Is it possible to win by six scores, pitch a shutout, and still not look all that impressive? It sure seemed like that was what Ohio State was going for on Saturday. The Buckeyes took care of the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors to the tune of 38-0, a total that looks great on paper but felt far less dominating in the moment.
The OSU offense mustered just seven points in the first quarter, an inauspicious start for a unit that seemed to be firing on all cylinders by the end of last week's tilt against Virginia Tech. They added another TD in the second quarter, but 14-0 at halftime against a Mountain West team isn't a great look when you're the best team in the country.
If the first two quarters were unimpressive, the third was downright sleep-inducing. The Buckeyes managed just one first down in the entire quarter, adding three points to go up 17-0. The wait paid off in the fourth quarter, as a flurry of solid possessions on both sides of the ball led to three Ohio State touchdowns and a final score of 38-0. It wasn't the best performance for Urban Meyer's team, but boy, it would have looked a lot worse had the last nine minutes or so gone any differently. Let's take a look at who's responsible for Saturday's win:
Blue Chip Stocks:
Vonn Bell, DB: The Ohio State pass defense had themselves a day against Norm Chow's squad. The secondary reeled in a pair of interceptions against Max Wittek, and the prettier of the two belonged to Bell. A Gareon Conley heads-up tip sent the ball towards Bell's arms, and he showed off his great hands while making a diving catch to seal the turnover.
Bell finished with that pick, plus three additional pass breakups on the day. He looked like a world-beater in the secondary, and it felt like we heard his name called an awful lot. Bell was a huge reason why the Hawaii passing tandem of Wittek and Ikaika Woolsey finished just 8-of-26 for 85 yards.
Bell also put a few points of his own on the board. After a harried Max Wittek coughed up the ball inside his own 20, a brief circus moment ensued, during which Bell was somehow able to scoop up the rock and take it the last 14 yards to the end zone. LGHL game ball goes to him.
Gareon Conley, CB: Lest we not give Conley his due, he looked to be about Bell's equal taking away passing options for Hawaii. As mentioned, Bell's interception couldn't have come to fruition without Conley's initial pass breakup, a great defensive showing on Conley's part. Conley pulled in a pick of his own, too, making an athletic play to steal the ball out of the air and give it back to the Buckeye offense. It looks like the Ohio State D will be just fine starting Conley across from Eli Apple this year.
Josh Perry, LB: It's hard to imagine someone who makes as much impact as Perry does flying as under the radar as he does, but there you have it. The soft-spoken tackles leader from 2014 looks like a good bet to repeat the feat this season. Perry seemed to be in on just about every gang tackle in this game, including ones on run plays that weren't to his side of the field. He showed great lateral movement to get outside and bring down Hawaii's ball carriers, and his ability to sniff out plays might be unrivaled on the Buckeye defense.
Ezekiel Elliott, RB: Zeke has now rushed for 100 or more yards in seven consecutive games, though for whatever reason it hasn't really felt like it this season. The Hawaii defense was fed a much steadier diet of Zeke than the Hokies got, though he was forced to fight for every yard in this one. He carried the ball 27 times for 101 yards, far below his usual rushing average, but enough to get the job done on Saturday. He tallied three touchdowns on short yardage to carry the Ohio State scoring efforts.
Talented as he is with the ball in his hand, Elliott has looked equally impressive as a blocker. At this point we've all seen the hurtin' he laid on a hapless Virginia Tech defender during Braxton Miller's video game touchdown. He added a few more impressive pass-pickup blocks today. He might not yet be operating at his full capacity as a runner, but so far, he's showing off the full complement of skills needed to succeed as an NFL running back.
Curtis Samuel, H-Back: Samuel's most memorable moment from Saturday, unfortunately, will likely be the drop he had in the flat on an easy Cardale Jones pass that he could have taken to the house. Samuel was wide open, and there weren't many bodies between him and pay dirt.
That's a shame, because Samuel's play on Saturday was by and large impressive. He pulled in seven catches, putting up a respectable 53 yards. He added one rush for 9 yards. He'll continue to be a big part of Ohio State's offense moving forward -- it seems as though Urban Meyer might be a little more forgiving of mistakes in the early going this year, seeing as how Bri'onte Dunn ended up with a touchdown this week after a fumble against VT.
The offensive line: *ducks*
Look, it's not like we're dealing with a Penn State situation over here. The Slobs will get this figured out, and it's hard to envision a season in which they don't return to last year's very impressive form. But at the moment they're really not looking like themselves. Hawaii -- yes, that Hawaii -- got through the line to record five tackles for loss against the Buckeyes, and that's, uh, not great. It doesn't matter which quarterback Urban Meyer trots out onto the field if they don't have time to do anything with the ball. They've also, as a unit, already doubled the amount of holding penalties they've been called for between last year and this...and it's only been two weeks.
BUY: Ohio State's young talent. Raekwon McMillan. Sam Hubbard. Damon Webb. Erick Smith. All four guys, in their first or second years with the team, showed up to play on Saturday. It's a testament to how loaded the Ohio State defense is that some of them don't even see the field regularly. But each was impressive in his own way against Hawaii, and the defense is in good hands moving forward.
SELL: Platooning. It physically pains me to say this, but maybe J.T. Barrett should be on the field less. I still think he might be the best quarterback on the roster, but if Urban Meyer wants Cardale Jones to start, then this situational QB-switching might not be the answer. The offense is sorely lacking an identity, and not allowing either signal-caller to build a rhythm seems to be costing them. Both are talented enough to make plays even without momentum, if you believe in such a thing, but Meyer can't keep hedging his bets here. He needs to pick a quarterback.
SELL: The penalties. This also falls into the category of "things they'll figure out by mid-season," but that doesn't make it any less frustrating to watch big gains and big stops negated by bonehead plays. The refs' shaky decisions notwithstanding, there needs to be more discipline from the Buckeyes moving forward, or eventually it's going to haunt them. (I realize I sound about twice as old as I am here.)
BUY: The defense. All of it. The offense might be lacking an identity, but the defense seems to know what the hell it's about, top to bottom. They've been stingy in the run game, stifling against the pass. The shutout was well-earned, and it was no accident that a defense this hardworking has seen their efforts pay dividends early on.