COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio State hasn’t looked flawless this season, but the Buckeyes haven’t been that far off.
They opened by hanging 77 points on a reigning conference champion and followed that up with a 48-3 win in a monsoon. They beat a top-25 team by 21 points on the road in a game that looked like it could have been even more lopsided. Then came Saturday’s win against Rutgers, whom the Buckeyes held to three (three!!!) completions and three (three!!!) plays in Ohio State territory.
What Ohio State has done this season defies expectations — unless you ask anyone on the team.
“No, I’m not all that surprised just because that’s what we’re trained to do,” defensive end Sam Hubbard said. “Coach (Urban) Meyer made a comment to us that when the young guys come into the game, everyone expects us to stop scoring or let up, but all they know how to do is go hard because that’s the way we’re trained. That’s why the scores keep going up and up, and we don’t give up anything at the end of the game. It’s just the culture of the program right now, so I’m not surprised.”
That culture of the program is what everyone believes will protect them from downfall, too. Eventually the Buckeyes will play a close game, whether that time comes against Indiana, or on trips to Wisconsin or Penn State, or in the regular-season finale against Michigan.
Meyer said he was worried his team might struggle against Rutgers after the Oklahoma win and a week off, and he challenged the players accordingly. The result was a 58-0 win in which Ohio State didn’t punt and didn’t allow a point.
He said he’s not afraid to sprinkle in little tests throughout the season to make sure the team appropriately responds to challenges.
“If the leaders do the right thing, then normally you’ll see nice development of the team,” he said. “If you the leaders of your team are idiots, then you’ve got a problem.”
Thus far, it’s been an idiot-free season.
Although it hasn’t been a mistake-free season — the Buckeyes got off to slow starts against Tulsa and Rutgers and still commit too many penalties — it hasn’t needed to be. The culture has helped compensate for the growing pains this young team is still working through.
There will be a day when the Buckeyes meet their match on the field, but they believe they’ll prevail in close matchups for the same reasons they’ve been able to blow teams out.
“I think the key word is team,” defensive coordinator Luke Fickell said. “You don’t panic. The reality is you rely on one another. Whether the offense has a slow start or special teams has a slow start or defense has a slow start, the reality is you have confidence in one another because it’s a team. I think that’s the way it’s been built. I’m not saying it’s always that way. When the offense was rolling, maybe we (the defense) were struggling a bit at times.
“The reality is that everybody has had their ups, everybody has had their downs and ultimately, through what we’ve done here and what we’ve built here and the culture of the coaches, it was designed and bred that it’s a team. No matter what the situation is – whether someone’s slow or someone struggles – we rely on each other and feed off each other. I think that’s the great thing we’ve got going right now.”