COLUMBUS, Ohio — There was no need for an autopsy Saturday after the Arkansas State University football team’s 45-12 loss to third-ranked Ohio State.
The Red Wolves succumbed to self-inflicted wounds.
Arkansas State appeared to be right where it wanted to be, trailing the Buckeyes 17-9 with less than five minutes remaining in the first half. And then poof, it was gone.
Ohio State scored three touchdowns in a stretch that spanned the last five minutes of the first half and the first 4:30 of the third quarter to take a 38-9 lead.
“When you play a team like Ohio State, every mistake you make is magnified,” said Red Wolves coach Butch Jones, whose team fell to 1-1 overall while the Buckeyes improved to 2-0. “So, you have to do a great job and not beat yourself.
“I didn’t like the way we started the second half. I thought we lacked some intensity. And when you look at it, we had two three-and-outs offensively to start the second half. On (Ohio State’s) first two possessions of the second half, they went down and scored.”
Arkansas State overall had six three-and-out possessions in the game. Ohio State converted half of those missed opportunities into 17 points.
“As an offense, I feel like we can’t just come out with three and outs like we did in the start of the second half,” said senior quarterback James Blackman, whose team settled for field goals on three trips inside the Buckeyes’ red zone. “Other than that, it was all about finishing.”
During ASU’s 9:30 minute freefall, Ohio State’s drives were quick but painful. The Buckeyes had three 3-play scoring drives. Quarterback C.J. Stroud, Ohio State’s Heisman candidate, completed 16 of 24 passes for 351 yards and four touchdowns.
In that span between the end of the first half and the first 4:30 of the third quarter, Stroud completed five consecutive passes on those three drives, including a 42-yard bomb to Marvin Harrison Jr. and a 52-yard strike to Emeka Egbuka. Running back TreVeyon Henderson, who finished with 87 yards and two touchdowns, also scored on a 23-yard run.
“When you give up explosive plays for touchdowns, those are catastrophic plays,” Jones said. “There are no moral victories if we are going to be the type of team that we want to be. You expect to win no matter who the opponent is, no matter where you play. That’s kind of a mindset that we’re building in our football program.”
The loss spoiled the homecomings for ASU defensive coordinator Rob Harley and running back Brian Snead, who both played for the Buckeyes.
Harley had five solo tackles for the Buckeyes during the 2005 season and was part of Buckeye Fever, a Columbus postgame television show for two years. Snead rushed for 37 yards and 1 touchdown on 11 carries against Oregon State and Rutgers in 2018.
Snead was dismissed from the team that year by then-Ohio State coach Urban Meyer and didn’t travel to Columbus for Saturday’s game.
“We knew in the middle of the week that Brian wasn't going to be available, but we fully anticipate he'll be ready to go for practice this week and he'll be ready to go for Memphis,” Jones said.
While there may be no such thing as moral victories, Arkansas State can point to some positives in the loss.
- The special teams performance.
Last week in its 58-3 rout of Grambling State, Arkansas State was not forced to punt for the first time since a 2011 game against Central Arkansas.
Against Ohio State, the Red Wolves were 5 of 20 on third downs and punter Ryan Hanson punted seven times with a 51.6-yard average.
Another bright spot for ASU was the kicking of Dominic Zvada and Tristan Mattson. Zvada, a true freshman, provided all of Arkansas State’s scoring with field goals of 29, 38, 34 and 45 yards. Mattson didn’t allow Ohio State to return the ball, getting touchbacks on all five of his kickoffs.
- The growing connection between Blackman and Champ Flemings.
Flemings, a senior transfer from Oregon State, hauled in 10 passes for 105 yards and rushed for 20 more on two carries. Blackman completed 20 of 34 passes for 188 yards against the Buckeyes.
“I think we got into a good rhythm,” Flemings said. “What we accomplished today is going to help us a great deal. It’s going to build our confidence."
- Increasing self-reliance.
The Red Wolves’ 224 yards passing total was better and their 54 yards rushing just a notch below what then-No. 5 Notre Dame (177 yards passing and 76 yards rushing) accomplished in its 21-10 loss to Ohio State on Sept. 3.
“We felt like we were meant to be here,” Blackman said. “There’s a night and day difference for how we felt (after the 52-3 loss at Washington last year). I felt like I was more composed and knew where I wanted to go with the ball (Saturday). Last year in Washington, things were a little bit cloudy for me and I wasn’t seeing the coverage.”
“On any level, on the biggest stage, whoever we have to play against, we’re going to be up for the challenge,” Flemings added. “We just have to continue to be better.”