Entering Saturday's Big Ten opener with Northwestern in Ohio Stadium, Ohio State had scored just 27 of its 91 points – not even one-third – during the first half, including just seven points in the first quarter. On the flip side, the Buckeyes had scored 27 points in the third quarter this season and 37 in the fourth quarter alone.
On the other hand was a Northwestern team that had been gashed in the first 30 minutes of games. The Wildcats had given up 24 points to Nevada in the first half and 20 to Duke only to shut those teams down to a combined 7 points in the second stanza.
So it was either going to be OSU's slow-starting offense or Northwestern's slow-starting defense that would continue to begin games in molasses. And after a 28-point outburst for Ohio State during the first quarter, it was clear that Northwestern wasn't so much in molasses as it was quicksand that led to a 58-7 OSU win.
According to those on the Ohio State sideline, that was just the way they had drawn it up.
"From an offensive standpoint, our biggest goal was to score on the first drive because that takes a lot of air out of the balloon to start off," offensive tackle Kirk Barton said. "That's something we were really stressing this week."
It took just three plays and a minute and 10 seconds for Ohio State to go 64 yards and jump ahead for a 7-0 lead. After Chris Wells picked up 3 yards on the first carry, Ray Small ran a reverse from the OSU 39-yard line that ended in the sophomore wideout fumbling the football. The good news for OSU was that Steve Rehring fell on the ball, setting up a first-and-10 at the 42.
Quarterback Todd Boeckman faked a handoff on the play to Wells and looked long down the right side, where Brian Robiskie had run clear of Northwestern's Reggie McPherson. Boeckman lofted the ball to Robiskie for the score and the 7-0 lead.
Afterward, head coach Jim Tressel gave the credit to wideouts coach Darrell Hazell, passing game coordinator Joe Daniels and offensive coordinator Joe Daniels for the play call.
"That first touchdown was something that Darrell and Joe Daniels and Bolls came up with during the week," Tressel said. "They really felt like they brought their secondary in to support the run and we gave them a nice play-action, we might be able to run by them, and that got us off to a great start."
Much to the chagrin of Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald, who had deferred after winning the coin toss in the hope that his defense would set up good field position for his offense.
"When I visited with the staff we talked about earlier in the week coming out and starting fast," the second-year head coach said. "We went out and changed our practice this week, and obviously it wasn't the impact that we had hoped and desired."
Of course, the Buckeyes were not done lighting up the scoreboard in the first quarter. After forcing an NU three-and-out on the Wildcats' first position, OSU took over at the Wildcats' 36. Three plays later, Boeckman found Robiskie streaking down the left sideline, this time behind Deante Battle, and hit him in stride for a 28-yard score with 11:31 to play.
Another three-and-out set up the Buckeyes at Northwestern's 31, and this time it took only five plays to score when Maurice Wells went over the left side for a 3-yard touchdown run. Northwestern achieved its initial first down on the next drive, which only seemed to enrage the Buckeye defense even more. Anderson Russell forced Wildcat quarterback C.J. Bacher to fumble, a loose ball that defensive end Vernon Gholston picked up and returned 25 yards for a score.
With that, Ohio State led 28-0 less than 10 minutes into the game. Gholston's touchdown was OSU's first defensive touchdown since Brandon Mitchell returned an interception last season against – who else – Northwestern. Mitchell's return capped a 21-point first quarter last year in Evanston just as Gholston put the exclamation point on OSU's 28-point outburst Saturday.
Ohio State's coaches, including Tressel and Bollman, played down their roles in the team jumping out to the early lead, but the seventh-year head coach was happy to see his players take the initiative to get out to the early fireworks.
"It might have been one of those things these guys as leaders were talking about with their guys, but it's something we'd love to do every week," he said. "As I listened, it sounds like it even had more urgency."
It was the first time in 12 years Ohio State had scored four touchdowns in the first quarter. By the time it was over, Ohio State had set a record for points in the Tressel era, four more than it had scored last season in Evanston.
It all left Fitzgerald shaking his head.
"We obviously lost the field position battle early," Fitzgerald said. "When that happens and you give that kind of offense a short field, you give them an opportunity to score points, and that's what they did."