COLUMBUS – It was almost all downhill for Toledo from the pre-game coin toss all the way to the end of the game. Just like Ohio State planned it.
In a departure from his usual strategy, OSU coach Ryan Day told the Buckeyes who represented the team at the coin toss to take the ball first if the coin landed their way.
It did and No. 3 Ohio State (3-0) was on its way to a 77-21 win over the Rockets on Saturday night in which it rolled up a near-record 763 yards of total offense, second only in OSU history to the 776 it gained in a 77-10 win over Bowling Green in 2016.
“I talked to the team about it and said we want to start fast in this game. Typically that is not something we do,” Day said about choosing to go on offense first. “I think it it is the first time we’ve done it since I’ve been the coach. I don’t remember when we’ve done it before.
“We wanted to get some juice flowing early and felt like that was the right thing to do,” he said. “When you do that you have to score and we did.”
Toledo dropped to 2-1 with the loss. The Rockets had 307 yards total offense.
Ohio State scored a touchdown the first time it had the ball, then scored touchdowns on its next six drives and finished the game with 11 drives that produced touchdowns, one that ended with a punt and another in which time ran out at the end of the game.
“We wanted to execute at a high level. We showed we could do that,” Day said.
C.J. Stroud completed 22 of 27 passes for 367 yards and five touchdowns. Three Ohio State receivers had more than 100 yards worth of catches – Emeka Egbuka (7 catches, 116 yards, one touchdown), Marvin Harrison (6 catches, 102 yards, 2 touchdowns) and Jayden Ballard (4 catches, 113 yards).
Freshman Dallan Hayden (108 yards on 17 carries) and Miyan Williams (77 yards on 10 carries) led the rushing game after TreVeyon Henderson exited the game after Ohio State’s first offensive series because of an unspecified physical problem.
Stroud reiterated Day’s emphasis on establishing momentum and dominance early.
“Coach Day’s message this whole week was starting early and just trying to be more consistent with the ball when we start with the ball. We came out and we connected on a couple of throws and I think that got our juices rolling,” Stroud said.
“With the type of team we have, once we get momentum rolling, it’s kind of hard to stop us,” he said.
Another factor that helped Ohio State get rolling was that its exceptional receivers group was at full strength for the first time this season.
Jaxon Smith-Njigba returned for the first time since being injured early in the season opener against Notre Dame. And Julian Fleming played for the first time this season after being held out of the first two games because of an injury.
Neither played a lot of minutes, but Fleming had two touchdown catches, which was twice his career total coming into the game. He finished with three catches and Smith-Njigba caught two passes.
“We kind of got them some reps (repetitions) and got them out of there,” Day said.
Playing and catching two touchdown passes was especially sweet for Fleming because he has battled injuries throughout his career. He has played in only 13 of the 24 games OSU has played in his career.
“There were a lot of trials and tribulations I had to go through to get to this point. Just to be able to go out there and play with my team, one of the best teams in the country, was just a great experience,” Fleming said. “It’s just been a lot of rehab and taking care of my body the best I can.”
There was another notable return for OSU when its defense got two turnovers – an interception by Ronnie Hickman and a forced fumble by Javontae Jean-Baptiste. They were the first two turnovers the Buckeyes’ defense has produced this season.
The defense struggled at time with containing Toledo quarterback Dequan Finn, who eluded the Buckeyes’ pass rush numerous times when he threw for two touchdowns and ran for another.
“Certainly there were things that were exposed that we’ve got to get cleaned up. We have three games under our belt to try to evaluate what we need to get fixed and what we need to keep enhancing going into conference play,” Day said. “Their quarterback was very athletic and made a lot of plays. We’ve got to take a look at how we contain the quarterback better than that. But if you look at the scoreboard we’re proud of what we did.”