What we learned last week: The Ohio State offense can be scary good.
I expected the Buckeyes to beat Penn State, but I did not foresee such a beating.
And by that I don’t mean simply I thought Ohio State would win by less than 49 points.
I came away from my studies of the Nittany Lions feeling they are a solid team with the kind of offense that gave them a puncher’s chance against a defense like Ohio State’s has played for the entire Big Ten season to date.
Penn State’s defense gave off some warning signs against Central Florida and Indiana, so I figured the Buckeyes would find the sledding smooth when they had the ball.
But 686 yards? 32 first downs? 49 points against a Big Ten team with a winning record? That was a surprise, and maybe more of one now than it would have been before the start of the season.
Why is that? I guess by now we’ve been conditioned to expect some miscues here and there. From the start of the Urban Meyer era, the Buckeyes have not show a tremendous killer instinct. They have whipped a few teams, sure, but more often they spent a decent amount of time spinning their wheels, too.
Perhaps sometimes expectations are too high for a dominant performance, but they are not without merit given the pedigree of the coach and many of the players.
Anyway, that game had pretty much everything – a quarterback who could hardly miss, a line that was creating massive creases in the defense and skill player after skill player winning battle after battle to lead to big play after big play.
I know people have already gotten tired of the comparisons to the Tressel era, but they are natural and unavoidable – at least for a little longer. That very successful time of the Ohio State program lasted a decade, after all, and it was distinct in many ways.
Though people often compared Tressel’s style to Woody Hayes, his teams almost never physically dominated an opponent.
That we were able to pick out just a handful of games that were candidates for high scores and yardage totals while we were in the press box trying to figure out where this game fit in recent history was telling. Days like Saturday just didn’t happen a lot in the past decade even though Ohio State won more than anyone else in the Big Ten. Rope-a-dope wouldn’t be the correct term for what Tressel’s teams did because there was rarely a knockout at the end. They didn’t wear out opponents so much as just let them shoot off their toes until they were crippled for the day.
Certainly there have been games like that under Meyer, too, and deep down he subscribes to many of the same conservative beliefs as Tressel. They both want to win the surest way, the difference is Meyer has another little angel (or perhaps devil) on his shoulder that is all-in for destruction, that pushes him to open the throttle whenever possible. That doesn’t mean embarrassing opponents intentionally, but it does mean relentlessly attacking goals regardless of collateral damage. It’s an all-consuming drive for greatness that cuts quite a path through any given game day or interview.
The result is supposed to be a viscerally effective football team, and that finally showed last Saturday night.
We saw how good these Buckeyes can be when they don’t make mistakes.
The Buckeyes aren’t going to be that good every night, and there are tougher teams than Penn State out there that could yet find themselves on Ohio State’s dance card before all is said and done, but that was a validation for those who believed this was no ordinary offense.
What we can expect to learn this week: Ok, this one is probably too easy. How well can the Buckeyes maintain their focus?
Purdue has been the worst team in the Big Ten this season, and there is no close second. The Boilermakers hung around against Michigan State (a team cut out of similar cloth as a Tressel squad but lacking as many high-quality recruits) and Notre Dame (which has proven to be pretty average), but they were embarrassed by Wisconsin and of all teams Northern Illinois.
I still think Darrell Hazell was a good hire, but things are not going well to start out as he works to instill discipline while perhaps trying to fit the wrong kind of personnel into a pro-style offense.
Someone – I can’t remember if it was Tressel or one of the players or assistants at the time – famously called Purdue the best 1-5 team in America in 2009 during the week leading up to the game. A claim that was derided on the beat when delivered, it turned out to have some merit as the Boilermakers ended up not only beating Ohio State but really deserving to win. That Purdue squad also ended up winning four of its last six games.
The Buckeyes had a chance to rally in the fourth quarter, but Purdue was without a doubt the better team that day based on its ability to do what it wanted to do when it had the ball and to take away some of the things that made that Ohio State squad good.
This Purdue team is 1-6, and there is little doubt there are other one-win squads as good or better.
The Boilermakers have had a week off to lick their wounds, though, and to prepare promising freshman quarterback Danny Etling for an Ohio State defense that still has questions to answer even after flummoxing star Penn State freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg.
Style points have made for a hot topic lately, but I think more important than impressing outsiders is simply continuing to push toward perfection.
Meyer has previously remarked about how easy it is to be average. He demands more from those who appear to have it in them, and those who respond positively to the negativity end up bigger men in the long run. They also probably happened to play for good teams judging by Meyer’s track record.