COLUMBUS, Ohio — Some final news, notes, quotes and observations from Ohio State’s 62-3 blowout win over Nebraska on Saturday night:
Was blowout win a shocker?
Perhaps Urban Meyer said it best as he kicked off his postgame news conference.
“Wow,” said a nearly exasperated Buckeyes head coach. “I didn’t see that one coming.”
And who could blame him? For the past four weeks, Ohio State’s offense barely did enough — and in at least one case, didn’t do enough — for the Buckeyes to win. Going back to their closer-than-it-looked 38-17 win over Indiana four weeks ago, Ohio State has scored 38, 30, 21 and 24 points in the past four games. This was becoming the new normal for the Buckeyes offense in 2016.
But sooner or later, something had to give. This Ohio State offense is simply too talented and too stockpiled with 4 and 5-star prospects to remain bottled up for much longer. At some point, J.T. Barrett had to connect on a deep ball — which he did to Curtis Samuel for a 75-yard score on the opening play of the second half. Something as seemingly simple as that can open everything up. No more soft coverage. No more being forced to dink and dunk your way down the field.
Also boding well for the Buckeyes on Saturday? Just as they learned two weeks ago at Penn State, playing back-to-back road games in hostile environments is no easy task, especially when the first game is against a Wisconsin team that beats up its opponents physically. Coming off an overtime loss in Camp Randall last weekend, Nebraska was essentially in the same position Ohio State was in when it lost to Penn State. The Cornhuskers also happened to be facing a more talented team.
“One of those back-to-back night games,” Meyer continued in his opening remarks, almost sympathizing with his opponent on Saturday. “Just the wear and tear.”
So what changed?
It’s easier to see the final numbers for the Buckeyes offense and wonder “where the heck has that been for the past month?” But I honestly believe the Ohio State staff when it says it didn’t do a whole lot differently against the Cornhuskers on Saturday.
For one, touchdowns from its defensive counterpart are an offense’s best friend. The Buckeyes were already up 7-0 by the time Barrett even took the field thanks to a Damon Webb pick-six. Malik Hooker added another score at the end of the third quarter. Take away those two scores and 48 points is still an impressive performance, but it’s hardly the head-scratching outburst that 62 points seems like.
Despite all the talk about Barrett’s seeming “regression,” I think he’s actually been playing pretty well since his admitted stinker against Indiana. It’s more the players around him that have been the issue for the past four weeks and, on Saturday, he finally got the help he needed.
“We’ve always had great confidence in J.T.,” said offensive coordinator Ed Warinner. “Home run hitters might not hit a home run every third game. They might go two weeks without hitting a home run or three weeks and then they go on a tear. J.T.’s a good player. He’s back in his groove as far as hitting the deep ball.”
It also didn’t hurt his offensive line kept him upright — Nebraska failed to convert even a QB hurry on Saturday — and his receivers (nine of them, actually) made plays. If Barrett keeps getting that sort of help, the Buckeyes offense should be in good shape.
One of the most noticeable changes Saturday was the approach the coaches took with play-calling.
After weeks of discussion and debate, Samuel finally appears to be playing the “Percy Harvin position” the Buckeyes staff envisioned he would be entering 2016. He totaled 178 yards and two touchdowns on just 13 touches (eight receptions, five carries), most of which came in unpredictable ways. The OSU offense is at its best when Samuel has the ball in his hands. With two touches on the first two plays, the Buckeyes staff made that a priority on Saturday.
Through nine games, Samuel has tallied 1,275 yards (599 rushing, 676 receiving) and 10 touchdowns on 128 touches. In Harvin’s final season at Florida, he totaled 1,304 yards (660 rushing, 644 receiving) and 17 scores on 110 plays. Makes you think this Urban Meyer guy might be onto something.
How creative did the Ohio State staff get when it came to play-calling? For the first time all season, the Buckeyes ran a play with Barrett lined up directly under center before handing the ball off on a reverse sweep. And they did it twice.
“It was just something we tinkered with a little bit,” said OSU quarterbacks coach and co-offensive coordinator Tim Beck. “Just trying to be creative offensively, keep trying to get the ball to our playmakers.”
The play is similar to the push sweep the Buckeyes have run in past years, but have yet to use in 2016. “Slowly have implemented,” Beck said.
I asked Warinner if this meant the Buckeyes were moving to a pro-style offense. “Probably not, no,” he said with a laugh.
Not only have I never seen another safety not named Ed Reed move the way Hooker does with the ball in his hands, but he’s becoming a valuable member of the Ohio State defense when it comes to run support as well. Enjoy him while you have him, Buckeye fans. He’s already an NFL-caliber talent.
Hooker’s touchdown return clinched a school record six touchdowns for the Buckeyes defense this season. At least statistically, it will go down as one of the best in Ohio State history.
No Ohio State receiver stood out on his own, but Noah Brown, Terry McLaurin, K.J. Hill and Corey Smith each recorded catches while Barrett was still in the game. That’s a step in the right direction as far as the Buckeyes’ weakest position group this season is concerned.
“We’ve not been explosive at receiver this year,” Meyer said. “Our receivers, all day they were running very sharp routes, very crisp routes against a good secondary. J.T.’s delivering the ball, but I thought the receivers were outstanding.”
The Dontre Wilson Experience appears to be over at punt returner after Saturday’s fumble. Read about the emergence of Ohio State’s likely new punt returner, Demario McCall.
There are still two games left to play between now and “The Game,'” but you have to feel better about the Buckeyes’ chances in a de facto Big Ten East title game against Michigan on Nov. 26. It once appeared as though both teams would be tested on the road the week prior to facing one another, but both Iowa and Michigan State have proven to be two of the bigger disappointments in all of the Big Ten this season.
Next week, the Buckeyes will get a chance to maintain their momentum with a road trip to Maryland. With the Terrapins coming off a 59-3 loss to Michigan, it should be too tall of a task.