Ohio State offense, defense and play-calling all click … Curtis Samuel active early in big win … J.T. Barrett one of country’s top QBs
Ohio State had been turning its fans into angst-filled nervous wrecks and had chased away a once-fawning national media with one mediocre showing after another since its dominating win at Oklahoma in September. And with each passing week, there seemed to be an ever-widening gulf between Michigan and the rest of the Big Ten.
Everyone’s perception about the Buckeyes no doubt changed after they put together a complete performance in a 62-3 win Saturday night over a good (but not really a top-10) opponent in Nebraska.
Needing their offense to display some pep, they scored on their first eight possessions (six touchdowns and two field goals) and probably could have made it nine in a row if they didn’t decide just to run out the clock and end of the game instead.
Looking for a bounce-back effort from their defense, they had a pick-six on the game’s first series to set the tone and another in the fourth quarter to complete the beat-down. That’s six interception TDs for the season, an Ohio State record.
Hoping the play-callers would show some creativity — or at least not look like they’re being out-coached — the Buckeyes put their full arsenal on display and appeared as if they have game-changers at every position.
Just in time.
They were leading, 24-3, midway through the second quarter when Nebraska lost its quarterback, Tommy Armstrong, after a hard hit (he’s OK).
The game might have been more competitive if Armstrong had stuck around, but his impact wouldn’t have been dramatic. Not the way the Ohio State offense was playing. It’s not like he could have done anything about the eight straight scores.
I haven’t been among the multitudes clamoring for coach Urban Meyer to give the ball to Curtis Samuel more. The truth is, the junior speedster was coming pretty close to fulfilling the role Meyer has for a hybrid back.
He was the only player in the nation with 500 yards rushing and 500 receiving going into the game. He had 71 carries and 44 catches before Saturday, which was 14.4 touches per game. That’s what Meyer’s prototype H-back, Percy Harvin, would get on a regular basis.
Samuel isn’t built to be a plow horse. The reason the muttering in Buckeye Land was growing was because of the lack of a consistent ground game. If the offensive line was clearing paths for running back Mike Weber, nobody would be yelping about Samuel not getting utilized more.
But they got him involved right at the start. On the first play, he gained nine yards on a short pass. He picked up 16 yards on a jet sweep on the second snap.
On the next series, he gained 11 yards on a direct snap and seven on another lug.
He ignited scoring drives each time, but he didn’t become an every-down go-to guy. Perfect.
He finished with eight catches for 137 yards with two touchdowns and five rushes for 41 yards. He probably was on his way to 20 touches if the game was tighter, which probably is his max. He’s averaging about 10 yards every time he’s handled the ball this season, so the temptation to work him more is understandable. But you also want to keep him in one piece.
As good as Samuel played, the star of the night was J.T. Barrett, who completed 26-of-38 passes for 290 yards and four TDs. And he was at his best in the first appearance for the offense as the Buckeyes grabbed a 14-3 lead thanks to two pinpoint throws.
On third-and-20 from the 31-yard line, he threw a laser to Dontre Wilson for 22 yards. On third-and-goal from the 7, he scrambled and found Terry McLaurin in traffic for a touchdown.
If I’m the Buckeyes, I don’t think I’d trade any quarterback in the country for Barrett. OK, Louisville’s Lamar Jackson would be enticing. But other than him, I’d take Barrett’s skill set — elusive in the pocket, tough to bring down on runs, masterful in reading defenses on both option plays and drop-back passes.
He’s also plenty accurate, at least on short and mid-range passes. The one troubling element to his game is his difficulty on longer throws.
He did have a 75-yard bomb to Samuel on the first play of the second half, but he misfired three times on sure TDs, though he was bailed out by a pass-interference call on one.
But he had ample time for a change, which is a positive development. We’ve trashed the offensive line in the space, but that group deserves heaps of praise this time. Take a bow, boys.
The 8-1 Buckeyes certainly have to feel better about themselves with a clash against 9-0 Michigan looming. They have two games left before the showdown: at Maryland (5-4) and at Michigan State (2-7). And they need to resist the urge to look ahead — not an easy task for a young team.
But that doesn’t mean WE can’t start delving into that match-up.
I know Michigan is getting lots of love over the airwaves. And I get it. After 10 years of irrelevance, and with a kooky-but-charismatic coach in Jim Harbaugh, you’d expect the Wolverines’ unbeaten start to attract tons of eyeballs.
But while they’ve been smashing nearly everyone and may be worthy of their No. 2 ranking — and I wouldn’t be surprised if they beat Ohio State in Columbus — they’ve certainly benefited from an extremely favorable schedule.
Michigan has played exactly two road games (both in the afternoon) against teams who are a combined 4-14. Ohio State has played three road games at night when crowds are bonkers against teams that are a combined 21-6. Massive difference.
The Wolverines haven’t been tested. Yeah, yeah, I know they beat Pac-12 contender Colorado at home. The Buffs are having a nice season, but did anybody see that turnover-fest they had against UCLA on Thursday?
The Wolverines were supposed to have a challenging night game on the road next week. They’re at Iowa, which made the Big Ten title game last season. But the Hawkeyes are frauds. They have one good year for every four lousy ones.
They were blasted at Penn State, 41-14, on Saturday. They’re 5-4. Yep, Michigan will go into the Ohio State game without one legitimate test all season. Don’t know how that happened, but it did.
The fact is we don’t know much about the Wolverines and won’t until that last game.
But we have a better handle on the Buckeyes after what we witnessed against Nebraska.
That team that pounded Oklahoma several weeks ago appears to have resurfaced.