- Austin Ward, College Football
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The offense and its quarterback have perhaps never played better.
A defense that was questioned at just about every level at some point this season is coming off a shutout and is finally playing the aggressive style its coach seeks.
And with both sides essentially racking up style points to impress voters while maintaining an unblemished record, Ohio State has seemingly left little to correct during its rare second bye week.
But that didn't stop coach Urban Meyer from throwing down the gauntlet immediately after throttling Purdue 56-0 last Saturday, challenging the No. 4 Buckeyes in his postgame conversation to come back "stronger and faster." Here are a few other things that might have been on the checklist as the final preparations are made for the stretch run.
Get healthy: Improving the strength and speed of the roster would be a bonus, but what the Buckeyes really need are a few key bodies to just get back to full health heading into the final three weeks of the regular season and a potential date in the Big Ten title game. Taylor Decker's left knee sprain, suffered late in the win over the Boilermakers, certainly put a scare in the coaching staff, and without much depth on the offensive line, ensuring the right tackle is ready to roll after a week of rest will be critical for a spread attack that is humming along. Linebackers Curtis Grant and Joshua Perry both are dealing with minor issues, though neither appears to be serious enough to keep them out of the lineup. And while Jordan Hall's nagging knee injury leaves his status a bit unclear, both the guys who are dinged up and those who aren't should benefit from the chance to rest this late in the season.
Keep building in the back: The secondary spent the first bye week directly in Meyer's crosshairs as the biggest concern facing the Buckeyes in the second half of the season, and they were scrambling then to replace safety Christian Bryant and looking to cut down on some explosive plays given up in the passing game. The defensive backs have certainly answered the bell lately, but the defense still ranks in the middle of the conference pack in pass defense, allowing an average of 223 yards through the air. That number is balanced out by the fact Ohio State has nabbed at least one interception in every game, and as Bradley Roby's consistency in coverage at cornerback has returned, the level of play overall has improved as well. But the next three opponents -- Illinois, Indiana and Michigan -- are each in the top five in the Big Ten in passing offense, which will continue to put the spotlight on the secondary.
Cheer for help: The fourth-ranked Buckeyes finally received some of the assistance they needed in the BCS standings when No. 3 Oregon lost at Stanford on Thursday night, and they will certainly be watching and pulling for LSU as it takes on top-ranked Alabama on Saturday evening. Ohio State obviously isn't a fan of having some of its destiny outside of its control, but it has also been pretty confident all year that everything would work out as long as it simply kept winning games. Even without a chance to do their part this weekend, the Buckeyes have a chance to come out a big winner while sitting on the couch, and they all are aware of what needs to happen for them if "The Chase" is bound for the national championship game.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The offense and its quarterback have perhaps never played better.A defense that was questioned at just about every level at some point this season is coming off a shutout and is finally playing the aggressive style its coach seeks.