After a demoralizing loss to Michigan State last week, all kinds of questions about Ohio State emerged. Was Urban Meyer losing the locker room? Was the offense irreparably broken by Tom Herman's departure? Had season-long quarterback drama torpedoed the team's ability to create an offensive identity? How outdated those questions seem, just a week removed from heartbreak.
Ohio State came out of the tunnel (led by Zeke, probably our first sign the locker room stuff was overblown) fired up, and they never really settled down. Michigan was able to hang around in the first half, thanks to a handful of crucial 3rd-down conversions and some great connections between Jake Rudock and his platoon of prototype receivers. The Buckeyes led 14-10 at the break on the back of red zone scampers by Elliott and J.T. Barrett.
After the break? It was all Ohio State. Barrett found Jalin Marshall for a 25-yard strike in traffic (wouldn't that have been nice to see last week?) and took another one in himself to build a 28-10 lead heading into the final quarter. Michigan could only muster an early field goal in the 4th, suffering greatly from the loss of Rudock, who left the game after a trainwreck collision with Joey Bosa. Elliott and Barrett traded scores once more, and the Buckeyes rolled, 42-13, to make it four straight for Urban Meyer over the Wolverines. Let's take a look at who was responsible for such a satisfying beat-down:
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Ezekiel Elliott, RB: Elliott passed Buckeye legend Eddie George to claim 2nd place in the all-time rushing books for Ohio State on Saturday, and that was somehow like the fifth-most memorable thing that happened involving Zeke during the game. Last week was pretty clearly a blip on the radar as far as Elliott's career trajectory is concerned. He ran absolutely wild on the Wolverines, racking up 214 yards on 30 carries and finding the end zone twice.
One of Ohio State's earliest offensive plays saw Zeke take off for 66 yards up the left sideline, doubling his output against Michigan State on a single carry. Really, the only surprising thing is that he got caught before reaching the end zone, but Barrett did just that a few plays later.
Elliott should have NFL scouts salivating. His rare combination of size, speed, and power will be a boon to pro team, as will his excellent field vision and his aggressive pass-blocking. There was no better way for Zeke to go out of his last regular-season game: on top, triumphant, as he was meant to be.
Joey Bosa, DE: There's an old chestnut that says there's holding on every offensive play in football, if you look hard enough. No one epitomizes this law, and the fatigue of trying to call it correctly, quite like Joey Bosa. Bosa draws double (and triple) teams with regularity, but when teams try to single block him -- Michigan included -- they pretty much have to get ahold of some part of him to stop him from putting their quarterback in the dirt. In my viewing location, as I'm sure it was in yours, a good 50% of Michigan's offensive plays drew a scream of "THAT'S A HOLD!" from someone, somewhere in the establishment. They were talking about No. 97 every time.
The times Bosa got off without one? Those were pretty obvious. He was thiiiiiis close to having a sack about five different times before finally getting a clean run at Jake Rudock, and when he made contact, it ended Rudock's day.
Bosa also showed off his ridiculous athleticism with a pick that almost came back for six. He tipped a pass from backup QB Wilton Speight to himself and rumbled 28 yards before being brought down in the red zone. For a guy who has reportedly been beating himself up all week for his performance against Michigan State, he certainly seemed focused enough on Saturday. Winning doesn't cure all ills, especially when you're not controlling your own destiny, but Bosa exorcised a lot of demons today.
J.T. Barrett, QB: Call them the Third Triumvirate. Elliott, Bosa, and Barrett were supposed to be the Buckeyes' three best players this season, and they all showed out against Michigan. Barrett added a few to his highlight reel against the Wolverines, accounting for four touchdowns on an efficient afternoon and looking an awful lot like the QB we knew last year.
Barrett's speed, shiftiness, and daring are some of his best attributes, but it was his resilience that really showed on Saturday. His willingness to fight for the extra yard paid dividends on several occasions, as he powered through for one of his first touchdowns despite initially being stopped short, and converting another 3rd down with his feet by sneaking the ball just across the line as he was falling forward. Downs excluded, the Buckeyes didn't turn the ball over once, and Barrett's cool head was a big reason why.
Jalin Marshall, WR: Marshall did his best Devin Smith impression on Saturday. His climb-the-ladder grab in the end zone for the Buckeyes' third touchdown was reminiscent of Smith's grabs against Wisconsin in the conference championship last year, and built on his performance from last week in which he was one of the team's few bright spots. He's looking more and more polished as a receiver with each passing week.
Adolphus Washington, DT: Man, is Ohio State's run defense ruthless. In the last four weeks, they've allowed rushing totals of 33, 20, 203 (whoops), and 57 yards. Sparty game notwithstanding, that's bonkers. Washington has been a key piece of that rushing success. He eats up blockers in the middle of the field, powers through opponents, and makes sure-handed tackles. While Saturday wasn't his most ridiculous game of the year, he was stout enough to help keep the Wolverine running game in check and under 100 yards.
Ohio State's pass defense.
Okay, okay, perhaps this is a bit unfair, given that Jehu Chesson, Amara Darboh, and Jake Butt may as well have come off an assembly line. Some chunks of yardage came in garbage time, when Ohio State was in soft coverage and the Wolverines abandoned the run. But this was still one of the first real tests for the Buckeye defensive backs all season, and they didn't quite rise to the occasion. Rudock and Speight combined to throw for just over 300 yards, and while they only mustered one touchdown through the air, it was disheartening to see a team finally seem able to exploit the Buckeyes in the passing game. It's not just the defensive backs, either -- Darron Lee didn't have his best game, and was beaten in the flat by Chesson for Michigan's lone TD, while Joshua Perry, normally an excellent coverage LB, looked behind the play on several occasions.
(There's still a lot to like here. They are and will be fine.)
Sell: The Dab's shelf life. Look, I loved watching Urban Meyer's locker room celebration as much as the next guy. But once guys in the Meyer/Frank Beamer demographic start doing a dance, it seems destined for the scrap heap. We had a good run.
Sell: Counting on Penn State for anything. Thanks a lot, Penn State. Keep up that excellent red zone offense.
Buy: This season being salvageable. It won't end in a playoff berth, and while that's a colossal disappointment given the preseason expectations for this group, it kind of feels...right, having watched the team all year. The Virginia Tech, Rutgers, and Michigan games all made Ohio State look like a top-4 team, and while they won't end up as such, there's still a lot to like.
We have another game of Ezekiel Elliott. One more with Cardale, who will hopefully make an appearance in whatever bowl game the Buckeyes end up playing in. A final ride with Joey Bosa, who has made watching defense just as much fun as watching offense. That's an awful lot to look forward to no matter who you are.