At nearly the halfway point in the season, Ohio State has proved itself to be one of the best teams in the country, coming in third overall in the most recent Associated Press Top 25 Poll with a 5-0 record.
The Buckeyes have wins against two teams that were ranked at the time of defeat, including a road win against No. 9 Penn State that took a 12-point comeback with eight minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.
But even after the comeback victory, a win in Arlington, Texas, against TCU and dominant victories at home, head coach Urban Meyer said on Monday that it still feels like Ohio State hasn’t reached its full potential.
“Not even close to where we are,” Meyer said. “There is a tremendous ceiling on this, and we haven’t gotten close to it.”
Regardless of whether Meyer thinks Ohio State has not peaked as a team, the team finds itself in the driver’s seat of the Big Ten East, with the supposed toughest matchup on the schedule out of the way.
With four teams coming up in the next four weeks that the Buckeyes are expected to defeat, there are areas of the field that they will need to fix before heading to East Lansing, Michigan, to play No. 20 Michigan State.
Against the Nittany Lions, redshirt senior quarterback Trace McSorley had the best game of his career, tallying 461 yards — the program record for all-purpose yards in a game. A Penn State record for a quarterback, 175 of those yards were on the ground.
“We had the quarterback that was performing one of his best games in his career, some was scramble, some was direct run,” Meyer said. “When you have that kind of player, that’s a hard thing to defend.”
The Penn State matchup also highlighted a problem that has plagued the Buckeyes all season: big plays.
Ohio State has given up six plays of more than 50 yards through the first five games, four of which have been running plays. Two came against the Nittany Lions: a 51-yard run by McSorley and a 93-yard touchdown from McSorley to redshirt freshman wide receiver KJ Hamler.
The 93-yard play tied the longest play Ohio State has given up in program history: a 93-yard run from two weeks ago by TCU junior running back Darius Anderson.
Meyer said some of the big plays can be attributed to new players on the defensive side, but improvements still need to be made.
“The answer is you have to play better,” Meyer said. “We have some new players, but it’s Week 6.”
It is Week 6, and Ohio State is 5-0. The key for the offense has been redshirt sophomore quarterback Dwayne Haskins, who earned his third Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week award of the season with his performance in Happy Valley on Saturday.
Haskins is up to 1,464 yards and 19 passing touchdowns with only two interceptions, completing 70.8 percent of his throws.
But for the first three quarters against Penn State, Haskins was something he had not been in any game this season: flustered.
Haskins completed 15-of-29 passes for 132 yards, a touchdown and an interception before erupting for 138 yards and two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to come back and defeat the Nittany Lions.
Meyer complimented the offense’s performance in the final quarter, and said, after the game on Saturday, the first-half performance was “awful.”
“The fourth quarter on offense was perfect. Not perfect, but well done,” Meyer said. “They did a very good job with what they were doing, which was basically pressuring us 80 percent of the time, and we didn’t handle it well. We ended handling it well the second half.”
With Indiana and Minnesota home games coming up, followed by a trip to Purdue before a bye week, Ohio State has an opportunity to fix the mistakes the Nittany Lions exploited.
But, as Meyer said, the important thing is the record.
“We’re 5-0,” Meyer said. “And we haven’t played close to our best game.”