The 2017 season opener meant different things to different Ohio State Buckeyes.
Defensive tackle Tracy Sprinkle returned to the field a year after suffering a season-ending knee injury. Wide receiver Austin Mack made his first career start in his home state. Running back J.K. Dobbins joined a short list — there’s six on it now — of Buckeyes who have started the season opener as true freshmen.
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No one put into words how much it means to start better than right guard Brandon Bowen, who won one of the most competitive competitions for playing time in preseason practices.
“It was an honor to go out with my brothers and get that feeling, to contribute,” Bowen said. “Everything just means so much more to you — seeing the scoreboard, singing “Carmen Ohio” at the end — when you play.”
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The offensive line played a big part in the 49-21 victory against the Indiana Hoosiers on Thursday at Memorial Stadium. Dobbins broke an Ohio State freshman rushing record, gaining 181 yards on 29 carries. Here are seven other highlights from the game:
1. Star turn: Former Buckeyes wide receiver Cris Carter sent a video message to Ohio State’s wideouts before the game and singled out junior Parris Campbell among others.
“Congratulations on being named a captain for this year’s team,” Carter said. “Now we need your leadership and balling skills to come into play.”
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Campbell responded by leading Ohio State with six catches for a career-high 136 yards. His 74-yard touchdown catch with 4:38 to play in the third quarter was the turning point for the Buckeyes, who took a 27-21 lead.
Campbell’s touchdown catch came one play after Indiana took a 21-20 lead on a 2-yard touchdown pass from Richard Lagow to Ian Thomas and two drives after Campbell dropped what would have been a 41-yard touchdown pass from Barrett.
“I’m hard on myself with everything I do,” Campbell said. “Just having my teammates and the coaching staff still having that confidence in me, it was really easy to get over it.”
2. Run difference: Dobbins wasn’t the only running back who left his mark on the game. Sophomore Antonio Williams scored Ohio State’s first and last touchdowns. He rushed seven times for 44 yards. Quarterback J.T. Barrett gained 61 yards on 13 carries.
Ohio State outgained Indiana 292-17 on the ground. The Buckeyes rushed for 171 yards in the second half alone.
“We just got in a rhythm, ran the ball better and figured out some running plays,” offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson said. “We just got off schedule in the first half and had a hard time getting J.T. in a rhythm. Once we got in the running game going, we settled down and got a couple big plays. It was a very good second half.”
3. Successful return: Wilson returned to the city where he worked the last six seasons. He resigned as Indiana head coach in December and was hired by Ohio State five weeks later.
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“It was difficult,” Wilson said. “We worked hard to keep focus on the job. We knew it’d be a tough one. It’s tough to be back here. I love those (Indiana) kids. But also I love this (Ohio State) locker room.”
4. Lineup choices: In addition to Bowen, Dobbins and Mack, six other players made their first starts. Jalyn Holmes and Nick Bosa were on the field for the first snap on the defensive line, which rotatated players in and out on almost every play.
The secondary had three first-time starters: cornerbacks Denzel Ward and Damon Arnette and safety Jordan Fuller. Ward and Fuller had interceptions.
Wide receiver K.J. Hill also made his first start and caught two passes for six yards.
5. Defensive leaders: The Buckeyes sacked Lagow five times. Defensive end Tyquan Lewis had two sacks. Sam Hubbard, Jashon Cornell and Bosa had one sack.
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Cornerback Kendall Sheffield, a junior college transfer from Blinn College playing in his first Ohio State game, led the team with seven tackles.
6. Defensive adjustments: Lagow threw for 278 yards in the first half and 132 in the second. He picked on Ohio State’s cornerbacks, who played better as the game progressed.
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“We played a little more cover,” Meyer said. “That means we dropped some people out. You better be able to play man coverage. Those are things we’ll continue to evaluate. We’re certainly not going to give up on some guys. Kendall Sheffield, it was his first extended playing time. Damon Arnette, first extended playing time at that position. Denzel Ward should have played better than he did. That’s what this whole week’s about. We’ll evaluate after watching film.”
7. Good test: The Buckeyes play No. 7 Oklahoma in their second game at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 9 at Ohio Stadium. The Sooners open the season at 3:30 p.m. Saturday against UTEP.
Meyer likes how tough Indiana played his team in the opener and hopes it helps with the next game.
“It was a very good test, especially with what’s coming down the pipe next week,” Meyer said.