BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Though Ohio State’s offense struggled to gain its footing early, especially through the air, the No. 2 Buckeyes pulled away in the second half, beating Indiana 49-21 in its season opener at Memorial Stadium Thursday.
The Hoosiers (0-1, 0-1 Big Ten) gave Ohio State (1-0, 1-0 Big Ten) a scare early in the game as the Buckeyes trailed 14-13 at halftime and a quarterback J.T. Barrett-led offense stagnated, punting on four of its first seven drives. On the other side of the ball, Indiana quarterback Richard Lagow found openings in an inexperienced Buckeyes secondary, passing for 286 yards in the first half.
“Our defense was exposed big-time in the first half,” coach Urban Meyer said. “Our pass defense was awful. It was not complicated, they were picking on the corners.”
But in the second half, Ohio State began to pull away, first with a 13-play, 85-yard drive. Then, on the next two drives, H-back Parris Campbell and wideout Johnnie Dixon caught 74- and 59-yard passes, respectively, to give the Buckeyes a lead that proved to be insurmountable.
Though Ohio State scored touchdowns to pull away from the Hoosiers with its passing game, the Buckeyes relied heavily on its running game, especially early when Barrett wasn’t clicking with his receiving corps.
Playing in place of last year’s starting running back Mike Weber, who sat out with an injured hamstring, J.K. Dobbins took the field beside Barrett and took a handoff on the very first play of the game. The Buckeyes relied heavily on the true freshman playing his first game of college football, as he took 29 carries for 181 yards. He picked up more carries and yards in his first game than Weber had in any game last season.
“I felt like I was going to do things that I did because I practiced against the best defense in college football every day and then I got a great offensive line,” Dobbins said. “So I kind of knew, I kind of felt like I was going to what I did.”
The Buckeyes opened the game’s scoring with a 27-yard field goal by kicker Sean Nuernberger. But the Hoosiers struck back with a 12-play, 87-yard drive that was capped off with a touchdown pass from quarterback Richard Lagow to tight end Ian Thomas to give Indiana a 7-3 lead midway through the opening quarter.
After the early scores, both offenses fell into prolonged lulls with the next seven drives ending in punts. The Hoosiers finally looked poised to score, marching 53 yards down the field to Ohio State’s 14-yard line.
But in a play that potentially saved the Buckeyes from falling behind by two touchdowns, safety Jordan Fuller, in his first career start, picked off a cornerback Kendall Sheffield-tipped pass and returned it 40 yards. Barrett and the offense took advantage of the opportunity, reaching Indiana’s 2-yard line. However, the offense stalled, and Ohio State settled for a field goal to pull the team within a point of the Hoosiers.
And just as Indiana did in the first quarter, the coach Tom Allen-led team responded with a touchdown as Lagow found wide receiver Simmie Cobbs for an 8-yard touchdown to give his team a 14-6 lead. The junior led his team with 11 catches for 149 yards and one touchdown.
Indiana’s passing game, bolstered by a barrage of back-shoulder fades, powered the Hoosiers’ offense. Lagow completed 40-of-65 passes for 410 yards, throwing three touchdowns and two interceptions. The Hoosiers passed on 71 percent of their plays.
Ohio State responded to Indiana’s score, buoyed by Dobbins’ 43 yards on the ground during the drive, with its first touchdown as running back Antonio Williams took his first carry of the season into the end zone for his team’s first touchdown of 2017. The Hoosiers rode the 14-13 lead into halftime.
After turning the ball over on downs in their first drive of the second half, the Buckeyes capped off an 85-yard drive with a Barrett two-yard rushing touchdown.
Just a couple plays later, stocky 6-foot-1, 283-pound defensive tackle Robert Landers recovered a fumble and took it back to the end zone midway through the third quarter, but the rumbling touchdown was called back after a review showed Lagow attempted a pass. The Hoosiers took advantage of the close call, driving 62 yards down the field as Lagow found Thomas for a two-yard touchdown pass to pull within one point.
Making up for an earlier drop, Campbell caught a pass two yards from the line of scrimmage and sped 74 yards for the first receiving touchdown of his career. That opened the floodgates for Ohio State as Dixon caught a pass and went 59 yards for the Buckeyes’ third touchdown in as many drives, giving them a 35-21 lead with 1:47 remaining in the third quarter. Despite being a redshirt senior, this was the oft-injured receiver’s first touchdown as a Buckeye.
“As soon as [Dixon] scored, I walked right up to him and I just said, ‘Back to back.’ That’s what we’ve got to do moving forward,” Campbell said.
Defensive tackle Jashon Cornell, one of the multiple linemen helping to fill in for the suspended Michael Hill, forced a fumble which defensive end Jonathon Cooper recovered. One play later, wideout Binjimen Victor caught an 11-yard touchdown to give the Buckeyes a commanding 42-21 lead with 12:08 remaining in the game.
Williams rushed for his second touchdown of the game and his career in the fourth quarter to give Ohio State a 49-21 lead that it would hold onto until the end of the game.
“We kind of started off slow early on,” Campbell said. “But our whole main thing was just to get into a rhythm. We knew once we got in a rhythm, everything was going to click, everything was going to start to come together.”
During Ohio State’s first drive, Barrett completed a 15-yard pass to tight end Marcus Baugh which gave him the most total offensive yards by any player in program history (8,864). The fifth-year senior passed former Ohio State quarterback Art Schilchter.
Next week, Ohio State will host No. 7 Oklahoma on Sept. 9 at 7:30 p.m. The Sooners open the season at 3:30 p.m. Saturday against the University of Texas-El Paso Miners.