Ohio State went into Lincoln, Nebraska Saturday night to set some facts straight.
Their 48-7 win over the Huskers was supposed to be some kind of “I told you so,” but it was really only preaching to the choir.
This is a Buckeye football team right now playing as if scripted by an irrational superfan.
“I want to see dominating running, accurate quarterbacking, no missed tackles, and a full-throttle destruction machine that cares not for the feelings of man, woman, or child.”
It’s only five games in, but this team has lived up to every expectation — rational and irrational — so far this season.
Even now with these Ten Things pieces, everything we’re learning has 75% of the classroom nodding and turning to the person next to the and saying, “I knew that. I’ve been saying that.” The other 25% is rolling their eyes at such a remedial-level course.
As Tom Orr said during our Instant Reaction show following the game (I think), things sure picked up around Ohio State as soon as Urban Meyer and Dwayne Haskins left and stopped holding it down.
So what are we going to roll our eyes about this week?
1. This defense trusts each other.
When you don’t worry about anybody else’s job other than your own, the entire process runs much more smoothly. This is definitely the case for the 2019 Ohio State defense and definitely wasn’t the case for the 2018 defense. Last year’s defense had issues and it forced players to worry about those issues almost as much as they were worried about their assignments. Too many times somebody was trying to keep an eye on somebody else’s job just in case things didn’t go well. This year, the Buckeye defense is only concerned about what they’re doing individually because they know they can trust the 10 other men on the field to do their respective jobs correctly. This was also stated as a reason why defensive linemen will pull themselves out of games voluntarily if they are tired. They know the guy behind them will do his job and won’t bring everybody else down with him. A defense that trusts each other is a defense that has built that trust. It doesn’t just happen.
2. Justin Fields is only getting started.
Ohio State hasn’t had to rely on Justin Fields’ arm yet and they are still lighting defenses up. By this point in the season a year ago, Dwayne Haskins had games of 313, 233, 344, 304, and 270 yards passing. Fields’ best passing day so far this season is 234 yards, which is one yard more than the worst of Haskins’ numbers listed above. Fields’ rushing numbers are also a bit relaxed right now because there hasn’t been much need. His season-high in attempts is 12, which he has done twice. It’s three below Haskins’ season high a year ago. Also, those two games with 12 attempts also featured Fields’ two carries of more than 40 yards, which is tied for second-most in the Big Ten. Right now, Ryan Day has Fields turned to about a 6 on the dial. What happens when he cranks it up to 8 or 9?
3. The corners are rivaling the 2016 trio.
The 2016 cornerback trio of Denzel Ward, Marshon Lattimore, and Gareon Conley was awesome and should never be forgotten. I’m starting to think the group this year — Damon Arnette, Jeff Okudah, and Shaun Wade — is playing just as well. The biggest difference between the two trios is that Arnette, Okudah, and Wade aren’t always locked in man coverage. They also aren’t rotating. They are out there together for the most part and looking disruptive and discouraging to every quarterback who looks their way.
4. Josh Alabi is good enough to start.
Once Branden Bowen appeared on the injury list, we began talking about redshirt freshman Nicholas Petit-Frere, who has been backing up Bowen at right tackle this year. We kind of forgot about fifth-year senior Josh Alabi, who was the backup over at left tackle. Alabi has been the No. 3 offensive tackle since last year. We saw him step in for Thayer Munford in the Rose Bowl last year and he played well. He did the same thing Saturday night in Nebraska in place of Bowen. They ran behind Alabi time and time again and did not try to hide him or run away from him. With how close the battle was between Bowen and Petit-Frere during camp, it’s looking like the Buckeyes have four offensive tackles who would start just about anywhere in the country.
5. This defensive line is going to be so good in November.
Zach Harrison just played in his fifth game ever against Nebraska. Jonathon Cooper played in his first of the season in that same game. Both will be different players for the final month of the season. If Tyreke Smith makes it back, this will be a group of defensive ends that hits its stride right when they need to be at full speed. September is for pretenders, November is for contenders. We all know this. Come November, the Ohio State defensive line should be even better than this current group, which nobody wants to play against right now either.
6. Marcus Crowley is not redshirting.
This is not a prediction, this is now a fact. Freshman running back Marcus Crowley played in his fifth game of the year on Saturday, rushing for 45 yards on four carries, including a 36-yard jaunt in the fourth quarter. I plan to ask Ryan Day about the thought process here, but I certainly don’t disagree with this decision. There are going to be more blowouts this season and it almost feels like Master Teague is becoming too valuable to be the guy who smashes into fourth-quarter defenses when the Buckeyes are simply trying to run out the clock.
7. Baron Browning knows what he’s doing.
A year ago, you could go entire games and not really notice Baron Browning. He didn’t put up many numbers when he was in the game, and often times if you watched him closely, he wasn’t looking like the 4.5 guy he is. Now, however, he is no longer a 4.8 linebacker in a 4.5 body. He understands where he is and where he’s going. Linebackers coach Al Washington has praised Browning for how smart he is. Now that Browning is combining all of his best assets with a defense that gets the most out of him, no ball carrier is safe.
8. The versatility of this defense is impressive.
I am pretty sure at this point that the Buckeyes would trot out the same 11 starters against Wisconsin as they would Navy as they would Washington State as they would Nebraska. That’s a credit to Pete Werner’s ability to be whatever is needed. I bet Ohio State’s coaches expected to play the Bullet more than they have, but as they put Werner through the paces, they realized there wasn’t the type of need that they had anticipated. But when they do want to modify, they’re able to do that just fine as well. They can bring in a fourth cornerback in Cameron Brown or a second deep safety in Josh Proctor or put White where, or even go to four linebackers and not regret it. It has been impressive to watch.
9. There could be more Demario McCall coming.
If you noticed in Saturday’s game, Demario McCall was on the field at the same time as JK Dobbins. He was motioning around prior to the play. He wasn’t in there just to be in there. He was in there for a reason. That reason might not be realized until the Michigan game, but you can see there are still plans for McCall, even though Master Teague is now definitively the backup running back. Don’t sleep on McCall because I have a feeling you will be caught napping.
10. Maybe these are the tests.
After the Florida Atlantic game, we said, “Well, lets see what things look like after the test against Cincinnati.” Then it became, “We’ll see what happens when they play somebody like Indiana.” That quickly turned into, “Let’s just wait until we how things go in Nebraska.” Now we are saying the same thing about this week’s game against Michigan State. But maybe this is how things go this year. I’m not saying this is going to happen every week or against the nation’s best teams. What I’m saying is that maybe this is what most of the regular season games are going to look like, regardless of how incrementally more difficult the “tests” get. If you know the material, the person giving the test shouldn’t faze you. And right now, the Buckeyes are studied up pretty darn well.