- Austin Ward, ESPN Staff Writer
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The plan needed some adjustments on the fly, but the end result as nonconference play wrapped up was exactly what Ohio State had in mind.
Braxton Miller was on the shelf for almost all of it, the defensive line had to deal with a couple notable injuries and the strength of schedule may have taken a hit due to circumstances the Buckeyes couldn’t control. But they are undefeated, about to get much healthier and might actually wind up being fresher than coach Urban Meyer might have hoped for after four games before kicking off the grind that is the Big Ten slate.
With the “preseason” out of the way, it’s time to take a look back at the superlatives from a stretch that pushed Ohio State’s winning streak to 16 games.
Best game: The Buckeyes didn’t know until late in the week before flying to take on California if they’d have Miller available after he suffered his sprained knee the game before, and the flight itself provided some adversity for the roster. But the spread offense hummed right along with Kenny Guiton at the helm, jumping to an early lead with three touchdown passes from the backup in the first six minutes while the rebuilt defense forced a couple turnovers and survived the up-tempo onslaught from Cal in a comfortable 52-34 victory. The outing wasn’t perfect, but it did offer a glimpse at plenty of the things that could make the Buckeyes dangerous moving forward.
Best player: The competition wasn’t the stiffest on the schedule, but taking the best player in the Big Ten out of the lineup at least opens up the possibility that the playing field would level out a bit against teams like San Diego State and Cal. But Guiton did more than a serviceable impression of Miller in September, and he actually posted some Heisman-worthy individual numbers while filling in as the starting quarterback. Miller will be reclaiming his job when conference play opens Saturday, but Guiton set a handful of school records while piling up 664 passing yards, 186 rushing yards and 14 total touchdowns. He deserved the spotlight that was shining on him for a change.
Best performance: Guiton’s wildly productive outing at Cal captured most of the attention, but Jordan Hall’s work in the backfield was every bit as critical, both in the win and keeping a starting spot that he seemed to be just keeping warm for the suspended Carlos Hyde. The senior running back carried the ball 30 times, proving he could handle a full workload as he comes back from a medical redshirt season. He turned those touches into 168 yards and 3 touchdowns to give Meyer something to think about when Hyde’s three-game punishment expired.
Best surprise: The public criticism and talk of dysfunction at wide receiver has been put to rest for a while now, but the Buckeyes might actually have more depth on the perimeter than they were letting on during spring practice or training camp. Ohio State has nine different players averaging at least one reception per game, and although Devin Smith and Philly Brown are still pacing the group, guys like Evan Spencer, Chris Fields and freshman hybrid Dontre Wilson are giving the spread attack even more weapons to deploy.
Biggest disappointment: A physical test against Wisconsin will be the best gauge of how well Ohio State has rebuilt its defense, but there were a couple lapses on the road against high-octane Cal that caught the attention of the coaching staff and the returning veterans. The Buckeyes counted 16 missed tackles in that game and had a few communication issues in the secondary while giving up 34 points, though they’ve had little to complain about during the other three victories on the defensive side of the ball and rank No. 21 in the country in points allowed.
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