True confession: The beater I drive has 268,307 miles, leaks oil and I never know how it’s going to smell when I open the door. We call it Nick, short for Nicotine, because we bought it from a smoker.
A chain smoker, apparently.
Interestingly enough, Urban Meyer’s ride faces similar issues. Not his Audi S7. His Buckeyes. Every time Ohio State starts its engine, Meyer never knows if he will make it out of the driveway.
Speaking from experience, the best way to handle such uncertainty is to hold your breath, turn the key and proceed as if the hunk of junk will reach its destination. Doesn’t matter how it gets there, just so it does.
Nine games into this season, it doesn’t matter how the Buckeyes get there. Good thing, too, because there is black smoke coming from the tailpipe. The foul exhaust appeared again on Saturday against Nebraska, a team that began the season 0-6 before breaking through against that college football giant, Minnesota — cough, cough — and winning last week against Bethune-Cookman, which sounds more like a pricey home interior magazine than the nonmajor it is.
To be fair, once mighty Nebraska is not the worst team Ohio State has played this season. But the Cornhuskers are not good, either. Still, they made a strong pitch to become the first team with two wins or fewer this late in the season to stun a ranked OSU since one-win Purdue did the dirty deed in 2009.
It didn’t happen. No. 10 Ohio State executed a 36-31 escape move to improve to 8-1 and keep its GPS pin-drop location — the College Football Playoff — in place.
You can stop laughing now. Sure, the playoff seems like a reach. Sure, the Buckeyes’ reach too often resembles the alligator arms belonging to Nebraska receivers, who with a few more catches might have allowed the Huskers to fly home happy. But Ohio State is navigating the same road it planned to travel all along. It’s just that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to see how the Buckeyes don’t break down somewhere along the way.
Just don’t mention a potential sputter-sputter-dead engine to Meyer, who did his best to spin things positive.
“I get it that (Nebraska) was a two-win team,” he said. “But that’s a two-win team that people don’t want to play right now.”
Just ask Bethune-Cookman.
Meyer knows the Buckeyes are not up to snuff. He understands that fixing what’s broken doesn’t happen overnight, or even during a bye week like OSU just had. But he also knows what kind of sedan he is steering, which means winning at Michigan State will be difficult. And beating Michigan two weeks after that will be more difficult.
For the moment, however, the Buckeyes start when Meyer turns the key. Now, if he can just get a few more quality miles out of them …
Who are we kidding? The eye test reveals an Ohio State defense that often appears DOA. A talent issue? Coaching issue? My money is on both. Granted, the defense mostly hit its goal of not giving up chunk yardage — new schemes mean Ohio State is willing to suffer 1,000 razor cuts but not a chainsaw massacre — but that’s the frustrating part for Buckeye Nation.
Ohio State went in wanting to stop big plays, establish its running game (J.K. Dobbins rushed for 163 yards and Mike Weber 91) and score in the red zone (a respectable 3-of-4 success rate). Mission accomplished. But the Buckeyes still do not look like a Big Ten championship team, much less playoff candidate.
What they need is a good mechanic. Meyer? It’s not like he needs to get OSU purring. Not yet. Just do enough to get another win down the road.
Turn the key and you never know. Or as right tackle Isaiah Prince put it: “It worked today.”
With this team, that’s all you can ask.