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Justin Fields, defense lead Ohio State past Florida Atlantic 45-21

The Buckeye offense (and defense) derail the Owls, Lane Train in Columbus.

NCAA Football: Florida Atlantic at Ohio State Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Gus Johnson began the broadcast on FOX by saying that a new era had arrived at Ohio State. In the first eight minutes of the game, everything seemed new — and revamped — from the Ohio State Buckeyes. Justin Fields was running and throwing touchdowns; the Buckeye defense was stifling FAU tight end Harrison Bryant; and on special teams, Demario McCall had a few instances were he was one or two blocks away from housing a return. When the final whistle blew inside Ohio Stadium, the Buckeyes stifled the Florida Atlantic Owls, 45-21.

Twenty-eight of OSU’s points came in the first quarter. Fields scored the opening touchdown on his own, keeping an option and rushing it 51 yards into the scarlet end zone on the north side of the stadium. The remaining three first-quarter scores came from the air. Fields found Jeremy Ruckert, Chris Olave and Binjimen Victor, seemingly scoring at will. The Buckeyes took the foot off the gas the rest of the way, but that’s what a 28-point first quarter affords you, especially when the defense holds FAU’s offense to negative 14 yards in the first half.

Fields ended his Columbus debut going 18-of-25 for 234 yards. He had four passing touchdowns, with Ruckert hauling in two of them. Olave had the best overall day for Zone 6; including his early TD, the sophomore reeled in four receptions for 68 yards.

On the ground, J.K. Dobbins began his trek for a third 1,000-yard season by gaining 91 yards against FAU. The Buckeyes’ top back carried the ball 21 times, and tallied a TD in the fourth quarter. Dobbins ended the day as OSU’s leading rusher; Fields had the second best day on the ground, going for 61 yards on 12 carries.

Defensively, the first half was spectacular for the Scarlet and Gray. The Owl offense couldn’t get anything going, and was held to six points. However, FAU was able to break into positive total yardage in the third quarter, before securing two second half touchdowns. Quarterback Chris Robison was sacked four times, with Chase Young being credited for 1.5 of those sacks.

Let’s take a look at how this one went down.

On the opening drive, we saw what Fields and the Buckeye offense could do against the Owl defense. A 5-yard pass to tight end Jeremy Ruckert was followed by positive-yard rushes from J.K. Dobbins and Demario McCall. With the ball at the OSU49, Fields kept it on the option, and dashed up the field, breaking a loose tackle around his ankles. Going untouched the rest of the way, Fields began the Buckeye season with a 51-yard touchdown, and did it all in 1:53.

Florida Atlantic’s first attempt on offense was met by the wrath of the OSU defense. A three-and-out resulted in negative one yard of offense. Quarterback Chris Robison threw an incompletion over the middle to tight end Bryant, running back James Charles got stuffed for a 1-yard gain, and a screen to BJ Emmons resulted in a 2-yard loss thanks to Brendon White cutting off Emmons’ angle upfield.

The Buckeye special teams also flashed their potential, most notably McCall. A 37-yard punt from FAU was brought back 35 yards by the junior running back. McCall cut from the middle of the field down the near sideline, dodging defenders along the way. For the game, McCall had four total returns for 92 special team yards.

After a 1-yard rush by Dobbins, a Fields’ play-fake paid dividends as Ruckert was left wide open on a post route. Being able to fit a tractor-trailer between Ruckert and the nearest defender, Fields had no problem slinging the ball to the TE for a 25-yard score.

Chase Young had his chance to flex on the visitors from Boca Raton. FAU’s second drive of the day was highlighted by a 12-yard sack, with Young being credited with the take down. Young had a five tackle performance against the early Conference USA favorite. However, Jordan Fuller had the more efficient tackling day, being credited with a team-leading seven tackles over the afternoon.

The Buckeye offense kept on mowing down the FAU defense. Drive No. 3 ended just like the previous two: a touchdown. This time, Fields connected with a wide open Binjimen Victor just inside the near hash line. Victor’s first score of the season was from 32 yards out, and was the third total TD for Fields in the first quarter. Mind you, not even six minutes of the clock had rolled off.

Things went from bad to worse for the visitors, as Emmons went to the sideline after having his knee get caught underneath by a Davon Hamilton tackle. Emmons, a highly touted transfer from Alabama, was thought to be one of the offensive spark plugs this season in the Owls’ climb back to the top of their conference. With Emmons out, the next FAU play resulted in another incompletion (and drop) from Bryant. The Stephen King-level nightmare wasn’t done, as on the ensuing punt, Justin Agner tried spearing McCall, who already called for a fair catch. A penalty was applied, and the Bucks set up shop from the FAU46.

Four plays later, and the Bucks were back in the endzone. Fields hit Chris Olave across the middle for a 29-yard strike. Once again, the post pass was a success, even though FAU had a defender had a defender around Olave.

Moving the ball was a big problem for Owls offensive coordinator Charlie Weis Jr. FAU began the game 0-4 on third down, and went nearly the entirety of the first quarter without a first down. Their fourth drive produced their first moving of the chains, but two stuffed runs and a sack (and near lost fumble) halted any sort of progress.

With one quarter in the books, the Bucks held a 28-0 lead through complete domination. Ohio State offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich strung together 220 yards of offense, and defensive coordinators Jeff Hafley and Greg Mattison held the opposition to -4 yards.

Quarter two brought a more laid back Buckeye offense. Fields took more shots downfield, with most of them being unsuccessful. Additionally, OSU turned the ball over twice. The first fumble came from a bobbled screen that was thrown behind the line of scrimmage. The second fumble came when Dobbins was tackled, and prior to hitting the ground, Akileis Leroy made contact with Dobbins’s shoulder, forcing the fumble.

FAU moved the ball near the goal line following the Dobbins fumble, but couldn’t score the touchdown. Instead, they settled for a 28-yard field goal.

After an electrifying first quarter, everything fizzled out in the second. Halftime, though, still favored the Buckeyes 28-3.

In terms of scoring, the third quarter was better than the second, but still paled in comparison to the first. FAU found a way to get three more points, and the Buckeye offense continued their going-through-the-motions content phase for the first half of the frame, but turned back into high gear after winning a field battle with FAU.

With 6:04 left in the third, the Bucks began a fresh drive on the OSU48. Fields picked up a first down with his feet, and picked up another with a completion to K.J. Hill. Running back Master Teague III also made numerous appearances on this drive, even picking up a first down deep in Owl territory following a third-and-3.

On the goal line, an FAU blitz was nearly successful, however, Fields found a wide open Ruckert in the back of the end zone. The haul was Rukert’s second TD of the game, and the Bucks pushed their lead out to 35-6.

FAU wasn’t done, though. To get things started in the fourth quarter, the Owls converted on a fourth-and-5, and kept driving down into the red zone. Eventually, Kiffin’s program would see the scarlet end zone. It took 15 plays to march 75 yards, but the Owls picked up six points in one fell swoop.

However, they weren’t content with the basic score. Robison and the offense weren’t done getting points; on the two-point conversion, the quarterback was flushed from the pocket and was forced to chuck the ball into the endzone. Heaving the ball into the endzone is very hit or miss, however, John Mitchell was wide open. FAU now had 14 points, but was well behind OSU’s 35.

After a failed onside kickoff, the Buckeyes began with the short field — starting on the FAU40. It only took seven plays to move those 40 yards and get back into the endzone. With Dobbins handling the rock five times on the drive, the La Grange, Texas, native punched the ball in from a yard out. Ohio State pulled back up by four scores, 42-14.

On the next drive for the Owls, Robison led his team 40 yards in seven plays for their second touchdown of the game. On third-and-goal from the two, the QB found John Raine for a TD, moving the score to 42-21.

The Buckeyes found some offensive momentum on their next drive, as they had the chance to increase the lead 28 (which would be the cover). But, penalties and FAU’s increasingly taut defense forced the Buckeyes into a 46-yard field goal from Blake Haubeil. The kick increased OSU’s lead to 45-21 with just over three minutes remaining in the game.

To wrap things up, Josh Proctor intercepted Justin Agner—enabling the Buckeyes to end the game with the ball.

Next week, the battle for Ohio takes place inside Ohio Stadium. The Cincinnati Bearcats, who defeated UCLA on Thursday night, will travel to face OSU. Game time is scheduled for noon ET, with the game to be broadcast on ABC.