In two short sentences, Urban Meyer summed up the state of his Ohio State Buckeyes and the significance of their recent string of lopsided victories.
“We’re on a roll,” he said after his team’s 56-0 victory at Rutgers. “We’re also realistic.”
In other words, there’s little doubt the Buckeyes are improving. There’s also an understanding that they’ve devoured opponents who they should be devouring, that the real tests are ahead.
Since their humbling loss to Oklahoma, Ohio State has steamrolled three overmatched opponents by a combined margin of 148-28. The Buckeyes expected more of a battle from Rutgers, which played Washington tough and hung with Nebraska a week ago.
But former Buckeyes assistant Chris Ash’s team isn’t ready to match up against Ohio State, particularly with the Scarlet Knights’ top offensive playmaker Janarion Grant injured. Rutgers averaged 2.9 yards per run on Saturday and completed 11 of 27 passes for 92 yards, none to a wide receiver.
“Obviously, it’s a whole team thing,” safety Jordan Fuller said. “It’s the D-line rushing the quarterback and making him uncomfortable enough not to even want to try to get the ball off to his outside receivers.”
Offensively, the Buckeyes finally got their downfield passing game to click after some early misfires. Quarterback J.T. Barrett threw for three touchdowns and 275 yards while breaking Art Schlichter’s Ohio State career passing yards record.
“I was really disappointed we didn’t hit the plays we have to hit early on,” Meyer said. “But we came back and started hitting them. I don’t know if our receivers played like I expect them to play. We expect more out of them.”
That’s a telling comment. Even with the missed opportunities, the Buckeyes breezed past Rutgers, just as they did Army and UNLV. Ohio State fans may want to turn the calendar ahead to the Oct. 28 showdown against Penn State, but Meyer took issue with a line of questioning that presumed comfortable wins until then.
“We don’t have that type of mentality,” he said.
This week, the Buckeyes play a Maryland team that won at Minnesota with the Terrapins’ third-string quarterback. After that comes a trip to Nebraska.
Ohio State understands that its undeniable progress must accelerate. Defensive coordinator Greg Schiano wouldn’t term his defense as any more than a “work in progress.”
“We have a chance to be good, but we have to clean up a lot of stuff,” he said. “But I tell you what, our kids are working so hard that it’s going to happen.”
The offense still is more hit-and-miss than a true championship contender should be. But more and more playmakers are emerging. Meyer was particularly heartened to see running back Mike Weber score three touchdowns as he returns to full health from a hamstring injury.
Meyer revealed Saturday night that Weber’s injury almost required surgery. Now Weber can join freshman J.K. Dobbins as another threat.
“It’s going to be enjoyable to have those two checkers to work with,” Meyer said.
The prospect is tantalizing, as is the growing potential of the Buckeyes generally. But a lopsided victory against the likes of Rutgers can only tell you so much.