PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) — No. 3 Ohio State has been finding ways to win the close ones all season, and they added another one against a team they have traditionally blown out.
Cornerback Jordan Hancock woke up the Buckeyes early in the second half with a 93-yard interception return for a touchdown and Ryan Day’s team rallied from its first halftime deficit of the season to beat vastly improved Rutgers 35-16 Saturday.
“We were not worried. we have been a second-half team all year,” said Ohio State wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr., who caught two of Kyle McCord’s three touchdown passes on a day he was limited to four catches for 25 yards. “It’s unfortunate we haven’t gotten off to the start we would like, but we weren’t worried.”
Ohio State (9-0, 6-0 Big Ten, No. 1 in CFP) got a lot of big plays in the final 30 minutes. Besides the pick 6, McCord and Harrison connected twice for TDs (4 and 2 yards) fourth quarter. TreVeyon Henderson ran for 78 his 128 yards in the second half as Buckyes beat Rutgers (6-3, 3-3) for the 10th straight time.
“Our goal is to be No. 1 one at the end,” Day said. “All it means is we are off to a good start and we’ve beaten some good teams. It doesn’t mean anything to us. It’s good for the fans. We know we’re going to take everyone’s best shot and we did today. Give Rutgers credit.”
Gavin Wimsatt threw a touchdown pass to JaQuae Jackson, Jai Petel hit three short field goals and Kyle Monangai ran for 159 yards for his third straight over the century mark as the Scarlet Knights dented the Buckeyes defense for 361 yards.
“We’re just not there,” Rutgers coach Greg Schiano said. “We’re getting better. I don’t know how to put it other than we are not there yet. We are a work-in-progress. We are getting better. We are just not there against the No. 1 team in the country, not quite yet.”
This was the Buckeyes’ first game since they were ranked No. 1 in the CFP and they certainly didn’t look like the best team in the country. They trailed 9-7 at the half and Rutgers appeared ready to add to that lead when they took the opening kickoff drove to the Ohio State 20.
On second down, Wimsatt tried to loop at pass over the front seven to Monangai around the 5-yard line. The running back and safety Josh Proctor collided and the ball popped in the air. Hancock grabbed the fluttering ball, turned and headed upfield and never stopped to give Ohio State a 14-9 lead.
“I said before the first possession of the second half we needed a turnover and we got it,” said Hancock, who gave Proctor and his blockers credit for the go-ahead touchdown.
Monangai said he was trying to make a play on the ball and got hit.
“The safety made a great play,” said Monangai. “It was a tipped ball.”
Henderson scored on a 9-yard run to stretch the lead to 21-9 late in the third quarter. Rutgers got within five points on the Jackson TD catch and they had the ball keep in Ohio State territory before failing on a fourth-down pass.
Ohio State, who was limited to 328 yards, made the score margin look bigger in a game it was clearly threatened.
Rutgers, which had never lost to Ohio State by less than 22 points in their previous nine meetings, took a 9-7 halftime lead on second-quarter field goals of 22, 21 and 20 yards by Patel.
A Mohamed Toure interception near midfield set up the last kick, but the play that woke up the crowd at SHI Stadium was a trick play on fourth and one from the Scarlet Knights 43 in second quarter with Ohio State ahead 7-0.
Wimsatt took the snap on what appeared to be sneak, but he just as quickly handed the ball to Monangai with a second snapping motion. It fooled the Buckeyes defense and Monangai broke out to his right and ran 45 yards, the longest play against Ohio State this season.
McCord (19 of 26 for 189 yards) had hit Gee Scott Jr. on a 14-yard TD pass in the first quarter.
Ohio State: Ohio State still have not given up more than 17 points this season. If they keep playing good defense, they can be No. 1. This was the first time in the last four games, the defense allowed more than 260 yards.
Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights have closed the gap on the Buckeyes big-time. Greg Schiano’s team proved it can play with anyone in the league.
Ohio State figures to stay at No. 3 for another week but holding on to the No. 1 College Football Playoff ranking might be tough.
Ohio State: Returns home to play Michigan State on Saturday night.
Rutgers: Travel to Iowa to face the Hawkeyes.
AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll