Ohio State quarterback Kyle McCord gave himself an average grade in Saturday’s season opener.
Coach Ryan Day thought the whole offense could have played better.
Miyan Williams rushed for two touchdowns and the third-ranked Buckeyes overcame an uncharacteristically sluggish start to beat Indiana 23-3, giving McCord his first victory since being named Ohio State’s starter.
“I thought it was all right,” McCord said of his performance. “I thought there were some good plays, some bad plays. I want to look at the film and see where I can improve.”
McCord finished 20 of 33 with 239 yards and one interception as the Buckeyes (1-0, 1-0 Big Ten) won their 23rd straight season opener and extended the longest active winning streak in an FBS series to 28 in a row over the Hoosiers.
But Day knows there’s plenty to critique after scoring only two touchdowns while settling for three field goals and going 2-of-12 on third down. Even the Buckeyes’ established stars struggled.
Williams rushed seven times for 25 yards, TreVeyon Henderson added 47 yards on 12 carries and All-American receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. caught two passes for 18 yards. Harrison also hurt his left shoulder in the first half and had a touchdown catch nullified by an illegal touching penalty in the second half.
And the Buckeyes couldn’t pull away until the Hoosiers defense wore down.
“We know what we need to do in order to win down the stretch — play great defense and run the football,” Day said. “But you’ve got to get that first win and any time you’re dealing with a new quarterback, first game on the road, it’s good to get that one.”
Indiana (0-1, 0-1) lost for the ninth time in 10 games dating to last season, this time with two inexperienced, second-year quarterbacks — Brendan Sorsby, who started, and Tayven Jackson, who will start next weekend — splitting snaps.
Neither generated much, though. They were a combined 9-of-21 with 82 yards through the air and rushing nine times for nine yards. The Hoosiers finished with 153 total yards and their only score came on a 40-yard field goal that bounced in off the right upright.
“Our decision was to play them both these first two weeks,” coach Tom Allen said of his quarterbacks. “It was kind of like, ‘Man, they are so similar (in practice),’ so we thought the best thing to do was let them both play. That’s how we set it up.”
It looked like it might work for a while.
After Williams capped Ohio State’s opening possession with a 7-yard scoring run, the teams traded field goals to make it 10-3 at halftime. The Buckeyes added a short field goal to take a 13-3 lead midway through the third quarter before Williams finally broke through with a 3-yard TD run to give the Buckeyes a 20-3 lead late in the third.
The Buckeyes closed it out with another field goal.
“You’d like to have more than 23 points,” Day said. “But the No. 1 goal was to get a win today. Glad we got the win, now we’ve got to get better.”
The final score was not indicative of how lackluster the Buckeyes played. And while Ohio State won’t complain about a victory in Week 1, when crazy things happen, it could lose ground to two-time defending national champion Georgia and two-time defending Big Ten champ Michigan and might even slide a few spots.
McCord, the Buckeyes new starting quarterback, struggled. He was under pressure and out of sync on deep throws much of the day. Ohio State needs McCord — or backup Devin Brown — to improve dramatically to stay in the College Football Playoff hunt.
Starting against its most dreaded opponent with a new, inexperienced quarterback looked like a recipe for disaster. But a better than expected defense and a simple game plan kept the Hoosiers competitive. Despite the loss, a solid showing may give fans hope things can get better.
Indiana has not beaten the Buckeyes since posting back-to-back victories in 1987 and 1988. The teams also played to a 27-27 tie in 1990. When the Hoosiers won in Columbus, Ohio, in October 1987, then-Buckeyes coach Earle Bruce called the loss “the darkest day I’ve seen in Ohio State football since I’ve been associated with it.”
Ohio State will face Youngstown State in their home opener next Saturday.
Indiana will host FCS foe Indiana State on Friday. The Sycamores are coached by Curt Mallory, the son of the late Bill Mallory, Indiana’s winningest football coach.
Reporting by The Associated Press.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL trending
Get more from College Football Follow your favorites to get information about games, news and more