Past two upsets keep Buckeyes on alert

Rob Oller
DISPATCH MUG headshot Rob Oller

If only Ohio State had been tipped off to what was coming before Iowa and Purdue the past two seasons. Alas, college football provides no spoiler alerts.

Knowing how dangerous those two opponents would be in early November 2017 and late October 2018 likely would have allowed the Buckeyes to avoid those shocking upsets, which would have gone a long way toward getting them into the College Football Playoff they narrowly missed.

It is early September, too soon for an OSU upset alert. Still, angst is always in season in Columbus, especially with the double devils of Iowa and Purdue whispering worry into every Ohio State fan’s ear.

Ah, but the Buckeyes are rolling at 2-0. The 42-0 win against Cincinnati on Saturday was as impressive of a performance on both sides of the ball — against what initially was thought to be a quality opponent — as OSU has commanded since it rolled No. 13 Michigan State 48-3 in 2017. Interestingly, that blowout came a week after the 55-24 loss to Iowa. (But don’t make too much of bounce-back games that follow embarrassment; last season the Buckeyes struggled to a 36-31 win over Nebraska the week after getting pummeled by Purdue 49-20.)

To these eyes, Ohio State resembles a playoff team. But these eyes also saw the Buckeyes headed for the playoff last season until Purdue receiver Rondale Moore turned the Silver Bullets into corks on a string.

Will it happen again? The Buckeyes are headed to Indiana on Saturday. The Hoosiers somewhat fit the upset template in that they are not total pushovers (i.e. not Rutgers), having defeated Eastern Illinois 52-0 in Week 2 following a 34-24 win against Ball State.

But my eyes again tell me Ohio State wins, and handily. Indiana’s offense is capable of putting up points but will struggle to reach double digits against an OSU defense that finally is playing to its talent level.

That said, this will be the Buckeyes’ first road game, plus nasty cobwebs may be clinging inside the minds of players who were around for Iowa and Purdue.

Senior receiver K.J. Hill described both losses as “unexplainable.”

“Things didn’t go right in those games,” Hill said Tuesday, suggesting that lack of red zone offense contributed to the stunner. But otherwise? Emoji shrug.

“We went in feeling good about the game. It just didn’t work out,” Hill said. “We prepare the same each week. We have to execute our plays, and if we don’t, we’ll end up with an 'L.'"

What’s the line about therapy? Admitting you have a problem is the first step toward recovery? In that case, Ohio State has a handle on not letting Indiana turn into another Purdowa.

“The immature player, the immature coach looks at it and says, ‘Everything is good, we won. We won pretty handily,’” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said. “The fact of the matter is that the issues are on film.”

Beyond that, Day preaches beware of Buster Douglas in Tokyo.

“The mentality we have is if you’re the champ, if you’re the boxer, they’re going to try to knock you out every time you go in the ring,” he said. “We’re going to get everybody’s best shot, we know that. Don’t be surprised.”

Yet shockers still happen. Ask Michigan, which doesn’t like talking about it. Or Appalachian State, which does. The Buckeyes also know a thing — or two — about spitting the bit.

Big picture? Upsetting a huge favorite is good for the game, providing a rare yin to the usual yang. Small picture? You don’t want to be the yang. On to Bloomington.