COLUMBUS — It was, for lack of a better word, weird. Even the players got that feeling.
Just looking at the scoreboard, No. 2 Ohio State’s 54-10 win over Iowa on Saturday at Ohio Stadium would appear similar to earlier routs of almost everyone they played in the first half of their season.
But this one was different.
How different? Start with Ohio State (7-0, 4-0 Big Ten) scoring 54 points despite gaining only a season-low 360 yards of total offense.
Then move on to Ohio State’s powerful offense starting four first-half drives inside Iowa’s 35-yard line and having to settle for field goals on all four of those possessions. Or TreVeyon Henderson being OSU’s leading rusher with only 38 yards.
Or C.J. Stroud, after not throwing a touchdown pass in the first half and throwing an interception on his first pass in the second half, then hitting eight passes in a row and throwing four touchdown passes in 16 ½ minutes in the third and fourth quarters.
“The first half was kind of weird,” said Stroud, who was 20 of 28 for 286 yards and threw touchdown passes of 6 yards to Marvin Harrison Jr., 13 yards to Emeka Egbuka, 79 yards to Julian Fleming and 3 yards to Mitch Rossi.
“It’s good to get it under our belt because the second half of the season gets very tough and you have games like that where you’re not hot early on. You have to get going and so once we got it going, I feel like we became the dynamic offense that we are,” he said.
“You take three or four bad plays in the first half away and I think we had a decent day. But Iowa has a good defense.”
Ohio State coach Ryan Day said, “We were playing against a really good defense, a top 10 defense so it’s not all going to happen at once, it’s not going to be fireworks on every series. Iowa does a very, very good job up front (defensively). We knew it was going to take time to crack it.
“We would have liked to execute better on offense early in the game but the story is about our defense and how well they played.”
Ohio State’s defense had five sacks, three interceptions and three forced fumbles. Two of the interceptions were by safety Tanner McCalister.
“Our defense played their butts off,” Stroud said.
Stroud got off to a bit of a slow start, including a fumble while being sacked that turned into Iowa’s only touchdown.
Egbuka said Stroud remains steady through the highs and lows of quarterbacking the Buckeyes.
“I feel like one of C.J.’s best attributes is his mental fortitude. Nothing really gets to him. Sure, he’s upset he threw that pick for a moment and then he got back like it never happened,” he said. “C.J.’s in a league by himself in that aspect.”
Ohio State led 26-10 at halftime and without its defense Iowa (3-4, 1-3 Big Ten) would have been almost hopelessly out of the game before the band show started.
Iowa’s defense lived up to its reputation and the Hawkeyes’ offense lived down to its already low expectations.
It began on Iowa’s first play of the game when McCalister intercepted Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras and returned the ball to Iowa’s 29-yard.
But OSU had to settle for a 46-yard field goal by Noah Ruggles, something it would do four times in the first half after starting a possession inside Iowa’s 35-yard line.
On Ohio State’s second possession, Stroud fumbled after being sacked by Joe Evans, who picked up the ball and took it 11 yards to the end zone for Iowa’s only touchdown.
The Buckeyes regained the lead at 10-7 on a 2-yard run by Miyan Williams at the end of a 10-play, 75 yard drive.
Ruggles’ second field goal gave OSU a 13-7 lead and his third sucessful kick made it 16-7 as time ran out in the first quarter.
Iowa cut the lead to 16-10 on a field goal by Drew Steven. Ruggles’ fourth field goal put OSU up 19-10 with 3:38 left in the first half.
Ohio State’s offense got into the scoring act when Tommy Eichenberg intercepted Petras at the 15-yard line and scored to put OSU ahead 26-10 just 13 seconds after Ruggles’ field goal.
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said, “Defensively, I thought the guys played with really good effort, good energy, and came up with some big plays. “Offensively, we had protection issues right off the bat in that first quarter, and turnovers are tough to overcome no matter who you’re playing.”
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414.