Sunday, October 7, 2012
Ohio State is the Big Ten's main event
By Adam Rittenberg
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- When Urban Meyer met his new team, he talked about goals without restraint.
It's the kind of confident approach a coach can take when he already owns two national championships. At Ohio State, Meyer told his players, anything was possible.
"He told us when he first got here, 'It will happen. We can score 100 points,'" Buckeyes offensive lineman Jack Mewhort said. "He loves it. He's crazy. He would score 100 every game if he could."
Ohio State didn't score 100 on Saturday night. It settled for 63 despite enduring a first quarter Meyer accurately described as a "train wreck" -- zero first downs, 13 plays, 17 total yards.
The Buckeyes' first act was a dud against No. 21 Nebraska. And then they treated a record crowd of 106,102 at Ohio State to a show they won't soon forget. Sparked by do-it-all quarterback Braxton Miller and a surging offensive line, Ohio State scored its first offensive touchdown with 10:49 left in the first half and didn't stop for five more possessions.
Six consecutive touchdowns turned into a 63-38 win, keeping Ohio State perfect under Meyer and leaving no doubt as to who is the Big Ten's top team in 2012. Even with the outcome long sealed, Meyer kept his starters in the game in the end for a final touchdown with 48 seconds left.
"It's cool," Mewhort said. "He's always hungry for more."
The Big Ten will do all it can to market its championship game Dec. 1 in Indianapolis. But it'll be like Bert Parks singing "There she is, Miss America" about the first- and second-runners-up in the pageant. Ohio State is by far the prettiest girl in a league filled with teams that shouldn't see the light of day.
The title game might be the Big Ten's big showcase, but it won't feature the league's main event, which will be watching from home because of NCAA sanctions. Although the division races should provide plenty of entertainment, if you're interested purely in quality and the story lines that go along with it, watch Ohio State chase a perfect season and, who knows, maybe an AP national championship. Watch Miller push for the Heisman Trophy. Watch the Buckeyes offense take aim on Meyer's stated goal of triple digits in points.
"We're just getting better and better," said Buckeyes cornerback Bradley Roby, who got the scoring started with 41-yard interception return, the first of his two picks on the night. "We're young, we're talented, and I can't see us losing a game this year. We're taking it one game at a time, but seriously, we're really trying to take it to everybody we play.
"I feel like this is going to be a good year, and next year will be even crazier."
Carlos Hyde bulls through the Nebraska defense for one of his four touchdowns.
Ah, next year. Ohio State will have no bowl ban, another full offseason under Meyer and more Meyer recruits in key roles. Are the Buckeyes on the national championship radar? Time will tell, but look where they are six games into Meyer's tenure.
Ohio State eviscerated a Nebraska team led by a head coach (Bo Pelini) respected for designing and developing defenses. The Buckeyes racked up 56 points, 481 yards and 19 first downs in the final three quarters Saturday night. They completed just seven passes to only four receivers, led by a sophomore tight end (Jeff Heuerman) who made one catch in 2011. They generated 326 rush yards and five touchdowns from two players -- Miller and running back Carlos Hyde, filling in for injured starter Jordan Hall -- plus a 33-yard scoring run from Rod Smith.
Keep in mind, this isn't a Buckeyes team stocked with proven weapons. Ohio State finished 107th nationally in total yards in 2011.
But does anyone want to face Ohio State's offense after what it did to Nebraska?
After some early speed bumps, Ohio State's offense is progressing ahead of schedule.
"You're playing a tight end [Reid Fragel] at right tackle," Meyer said, "playing a bunch of guys who haven't played a lot of football, and, being as honest as I can, they weren't very good. They didn't look the way we wanted them to look in January. ... They're the ones that have really developed. I mean, like really developed. Even early in the season, I didn't feel it.
"I'm starting to feel us change the line of scrimmage."
Although the spread offense is often described as a finesse system, Meyer always has talked about being a power team first. The past two weeks, Ohio State has turned the corner.
The big numbers didn't come against Michigan State, but the line's performance set the table for Saturday night's show.
"The O-line," Miller said, "they stepped it up real big."
Miller did his part, too. The sophomore broke his own team single-game quarterback rushing record with 186 yards despite finishing the first quarter with minus-9. He sparked the unit with a 72-yard dash on Ohio State's first play of the second quarter and continued to fill up his Heisman highlight reel.
With four 100-yard rushing performances in the first six games, Miller ranks second in the Big Ten in rush yards (763) and third in rushing average (127.2 ypg).
"We have a quarterback, obviously, that's kind of ridiculous running the ball," Meyer said.
Hyde wasn't too shabby, either, using his frame to bulldoze the Huskers, particularly near the goal line. He recorded Ohio State's first four-touchdown rushing performance since Eddie George had four against Iowa in 1995.
When Meyer arrived, Hyde envisioned big things for the offense.
"When he was at Florida, those guys would put up crazy numbers," Hyde said. "I know if we could get going like how they were getting going down there, we can do the same."
After the game, Meyer was cautious to get carried away, noting, "We're not there. We have a long way to go." But the talk of an undefeated season will escalate, as Ohio State continues its path through a weak league. The Heisman talk around Miller will escalate. The talk of next year and what the Buckeyes can do also will escalate.
The spotlight will shift to Indianapolis on Dec. 1. Until then, it'll be on the Scarlet and Gray.