COLUMBUS — In the end, No. 1 Ohio State’s 38-0 win over Hawaii on Saturday didn’t feel as close as it had for much of the afternoon.
With 10 minutes to play, OSU led only 17-0 over a team it was favored to beat by more than 40 points. At a time in the game when most people expected to be watching the third teamers, the starters were still slugging it out with the overachieving Rainbow Warriors.
But three touchdowns in the final 9:07 of the game cast a little different light on the Buckeyes’ home opener.
Ohio State’s struggles came mainly on offense, where it produced only 363 yards after rolling up 572 yards in a 42-24 win over Virginia Tech on Monday night.
Defensively, though, OSU was on top of its game. It held Hawaii to 165 yards, had four sacks, intercepted two passes, scored a touchdown and didn’t allow the Rainbow Warriors to get inside its 35-yard line all day.
Ohio State coach Urban Meyer was emphatic about two points. He was not going to surrender to doom and gloom because of one less-than-expected effort and he was not going to use playing two games in five days as an excuse.
“I’m going to go see my family and have a hell of a time tonight and make sure our players come in bright-eyed and ready to rock tomorrow and get a little better. I can promise you this, we will enjoy it,” he said.
Asked about the possible effects of having only four days to prepare for Hawaii, Meyer said, “I think that’s a very solid excuse, one that is not allowed. I made that clear in there (in the locker room).”
Wide receiver Jalin Marshall, one of four players who returned after serving one-game suspensions in the opener, obviously got Meyer’s message.
“Winning by 38 points is never a bad thing but expectations for Ohio State are very high. We’ll go back after this week and prepare hard for next week’s game and get better,” he said.
Quarterback Cardale Jones (12 of 18 for 111 yards, no touchdowns) was a little more critical of OSU’s offensive performance, which he rated as “super below average.”
“It was not our expectations at all. Thank God for our defense today,” he said.
“But I’m kind of glad we hit this pothole today because it will give us something to look forward to and work on. It was a reality check not just for me but for the whole offense. We’re not as good as we thought we were.
“They played tough, they played hard, they did things we did not prepare for. They played ten times harder than we saw on film,” Jones said.
Ezekiel Elliott rushed for 101 yards on 27 carries and scored three touchdowns. It was the seventh game in a row the junior running back has gone over 100 yards.
A pair of touchdowns by Elliott gave Ohio State a 14-0 lead, but the offense was struggling.
J.T. Barrett (8 of 15 for 70 yards, no TDs) replaced Jones for OSU’s last two possessions of the first half but the Buckeyes’ offense was dealing with many more self-inflicted problems than just below average quarterback play.
Four false starts by offensive linemen, seven total first-half penalties, two bobbled snaps by Jones, and a bobbled snap by holder Cameron Johnston on a field goal attempt put the offense into a one step forward, one step back mode much of the first two quarters.
It took a 17-play, 91-yard drive that ended with Elliott’s third touchdown with 9:07 left in the game and Vonn Bell’s fumble return for a touchdown a minute, 19 seconds later to break the game open.
“A win is a win,” Jones said. “It wasn’t the kind of performance I would have wanted but we still won the game.”
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414 or on Twitter at @Lima_Naveau.