WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — For weeks, years even, Ohio State supporters have asked the question on loop.
Where the heck are the tight ends? Saturday came the answer.
A pledge to integrate the big guys once used as glorified tackles into the passing offense came to pass in a resounding way in the Buckeyes’ 56-0 thumping of Purdue.
Junior tight end Jeff Heuerman had the biggest day by an OSU tight end in 30 years, and even backup Nick Vannett pulled in his first career touchdown. Heuerman had five catches for 116 yards and a touchdown — all in the first quarter.
It was the first 100-yard performance by a Buckeyes tight end since Rickey Dudley had 106 receiving yards against Tennessee in 1996 Citrus Bowl and the most prolific day since John Frank had 123 yards at Michigan in 1983.
So what got into Heuerman?
“I don’t know,” he said. “We just go out there and work hard. My job is easy. It trickles down. There’s a good play call, good protection on from the O-line, a good throw from the quarterback. All I do is catch the ball. I’ve just got to thank the other guys.”
Before the year, offensive coordinator Tom Herman called the versatile Heuerman and Vannett, who are both 6 feet, 6 inches and about 250 pounds, the best tight end tandem in the nation. But those around the program had heard Buckeyes coaches tout the tight ends before, only to watch them used almost exclusively as blockers.
Jake Stoneburner’s 21 catches in 2010 stands as the most productive season for an OSU tight end during the past decade, while Heuerman began the game with 15 catches for 139 yards.
Saturday, though, OSU got Heuerman involved from the start. He pulled in a 40-yard touchdown pass from Miller on the Buckeyes’ second offensive play and remained open time and again the rest of the quarter.
“Early in the season, Jeff wasn’t playing like this,” coach Urban Meyer said. “He’s earned that right now. He’s going to be a big part of our passing offense.”
DECKER OK: A cloud hung briefly over Ohio State’s day when sophomore right tackle Taylor Decker went to the ground with a knee injury in the third quarter.
But after Decker hobbled to the locker room, the Buckeyes welcomed good news. Meyer said the injury was a sprained medial collateral ligament and expected Decker to be out only about a week.
Meyer also said defensive tackle Michael Bennett will be fine after leaving the game with a nerve injury.
STREAKING: Meyer and the Buckeyes made another move into history Saturday.
Ohio State pulled within one victory of matching the school-record 22-game winning streak spanning 1967 to 1969, and Meyer matched his all-time streak with a 22nd straight win.
Meyer has three career winning streaks of at least 20 games — the others a 22-gamer at Florida from 2008-09 and a 20-game stretch spanning Utah and Florida from 2003-05 — and is the first coach to start 21-0 since Larry Coker at Miami with 24 straight wins.
Oklahoma’s Bud Wilkinson holds the all-time mark with 47 straight wins from 1953-57.
EXTRA POINTS: OSU’s game captains were left tackle Jack Mewhort, receiver Corey Brown, safety C.J. Barnett, and backup quarterback Kenny Guiton. ... The Buckeyes are outscoring opponents 171-38 in the first quarter this season and have scored on a Big Ten-best eight of nine opening drives. ... The OSU defense has an interception in every game this season. ... Linebacker Ryan Shazier led the Buckeyes with seven tackles and three tackles for a loss — including two sacks.