“The offensive line is keeping our quarterback protected, we’re throwing the ball much better. The receivers had their two best games, they’re blocking for each other, and of course J.T. [Barrett] is playing better.”
A lot of factors went into the recent resurgence of the Ohio State Buckeyes offense. After averaging more than 50 points in their first five games, the unit stuttered and then stalled, with problems peaking during the Buckeyes’ loss to Penn State. After a tough home game versus a very good Northwestern squad, however, Ohio State got back on track for two straight weeks with twin, 62-3 wins over Nebraska and Maryland. While Meyer acknowledges that the schedule played a role in some of the issues the offense faced--such as playing two night games on the road in two straight weeks, and not returning home until the early hours of the next day--he said that the youth and inexperience of the team, which many expected but did not necessarily acknowledge early in the season, finally became a factor working against the Buckeyes.
Now, however, the offense seems unstoppable in many respects. With an offensive line that has finally meshed after bringing on three new starters (and moving positions for the two returning starters) and receivers getting into a rhythm with J.T. Barrett, who himself seems to have made a return to his 2014 form, the offense is able to move the ball seemingly at will against their opponents.
The X-factor on offense, of course, has been H-back Curtis Samuel. Samuel scored three times on nine touches against Maryland, and had 178 yards on 13 touches versus Nebraska. He remains the only player in Division I with more than 600 yards rushing and receiving, and Meyer has said “A lot of it is creativity” in getting Samuel touches and keeping defenses on their toes. What makes him so elusive and difficult to prepare for is the simple fact that he is so versatile--whether rushing or receiving or lining up in the wildcat, he is a lot to account for on top of Barrett, Mike Weber and their slew of receivers on the outside.
“It’s not the loss, that doesn’t describe the team we have. It’s the way we came back and got on our feet and kept swinging.”
Urban Meyer has not lost many games at Ohio State. But those few that he has--Virginia Tech in 2014, Michigan State in 2015 and, now, Penn State just a few weeks ago, for instance--have marked a turning point in the season for the team as a whole. Instead of looking ahead, and looking for perfection, the Buckeyes have tended to find a new sense of focus following a loss, refusing to think about the Playoff, the Big Ten Championship or, until the matchup against Michigan State is in the books, Michigan. Linebacker Raekwon McMillan said that “Now we’re focused back on us and not really what’s going on around the country and being ranked No. 2 anymore, we’re just happy to be here and happy to be in the situation that we’re in.”That’s because the Buckeyes’ loss has become their motivation. With so many factors now out of their control, including Penn State controlling the Big Ten East, Ohio State has instead turned inward, fighting a complacency which plagued the team up until their loss at Beaver Stadium. By putting all of their energies into each week’s new opponent, the team avoids looking ahead. The coaching staff even re-posts a new schedule at the start of each week, with every matchup blacked out except for that week’s opponent. By beating each opponent--and beating them handily--the Buckeyes have re-emerged in the Playoff discussion of their own accord, but that is not a concern for those inside the locker room.
In many ways, losses have proved to be a blessing for Meyer’s teams, giving them the freedom to play in the moment without worrying about what the next week, or the week after that, will bring. Perhaps they are peaking at just the right time as they prepare for whatever the postseason might have in store.
“I think Ben Victor, we’re just dying to get him the ball. You saw two catches, his wingspan, he’s a really good player. His future (is bright). He’s starting to learn to play high-level football, the speed that’s required and understanding the offense.”
With two, 59-point wins in a row, the first-team Ohio State Buckeyes offense and defense sat on the bench for a significant part of both second halves in the last two weeks, giving the youth of the team the chance to earn valuable experience and a shot at catching the attention of the coaching staff on a big stage. While several of these young players on their own saw playing time early in the season against the likes of Bowling Green and Tulsa, the recent wins were excellent glimpses into what the future of Ohio State football could look like, as the entire unit, by the conclusion of the game, was made up of non-starters.
Chief among this group was freshman wide receiver Binjimen Victor, who Buckeye fans first noted against Nebraska, when he barely missed a touchdown reception from J.T. Barrett. Against Maryland, however, Victor had two receptions for 36 yards and a touchdown off the hands of freshman quarterback Joe Burrow. Urban Meyer has noted Victor’s massive wingspan and natural ability, but that he is just now learning how to play at the level expected at Ohio State.
Fans have also seen glimpses of freshman running back Demario McCall throughout the season. In fact, he is fourth on the team in rushing, filling in behind Mike Weber at the tail end of games against Bowling Green, Tulsa, Rutgers and, most recently, Nebraska and Maryland. He rushed for more than 50 yards in four of his performances, and has three touchdowns on the ground and one through the air. Looking ahead to the future, with McCall getting needed touches and experience, he could help to provide a balanced attack with Mike Weber in the future.
Finally, defensive end Jonathon Cooper--whose five-star rating was dulled somewhat by fellow five-star defensive end Nick Bosa--had a strong performance Saturday, recording two tackles and a sack against Maryland. In the future, it would certainly be a formidable defensive line for Ohio State, with Cooper and Bosa anchoring either side.
STICK TO SPORTS
- D.C.-based Ohio State fans flocked to the Maryland game Saturday
- The Buckeyes had an awesome Mannequin Challenge after their win vs. Maryland
- But this video by the women’s gymnastics team might have them beat…
- Look out for the new Sriracha Big Mac at a McDonalds near you