By Jim Naveau
COLUMBUS – Ohio State’s offense was back. Maybe not all the way back, but enough to quell the unrest.
No. 1 Ohio State (4-0) reasserted itself with a 38-12 win over Western Michigan and 511 yards of total offense in its final tune-up for the Big Ten season on Saturday.
It wasn’t perfect but it was a definite improvement over the sluggish offensive efforts in a closer-than expected 20-13 win over Northern Illinois last Saturday and a close-for-three-quarters 38-0 win over Hawaii two weeks ago.
“We played much better on the offensive line. We controlled the line of scrimmage. The receivers had a very good day. Offensively, it’s close,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said.
Cardale Jones started and played all but the last 6 ½ minutes at quarterback. He completed 19 of 33 passes for 288 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. Ezekiel Elliott went over 100 yards rushing for the eighth game in a row with 124 yards on 16 carries and receiver Michael Thomas came up big with 6 catches for 80 yards and a touchdown.
Ohio State needed only three plays to score on its first possession – a pass to Elliott, a 26-yard run by Elliott and a 38-yard touchdown pass from Jones to Thomas.
It probably was no accident that the Buckeyes put the ball into the hands of their best running back and their best receiver to start the game after struggling offensively the last two games.
“I feel like that was a great spark and then we just had to keep our foot on the pedal,” Thomas said.
After that opening burst, though, OSU’s offense went back into struggle mode for the rest of the first quarter.
Two minutes into the second quarter, Western Michigan had outgained OSU 158 yards to 82 in total offense. But the Broncos came up empty on the scoreboard when Tyvis Powell blocked a 37-yard field goal attempt by Andrew Haldeman and Haldeman missed his next kick from 47 yards.
Ohio State pushed its lead to 14-0 on a 37-yard touchdown throw from Jones to Jalin Marshall with 10:35 left in the first half.
Western Michigan answered with a 55-yard touchdown pass from Zach Terrell to Daniel Braverman on its next possession to cut the lead to 14-6, but OSU dominated the last eight minutes of the first half to go up 24-6.
The defense scored a touchdown for the third game in a row when defensive lineman Adolphus Washington intercepted a pass and took it 20 yards for a touchdown for the score that put OSU up 24-6.
Jones said, “It was huge for us, going back to what we used to do.”
While the Buckeyes’ offense took a step forward, their defense did not. Western Michigan (1-3) gained 338 yards, including 189 yards on the ground, and allowed Braverman to get loose for his long touchdown catch, one of 10 catches he had in the game.
“The interior run was an issue. I don’t know exactly what happened,” Meyer said. “The expectation level of our defense is very high. A couple of years ago you would have taken that and said, ‘Nice job.’ But that’s not good enough right now.”
Marshall said Ohio State’s offense played like it had something to prove. Or, maybe more accurately like it had something to get back to doing.
“We’ve struggled but I think we came up today and showed we still have a good offense,” the sophomore wide receiver said.
“I can’t say frustrating but it was hard. After last year we expected to come back this year and keep the train rolling. We came out today and proved we’re still a high octane offense.
“I think it was a big step forward but we’re still not anywhere close to where we need to be. There were some things we left out there,” he said.
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414 or on Twitter at @Lima_Naveau.