Ohio State opened its season with a 45-21 win over Florida Atlantic Saturday, but even a veritable tune-up game against an unranked, non-Power Five opponent yields a litany of storylines for the Buckeyes as they prepare for Cincinnati. Here are five non-Justin Fields specific takeaways from Ohio State’s first game:
Not so hot for Hill:
Redshirt senior wide receiver K.J. Hill entered the 2019 season 48 catches away from Ohio State’s all-time career receptions record. Having caught 70 last season, many thought setting the new bar would be a foregone conclusion for Hill.
However, Hill caught just three passes from his first-time starting quarterback Saturday.
Hill failed to reach that mark on only two occasions this past season, and his 21 yards against FAU would have been the second-worst performance of his 2018 campaign.
With the most experience and NFL-readiness out of Ohio State’s receiving corps, Hill could have been pegged as Fields’ surest bet for a possession receiver, but he didn’t find Hill on any of his four touchdown passes.
The pair had a chance to hook up for six points in the first quarter, but Fields underthrew Hill on a post route to the end zone, which may indicate a lack of syncopation between them in the early going.
The majority of the season remains for the Fields-Hill connection to develop, but after Week 1, Hill’s once sure-fire record may be harder to reach than anticipated.
Rough run game:
Junior running back J.K. Dobbins is free from splitting carries with Mike Weber and without a solidified backup at the position, but ahead of Saturday, head coach Ryan Day maintained that his feature tailback would not be a 20-carry-per-game player this season.
Dobbins had 21 against FAU.
Despite Ohio State’s 24-point blowout victory, Dobbins still received five more carries than his 2018 average on Saturday, in hopes of breaking loose the way Fields was able to on his 51-yard touchdown run.
That never happened though, as Dobbins had only one rush for more than nine yards. Without his first quarter production, Dobbins had just 46 yards on 15 attempts.
“We’ll look at the film and figure out where we can get those things in the second level a little bit faster for him,” Day said.
A 91-yard performance that included a touchdown doesn’t look bad on paper, but the effort it took on a rush defense that ranked No. 89 out of 129 teams in 2018 could be worrisome for the Buckeyes moving forward.
Career day for Cornell:
Saturday’s season opener was the 22nd game in which Jashon Cornell has played during his five-year tenure at Ohio State.
And it was his best.
Playing at both defensive end and defensive tackle against FAU, Cornell set or tied career highs with four tackles, two tackles for loss and a sack.
“Jashon definitely played real well,” junior defensive end Chase Young said. “We’re very proud of him and we’re just gonna keep that going into next week.”
Day said he could “feel the violence” from his defense, and Cornell was a bright spot on a group that held the FAU offense to -14 yards at the half.
Cornell equalled his 2018 sack total when he took down FAU redshirt sophomore quarterback Chris Robison toward the end of the first quarter. Cornell forced a fumble on the play, just the second of his career.
With injuries to starting senior defensive end Jonathon Cooper and sophomore defensive ends Tyler Friday and Tyreke Smith, Cornell’s versatility on the defensive line could prove crucial until the regular rotation returns to full health.
Tight end touchdowns:
Sophomore tight end Jeremy Ruckert caught twice as many touchdown passes Saturday than he had career receptions entering the game.
Having caught Fields’ first career pass as a Buckeye, soon to be followed by his first touchdown, Ruckert may have established himself as a security blanket for the sophomore quarterback.
An Ohio State tight end caught four passes in a game just twice this past season, but Ruckert already managed that feat in this year’s opener.
No Buckeye tight end has caught more than 28 passes in a season since 2003, but Day said the group’s production will add balance to Ohio State’s offense.
“We’re lucky enough to have some tight ends with some experience,” Day said. “And we can put those guys in there and do some things with them as well. I think it brings a different level of preparation for the defense and it’s something we really haven’t done a bunch of here. So I think it’s an edge for us.”
Fuller finds first team success:
Senior Jordan Fuller led Ohio State in tackles from the safety position in 2018, something he said he’d gladly sacrifice if it meant the team wasn’t giving up as many big plays.
With seven tackles Saturday, Fuller has the jump once again, but it wasn’t indicative of a poor defensive performance from the Buckeyes’ starters.
“I felt those guys flying around,” Day said. “And it was, to me, it was intimidating. It was downhill. It was what we want.”
The Ohio State defense gave up just one play over 15 yards in the first three quarters, holding the FAU offense to a scoreless first half in which it earned just two first downs.
Though Fuller and the first team played a suffocating half of football, FAU beat Ohio State 21-14 in the second half, winning the total yardage battle 242-189.
While FAU’s success came mostly against Ohio State’s backups, Fuller said the Buckeyes didn’t play at their full potential.
“Definitely had some bright spots in the game, but we kind of left the game with a little sour taste in our mouth,” Fuller said. “We don’t want to finish a game like that as the silver bullets.”