ARLINGTON, Tex. — The barrage that rained down indoors upon purple Frogs in the third quarter at AT&T Stadium on Saturday night came as a reminder that Ohio State Coach Urban Meyer will return Monday to a delirious array of spellbinding talent. It had an H-back zooming up the field 63 yards with a dink pass, a 286-pound defensive tackle rolling up a sideline and reminding how compellingly 286 pounds can move in the 21st century, and a pretty 24-yard touchdown pass from a budding quarterback to yet another wow of an H-back.
It even had a blocked punt tucked in there.
Yet more forebodingly, it didn’t even feature Nick Bosa, the Buckeyes’ defensive superman who had taken his artful havoc off the field and into the stadium tunnel with an injury.
When the barrage finished, No. 4 Ohio State had bolted from an eight-point deficit to No. 15 TCU that had to surprise the oddsmakers to a 12-point lead that had to make them nod. When it ended up winning by 40-28, it had cemented itself as a threat to do everything it craves from here to January as it rediscovers normalcy when the suspended Meyer returns for real Monday — and then mans the sideline next weekend against a fed-to-the-lions Tulane.
“I do feel a little bit of relief right now, after this game, and the past few weeks,” Ryan Day said after improving to 3-0 as acting Ohio State coach. “I got so much help.”
“I feel like Coach Day did a good job of keeping the system going,” running back Mike Webber said. “Everything we do didn’t change on a daily basis.”
On the closing Saturday night of the Day “era,” their team had found trouble, and then it found good-grief.
The latter came with third-quarter touchdowns that gushed out at the 6:58 mark, at 5:54, at 2:57. Parris Campbell, a person no one would not wish to chase, caught Dwayne Haskins’s screen and traveled the 63 yards faster than would most. Dre’Mont Jones, the 286-pounder, intercepted Shawn Robinson’s helpless shovel pass and went his eye-pleasing 28 yards to score. Shaun Wade, a backup cornerback on the depth chart, blocked Adam Nunez’s punt, and Haskins needed two plays to throw a 24-yard touchdown to K.J. Hill. All that while — and even without Bosa — the Buckeyes had turned three straight TCU possessions to mulch.
TCU managed to narrow things to 33-28 when Robinson threw a 51-yard touchdown pass deep down the middle to TreVontae Hights while two Ohio State defenders foundered nearby, but Ohio State already had constructed its momentum into something unstoppable. Straightaway it hurried 75 yards in eight varied plays to regain its stretch back ahead on Haskins’s five-yard run.
“Once we found it (momentum),” Jones said, “we held onto it and we didn’t want to let it go.”
All told, they had weathered plenty. “It helped us to see where we are as a team when we have to face true adversity,” said defensive tackle Robert Landers, “and I feel like we really handled it well.”
After it had spent its first two games winning at home by an aggregate 129-34 and looking frightening enough to rate a 13½ -point favorite over a ranked opponent, the two teams spent the first half zipping around evenly. The Horned Frogs gained 289 yards. The Buckeyes gained 287. The Frogs got 14 first downs. The Buckeyes got 13. Each side missed a field goal from inside 40 yards. Each side benefited from officiating that drew either boos or scrutiny or both.
They all repaired to halftime with the Frogs ahead 14-13, and the goose bumps in the purple part of the audience finally leveled out after the Frog-minded bounced furiously during junior Darius Anderson’s 93-yard romp up the left sideline. That play provided both a first lead for TCU at 14-10 and a fresh entry in the trivia books as the longest play from scrimmage permitted by Ohio State in its 129 seasons and 1,278 games of attempting (and usually succeeding at) intercollegiate football.
It also bore a telling dissimilarity to the way Ohio State got its touchdown.
On Anderson’s 93-yard run, Bosa materialized from the left side of the Buckeyes’ defense, to the right of Robinson. When TCU left guard Cordel Iwuagwu and left tackle Austin Myers used their collective 614 pounds to clear out a space through which Anderson could zip, Bosa wound up roaming harmlessly into the backfield and witnessing from afar. Anderson beat safety Isaiah Pryor’s closing chase and ran pretty much halfway to Fort Worth.
On Ohio State’s touchdown, meanwhile, Bosa of the royal American family of defensive linemen (with brother Joey already a Los Angeles Chargers employee) had lined up on the right side of the defense, which would provide one of the most harrowing sights available this year in college football.
That would be Bosa headed around the corner and toward a quarterback’s blind side.
In reaching Robinson, Bosa used his right arm to strip loose the football, which commenced rolling around on the end zone floor. It appeared, on video, that Ohio State tackle Jones touched the football with his foot out of bounds out the back door, which might have caused a safety before Davon Hamilton corralled it for a touchdown and a 10-0 lead and a hint that the night would bring the formality it ultimately did not.
If that seemed unfair to some or most, a third-down interference call against Ohio State on TCU’s ensuing drive gave Buckeyes fans the chance to boo with gusto. It became a pivotal part of the Frogs’ seven-play, 84-yard touchdown trip, which ended with Sewo Olonilua’s six-yard touchdown run, also on third down.
By the time TCU enhanced its lead to 21-13 early in the third quarter on a three-play, 52-yard burst ending in Anderson’s 16-yard touchdown run, Bosa had departed the field toward the locker room with an injury and had taken his disruption skills with him. Things did look shaky on one side and curious on the other, except that next came a wave of talent of a height and force not found on most college campuses.