Dienhart: It's October, and the Ohio State Buckeyes are scary good
It’s the start of October, and Halloween isn’t far away. Perfect, because Ohio State is scary good.
The Buckeyes’ 58-0 destruction of Rutgers on Saturday in Columbus was a fright fest for the rest of the Big Ten—and the nation–to witness. How good is Ohio State? Do the Buckeyes have any weaknesses? I haven’t really seen any through Ohio State’s march to a 4-0 start. Email me if you see any.
The offense is clicking on every level despite losing three linemen, running back Ezekiel Elliott and wideouts like Mike Thomas, Braxton Miller and Jalin Marshall.
The defense may not have a peer in the nation despite losing players like end Joey Bosa, linebacker Darron Lee and cornerback Eli Apple, among others. The Buckeye defense has yielded just two touchdowns in four games while scoring four.
“They smothered us,” said Rutgers coach Chris Ash, who was a defensive coordinator for Ohio State the last two years. “They pressed us when they really could. We struggled to get open and that has been a problem for us against teams that press us. We have to work on that; we have to find solutions to get that done.”
How dominating were the Buckeyes on this day vs. Rutgers? They were outgained, 669-116. The game basically was over at halftime, as the Buckeyes raced to a 30-0 lead. Rutgers quarterback Chris Laviano hit just 3-of-12 passes for 33 yards. And Ohio State rationed the Scarlet Knights just 83 yards rushing on 38 carries with a long run of 16 yards. The Scarlet Knights had no room to work. They were suffocated by what may be the top defense in America.
“We’re just a team playing together right now,” OSU defensive end Jalyn Holmes said about his d-line mates. “We understand the game plan and you’re seeing good coaching. We’re just putting it on film right now.
“We just got back to the basics and did what we’ve been doing all season. We saw all of what we saw on film all week and we just were well prepared for them.”
The offense is pretty good. Quarterback J.T. Barrett continues to cement his status as the Big Ten’s top Heisman contender. On this day, Barrett completed 21-of-29 passes for 238 yards with four touchdowns and a pick with 46 yards rushing. The junior became the school’s all-time leader in touchdown passes with 59. He’s already an all-time great.
“It’s just a great honor,” said Barrett. “The tradition here at Ohio State is so rich. It’s just in everything we do. Despite everything I’ve been through it feels surreal. That’s crazy that I was just trying to do my part and do my best for the team and then broke the record. I’m truly grateful for it.”
What’s really incredible is OSU coach Urban Meyer took a commitment from Barrett without ever seeing him throw.
“I made this comment that (former Buckeye offensive coordinator) Tom Herman and Trent Dilfer were responsible for us signing that kid,” said Meyer. “He was a guy that we had two kids in Ohio that ended up committing early. And it was my first year. I said I need to see you throw. For some reason that didn’t happen. And we started losing commitments at quarterback right away.
“And Tom said, ‘I think we should take this guy.’ I said what’s his name again? He said, ‘J.T. Barrett.’ I said, ‘OK.’ I called Trent Dilfer from the Elite 11. He went to him. He sold me on him. We took him. He’s the first quarterback I’ve ever signed that I never saw throw. Think about that.”
Meyer did see Mike Weber run in high school. And, now, the redshirt freshman looks like the real deal, running 14 times for 144 yards and a TD, averaging 10.3 yards per carry vs. RU. He isn’t the biggest back (5-10, 212), but Weber has a burst and is tough. Still, Ohio State is all about a defense that is really special—especially the secondary.
“I just think once again that you have three corners right now that they’re getting a nice little rotation,” said Meyer. “And I’m seeing numbers like 40 plays instead of 70 plays. And we play so much. It’s basically zero coverage the entire game.
“And when you have Gareon (Conley), Denzel Ward and Marshon Lattimore, and the fourth guy pretty good, too, Damon Arnette, we’ve never had that. Even at Florida when I had Janoris Jenkins and Joe Haden, you didn’t have the depth behind it. So we just need to continue recruiting that depth at that position. That frees up so much. If you have two guys, say you cover them, too, and play.”
So, who in the Big Ten is going to slay the Buckeyes? Who is the biggest foe left for Ohio State? A game at Wisconsin looms on Oct. 15 and could be perilous. There is a home game vs. Nebraska on Nov. 5, a game at Michigan State on Nov. 19.
And then, of course, the finale at home vs. Michigan on Nov. 26.
The game vs. the Wolverines will probably be the biggest challenge. Jim Harbaugh has the Wolverines playing well, especially on the defensive side of the ball. And the offense continues to be refined. Plus, Michigan will be very motivated coming to the Horseshoe, looking to reverse the trend of this iconic rivalry. The Buckeyes have dominated this series of late, going 12-2 since 2001 and winning the last four meetings with a 42-13 triumph last season. The last time Michigan won in Columbus? In 2000, when the Wolverines took a 38-26 decision.
Still, will Michigan really be a match for Ohio State in Columbus? Especially if the Buckeyes are unbeaten and in the hunt for a playoff spot and possible second national title in three years? Ohio State knows it let a golden opportunity at another title slip away last season. No doubt, the Buckeyes are locked in.
In the end, the biggest foe for Ohio State may be … itself.
“There is always competition on a daily basis,” said Buckeye linebacker Raekwon McMillan. “That’s something that Coach Meyer preaches day in and day out. We can never relax. As soon as we relax somebody is going to try and take advantage of you and make a play for themselves.”