Ohio State’s win over Indiana was predictable until it wasn’t

Had the Buckeyes walloped the impressive, top-10 Hoosiers as appeared likely at 35-7 just after halftime, it would have reinforced the idea of a Clemson-Alabama-Ohio State-Oklahoma tier that has hogged 17 of the first 24 College Football Playoff berths and has sapped the cross-country variety and possibility that boosts the sport. When the Hoosiers assembled a flurry of gorgeous plays to arrange two late possessions from only one score down — neither got close to scoring — it signaled a hope for the ambitious stragglers and a need to keep paying attention.

If nothing else, the game reminded that very young people play this sport, which can sustain its unpredictability even when times seem predictable. Yet there was not nothing else but something else.

“There’s no question the gap has been closed,” Indiana Coach Tom Allen said, even if by “closed,” he seemed to mean “closed some” or “narrowed.” “We’re not there yet. They still have a lot of very elite players that make it challenging. … I think we’re getting closer, closer all the time.”

Indiana (4-1) dazzled in wins over Penn State, Rutgers, Michigan and Michigan State with enthralling quarterback Michael Penix Jr. and gobsmacking wide receiver Ty Fryfogle. Yet when it ventured to Columbus, it went up against two goblins.

It rammed into the era of national branding when even the great Californians or Hawaiians might go all the way to Clemson or Alabama and a top-rated quarterback in Texas announces (on Thursday) he will head all the way to Ohio State for that quarterbacking tutelage. And it rammed into the reality it had not beaten Ohio State since 1988, when a second straight win over the Buckeyes became the first in Bloomington since 1904, whereupon quarterback Dave Schnell told reporters: “I don’t think I have any relatives who were even living then or, I mean, any who are alive now who were then. Well, you know what I mean.”

Well, through the past two-thirds of the second quarter to the first possession beyond halftime, Ohio State and virtuoso quarterback Justin Fields scored on four consecutive possessions, none cheap. The Buckeyes went 75 yards on seven plays, 76 on eight, 93 on nine and 75 on six. The score went from 7-7 to 35-7, and those 30 plays, mostly masterful, featured 13 runs, 17 passes and mixed beauty.

It seemed Ohio State should coast to whatever semblance of a playoff will be conducted in this pandemic year, but then maybe 20-year-old minds tend to let the zeal ebb a bit when the score stands 35-7.

A barrage of entertainment later, the game ended with the camera catching Fields frowning. Fields wound up saying, “I didn’t play well, at all,” and, “I mean, of course I made bad decisions.” He wound up with three interceptions, equal to the total this maestro had in 14 games last season set against 41 touchdown passes. Those three wound up mattering less than they might have, a source of fret for one

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Boston College football coach Jeff Hafley wasn’t concerned when the Eagles were blown out two weeks ago, and here’s why

At 4-2, the Eagles are both a success and still a work in progress in their first season under Hafley. Now they’re staring down the same Clemson team that decimated the team they just beat. As it is almost every year, BC’s matchup with Clemson will be their most daunting task of the season.

Here are some game-week observations.

▪ The Eagles clean up problem areas quickly: Yes, Jurkovec is hitting the downfield targets he was missing earlier in the season. And yes, the tackling issues that led to long runs for Virginia Tech were drilled out of existence by the time they faced Georgia Tech. But one play exemplified how quickly BC is learning from its mistakes.

Two weeks ago against the Hokies, the Eagles lined up for what was supposed to be a relatively simple handoff from Jurkovec to Bailey in the backfield. Tight end Hunter Long was supposed to come in motion and set a block to spring Bailey up the middle. None of that actually happened. Instead, Long ran into Jurkovec, blowing up the play on the spot. Jurkovec made things worse by trying to salvage it, flicking the ball for a fumble. It was a mess that Jurkovec called inexcusable after the game.

In the second quarter against Georgia Tech, the Eagles called the same play. This time, it went off without a hitch and Bailey broke loose for an 11-yard gain.

“I don’t think we could simulate the one we did at Virginia Tech where we fumbled if we try to 10 times,” Hafley said. “It was just a fluke play. We run it all the time. We executed at a pretty high level.”

▪ Max Richardson and Isaiah McDuffie fuel the defense: When McDuffie was out last season, the one person who probably missed him the most was Richardson. The two linebackers are the glue that binds the defense together. They wreak havoc and play with an aggression that Hafley wants to see.

They combined for 12 tackles against Georgia Tech. Last year, Richardson finished third in the ACC with 108 tackles. This season, he’s third in the conference, averaging 9.7 per game. One spot ahead of him is McDuffie at 9.8.

▪ The offensive line got a shot of confidence: Even though the Eagles returned four linemen from a year ago, they had to adjust to new roles. Zion Johnson moved from left guard to left tackle. Ben Petrula moved from right tackle to right guard, Tyler Vrabel moved from left tackle to right tackle, and redshirt freshman Christian Mahogany stepped in at left guard.

Two weeks after giving up six sacks against Pitt, the Eagles bounced back against Georgia Tech. “I mean, we rushed the ball for 264 yards and allowed zero sacks in pass protection,” Hafley said. “You want to talk about a step in the right direction.”

▪ Aaron Boumerhi’s quiet consistency: Hitting a game-winning 36-yard field goal against Texas State was validation for Boumerhi after he underwent offseason

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