COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — In the jubilation that followed Ohio State’s strain-the-imagination win over Purdue on Saturday, several important considerations were pushed into the background.
Yes, the ninth-ranked Buckeyes (8-0, 4-0 Big Ten) stayed unbeaten with the heart-pounding 29-22 overtime win in which they trailed by eight points with 47 seconds left and had the ball at their own 39 and their best player in the hospital.
Yet victory doesn’t erase all the problems.
“I don’t show (any disappointment) because I want our players to enjoy that win, our fans, the student body,” coach Urban Meyer said. “It was an incredible night for the Horseshoe and the people in there. … Coaches are cheering and having a great time, and then deep in your heart, you know that we have a lot of work to do.”
Heading into a pivotal game at Penn State on Saturday, with first place in the Leaders Division at stake, the Buckeyes realize that they need to get a lot better if they want to continue having postgame celebrations like the one last week.
Offensive coordinator Tom Herman didn’t take long to come down from the high. On Sunday morning, he was back in the football offices, looking at film.
He cannot afford to linger too long on the minor miracle that led to the Buckeyes’ win.
“They don’t pay me to be a fan; they pay me to be a coach,” Herman said. “So my main job when I watch that (video) on Sundays is to figure out what went right and what went wrong and what changes need to be made.”
There are a lot of changes that need to be made, even for an unbeaten team.
The Buckeyes persist in giving up huge plays. On the very first play from scrimmage on Saturday, a defender made a mistake and it resulted in a shockingly easy 83-yard pass play.
Later, Ohio State surrendered a 100-yard kickoff return.
There were also two fumbles lost, and two interceptions. On top of that, the offense was inconsistent and erratic against a defense that had gushed points (82) and yards (1,054) in its previous two games.
So while a fan might have the luxury of preening over the final result, the Buckeyes know that there’s no time.
“As a player we feel we want to stay on that high level of excitement,” safety Christian Bryant said. “But on Sunday we get brought right back down to reality going into meeting with our coaches because they critique us so hard.”
The film doesn’t lie, as Meyer often says. When the Buckeyes showed up at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center on Sunday, they were greeted with edited game clips. It must have been a horror film, leading the players to believe Purdue’s linebackers were Freddy Krueger, Michael Myers and Dracula.
“When we came in on Sunday, it was the realization that was one of our worst games offensively,” offensive tackle Reid Fragel said.
For a team that lost seven games a year ago, every win is precious. Ohio State’s coaches don’t want to rip players when they know better than anyone how hard it can be to win a game when the injuries mount — starting quarterback Braxton Miller is back after a scary tackle late in the third quarter — and a long season seems even longer.
The resilience of the Buckeyes was something to celebrate, all right.
“There was disappointment in a way but at the same time, anytime you can play your worst game and come out with a win, that’s what matters the most,” Fragel said.
Meyer has initiated a “victory meal” on Sunday nights at Ohio State. It’s a time for players and coaches to relish some time together at dinner while recapping another win. It’s also a time to close the book on the game from the day before and start to look ahead.
Meyer is convinced that the Buckeyes learned from their latest, tenuous victory.
“We’re 8-0, but we’re working for every yard and every win,” he said. “I’ve had teams, absolutely, that I’ve had to — I don’t want to say the words `break down’ because that’s kind of too harsh — but where you worry about overconfidence.