When Ohio State handed coach Urban Meyer a three-game suspension, anyone with a cursory knowledge of college football understood that his absence might affect the outcome for only one of those games.
A guy off the street summoned to serve as coach could have relied on the Buckeyes’ coaching staff and deep, talented roster to roll past Oregon State and Rutgers.
TCU was a different story. The No. 15 Horned Frogs have speed aplenty, a dangerous dual-threat quarterback and a mastermind of a coach in Gary Patterson. Playing 18 miles from its Fort Worth campus, TCU figured to be a handful for the Buckeyes. That proved true.
“Before this game and surely after it, we had a lot of respect for TCU,” said Ohio State right guard Demetrius Knox, a Fort Worth native. “But we had confidence in our coaches, ourselves, our ability. We looked at the film and we were like, if we do what we do and do what our coaches tell us to do, we’ll come out with a W, and that’s what we did.”
Ohio State’s 40-28 victory on Saturday night exposed some flaws. The Buckeyes had defensive breakdowns similar to the ones against Oregon State, and they again resulted in big plays. TCU gained 511 yards.
But Saturday also revealed true mettle. The Buckeyes lost their best defensive player — and maybe the best in the country — when defensive end Nick Bosa was injured early in the second half. TCU rallied from an early 10-0 deficit to take a 21-13 lead, and the game had echoes of the 2014 Virginia Tech debacle.
Instead, the Buckeyes scored three touchdowns in just over four minutes, with the biggest a pick-six of a shovel pass by defensive tackle Dre’Mont Jones to give Ohio State the lead for good.
“It means a lot to be able to face adversity like that and come back victorious,” Jones said. “It really shows how strong you are as a brotherhood.”
On offense, the Buckeyes were potent but too often hurt themselves. Receiver Austin Mack, who had an over-the-shoulder catch on Ohio State’s first drive, had four passes go off his hands. The offensive line allowed a semi-consistent pass rush for the first time this season. Center Michael Jordan repeatedly snapped the ball low to Dwayne Haskins Jr.
But both running backs, J.K. Dobbins (121 yards) and Mike Weber (64) ran hard, and Haskins proved up to the task in his first real challenge as a starter. He didn’t throw an interception. Other than an underthrown deep ball to Binjimen Victor that could have been a touchdown, he was on target when given time to throw in completing 24 of 38 passes for 344 yards. He even kept the ball on an option for a 5-yard touchdown run that sealed the win.
“This was a test to see where he was at,” acting head coach Ryan Day said. “I thought he passed.”
For the season, Haskins has completed 72.5 percent of his passes and thrown for 11 touchdowns with only one interception. His scoring run made him the 15th Buckeye to score a touchdown, a testament to the team’s depth. With the Big Ten’s supposed strength having been shown to be a bit of a mirage in nonconference play, the Buckeyes look like the clear favorite in the league.
Now they get Meyer back for games.
“That’s our leader,” Knox said. “That’s our No. 1 guy. We finally get to finish the rest of the season and go into the rest of these fights with our No. 1 guy with us.”