COLUMBUS, Ohio — Well, that escalated quickly.
Playing its first home night game this season, No. 6 Ohio State hammered No. 10 Nebraska, 62-3. Somehow, the game may not have been as close as the score would indicate. The Buckeyes beat them up and down the field in the first half and then did it again in the second. In the process, they showed that they might have a national championship ceiling when playing at their best.
Here’s what we learned.
Five things we learned
1. Maybe this Ohio State season isn’t the end of the world: The sky was falling after the loss to Penn State and struggles against Northwestern. Maybe — just maybe — that was an overreaction. Ohio State played maybe its best game of the season at the time it needed it most. The Buckeyes looked great on offense, ferocious on defense and made a top-10 team quit. Their resume now includes wins against THREE teams that were in the top-15 of the initial College Football Playoff ranking. Two of those victories were by three or more touchdowns, and two were on the road. Pretty good.
2. Malik Hooker is so, so good: I’m not sure this is something learned — it was more of a reminder. The sophomore safety is an absolute force of nature and scored his second touchdown of the season. He actually got terrible blocking on the return and still somehow turned it into six points. There aren’t many players like him in all of college football. Ohio State fans should enjoy him while they have him.
3. The passing game is making strides: Barrett had a couple misfires, but his numbers speak for themselves. He completed 26 of 38 passes for 290 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. K.J. Hill made five catches for 66 yards, perhaps signaling bigger things ahead for the talented redshirt freshman. True freshmen Binjimen Victor and Austin Mack both saw the field in the first half. If OSU’s young receivers are putting it together, that’s a scary thought for opponents.
4. The offensive line continues to develop: There wasn’t much talk about the Ohio State offensive line, and in this case that’s a good thing. The group that was tormented by Penn State improved against Northwestern and looked even better against Nebraska. The Huskers had no sacks and Ohio State rushed for more than 200 yards. Barrett generally had enough time to throw, and that will always be a winning formula with the weapons he has.
5. Nebraska is maybe not so great: Finally, I was right about something! I’ve been banging the ‘Nebraska isn’t that good’ drum all season. It looked pretty wise when the Huskers trailed in the second half against Purdue, Illinois and Oregon. It didn’t look so smart when they nearly beat Wisconsin on the road. I’d say a nearly 60-point loss settles it for the time being.
Question answered for Ohio State
Were the PSU/Northwestern games a temporary rut or signs of long-term problems? The short answer: It seems like they were short-term struggles. Playing on the road in back-t0-back weeks is hard, and that may have taken a toll on the Buckeyes. They finally got a good team at home and spent 60 minutes flexing their muscles instead of treading water.
Can the Buckeyes play their best against Michigan? Ohio State is about to enter what looks like an easy stretch with games at Maryland and Michigan State. It should be able to win both convincingly, but MSU’s staff has historically done quite well against Ohio State. What really matters, though, is the Michigan game that looms in the distance. If Ohio State plays at this level against the Wolverines it doesn’t seem possible that it would end in a loss. This is the type of effort it might take, though.
Five. And then six. Ohio State broke its record for defensive touchdowns in a season and then re-broke it. Safety Damon Webb returned an interception for a score on the first drive of the game. It was the fifth such score by the Silver Bullets this season. Hooker added the sixth in the second half.
What it means
At its best, Ohio State is one of the best teams in the country. When they execute the way they did against the Huskers, nobody save for maybe Alabama is stopping the Buckeyes. Whether or not Ohio State can continue this level of play going forward will determine the national championship picture.