"It’s one game. Let’s chat in about four weeks now see how we’re doing."
While Saturday’s performance by the Ohio State Buckeyes was impressive on the field, perhaps what is even more intriguing is the fact that, of all those who saw the field Saturday, 30 had never played in a Division I game previously. Even so, head coach Urban Meyer is reserving judgement as he waits for the team to prove their consistency in the upcoming weeks. While the team has proven itself time and again in practice, the matchup against Bowling Green was its first true test of the season, with many more challenging games upcoming, including in two weeks in Norman. So while it was a solid performance for the team, they will need to prove that they are able to consistently play at that high level, regardless of opponent.
With months of discussion over how this group would perform given the lack of starters and departure of players who had been leaders on the team last season, many speculated a rebuilding year until the young guns could get their feet under them at Ohio State. An impressive Spring Game was just a glimpse into the talent on the team, without any true freshman and with several players injured. Now, the talent would seem to be better than expected. With 10 offensive touchdowns scored, and a defense which allowed just three points, spirits were high following the game, but players recognized the need to continuously improve and to enact the "next man up" mentality in the wake of several key injuries. As position coaches work to increase the depth at their positions, especially on the offensive line, Saturday provided an opportunity for inexperienced backups to get more reps than they would otherwise. Moving forward, the team will need to continue to perfect its performance as it moves through non-conference play into a formidable Big Ten schedule.
"I knew the coaches were gonna feed me the ball. It was on me to be dynamic."
Comparisons to Percy Harvin aside, Curtis Samuel has--at least for one game--demonstrated what a truly effective hybrid role could look like for the Ohio State offense, akin to what Urban Meyer managed at Florida with Harvin. While he is neither true running back nor true receiver, Samuel showed that he can be the best combination of both, ultimately earning 84 yards on the ground and a team-high 177 through the air for a total of three touchdowns on 22 touches. Meyer even acknowledged that Samuel is the "first true hybrid I’ve had in a while where he’s big enough."
From a receiving perspective, Samuel plays the slot receiver role in particular very naturally. While he filled more of an outside role last year while Braxton Miller played H-back, Samuel was often looked over in 2015. Saturday, however, he was extremely effective from the slot, where he is able to stretch the field and get into space. All nine of Samuel’s receptions came from this position, leaving the outside open for the likes of K.J. Hill and Noah Brown.
He was equally successful from the backfield, gaining positive yardage on all 13 plays where he lined up either as running back or wildcat quarterback. The speed option beside J.T. Barrett worked particularly well, as the Falcons erred toward Barrett in most of these situations, leaving the outside open for Samuel. Even so, Samuel felt, after the game, that he could have done a better job reading blocks, which caused him to leave yards on the field.
"Ohio State reigns supreme in our first power rankings of the 2016 season after an impressive undressing of MAC opponent Bowling Green."
In an opening week in which the Big Ten finished an impressive 12-2, including a win over a top-five SEC opponent, the Buckeyes’ 67-point victory is still impressive enough to earn Ohio State the top spot in the inaugural conference power rankings of the season. Behind a seven-touchdown performance by J.T. Barrett, which earned him offensive player of the week honors in the Big Ten, the offense broke the school record for total yards with 776 (the previous record was 718, set in 1930 against Mt. Union). Curtis Samuel had three touchdowns and recorded a third of the offense’s total yards, including 177 receiving yards to lead the team. Freshman receiver KJ Hill and running backs Mike Weber and Demario McCall also silenced doubters with impressive performances on the ground and through the air, showing that the offense won’t miss a beat despite the loss of key starters from 2015. Defensively, the Buckeyes held Bowling Green scoreless for three of four quarters, recording three interceptions including one by freshman cornerback Rodjay Burns which was returned for a touchdown.
While Ohio State’s victory was certainly decisive, perhaps the most impressive win in the Big Ten over the weekend was Wisconsin’s 16-14 win over LSU, propelling the Badgers to the No. 3 spot in the power rankings. This win was a critical one for Wisconsin, who will open Big Ten play at No. 12 Michigan State, at No. 7 Michigan, home against Ohio State then at No. 17 Iowa. Michigan, meanwhile, held onto the No. 2 spot behind the Buckeyes with a 63-3 win over a Hawaii team returning from a loss to Cal in Australia last week. Iowa and Michigan State, with wins over Miami (OH) and Furman, respectively, round out the top five in this week’s rankings.