Every week, the same thing has been said about Ohio State.
Every week since narrowly defeating Penn State, the Buckeyes have come out, underperformed in various areas of the field and didn’t live up to the clear potential that the team has.
This week, following an embarrassing loss to Purdue and two whole weeks to prepare for a Nebraska team that sat at 2-6, it was supposed to be different.
This week, Ohio State should have come out, showing the country that this team has the pieces to compete for not only a Big Ten title, but a spot in the College Football Playoff.
Instead, this week, Ohio State proved one thing: maybe it didn’t have as much potential as people thought.
Against Nebraska, the Buckeyes looked less than impressive, squeaking out a 36-31 victory over a team that lost to Michigan by 46.
Head coach Urban Meyer seemed complacent after a five-point win over a team Ohio State was favored to beat by more than 20 points.
“I thought our team gave great effort, I thought the energy was there,” Meyer said. “I was pleased.”
The definition of potential, according to Merriam-Webster, is existing in possibility, capable of development into actuality.
The Buckeyes have not once this season proved to be capable of sizable development, never once has proven to turn any of these supposed possibilities into actuality.
Ohio State allowed freshman quarterback Adrian Martinez to run up and down the field, and when he decided to throw, the secondary did nothing to stop him either. Martinez threw for 266 yards and a touchdown, and ran for two more, totaling 342 yards on the day.
Yes, the Buckeyes can have an excuse there. Both starting sophomores, safety Isaiah Pryor and cornerback Jeffrey Okudah, missed the game due to injury. If that wasn’t enough, junior safety Jordan Fuller was ejected for targeting in the second quarter.
Meyer said in the postgame press conference that Okudah had a groin issue and Pryor has an impingement of the shoulder and should be ready to go next week.
But it is not like the secondary was a bright spot prior to Nebraska, and sophomore safety Brendon White jumped into the lineup and made an immediate impact, leading the team with 13 tackles and two for a loss.
Redshirt sophomore quarterback Dwayne Haskins had his worst game of the season against the 30th worst passing defense in the nation, completing 18-of-32 passes for 252 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.
Those numbers are by no means alarming, but they are a regression from what Haskins has shown he can do. Haskins missed on more throws today than he has all season, even if the redshirt sophomore said the style of the offense changed on Saturday.
“We definitely wanted to run the ball today,” Haskins said. “That was our goal for this game, for this Saturday, and I thought we did a pretty good job of that.”
There were certainly areas in which Ohio State improved in its victory over the Cornhuskers..
Sophomore running back J.K. Dobbins rushed for 163 yards and three touchdowns on 23 carries, finding space that wasn’t there in recent matchups. This was the first time in five games he averaged more than 3.5 yards per carry for the game.
Two of Dobbins’ scores came in the red zone, where Ohio State converted three of its four attempts for touchdowns.
But with these improvements, Ohio State still looked far from where it should be, and Meyer knows that.
“I thought our defense improved. Obviously nowhere near where we need to be, but they improved,” Meyer said.
In Week 10, the bye week gone and the chance to rebound from the loss over, it’s been enough time to say that Ohio State is most likely not going to dramatically improve from this point on.
When issues are fixed, other ones pop up. When the team holds Nebraska to only two plays of 30 yards or more, the Buckeyes give up a load of intermediate plays that allowed the Cornhuskers to drive down the field and tally 31 points.
When the Ohio State running game earned the most yards they have had since Oregon State, the pass game took a hit.
When Ohio State had an opportunity to prove that it has figured out how to fulfill its potential, and had an extra week of practice to do so, the Buckeyes came out flat, barely beat a team at the bottom of the Big Ten and failed to prove the team, as a whole, has improved since the Purdue loss.
Last season, after a 55-24 loss to Iowa that ended up eliminating Ohio State’s playoff chances, the Buckeyes came back a week later and defeated a then-No. 12 Michigan State 48-3.
This year, with an extra week to prepare and a less impressive team in front of them, the Buckeyes won close, and did not prove to be overly motivated to do anything more.
The Buckeyes still have a route to the College Football Playoff — winning the Big Ten most likely will get them in — but it would take some considerable improvements to beat the likes of Michigan and Michigan State.
It’s about time to start thinking that won’t happen.