COLUMBUS, Ohio — How different did Ohio State’s offense look in its win over Nebraska on Saturday night?
Consider this: For the first time all season, the Buckeyes ran a play with quarterback J.T. Barrett lined up directly behind center.
And they did it twice.
After underperforming for the better part of the past month, the Ohio State offense returned to championship form on Saturday in the Buckeyes’ 62-3 crushing of the Cornhuskers. The sixth-ranked Buckeyes didn’t just bounce back, they did so against a top-10 opponent, with No. 10 Nebraska entering Saturday’s showdown laying claim to the nation’s No. 20 defense.
After Saturday, both rankings are sure to drop. And with No. 4 Texas A&M suffering a defeat at the hands of Mississippi State earlier in the day, Ohio State could find itself in College Football Playoff’s top-four as soon as Tuesday.
If the Buckeyes do assume pole position in the playoff race, it will have plenty to do with an Ohio State offensive onslaught that started early and often on Saturday night.
After reporters and fans alike spent the past four weeks questioning his use of Curtis Samuel, Urban Meyer forced the issue against the Huskers, with the junior H-back touching the ball on Ohio State’s first two offensive plays. Samuel went on to tally 13 total touches (eight receptions and five rushes) for 178 total yards and two touchdowns.
That’s the most yards Samuel has totaled since he went for 261 in the Buckeyes’ opener against Bowling Green.
Perhaps it’s now time to ask Meyer whether he’s using Samuel too much.
In all seriousness, Meyer’s increased use of Samuel wasn’t the only adjustment he made on Saturday. Ohio State’s offensive approach was noticeably less predictable than in recent weeks, as evidenced by its 44-42 split in rushing and pass attempts. Perhaps most promising, the Buckeyes passing game appeared to get back on track, with Barrett throwing for 290 yards and four touchdowns, with 26 completions to nine different receivers.
The OSU offense’s most encouraging play of the day may have been one that didn’t even count.
A little less than seven minutes into the second quarter, Barrett dropped back and found Binjimen Victor for an 11-yard pass into the end zone. Officially, it was incomplete — a referee ruled Victor didn’t maintain control — but the mere presence of the little-used 6-foot-4 freshman should be considered a sign of evolution for the OSU offense.
On just one incomplete attempt, Victor looked like a player capable of adding a new dynamic to the Buckeyes’ passing attack.
— Faith ?? (@J1_island) November 6, 2016
That’s not to say Meyer didn’t make mistakes in the past month or that the Ohio State offense didn’t appear underwhelming coming into Saturday. In at least two of the Buckeyes’ previous four games, Samuel didn’t touch the ball enough and by even Meyer’s own admission, the passing game was enduring a “regression” of sorts.
But if Meyer’s 58-5 career record in Columbus or three national title weren’t enough already, Saturday’s offensive outburst should serve as a reminder that he is still one of the best coaches in all of college football. And while last year’s post-loss adjustments proved to be too little too late, this year’s should be enough to keep Ohio State in the national title conversation for at least the final three weeks of the regular season.
As of Saturday, the Buckeyes offense is back on track. And when mixed with one of the nation’s top defenses, that makes for a championship-caliber recipe.
At this point, a de facto Big Ten East title game between the Buckeyes and second-ranked Michigan appears all but inevitable. If Ohio State plays even half as well as it did against the Huskers, road games against Maryland and Michigan State in the next two weeks should be a relative breeze.
Meanwhile in Ann Arbor, the Wolverines are two wins away from entering ‘The Game’ with an undefeated record in tow for the first time since 2006. Buckeye fans should be rooting for their rivals up north in the next two weeks too, as a Michigan loss before now and Nov. 26 would shift control of the Big Ten East title to a suddenly surging Penn State.
OSU’s path to College Football Playoff remains the same as it ever was: Win the Big Ten and you’re in.
For the first time in a month, the Buckeyes looked like a team capable of accomplishing just that.