Some of it, no doubt, has been the inferior competition.
An Ohio State offense should look good against Army, UNLV and Rutgers. The Buckeyes’ X’s are simply better than those opponents’ O’s.
But it is also undeniable that these last three weeks, and especially in Ohio State’s 56-0 rout of Rutgers on Saturday night, offensive playmakers have been sprouting up everywhere for the Buckeyes.
Running back Mike Weber, limited by a lingering hamstring injury, scored three touchdowns and ran with power and authority against the Scarlet Knights.
“I’m close to 100 (percent),” Weber said after the game.
The Buckeyes’ rotating group of receivers looks to be gaining comfort with its roles. Binjimen Victor, who might have the most raw talent of any of them, caught a 46-yard pass from J.T. Barrett and then used his 6-foot-4 frame to outjump a defender for a 23-yard touchdown.
Running back/hybrid Demario McCall, who showed enticing flashes in his 2016 cameos, scored twice late as he finally seems to be rounding into form after offseason sports hernia surgery. McCall caught a pass on a wheel route for one touchdown and then weaved around and burst through Rutgers’ defense for a 48-yard score.
“I feel real good,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said of the emergence of playmakers.
But he again used the word “realistic” to tamp down any overenthusiasm that might result from success against overmatched opponents. Meyer understands that an offense that looked like it ran in sludge against Oklahoma can’t really be given a stamp of approval until it plays better competition. Meyer believes Maryland, which comes to Columbus this week, qualifies as that.
Despite losing two quarterbacks for the season to injury, the Terrapins are 3-1 with road victories at Texas in the season opener and last week at Minnesota.
“That's a very good team,” Meyer said. “That's the next step.”
These last three weeks have been about rebuilding confidence that was shaken by the Oklahoma loss. Among the most significant statistic among all the gaudy ones Ohio State posted against Rutgers was this modest one: six. That’s the number of carries that freshman running back J.K. Dobbins got.
“We want to get him 12 to 15,” Meyer said. “But things happened, and all of a sudden you look up at the scoreboard and say, ‘Get him out of the game.’ ”
Weber got only 10 carries.
“Mike Weber had three touchdowns, but we didn’t get him loose,” Meyer said.
As the soft spot in the Buckeyes’ schedule recedes, coaches must figure out how best to deploy these pieces. Ohio State never seemed to answer that consistently two years ago when the Buckeyes overflowed with talent — Ezekiel Elliott, Michael Thomas, Jalin Marshall, etc.
It’s way premature to compare this offense with that one, but it will be as much art as science in devising how to balance Dobbins and/or Weber, with maybe some McCall or Antonio Williams sprinkled in.
The same goes at receiver, with the explosive Parris Campbell and Johnnie Dixon along with Victor, Austin Mack, Terry McLaurin and K.J. Hill.
But compared with the issues facing the offense after the Oklahoma game, it is exactly the “problem” Ohio State coaches want to be facing.