The Ohio State team that lost to Oklahoma Week 2 does not look like the same team that strolled to easy victories against its last five opponents.
Against Oklahoma, the Buckeyes appeared out of sync. Quarterback J.T. Barrett was missing his targets, the defense was biting on every play fake and nothing the Buckeyes did in the second half of the game went their way.
Since the loss, both the offense and defense have clicked. Although against lesser opponents, the team cruised through its past five games.
Playing against only its second real test of the season, how will Ohio State know which team will show up Saturday? Will it be the team that lost 31-16 in its home opener or is it the one that has since outscored opponents 266-56?
Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer said both the former and latter teams are no different, and this is still the same team with the same identity that entered the season.
“It’s very clear who we are, who we’re always going to be, offensively and pretty much defensively,” Meyer said on Tuesday’s Big Ten coaches teleconference. “We didn’t execute very well, we didn’t coach very well. But identity, there’s never been a misunderstanding what that is around here. We’ve enhanced things.”
Ohio State had the luxury of suffering its loss early enough in the season that it was able to address the issues the Sooners exposed.
It will not have that luxury again.
If the Buckeyes don’t execute well against Penn State, its hopes of a national championship will be dashed.
The loss did a lot to prepare Ohio State for this upcoming matchup, however, and could play a role in avoiding another defeat. It gave Ohio State’s players an idea of flaws that needed to be addressed moving forward. It also put the Buckeyes on the brink of a lost season. With their backs to the wall, the players left Ohio Stadium that night knowing they had no more room for error and had to go all-out for everything if they hoped to have a shot at a title.
“We learn a lot more from a loss than we do from a win,” redshirt senior defensive end Tyquan Lewis said. “We came back that next week and we just started working. Practice became more competitive, so everybody stepped up a little more.”
Co-offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson said it wasn’t that the practices became more challenging, but rather everything became more organized and better structured.
“We’ve practiced better. We haven’t practiced harder, we’ve just had better structure, and I think I’ve done a better job of understanding what [Meyer] wants in our players and our staff is working the offense with a lot of enthusiasm in practice,” Wilson said.
Based on the Buckeyes’ ease of victory, one could almost make the argument practices have extended into every Saturday. The disparity between Ohio State and its competition has been significant, and it has allowed the team to build up chemistry, figure out what works and what doesn’t without the consequence of making mistakes.
Wilson said early in the season the offense in particular was still figuring one another out, learning the strengths of each player at its disposal.
“We came into both of those games [against Oklahoma and Penn State] with really good players,” Wilson said. “I just think that first game, not by design, but we were not in the rhythm or the flow. We didn’t maybe prep. We were working hard, but maybe a little disjointed and getting things clean for offensive line and for quarterback and for a team to play with cohesion.”
Now the offense is in sync. The players and coaches are all familiar with one another, and the time the team has had to not only receive additional practice from the bye week but also beat up on some weaker opponents built up confidence as well as chemistry among the players.
“The offense as a whole is clicking the best it’s been in years. It’s clicking at the right moment,” redshirt senior center Billy Price said. “We’re hitting things. We’re timing things up nicely. We’re making sure we’re isolating and making sure that our players are on their players and making sure that our guys are in advantageous positions.”
The offense has clicked against weaker opponents, but will it click when the clock hits 3:30 p.m. and Ohio State faces the No. 2 team in the nation with College Football Playoff hopes on the line?
“Well we don’t know yet, do we?” Wilson said. “That’s why we’re playing.”