COLUMBUS, Ohio — Even at Ohio State, it doesn’t get much better than 62 to 3.
Against a ranked team, no less.
The Buckeyes tore Nebraska to pieces last week, and the optimism inside Ohio Stadium during that rout could have generated enough power to light up the state. It was especially encouraging for Ohio State fans after games in which the Buckeyes lost to Penn State and struggled to put away Northwestern.
With that being said, there’s still the matter of Michigan. The No. 3 Wolverines will come to Columbus on the last week of the season. They’ll bring with them one of the most impressive statistical profiles in the country. With three games left, Michigan is ranked No. 1 nationally in total defense, passing yards allowed, scoring defense, third-down conversion defense, red-zone defense and first downs allowed. First, out of 127 teams. The offense isn’t far behind. Michigan is No. 3 in scoring offense and No. 20 in total offense.
Would a performance like the one against Nebraska be good enough to turn back the Wolverines? It certainly seemed so. The bigger question, of course, is whether such a showing can be duplicated.
Meyer said on Wednesday that young teams sometimes fall into inconsistency issues, something he also saw with the 2014 team.
“With first-year players, a lot of times you get the ups and downs,” he said, motioning his hands like a roller coaster. “If you remember back in 2014 and with other young teams I’ve had, you see a little bit of that, where usually a mature team is a little bit steadier.”
With that in mind, here are three areas Ohio State needs to shore up against Maryland and Michigan State to prepare for Michigan.
Specifically, the vertical passing attack. Ohio State has improved as a passing offense in recent weeks. The execution against Nebraska was perhaps the best of the season.
“Just young players and not much experience, and they’re coming into their own a little bit,” Meyer said. “I thought they played fantastic. I thought they blocked well on the screen passes, and that was their best game by far.”
Michigan has one of the best defensive secondaries in the country, if not the best. With Jourdan Lewis and Jabrill Peppers patrolling the field, Ohio State will have to work to find success. It can start by giving the Wolverines more options to worry about. The red-zone target to true freshman receiver Binjimen Victor against Nebraska was a good start. The Buckeyes would be smart to use the next two weeks to better explore what they have with redshirt freshman K.J. Hill and true freshmen Austin Mack and Victor.
The offensive line has looked much better since the Penn State debacle. However, both the Northwestern and Nebraska games were at home. Going on the road will give Ohio State a good chance to see just how much progress that unit has made.
The Michigan game will come at home, but it will also be a much stiffer test than the Wildcats or Huskers could have provided. Going on the road and playing well will serve as proof that the improvements the line wanted to show are taking hold.
“There are always things to work on,” right guard Billy Price said. “We have to continue to protect up front. We don’t like the amount of hits J.T. (Barrett) takes, even if its during his follow through. With the run game, we have to make sure we’re not looking off blocks. Those things, we just can’t do. Other than that, the ceiling is high. We always set a high bar at Ohio State.”
In a game against elite teams, turnovers often swing the battle. That could be good news for Ohio State, but it will all come back to consistency.
In the first three games of the season, the Buckeyes forced 11 turnovers. The defense scored touchdowns on four of those. The next five games featured just five turnovers and no defensive touchdowns. Against Nebraska, Ohio State forced two turnovers and scored touchdowns on both. That’s the type of performance that will win.
There’s no way to simulate that type of playmaking. However, playing at a high level against the Terrapins and Spartans should keep the Silver Bullets in position to make game-altering plays.
“If everybody does their job,” defensive tackle Michael Hill said, “everything else will take care of itself.”