The “I” word hasn’t been broached yet. But it will be.
Ohio State plays Indiana on Saturday, not Iowa, but the memory of what happened the week after the Buckeyes’ comeback victory last year over Penn State remains vivid.
When Urban Meyer was asked to look back at the Iowa debacle during the Ohio State coach’s weekly press conference on Monday, he cut off the question and said he was only looking forward.
He later shook his head when another questioner started to broach what happened last year in Iowa City, when the Hawkeyes ambushed Ohio State. That 55-24 thrashing proved to be a fatal blow to the Buckeyes’ College Football Playoff chances.
Asked whether he had a message for his team when they return from their off day, Meyer replied, “Practice really hard Tuesday, and we’ll have that chat.”
The No. 3 Buckeyes have a little more margin for error now than a year ago. Unlike last year at this point, they haven’t lost a game. But Ohio State doesn’t have many more chances for quality victories. A loss could be devastating.
Meyer isn’t concerned about that. He is focused only on his team getting better. He believes it has much more room to grow.
“You’re 5-0 and we haven’t played close to our best game,” he said.
The Buckeyes’ ceiling, Meyer added, is “not even close to where we are.”
He said that on Sunday he had a “call to arms” meeting with his players in which he exhorted veterans who aren’t pulling their weight to do so, and for freshmen to start contributing.
Recurring problems flared up again on Saturday and new issues arose. Meyer is exasperated by the defense’s susceptibility to big plays. The two longest plays ever surrendered by a Buckeyes defense have come this year — a 93-yard run by TCU and a 93-yard pass on a slant on Saturday.
“I understand we have some new players, but it's week 6,” Meyer said. “You just can’t give up those darn big plays.”
Against Penn State’s aggressive defense, Ohio State’s offensive line struggled consistently for the first time this season until the Buckeyes relied mainly on screens for the two late touchdown drives that won the game.
“They did a very good job with what they were doing, which was basically pressuring us 80 percent of the time, and we didn’t handle it well,” Meyer said. “We ended up handling it very well the second half.”
Such adversity probably will serve the Buckeyes well the second half of the season. And Meyer noted that Ohio State has passed two big tests already.
“With all due respect,” he said, “we went on the road twice, against TCU — I don’t know what they’re ranked but that’s a top-10 (caliber) team — and Penn State. I don’t know any schools in the country that have done that yet this year. We’ve done it and we walked away with wins. By the way, we lost one of the top football players in America on defense.”
The Buckeyes will be without that player, defensive end Nick Bosa, for the foreseeable future. But the defense, led by defensive end Chase Young, rose to the challenge against Penn State.
Now comes Indiana. Though the Hoosiers haven’t beaten Ohio State since 1988, Indiana has played the Buckeyes tough more times than not in recent years. The Hoosiers are 4-1 after defeating Rutgers 24-17 last week.
The Buckeyes have been installed as 26-point favorites. That shouldn’t provide much comfort. Ohio State was a three-touchdown favorite last year against Iowa.