Redshirt junior quarterback Cardale Jones snapped out of his early-season funk with a career-high 288 yards passing, leading No. 1 Ohio State to a commanding 38-12 win over Western Michigan on Saturday.
The OSU offense was under fire by many during the week leading up to the game after putting up just 298 yards of offense against Northern Illinois in Week 3, but the Buckeyes doused the flames with 511 yards against the Broncos.
“We had to come back and we all had to get engaged with each other all over again,” redshirt sophomore H-back Jalin Marshall said. “We practiced hard for the last four weeks, and this week it really paid off. We struggled, but I think we came up today and we showed everyone that we are a good offense.”
OSU (4-0) came out of the gates aggressively, forcing a WMU (1-3) punt three plays in, and then taking just three plays of its own to get on the scoreboard. A run of 26 yards by junior running back Ezekiel Elliott brought the ball to the 38-yard line, where Jones connected with redshirt junior receiver Michael Thomas for a score.
The touchdown pass was Jones’ first since the Buckeyes’ opening game at Virginia Tech, and Thomas’ third of the year.
The Bronco offense showed resilience on their second drive, traveling 66 yards in 16 plays. However, the effort went for nothing as a 37-yard field-goal try was knocked down by OSU redshirt junior safety Tyvis Powell to keep the score at 7-0.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Powell said about his block. “The stadium erupted, you get to hear that noise, it was a good moment.”
The Buckeyes had trouble stopping WMU’s rushing attack in the first quarter, which was led by seven carries from sophomore Jarvion Franklin and redshirt freshman Jamauri Bogan, who ran for 48 and 39 yards respectively.
The WMU run game was aided by the Buckeyes’ strategy to only stand six tacklers across from the offensive line.
“They schemed us up a little bit and showed us some things that we haven’t seen,” sophomore linebacker Raekwon McMillan said.
The Broncos’ third drive went similarly to their second, this time a 14-play, 62-yard drive. It also had a similar ending as a holding call set up a 47-yard field-goal attempt that did not have enough distance.
Jones and the Buckeyes stuck mostly to their air on their next drive, as the Cleveland native completed all three of his pass attempts for 58 yards, culminating with a 37-yard downfield pass to an open Marshall for the score.
The touchdown catch was Marshall’s first of the season after pulling in six in 2014.
“It just felt good to be back in the end zone again,” Marshall said. “I’m feeling more comfortable now, new position on the offense, playing a new role, but I feel like I’m getting better every week.”
The Broncos quickly responded on the following drive as redshirt junior Zach Terrell found redshirt junior receiver Daniel Braverman along the sideline for a 55-yard touchdown to put WMU on the board. The nightmare day for senior kicker Andrew Haldeman continued after the score, though, as his extra-point attempt hit the upright to keep the score at 14-6.
After a three-and-out to each side, Jones continued his aerial assault on the first play of the drive with a 40-yard pass to sophomore H-back Curtis Samuel. The drive stalled from there, but a 30-yard field goal by redshirt senior Jack Willoughby made the score 17-6.
OSU then added to that lead on the first play of WMU’s drive, when Terrell lofted it across the middle directly into the hands of OSU senior defensive tackle Adolphus Washington for a 20-yard interception-return touchdown.
The 18-point halftime lead was OSU’s largest of the season, eclipsing the 14-0 lead against Hawaii. Jones was 13-of-19 for 226 yards at the break, while Elliott carried the ball six times for 46 yards.
Terrell was 12-of-22 in the first half for the Broncos, with all 12 completions going to Braverman (seven) or junior receiver Corey Davis (five).
The offense picked up where it left off to start the second half, using 14 plays to travel 75 yards and make it 31-6. Elliott got in on the scoring with a six-yard rush, his 27th rushing yard of the drive on his fifth carry. The St. Louis native also brought the crowd of 106,123 to its feet early in the drive with a leap over a WMU defender, his second hurdle of the day.
“I’m tired of taking those shots to the legs, those bruises, so I decided to go up top a couple times,” Elliott said.
Though the game was safely in hand for the Buckeyes at that point, Terrell led a 12-play scoring drive for the Broncos, ending with a one-yard pass to sophomore tight end Jeremiah Mullinax — the first reception of the game for WMU not by Braverman or Davis. The Broncos went for two points, but Washington and junior defensive end Joey Bosa combined on a sack of Terrell to keep the score 31-12.
A 40-yard touchdown run on a draw play by Samuel midway through the fourth quarter extended OSU’s lead to 38-12. Samuel had six rushing touchdowns as a true freshman last season, but Saturday’s score was his first on the ground in 2015. He did have one receiving touchdown in OSU’s opener at Virginia Tech.
Jones finished 19-of-33 for 288 yards, eclipsing his previous high of 257 set in last year’s Big Ten Championship game against Wisconsin. He also threw for two touchdowns and one interception.
Despite the career-best yardage mark, Meyer said he still believes the quarterback has work to do.
“Overall, I thought Cardale played OK,” Meyer said. “He threw for 288 (yards). I still give him the okay because we have high expectations and a couple turnovers.”
Marshall agreed that the team was happy with the offensive performance, but it could have easily been a bigger day.
“We could have played significantly better,” Marshall said. “I think we could’ve scored 50 points.”
Still, Jones said the game stood as a big step forward for him after a start to the season that saw him getting pulled from each of OSU’s first two home games.
“I definitely feel more comfortable,” Jones said. “We’re starting to get on the same page as not just receivers or offensive line or things like that. I think everyone felt way more comfortable today.”
Jones’ counterpart Terrell equaled his two touchdowns and one interception, completing 18 of 33 passes for 169 yards. Braverman led the way with 123 yards receiving on 10 catches.
Elliott compiled 124 yards on the ground, completing his ninth consecutive game with over 100 yards rushing. He also added three catches for 29 yards.
The Buckeyes are set to hit the road for their next game, traveling to Bloomington, Indiana, to take on the Indiana Hoosiers on Oct. 3. Kickoff is scheduled for 3:30 p.m.