Ohio State sweating the small stuff heading into Big Ten opener

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The Tuesday film review could have easily been a feel-good session for Ohio State.

The Buckeyes had just dismantled a ranked opponent on the road. They had set an offensive record in the first half against Oklahoma, the defense had scored yet again and all those first-year starters had turned in something resembling a veteran performance.

Urban Meyer was always going to focus on the flaws during the bye week, both because he’s a coach constantly looking for ways to improve and as a potential safeguard against complacency for his team. But it turned out the Ohio State coach wasn’t alone zeroing in on the negatives when the Buckeyes popped in the tape last Tuesday, and that might go down as the biggest positive of the first month of the season for the second-ranked team in the country.

“I was hoping that everyone would see it the same way I saw it -- and they did,” Meyer said. “We have so much more room for improvement. I’m very pleased with their growth, and they play hard, but those are things that are kind of demanded around here.

“There were still far too many mistakes. I’m not by myself on this, and that’s exactly what you want. It’s so early in the year, there are so many young players and this is their first time playing, so there’s so much room for growth.”

The Buckeyes could have easily been confused for a team that had already fully matured as they took apart the Sooners, a performance that hammered home the point that Meyer had simply reloaded instead of rebuilding after losing nine early entrants to the NFL draft last season.

A new star had emerged at wide receiver as Noah Brown hauled in four touchdown catches. An opportunistic defense nabbed another interception that was returned for a score, the fourth time already through three weeks that the unit had helped its own cause by putting points on the board. And among those few returning starters, quarterback J.T. Barrett delivered one of the most efficient passing performances of his career to add another impressive road victory to his resume.

But Meyer instead saw too many penalties. The offense wasn’t clicking for a full four quarters quite the way he would like, the defense had a couple breakdowns in coverage and tackling and his vaunted special teams gave up a kickoff return for a touchdown.

And that was all clear to the Buckeyes without him needing to point it out.

“Yeah, I feel like we left a lot of meat on the bone,” defensive lineman Jalyn Holmes said. “We’ve got a lot of stuff to work on to get better, and we’re still young. We’re still growing, and we still have to keep going harder.

“It is encouraging to know that you could play a lot better when everybody [outside the program] feels like you played a phenomenal game. So it’s good, but it’s also humbling to know that you still have a lot to work on. We could have played a lot better.”

That’s perhaps a scary thought for the rest of the Big Ten heading into Ohio State’s conference opener on Saturday against Rutgers. And it’s also hard to argue it isn’t true since a roster that features just six returning starters is bound to improve as all those youngsters gain more experience.

The Buckeyes had the benefit of an early bye week to try to patch up a few of those flaws that were so clear to them last Tuesday in the film room. But they were also watching a lopsided one over a team that was in the College Football Playoff last year, so clearly it wasn’t all bad.

“Oh yeah, definitely,” Ohio State H-back Curtis Samuel said. “We won by 21, but we felt like we could have done a much better job.

“We have to take advantage of that extra week so we can improve. It’s just really the little things that we have to pick up that could potentially be big plays.”

On the heels of a massive win, the small stuff was really all the Buckeyes had to sweat anyway.