Last week's struggles weren't completely forgotten, but it was a rejuvenated Ohio State team that took the field Saturday against an upstart Western Michigan team that -- no joke -- could be the best 1-3 squad in the country. The Broncos have played college football's toughest schedule through four weeks, taking on the No. 1 and No. 2 teams, and they refused to go gently into that good night against Ohio State.
The Broncos saw several players put up excellent numbers against an otherwise-stingy Buckeye defense, most notably gritty fundamental lunchpail receiver Daniel Braverman, who racked up 123 yards and a touchdown on 10 receptions. That's no mean feat given the way Ohio State's pass defense has performed in the three previous game this year. Just shy of joining Braverman in the 100 yard+ club was WMU tailback Jamauri Bogan, who at times made Buckeye tacklers look about as apt as Legolas trying to bring down an explosive-bearing Uruk-hai at Helm's Deep.
Still, Ohio State's offense finally started to find its groove again on Saturday, a facet sorely missing from the last few weeks for the Buckeyes. There were a number of standout performances, so let's take a look at who's responsible for the 38-12 victory:
Blue Chip Stocks:
Ezekiel Elliott, RB: It's a breath of fresh air getting to toss Zeke's name back in this category. While he didn't equal previous weeks' carry totals, he still had his best game on the ground in a bit. No. 15 finished with 16 carries, three catches, 153 total yards, and a satisfying touchdown scamper. It was his ninth consecutive game with over 100 yards on the ground.
Elliott looked more explosive than we've seen from him since the Virginia Tech game on Saturday. It's been great watching him demonstrate his versatility in picking up blocks, but it was really nice to see him take handoffs and get back to what he does best against the Broncos. That includes, lest we forget, another open-field hurdle of a defender, a move that would have already gotten stale were it not so damn exciting every single time.
Adolphus Washington, DT: Folks, we've got an early Piesman Trophy candidate on our hands. Washington didn't have his most devastating game of the season -- WMU's offensive line acquitted themselves well in this one -- but he did make enough plays to stand out in Ohio State's front seven. The best of these, of course, was a 20-yard dine and dash in which Washington swallowed up his blocker, leapt for a bad Zach Terrell pass, reeled it in, and took it back to the house.
Washington has been a stalwart for the Buckeyes up front on defense all season, and Saturday was no different. Ohio State actually gave up some ground against Western Michigan, allowing 338 total yards and a whopping 37 minutes of possession, but that didn't stop Washington from eating. He's a force in the middle of the D-line.
Michael Thomas, WR: Is there anything Michael Thomas can't do with the ball in his hands? Saturday saw him put his second goal-line defender of the season on skates on his way in for six. This one came just 49 seconds into the game, with Cardale Jones shaking off the demons of a rough few weeks and hitting Thomas, who didn't have a defender within ten yards of him. He shook a Broncos DB hard enough to get space for a touchdown as he neared the goal line, making it look awfully easy.
Thomas finished with 80 yards (38 coming on that one play) and the aforementioned touchdown on six total grabs. Just as glaring as his strengths were the places where Ohio State's other pass-catchers just don't stack up to Thomas yet, as both Jalin Marshall and Curtis Samuel failed to come down with multiple grabs in traffic -- the kind of passes that Thomas seems to thrive at wrestling away from defenders.
Cardale Jones, QB: Urban Meyer's faith in his starting QB was rewarded on Saturday, with King Cardale showing out for almost 300 yards through the air. Jones was 19 of 33 passing on Saturday, not an otherworldly average, but good enough to get the job done and rack up 288 yards against the Broncos. This was a different Cardale Jones than has taken the field the last few weeks for Ohio State. He played as hungry as he has since last year's playoff run, and made a few throws that showed why he's still the man for the Buckeyes.
The best of these tosses was a 37-yard touchdown pass to Jalin Marshall in the second quarter. Marshall did his part to get open -- it helps being noticeably faster than the poor sap tasked with guarding you -- but he couldn't have asked for a better throw from Cardale. The ball dropped in as though it shared a magnet with Marshall's No. 17, and the former high school QB didn't even break stride as he made the grab and stepped in for six.
Jones still has a few issues to iron out before he's back to his full world-wrecking potential, but something was there for him on Saturday that's felt absent since the Virginia Tech romp. His touch wasn't great, as he was picked off once on a teardrop throw towards the end zone and would have coughed up two others were it not for the turf monster robbing the defender of the clean catch. Still, the offense feels like it's grooving again, which is bad news for Ohio State's Big Ten schedule.
Curtis Samuel, H-Back: This was the game we've been waiting for from Samuel. Brooklyn's finest notched 104 yards on just four touches, finding paydirt on a 40-yard run halfway through the fourth quarter to put the exclamation point on the Buckeye victory. Ohio State's coaches are clearly getting more comfortable with the myriad options they have, and fans won't be upset to see Samuel getting a few more touches from here on out.
Nada: Feels good to be able to skate right past this section of the column. You're out of the doghouse, Slobs.
BUY: Ohio State's team defense. Western Michigan's Zach Terrell hung 355 yards on Michigan State a few short weeks ago, and the Spartans needed some serious offensive output to put the Broncos away, 37-24. That wasn't the case for Ohio State. The Buckeyes held Terrell to 18 completions on 33 attempts, good for just 169 yards. Terrell was good for two TDs, but also threw that ugly INT to Adolphus Washington. The Buckeyes were more generous on the ground than usual, giving up 169 yards to match Terrell's, but that's a number that they'll take knowing that Terrell might have put up all 338 of those with his arm against a different team. The defense also scored for the third consecutive week.
SELL: The platoon. This call comes for different reasons than in weeks past, as Cardale Jones played demonstrably better than J.T. Barrett against WMU and put out a performance that will be a great foundation to build upon moving forwards. Jones officially has the keys to the offense, and on Saturday, he looked like he knew just how to drive it.
BUY: The special teams unit. Ohio State's kick-blocking unit is now leasing space in Broncos kicker Andrew Haldeman's head. After Tyvis Powell blocked a field goal that would have put WMU on the board early, Haldeman missed a second FG attempt and an extra point in a day he'd sorely like to forget. The pressure wasn't abnormally high on the second attempt, but the psychological onslaught apparently was. This is a team that's still at its best when it doesn't have the ball in its hands, whether it's on defense or special teams.