IOWA CITY, Iowa — This was men against boys. And Iowa had the chest hair.
You can blame No. 6 Ohio State’s embarrassing 55-24 loss Saturday to unranked Iowa on a number of things — lack of execution, suspect coaching and deflated emotion coming off a big win last week against Penn State — and not be wrong. All were legitimate contributors Saturday.
But don’t stop there. One must dig deeper to find the bottom of this hole. One must shovel through the dirt: the Buckeyes are 12-4 dating to last season’s loss at Penn State; two of the wins were by one point and one came in double overtime, meaning Ohio State could be 9-7 over that stretch. Also, three of the losses were by a combined score of 117-40.
Takeaway? How good is this team? No, think bigger. How overpowering is this program? Many won’t want to explore that question. Others will consider it offensive. I mean, what about last week’s incredible 39-38 comeback win against Penn State? Fair enough. It was impressive, not to mention highly entertaining. It showed — at least I thought it showed — that the Buckeyes are not the kind of team to fold the tent.
Then came Iowa. And it was as if to mark the end of daylight saving time the Buckeyes turned back their offense and defense instead of their clocks. Yes, there were injuries that hampered the offense. When left tackle Jamarco Jones and right guard Demetrius Knox both left the game in the second quarter — both eventually returned — some of the air left the offensive balloon.
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The same goes for the defense, which took a punch to the gut when defensive end Nick Bosa was ejected for targeting. But, come on. You’ve got to be bigger than that if you’re Ohio State.
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz put it best, saying his players showed up with great energy and grit.
“I thought we grew up a little bit today,” he said.
The Buckeyes? They’re not sure why they turned into Benjamin Button.
“We just did not come prepared to play,” senior center Billy Price said, who was unable or unwilling to shed light on the poor play that infected every phase of Buckeyes’ game, except the one that has been a problem all season. Ironically, kickoffs went off without a hitch.
Otherwise, Iowa owned Ohio State. But if Price was not exactly expansive in delivering the why/how of what had just happened, coach Urban Meyer was downright disordered. I would compare his muttering of most of his answers to that of Yosemite Sam, but at least Sam brought some heat. Meyer was as downcast as I have seen him after a loss, and that includes the 31-0 dismantling by Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl last season.
At least after that beat-down — the first time a Meyer team had been shut out — he sounded angry. After Iowa, he just sounded down, as if stuck at the bottom of a hole. Hmm.
I get it. It was the most points ever surrendered by a Meyer-coached team. The College Football Playoff went kaboom, as did J.T. Barrett’s Heisman hopes. It was like receiving a Dear John letter from John Deere country. Barrett threw a career-high four interceptions, including a pick-six just eight seconds into the game.
Or maybe Meyer realizes the program is experiencing slippage in energy and effectiveness? Ohio State can still win the Big Ten East, but the Buckeyes are in the business of winning national titles. I asked Meyer if he saw any hint this week of an emotional letdown after Penn State.
“I didn’t see it. I tried to watch closely like I normally do, and I didn’t see any signs,” he said.
No signs. Just another bad loss. Where to go from here?