This team could be one of OSU's best ever

Rob Oller
DISPATCH MUG headshot Rob Oller

Ryan Day showed up at his weekly news conference with the beginning signs of a beard, which makes sense since Ohio State has not faced a close shave this season.

Either that, or Day simply misplaced his razor. The man can grow a 5 o’clock shadow by 11 a.m. Regardless, the Ohio State coach probably has grooming to do before appearing again in public. And to hear him tell it, his team also needs to clean it up before showing up Friday night on national TV (Fox Sports 1).

“We just have to be critical, and I think the players have to understand that as coaches we’re not being overcritical,” Day explained. “It's just that we understand as talent equates and we start getting into these games like we do this week, those issues are still there.”

“Games like we do this week …” Good one, coach. Real knee-slapper.

Seven weeks into a 6-0 season, the Buckeyes travel to Northwestern after not playing on Saturday. The Wildcats (1-4) are decent defensively. But a 2-year-old with a crayon could design a more imaginative offense. “Chicago’s Big Ten team” — seriously, that’s the marketing slogan — is no better than Indiana and worse than Michigan State. Ohio State beat those two schools by a combined score of 85-20. That’s a way of saying the Buckeyes should have an easy time of it in Evanston.

Wisconsin in two weeks will be a different story, but that’s getting ahead of things. Staying in the immediate past-present, OSU’s week off was used to run a fine-tooth comb over a bald head — good luck finding stray hairs. This team is — depending on your age — the Yul Brynner, Telly Savalas, Michael Jordan or Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson of the Big Ten. Smooth and especially shiny under the bright lights.

I have covered Ohio State since 1996 and would rank this team among the five best, possibly even top three, right there with 1996, 1998, 2006 and 2010. That’s right, no national champions in there. The 2002 Buckeyes did not dominate through their first six games like this one, and 2014 OSU lost to Virginia Tech in Week 2. The undefeated 2012 Buckeyes weren’t even Urban Meyer’s best team.

The point is, this team has been terrific. Will it continue? Again, wait to see what shakes out with Wisconsin, then Penn State the week before Michigan. But my goodness the numbers flash in a handful of statistical categories.

• The defense has allowed four plays of 30 yards or more, tied for fewest in the nation. Last season, the Buckeyes allowed 39 such “chunk” plays.

• Ohio State’s 296 points ties for the most in program history (2016) through six games.

• The Buckeyes’ 28 sacks lead the nation.

• The run game averages 9 yards per carry on 37 third-down attempts. Third-down offense overall ranks No. 1 nationally.

I asked Day which gaudy stats please him the most?

“Guys care about each other. I think they love each other. They are playing for each other, and I think that we’ve played with great energy and toughness,” he said, showing a knack for sidestepping specifics.

He finished with this: “There’s good leadership. I still think there could be more leadership. We’re still working to clean up a lot of the things in the execution, and we still have a long way to go.”

Whatever you say, boss. Or don’t say, as the case may be.