After romp, time for OSU to look ahead
One day after each Ohio State football game, beat reporters Joey Kaufman and Bill Rabinowitz discuss the lasting storylines and other key developments. Their latest back-and-forth follows the Buckeyes’ final nonconference game on Saturday afternoon, a 76-5 beating of Miami University.
Kaufman: So that was the last tune-up, huh? Ohio State has breezed through the first third of the regular-season schedule, which included three nonconference games and the Big Ten opener at Indiana. No matchup was more lopsided than the one against the RedHawks as the Buckeyes had scored 49 points by halftime before resting their starters in the second half. So here’s the obvious question: Are there any real takeaways from a game in which there is such a talent gap? Or should we wash our hands of the blowout and move on to Nebraska?
Rabinowitz: I suppose something can always be gleaned from a game. Garrett Wilson showed that the hype about him is justified. His touchdown catch was amazing, and he added a 52-yard punt return in which he expertly used his blockers. Chris Olave did Chris Olave things. Chase Young did Chase Young things. Jeff Okudah got the monkey off his back with his first career interception. But there were things early in the game that were mildly concerning. The RedHawks actually had the Buckeyes off-balance with some creative play-calling. And I didn't think the offensive line was as dominating as it had been in the run game the previous two weeks.
Kaufman: True enough, the Buckeyes trailed. They were down 5-0 after giving up a safety and field goal in the opening minutes. You have to go back to last season’s wild win at Maryland to find the last time they had been behind in a game. Among the early issues, there were some coverage busts as well from the Buckeyes’ secondary, which had otherwise been pretty disciplined so far, and they allowed 113 total yards in the first quarter. But it’s hard not to fault them if they weren’t amped right away at kickoff against such an overmatched foe, and it got ugly real quick after that. Miami was held to minus-7 total yards in the second quarter, 9 yards in the third quarter and 15 yards in the fourth. So I’ll cut 'em some slack, even if their coaches don't.
Rabinowitz: OK, that's enough time spent on Miami. Let's look ahead to Nebraska and beyond. At the beginning of the season, I thought this game in Lincoln would be a really tough one. Scott Frost's team improved significantly during the 2018 season and I thought the Cornhuskers would continue to improve, especially since they have a talented quarterback in Adrian Martinez. But they have been a disappointment. They lost to Colorado and barely survived Illinois on Saturday. It's a night game with ESPN GameDay in town, so the hoopla will be intense. I just think the Buckeyes are so much better that it won't matter. But we shall see.
Kaufman: The atmosphere is going to be the tougher test, as you say, because the Cornhuskers have been underwhelming thus far. They still might be the best team the Buckeyes have faced, but not by much. Looking at some of the frequently cited college football analytics rankings, Nebraska is No. 41 in Massey and No. 42 in Sagarin, while Cincinnati is No. 45 and No. 54, respectively, and Indiana is No. 53 and No. 60. Not a big difference. But it’s also early in the season and too early to discount the possibility of the Cornhuskers evolving over their coming weeks. When Penn State won the Big Ten in 2016, it did despite a tough September start. That isn’t likely to be Nebraska’s fate, but it’s worth considering whether the arc of their season could change in some fashion. Maybe a prime-time matchup with a top-five team has a hand in it.
Rabinowitz: Yes, the Buckeyes moved up to No. 5 in the Associated Press poll. (They remain sixth in the coaches poll). Let's take an even broader look at their situation. Notre Dame's loss to Georgia clears a potential lane for the College Football Playoff. Georgia, Alabama, LSU and Auburn are all in the top seven of the AP poll. Only one, obviously, can be undefeated by the end of the Southeastern Conference season. As far as the Big Ten goes, Michigan State's offense came alive against Northwestern. With the Spartans' defense again stout, the Buckeyes' game against MSU in two weeks becomes more intriguing. And then there's the coming showdown in October against Wisconsin. Remind everyone, Joey, what the Badgers did on Saturday.
Kaufman: Oh, the Badgers bludgeoned Michigan 35-14. Did you think the folks in scarlet and gray enjoyed the result? When the highlights played on the Ohio Stadium scoreboard during the second half of the Buckeyes’ win Saturday afternoon, they received some of the loudest cheers. Wisconsin, which had shut out South Florida and Central Michigan in its first two games, also kept the Wolverines scoreless until late in the third quarter and rushed for 359 yards. Ohio State and Wisconsin look like the class of their divisions in the Big Ten, and perhaps GameDay will pay the Buckeyes another visit next month when these teams meet in Columbus.
Rabinowitz: GameDay will come to Columbus or Baton Rouge (LSU vs. Auburn) that day, I'd bet. I thought before the season that people were overlooking Wisconsin. The Badgers were coming off a disappointing 2018 but have stud running back Jonathan Taylor, and their defense has been as impressive as Ohio State's. At least now we can talk about potential tough games instead of cakewalks, whether it's Nebraska, Michigan State or Wisconsin. The only absolute gimme the rest of the way is Rutgers, though the Buckeyes will almost certainly be favored in every game. In late September, Ohio State's season finally begins in earnest.