In the wake of Ohio State’s 62-3 demolition of No. 10 Nebraska Saturday night, Urban Meyer sat in his post-game press conference and tried to make sense of what he had just witnessed.
“Wow,” he said simply, via Eric Seger of Eleven Warriors. “I didn’t see that one coming.”
He was looking at the stat sheet and reviewing the carnage his No. 6 Buckeyes had just unleashed on a top-10 opponent.
J.T. Barrett was nearly flawless against a pass defense that had entered the week leading the country in interceptions. The Buckeyes quarterback dissected that secondary, completing 68.4 percent of his passes for 290 yards and four touchdowns.
The defense was just as impressive, outscoring the Nebraska offense 14-3 while helping the Buckeyes outgain the Cornhuskers by nearly 400 total yards.
The last time Ohio State was that impressive, it was bludgeoning Wisconsin in a 59-0 rout in the Big Ten Championship game two season ago. That performance vaulted the Buckeyes into their peak form, which triggered an unexpected championship run with wins over No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Oregon.
Is history repeating itself for Meyer and Ohio State? Was last week’s 59-point win really just the Buckeyes discovering their inner monster?
The Stark Contrast
Ohio State started the season as one of the hottest teams in the country, cruising through a nonconference slate with three victories over Bowling Green, Tulsa and a ranked Oklahoma squad by an average of 44.3 points. That margin of victory jumped nearly four points with a 58-0 shellacking of Rutgers to open the Big Ten season, and at that point, it looked like Ohio State was on a collision course with Alabama in a dream-scenario playoff matchup.
Jamie Sabau/Getty Images
But the Buckeyes hit a speed bump at home against Indiana. The offensive line, which features three new starers and a true freshman at left guard, started to crack. Barrett’s play faltered, and he completed just 9-of-21 passes for 93 yards and a touchdown (with one interception) in a sloppy 38-17 victory.
More issues arose on a two-week road trip to Wisconsin and Penn State.
While the offensive line continued to struggle, the receiving corps had trouble getting separation against improved secondaries. The Buckeyes only completed two passes of longer than 30 yards against the Badgers and Nittany Lions, and in the latter matchup, the offensive front crumbled and surrendered as many sacks as it had all season (five) in the second half alone.
Two special teams disasters triggered a 17-0 Penn State run and a shocking 24-20 upset. But in the end, that may have been what saved Ohio State’s season.
The Mean Streak
Throughout Meyer’s career as a head coach, his teams have displayed an incredible ability to bounce back from a regular season loss. All three of his national championships came during seasons in which his team fell, and there’s a simple reason for that.
Meyer knows how to coach an angry team. And nothing angers a good team like losing.
It didn’t take long for members of Ohio State’s team to voice that anger after the upset loss to Penn State.
Sometimes losing a battle helps you find a new way to win the war….Mad Buckeyes are dangerous pic.twitter.com/Fcx2R0eapp
— Mike Weber (@mikeweberjr) October 23, 2016
Center Pat Elflein, one of Ohio State’s captains, said Ohio State’s anger would set in on the practice field and then bleed over to game day.
“It starts in practice,” Eflein said, according to Teddy Greenstein of the Chicago Tribune. “If you practice angrier, it will be more intense and guys will get better looks. Losing a game fuels the fire and you get a chip on your shoulder, the feeling of something to prove.”
Northwestern was Ohio State’s first opportunity to work through that frustration, but it didn’t win as handedly as most anticipated. The Buckeyes went into the game as a 24-point favorite, but needed a late stop in the red zone to hold on for a 24-20 victory.
Even in that close call, though, there were signs the momentum was swinging.
The Buckeyes only surrendered one sack to the Wildcats (who boast the Big Ten’s best sack artist in defensive end Godwin Igwebuike) after giving up six the Nittany Lions. Barrett completed 65.6 percent of his passes and looked more decisive in a stronger pocket, even though he didn’t stretch the field vertically.
But everything came together for the Buckeyes against Nebraska, and Ohio State is hoping that’s a sign of bigger things to come.
“Every national championship team Coach Meyer has had has had a stutter early in the season, but they got the freight train rolling and I think we’ve got some great momentum,” defensive end Sam Hubbard said, via Ari Wasserman of the Plain Dealer. “I Think it was really just everybody realizing what they had to do.”
David Regimbal is the lead Ohio State football writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.