Buckeyes unbeaten again, but are they better?

Two teams, each 9-0. They play in the same league. They’re both
highly ranked.

Which is better?

If you’re comparing the 2012 Ohio State Buckeyes and the current
version, coach Urban Meyer has the answer.

”We’re a better team,” he said, referring to his current
Buckeyes. ”We’re a better functioning team.”

Meyer is careful to not insult last year’s team, which
definitely started from the lowest rung on the ladder. Those
Buckeyes followed a dreadful 6-7 season by going a surprising
12-0.

They posted only the sixth unblemished season in the programs
123 years despite being deprived of the incentive of playing in a
bowl game. That was taken off the table because of NCAA sanctions
stemming from former coach Jim Tressel’s failure to disclose he
knew of players likely taking improper benefits in 2010.

”I don’t want to ever disrespect our (2012) seniors because
they were such an incredible group of players,” Meyer said. ”And
they were really good players, too.”

He said the difference is when Ohio State has the ball.

”(Which team is better is) an interesting conversation, but
we’re just more functional, certainly on offense,” Meyer said.
”We’re much better on offense than we were a year ago.”

The numbers support his position.

Through nine games – and heading into a game with Illinois, just
like the 2012 team was – this year’s Buckeyes are averaging 100
yards of total offense and 13 more points per game.

This year’s third-ranked team averages 531 yards of total
offense per game, 301 rushing and 230 passing. It’s scoring 48.2
points a contest.

Playing a similar schedule, the 2012 Buckeyes, ranked No. 6
through nine games, were averaging 432 yards of total offense per
game, 248 rushing and 184 passing. That squad was averaging 38.6
points a game.

”Last year there were some games that teams played us real
heavy in the box because we couldn’t do as much with our passing
game,” said starting offensive lineman on both teams, Jack
Mewhort. ”But this year it’s a lot different. There’s not eight or
nine guys in the box because this offseason Braxton and the
receivers and the running backs and all the skill guys got together
and decided they were going to be really good this year. They’ve
done that so far.”

As a sophomore, quarterback Braxton Miller was also the team’s
best rusher. So picking up first downs – not scoring quickly – was
a priority.

Through nine games, he was completing 56.6 percent of his passes
for 12 touchdowns with six interceptions.

This year, despite missing almost three full games with a
sprained knee ligament, he is completing 72.5 percent of his passes
for 15 touchdowns with three interceptions.

”I feel that we execute a lot better than we did last year,”
wide receiver Evan Spencer said. ”Once we get rolling, we’re
rolling. There’s not many people who can stop us.”

Consider also that Carlos Hyde has shown vast improvement at
running back this year. In 2012 at this juncture he had 600 yards
in seven games; so far this season he has 701 in six games.

Meyer also said the Buckeyes are better on special teams. But
stopped short of saying his latest defense was ahead of last
year’s.

Most people attribute that edge not to personnel or depth or
star players, but rather to strong leaders on the defensive
unit.

”Last year’s team we had the heart and the leadership. I don’t
know if we necessarily were as talented, but we had the will to
win,” said linebacker Joshua Perry, a backup a year ago and a
starter now. ”This team has the same will to win but we’ve got a
little bit more juice behind us, too, talent-wise. Our defense is a
little quicker and on offense we’ve got some tools now.”

The 2012 defense, led by linemen John Simon, Johnathan Hankins,
Garrett Goebel and Nathan Williams – all of whom graduated except
for Hankins, who jumped to the NFL early – came into its own late
in the season.

The statistics don’t point to a stronger defense a year ago. The
present defense still has a ways to go, particularly without nine
starters from last year’s unit.

”On defense I’m not sure we’re quite as good. Remember this
time last year is when we hit the accelerator and we played
excellent defense,” Meyer said. ”We are getting a little better
on defense. We’re much better on offense than we were a year ago,
but defensively I’m not sure.”

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