Still No. 1, Ohio State shooting for fast start against Michigan State

Field Level Media

November 08, 2023 at 12:32 am.

While Ohio State finishes games strong, the No. 1 Buckeyes are still fighting to be better at the start when they host Michigan State on Saturday.

Ohio State remained atop the College Football Playoff rankings for the second straight week.

The Buckeyes (9-0, 6-0 Big Ten) have scored 26 points (4.3 average per gane) in their past six first quarters, including being blanked twice while scoring just three touchdowns.

It hasn’t been costly — yet.

In their most recent game against Rutgers, they trailed at the half for the first time this season, 9-7, before winning 35-16.

“There were some good individual performances but you want to see overall just finishing more drives,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said of the slow first halves. “There are definitely signs that we’re moving in the right direction but it’s getting late in the season so our urgency is at an all-time high.”

Putting up points might matter when Ohio State sees the rejuvenated Spartans (3-6, 1-5 Big Ten), who ended a six-game losing streak with a 20-17 win over Wisconsin to give interim coach Harlon Barnett his first victory in six tries.

“Obviously we come in on a different note this week, as opposed to the previous multiple weeks, with a victory,” he said Monday. “It felt really good and winning does a lot. It heals a lot of the wounds and pain. The energy in the locker room was outstanding. Everybody was excited and happy and joyful. So, it was good to see those guys having fun for a change.

“I told them in (our) team meeting, we want to keep the positive energy going so that’s what we want, positive energy at all times.”

Ohio State has flipped the switch from being known for a dynamic offense that carried the defense. The Buckeyes took a 14-9 lead in the third quarter vs. Rutgers when Jordan Hancock returned an interception 93 yards. The defense had allowed 10.7 points per game, second in the NCAA to Michigan’s 6.7.

Ohio State’s national title aspirations could depend on the health of running back TreVeyon Henderson. He returned from missing three games due to injury to rush for 162 yards vs. Wisconsin on Oct. 28 and totaled 208 yards against Rutgers (22 rushes for 128 yards and a touchdown; five catches for 80 yards).

The Buckeyes have been banged up with cornerback Denzel Burke and safety Lathan Ransom missing the last game, linebacker Tommy Eichenberg and safety Josh Proctor getting injured during it.

Day on Tuesday said all but Ransom will definitely practice this week.

The Spartans have lost seven straight to the Buckeyes by a combined score of 282-74, which includes a 49-20 home loss last season. Their last win was in Columbus in 2015.

“They’re beatable guys just like anybody else so we’re going to go down there with the mindset to go attack them and get a win,” Barnett said. “That’s our mindset. It will never change.”

Day is unconcerned where the Buckeyes are ranked.

“So many guys on our team have been through all this before and they know it means absolutely nothing,” he said. “Their goal is to win the whole thing and to be the No. 1 team at the end of the year.”