No. 4 Ohio State left no doubt about its goals and what it is capable of achieving this season as it crushed No. 7 Michigan State in Columbus, Ohio, on Saturday. The Buckeyes jumped out to an early lead, scoring on their first seven possessions of the day to lead 49-0 at halftime, and they cruised for a 56-7 win after calling off the dogs and turning to their reserves in the second half.
That didn't stop Ohio State's stars from putting up eye-popping numbers. Quarterback C.J. Stroud had the best game of his young career, completing 32 of 35 passes for 432 yards and six touchdowns. Those six scores in the first half tied a program record ... for an entire game. He was replaced by backup Kyle McCord in the third quarter. Wide receiver Chris Olave has 140 yards and two TDs, setting a career scoring record in the process, while Garrett Wilson has 126 yards and two TDs with Jaxon Smith-Njigba at 105 yards and a TD.
While the Buckeyes offense received plenty of attention, their defense deserves love as well. Ohio State held one of the most explosive offenses in the country to only 224 yards and 3.8 yards per play. The Spartans went three-and-out on five of their 12 drives with only two possessions that lasted longer than five plays.
It was total domination from beginning to end, and Ohio State is now one win away from the Big Ten Championship Game. As for Michigan State, its Big Ten title and College Football Playoff hopes are officially dead.
1. C.J. Stroud is your new Heisman favorite
This was not only billed as a battle between top-10 teams but a clash of two Heisman contenders in Ohio State's Stroud and Michigan State's Kenneth Walker. Well, Walker's candidacy suffered a fatal blow. Not only did Stroud obliterate the Michigan State defense to the tune of 432 yards and six touchdowns, but the Ohio State defense smothered Walker. He finished the day with only 25 yards rushing on six carries and caught one pass for 4 yards.
Whether it's fair or not, Heisman votes are often settled by how you play in your team's biggest games. While Walker has come up huge time and time again for the Spartans this season, voters will have difficulty looking past this game, especially in contrast to how Stroud played.
In a way, the larger obstacle in Stroud's way on the field today might not have been Walker, rather his teammates. There's a chance that Stroud could see his votes "split" with Olave, Wilson and Smith-Njigba. We saw a similar situation last year with Heisman winner DeVonta Smith and Mac Jones at Alabama. The good news for Stroud is that all his top receivers have similar numbers, while Smith vastly stood out from the pack at Alabama last season.
2. Ohio State has flipped the switch
The Buckeyes did not look like the Buckeyes we've all come to expect early in the season, which is natural. They had to replace Justin Fields, and it took time for Stroud to settle into the role. Defensively, this team replaced its defensive play-caller following the Oregon loss, which meant it then had to adjust to a new person calling plays for the defense. It was only natural that there'd be speed bumps.
However, when you combine the way the offense played last week against Purdue to how well both sides of the ball fared against the Spartans today, this Ohio State team looks to be peaking at a great time. The Ohio State team we've seen the last two weeks is an Ohio State team capable of winning a national title, not just reaching the College Football Playoff.
3. Sparty might want to wait on that Tucker extension
I don't mean they shouldn't extend coach Mel Tucker. If they believe he's the coach to lead this program in the future, then the school should sign him for as long as it wants. But announcing a new $95 million (reportedly) contract after a 56-7 loss to your primary competition in the Big Ten isn't likely to be received well. I suggest waiting until after next week's rivalry game against Penn State if it's a win or before Michigan State's bowl game if the Spartans lose to the Nittany Lions. Having said that, if I'm Mel Tucker, I'd sign it quickly -- if he hasn't already.
4. I want to be pedantic for a moment
All week long, I'd heard about how Michigan State had the worst passing defense in the country. It was a point that was hammered home repeatedly during the broadcast as Stroud, and the Buckeyes ripped the Spartans apart. And it drove me insane.
Yes, when it comes to passing yards allowed per game, no team in the country has allowed more yards per game than Michigan State. This does not make it the worst passing defense in the country, though. Entering the day, the Spartans ranked 56th nationally in defensive passing efficiency and 35th in yards allowed per attempt. They only rank last in yards allowed per game because they've consistently had big leads late in games, and opponents are forced to continue throwing against them. When this happens, Michigan State plays a lot of soft zone coverages, which allows opponents to rack up yards.
So can we all agree to stop using yards as a measuring stick for how good or bad an offense or defense is? It's 2021, folks, and we should all know better by now.
5. Second-largest margin of victory against a top-10 team
The largest was a 59-point win over Nebraska in 2016. If you don't believe me, take it up with this graphic.