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Ohio State football: Offense and defense coming together

Urban Meyer has coached Ohio State for 21 games, but its the last two where the Buckeyes looked like the force of nature most expected the head coach to turn them into.

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Bye weeks are generally good for teams in a number of ways.  Players can take a breather, letting injuries heal up and minds to be built up with an extra week of rest, practice and study.  Coaches have an extra week to go over film, fill any holes from the previous week and game plan and strategize for an opponent who is two weeks away, instead of just one. Something can be said for bye weeks giving some teams a decided schematic advantage.

Coaches like Urban Meyer thrive on this extra time between games; Meyer is 34-2 in his career when given more than a week to prepare for the next team on the schedule.  Indeed, Meyer likely welcomes the Buckeyes' second such break in the schedule so that his team, down a starting offensive lineman after the weekend, can rest.  And with big-time games between Oregon and Stanford, and Baylor and Oklahoma on the schedule for this week, Meyer and his team can sit back and watch the chaos unfold both ahead and behind them in the national rankings.

But given the last two weeks of Buckeye football, which included handing Penn State their worst modern-era loss since the Taft Administration (<--hyperbole, but only just), and making Purdue look like a glorified high school also-ran, could there be a worse time for a bye week than now?

SB Nation's own Bill Connelly, who, if you don't read all of his stuff then shame on you because it is routinely excellent, broke down the last two games for the Buckeyes.  He shows that this isn't a team hitting its stride, or simply over-matching the talent in the Big Ten, this is a team playing great football, really for the first time since the Sweater Vest'd one roamed the sidelines.

Something changed when the first BCS rankings came out. Finally part of the BCS club again after last year's postseason ban, the Buckeyes responded to their No. 4 ranking by … playing like the No. 4 team in the country. All of a sudden, both the team and the marching band are playing at a championship level.

Say what you will about the last two opponents - and a lot of what you may want to say is not very flattering to Bill O'Brien or Darrell Hazell - but neither looked the part of a BCS-conference team; Penn State will likely be facing down years due to the Sandusky Scandal, and Purdue is one of the youngest teams in both the Big Ten and the nation.

Both Penn State and Purdue have not been that bad this year, either.  The Nittany Lions, if you take out the Ohio State game, are outscoring opponents 224-159, with a close loss to South Florida and a bigger loss to Indiana to counter five wins.  Purdue may still be looking for FBS win #1 on the year, but it had a fantastic shot at beating 7-2 Notre Dame, and it has played the last three games with a freshman lining up behind center.

The second point is: neither team is as bad as it looked when playing the Buckeyes.  The first point, however, is that Ohio State is finally gelling into the team most people imagined it would become with Meyer at the helm.

The "how" is very important to figuring out the last two games for the Buckeyes.  Ohio State has been one of the most prolific teams in the first quarter of games this year, going punch-for-first-quarter-punch with the talented offense of the Baylor Bears.  Against Penn State, the Buckeyes went up 14-0 in the first quarter, marching down the field with little holding them up.  Against Purdue, the first quarter deficit was 28-0.  Scoring in the first quarter was a problem for Ohio State last year, but is now one of the key reasons for Ohio State's 9-0 record this year.  The offense is also just better this year, ranking 8th nationally in rushing yards and 5th nationally in scoring.

But defensively, this is a Buckeye team that, despite injuries all over the field, an All-American corner playing like an honorable mention conference player, and a green defensive line, is holding opponents to just 17 points per game, good enough for 9th best in the country.  More on the offense and defense from Connelly:

Here are the first-half possessions from the last two weeks... That's 14 possessions, 11 touchdowns. Rushing: 36 for 330 yards. Passing: 42 for 430 yards. That's 77 points at 9.7 yards per play.

Here are the Ohio State defense's first-half possessions vs. Penn State and Purdue...That's 16 possessions, seven points for the offense, seven points for the defense. Rushing: 37 for 145 yards. Passing: 41 for 100 yards. That's seven points (net points: zero) at 3.1 yards per play.

That brings us to the "why" part of figuring out the last two games for these Buckeyes.  With 21-straight wins dating back to the Miami RedHawks on September 1st of last year, there should be a lot of pressure on the Buckeyes not only to keep winning, but also the pressure not to lose.  Every year at LGHL, we do our predictions for the Buckeyes, and only a small few of us predicted 12-0 last year; fewer thought 12-0 or better was possible this year.  Eventually, most thought, the luck would run out, or the Buckeyes would get caught sleeping on the wrong opponent.  There is no way that this team can just keep winning.

But that is the biggest thing that Meyer has brought to this team.  Setting aside the Tressel-like wins over Wisconsin and Iowa, where the Buckeyes did just enough to be sure a team couldn't regain a lead, Meyer's plan for every game is contingent upon stepping on throats en route to wins, rather than tip-toeing across the finish line, assured of a win based on defense and special teams.  It is a different mindset than most fans are used to after the indoctrination of Tressel Ball, but is certainly one that is very welcome in Columbus, and despised in every other corner of the college football world.  A Jim Tressel team would have had trouble covering 50 points against Florida A&M.  Meyer's team beat that number with room to spare.

But it is a bye week, and for the sake of healing injuries and clearing heads, it is most likely a welcome event down at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.  And if the rest of the top-25 saw what the last two Buckeye games were like, it is probably an even more welcome sight to everyone else in the country.