble that three players couldn’t recover and an alignment issue so bad that Western Kentucky ran an obvious wide receiver screen for a touchdown because it outnumbered the defense near the sideline. Sure, there was a hold that the officials missed, but complaining about a missed call against a Group of 5 program doesn’t do a team like Ohio State any good. To beat Notre Dame, you have to fight through those mistakes.

Ohio State ended up doing just that against the Hilltoppers.

It immediately turned things around with a 75-yard Kyle McCord touchdown strike to Marvin Harrison Jr. The defense then got a fourth-down stop, and the Buckeyes followed with a 40-yard run by Chip Trayanum on the next play. The game was all but over. Ohio State scored 49 unanswered points to blow out Western Kentucky 63-10.



Ohio State takeaways: Kyle McCord rewards Ryan Day’s QB1 trust in blowout of WKU

Ryan Day needed to see his team react to adversity. He needed to see his offense be efficient and explosive and for his defense to cause havoc like it did on Saturday.

“We needed to take the next step,” Day said. “It was all week because we knew we had to turn this up. Our team played like that today and that’s what it has to be going forward.”

The first two games left a confusing taste — a mixed bag, to steal Day’s term. So he began setting the tone last Sunday before preparation for Western Kentucky began. He challenged his team, explaining that the week was going to be tougher than previous weeks.

Ohio State begins its preparation with film review and meetings on Sunday. Day brought the team together and turned the intensity up. There was an understanding of what was and wasn’t good enough going forward. That carried into a team meeting on Tuesday and more intense practices.

“We had a few people come to practice and they said that was as physical of a practice as we’ve seen in a long time,” Day said. “The guys responded.”

Ohio State had been a working through early-season kinks. It was going through a quarterback battle, adjusting to the new clock rules, pushing through inexperience on the offensive line and adjusting to varied strategies from opposing offenses. Day knew it was time to challenge everybody.

Inside the program, there was always confidence in the offense. The missing piece was consistency. It’s something Day has been preaching since the spring, but the offense sputtered in big moments, coming into the game ranked No. 116 nationally in third-down percentage and 72nd in scoring.

“We felt like there were times when we looked good and times when we spun our tires,” McCord said. “We knew if we put together a complete game it would look really good. I think we realized that the level of preparation in practice wasn’t at the point it needed to be early in the season. Coach Day harped on that and the guys responded, for sure.”

One group that was pushed especially hard was the offensive line. Come Saturday, McCord was sacked just once, which was his fault for hanging onto the ball too long. The Buckeyes also averaged 6.2 yards per carry on the ground.

“When we are running the ball the way we were today it makes it easier,” Day said. “That was big to get some explosive runs, move the line of scrimmage. We did some really good things. … If we stay efficient in the run game, that allows us to be explosive.”

TreVeyon Henderson had a strong day with 88 yards and two touchdowns. Chip Trayanum continues to make the most of his carries, as he had five on Saturday but averaged 11.2 yards per attempt in seemingly taking over the backup role from Miyan Williams.

“I thought we did a good job of running in between the tackles and we did a good job of getting it out on the perimeter,” McCord said. “It stretches the defense and opens up shots like it did to Marvin, opens up the drop-back pass. Anytime we can get the run game going it opens up the entire offense.”

It all added up to McCord having his best game too.

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Ohio State finished with 562 yards in its 63-10 win over WKU. (Joseph Maiorana / USA Today)

On Tuesday, Day finally ended the quarterback battle by naming McCord the starter. Even if it was a decision that everybody knew was coming, McCord having clear confirmation he is the undisputed starter took some pressure off of him. It also gave him more reps in practice, as he was no longer splitting time with Devin Brown.

“I think it’s nice getting the official nod from him,” McCord said. “The more experience, reps and opportunity I get, the better I think I’ll be. I just had that mindset going to practice this week, attacking it like a game every day.”

Ohio State ran seven drives in the first half, and all of them ended in touchdowns except one, the strip sack in the first quarter. On those scoring drives, Ohio State averaged 13 yards per play. The Buckeyes were explosive when the opportunities presented themselves and efficient when they had to be, like the 12-play, 82-yard drive that came just after McCord’s fumble.

The penalties were down — just three for 20 yards. Ohio State improved on third down, converting half. The negative plays were virtually gone, as Western Kentucky had just two tackles for a loss.



Sampson: Notre Dame is capable of beating Ohio State. Are Irish ready to meet the moment?

It was an efficient performance. Notre Dame’s presents an entirely different challenge, of course, but that doesn’t mean Ohio State didn’t learn plenty about itself against WKU.

“It’s our most complete game as an offense,” McCord said. “Just trying to take strides and it felt like we ran the ball really well. We had success passing the ball. so it’s a big confidence boost going into a big test next week. It’s all about how can we take the step from Week 3 to Week 4.”

In other words: Saturday was the game Ohio State needed.

It needed to watch Corley dancing in the end zone and then respond. It needed to force four turnovers after that and score two defensive touchdowns. It needed the offense to get closer to playing up to its potential.

Now that he saw a step forward, Day is ready to push his team even more.

“Everything was turned up in a big way, but we have to get back to work,” Day said. “Notre Dame starts now. Usually we start it on Sunday, but we’re starting to prepare tonight.”

(Top photo: Dylan Buell / Getty Images)

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