<
>

What's wrong with Ohio State?

play
Will Ohio State offense dominate with J.T. Barrett? (1:08)

Trevor Matich examines how effective the Ohio State offense will be with J.T. Barrett at quarterback. (1:08)

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- After a yearlong hiatus, a familiar, well-worn phrase is once again at Urban Meyer's disposal.

There's nothing complicated about it, but it remains versatile enough to be delivered with a smile after a big victory or simply presented as a matter-of-fact on the off-chance the Ohio State coach maybe didn't win as impressively as some might have anticipated.

"The best thing about being [X number of victories] and 0," Meyer will say, "is the chance to go [X+1] and 0."

Meyer was forced to put that catchphrase on the shelf early last season after a loss in Week 2 to Virginia Tech before ultimately winning the title anyway. But that equation is perhaps the only thing that truly matters when evaluating the Buckeyes, and going undefeated remains a tried, true and clear path to winning a national championship.

The formula and results haven't changed, but the work Ohio State has shown on occasion doesn't seem to be impressing people grading it, mostly poll voters who are increasingly dropping the program from the No. 1 spot thanks to concerns over some sloppy performances.

"I understand the expectations," senior captain Taylor Decker said. "Last year, we weren't supposed to do what we did. We win 59-0 against Wisconsin, we win [the national championship] as the underdogs and people are like, 'Wow, they should do that every week.'

"Everybody is going to use those last three games as the measuring stick, but it's just not realistic. We are playing well, we're just not beating everybody by 70 -- which is just not going to happen. It's not a perfect science, and at the end of the day, if you win by 1 or you win by 100, you still win."

The Buckeyes are still having no problem winning, and their current winning streak now stands at 20 games. Aside from a close call against Northern Illinois last month and a thriller on the road against then-undefeated Indiana, all five of the other wins were by at least 18 points -- including a 38-10 throttling of Penn State and its stout defense that suggested the offense is starting to once again realize its frightening potential.

"We scored 38 points against that team, ran for [344] yards and I hear, 'What's wrong with the offense?'" Meyer said. "What's wrong with the offense? The offense is great.

"There are probably 10 programs in America that are held to an extremely high standard, and we're one of them. Those [rankings] conversations, I'm not a part of them. I'm a part of really important ones here about how do we become the best offense, the best defense, the best special teams in America. That's hard to do. I think the way we finished a year ago was the perfect template ... but that's Camelot. Everybody is working to get there."

The Buckeyes are beginning to appear poised for a potential return, and the obvious difference in their most recent win over the Nittany Lions was the expanded role of quarterback J.T. Barrett. Amid the scrutiny over the heated battle in training camp with Cardale Jones, the installation of a two-man rotation, and the ultimate decision to go back to Barrett as the starter, the attention on that particular position has perhaps overshadowed the fact that Ohio State overall might actually be ahead of the schedule that eventually produced a national title last season.

The program has faced questions about why it hasn't used Ezekiel Elliott more. But compared to his first seven games a year ago, the talented tailback has rushed for 348 more yards and six more touchdowns this season and has cleared the 100-yard mark in every outing so far.

There was hand-wringing about Joey Bosa and his lack of sacks. But focusing on that stat didn't account for the double and triple teams the star defensive end was facing, the number of hits he was still putting on the quarterback to disrupt an offense, or the productive work he was doing to stuff rushing plays in the backfield.

Braxton Miller seemingly wasn't making enough highlights after his splashy debut against Virginia Tech. But despite learning a new position and coming off an entire season rehabbing his shoulder, he's produced 416 total yards, four touchdowns and looks more comfortable with every passing week.

That steady improvement for both individuals and the team as a whole is what Meyer really wants over the course of the season, and the Buckeyes are the first to admit that it hasn't been as pretty as they might have wanted every week. But they get frequent reminders from their coach that even if there is still work to do, it's worth remembering and celebrating the fact they're not doing it with a loss on their résumé.

"I mean, it comes with what we did last year," center Jacoby Boren said. "Everyone expects us to be the No. 1 team in the nation, and we have high expectations of ourselves. But when it all comes down in the end, it's not about what everybody on the outside says.

"It's what we're doing in the building, and if we can get better every week, we'll be where we need to be at the end of the season."

The Buckeyes didn't have to be there in September. And there's not much argument that they weren't operating at full capacity.

Thanks to the combination of their schedule and the huge collection of talent Meyer has on hand, they also probably didn't really need to be at 100 percent effectiveness so far in October.

But Ohio State did have to play well enough to ensure that opportunity to keep its undefeated record intact, which it certainly did. And with November and potentially December and January looming, it also seems likely that its best football might still be ahead of it.

"I think we have a very good football team, and I think we've got to keep getting better and better and better," Meyer said. "That's all we can worry about.

"I hear a question over here, 'What's wrong with Ohio State? Why aren't things working out?' Everything is fine. We're just trying to get a little better each week and win a game, trying to go win No. 8."

The best thing for Meyer if the Buckeyes get it? The chance to get No. 9, of course.