COLUMBUS, Ohio — Four years ago, Billy Price made the nearly three-hour drive from Youngstown to Columbus, where he witnessed the unofficial start of the Urban Meyer era.
A 4-star prospect as a defensive lineman, Price was admittedly more focused on the Buckeyes defense than he was its offensive counterpart when Ohio State hosted Nebraska for a primetime matchup under the lights of Ohio Stadium in 2012.
“[Bradley] Roby pick-sixing it and taking it back,” Price said of his memories from that game on Wednesday. “I was watching John Simon a lot of the time.”
The Buckeyes offense, however, became too much to ignore. Fireworks filled the air as the Ohio State offense finally appeared fit for Meyer, then the first-year head coach. By night’s end, the Buckeyes had tallied 498 yards in what was ultimately a 63-38 Ohio State crushing of the Cornhuskers.
“It was just awesome,” said Price, now in his third season as a starting offensive guard. “That kind of game, it’s electric.”
On Saturday, for the first time since that night, Nebraska will return to Ohio Stadium.
The Buckeyes are hopeful their offensive-inspired fireworks will do the same.
After all, it’s been more than a month now since the Ohio State offense last truly played to its potential. After a strong start to the season, the Buckeyes have hit a wall when in possession of the ball in the past four weeks — particularly in a passing game that’s failed to get all of its components on the same page.
Take a look at the OSU offense’s splits between the first four weeks and the last four weeks:
Four total defensive touchdowns aided Ohio State’s early-season scoring efforts. It’s also worth noting that the Buckeyes’ first four opponents now possess a combined 15-18 record while their last four lay claim to a 20-12 mark.
But even when accounting for the increase in competition, Ohio State has found in the heart of Big Ten play, it’s not a stretch to say its offense has recently suffered a setback.
Buckeyes coaches would even admit as much.
“Yeah, it has regressed a little bit,” Meyer admitted of his offense last week. “It’s hard to put it on one thing.”
Many inside the Woody Hayes Athletic Center have been quick to point out opposing defenses taking the deep ball away from the Buckeyes, forcing a dink-and-dunk approach that hardly resembles the typical explosiveness found in an Urban Meyer offense. The OSU offense hasn’t capitalized on the opportunities that have been available either.
“We’ve got to do a better job of converting,” said Tim Beck, Ohio State quarterbacks coach and co-offensive coordinator. “We haven’t converted [downfield] quite as much. Sometimes those chances are fewer and far between. But we’ve got to do a better job of converting.”
It’s easy to point to the Buckeyes’ past four weeks and identify a trend. Ohio State players and coaches claim to be just an inch here or there away from a breakout play. It’s tough to count on that inch, however, when it hasn’t been found in more than a month.
And yes, the competition has improved. Wisconsin and Penn State each possess top-25 pass defenses. But what happened last week against Northwestern, when Barrett completed just one pass of more than 20 yards against Northwestern’s 112th-ranked pass defense? At what point does this vanilla attack become the new normal in Columbus?
That might be both a pessimistic and accurate assessment of where the Ohio State offense currently stands. Four weeks in a college football season might as well be an eternity. You are what your record says you are and right now, the Buckeyes’ record, while 7-1 overall, at least from an offensive standpoint, isn’t encouraging.
But while many — including Meyer — have embraced Ohio State’s new “dogfight team” mentality, there’s simply too much talent on this roster for the Buckeyes to remain bottled up.
According to 247Sports.com’s team talent composite, Meyer has compiled the fourth-most talented roster in all of college football this season. The two teams ranked immediately ahead of Ohio State — USC and LSU— also endured earlier offensive struggles before recently hitting their respective strides.
Could the Buckeyes be next?
We won’t know until this weekend — or perhaps even later. And against a Nebraska defense that ranks 20th nationally, Ohio State will have its hands full.
But for what it’s worth, the Buckeyes don’t seem too concerned with meeting anybody else’s expectations, except their own.
“First and foremost, the goal is to win. We’re not looking for a statistical number to make sure we’re reaching X, Y and Z to classify us as a ‘good offense,’ ” said Price. “If we score touchdowns, we put the ball in playmakers’ hands and we protect J.T. upfront, we’re a good offense.”
If all those things happen, the air might be filled with fireworks Saturday night at Ohio Stadium.
“I’m ready if you are,” Meyer said with a knowing grin.