COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — C.J. Stroud lit up No. 7 Michigan State early and gave his coach the rare luxury of being able to let his mind wander to next week’s showdown with Michigan.
Stroud tied a school record with six touchdown passes — all in the first half — as No. 5 Ohio State bolted out to a 49-point halftime lead on the way to a startling 56-7 rout Saturday that eliminated the Spartans (9-2, 6-2 Big Ten, No. 7 CFP) from the Big Ten East race.
Next up for the Buckeyes (10-1, 8-0, No. 4 ) is the annual rivalry game and hatefest against No. 8 Michigan that carries even greater meaning this year — the winner will claim the division, advance to the conference championship game on Dec. 4 and stay alive for the College Football Playoff.
“We’ve got everything riding on this thing coming up right around the corner,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said. “And I got to tell you, the game wasn’t even over yet and I was thinking about it. There’s just so much going on here.”
Day should savor this one for at least a minute.
Stroud, who threw his first collegiate football pass less than three months ago, was 32 for 35 for 432 yards against the Spartans’ sketchy pass defense, which had allowed more yards through the air than any in major college football.
The redshirt freshman completed 17 straight passes, setting an Ohio State record, and positioned himself as maybe the Heisman Trophy favorite heading into the championship stretch of the season.
“My O-line did a great job the whole game,” he said. “I was back there chilling, in a sense.”
This is Stroud’s third 400-yard game in 10 career starts and his fourth game with at least five touchdown passes.
“You can see our capability,” Day said. “We’re playing really good football, clean football. We have a high ceiling.”
The Buckeyes scored on all seven first-half possession before backing off.
“We got blasted,” Michigan State coach Mel Tucker said. “We were not able to eliminate the explosive plays on defense and were not able to execute on offense.”
Michigan State Heisman hopeful Kenneth Walker III, the nation’s leading rusher, was turned into a nonfactor by the Buckeyes. Walker, who rolled his ankle in last week’s win over Maryland, had just six carries for 25 yards.
“He’s a little banged up right now, so we’re going to use the guys who can go,” Tucker said.
The Buckeyes’ top three receivers eclipsed the 100-yard mark and caught touchdown passes. Chris Olave had seven catches for 140 yards and two touchdowns. Garrett Wilson grabbed seven for 126 and a pair of scores, and Jaxon Smith-Njigba had 10 receptions for 105 yards and a TD.
Olave, a senior who played his last game in Ohio Stadium, broke the school record for career touchdowns with 35, one more than David Boston (1996-98).
“I came in a three-star (recruit), the lowest in my class, I think,” Olave said. “I didn’t know it would come to this day, but I just kept my head down and kept working to try and maximize my potential here, and I feel like I’ve done that.”
Michigan State: The Spartans, who knocked off top-10 rival Michigan three weeks ago, weren’t just sent tumbling from the Big Ten East playoff picture, they were demoralized. They’ve shown great improvement this season under second-year coach Tucker, but are not yet in Ohio State’s class.
Ohio State: Can anybody slow down the Buckeyes? The offense scored touchdowns on all seven first-half possessions, until Day called off the charge. The defense forced a couple of first-half turnovers that aided the avalanche. The Buckeyes scored 50 points for the sixth time this season.
“You always can remember days like this,” Michigan State quarterback Payton Thorne said. “I’ll remember the feeling for a long time, coming in here and playing like we did.”
The impressive win could bump the Buckeyes up the rankings, with another spotlight game next week in Ann Arbor. Michigan State, with a second loss, will tumble.
Michigan State: Hosts Penn State in season finale.
Ohio State: Wraps up the season with the annual clash with Michigan.