Buckeyes know there’s no room for error
For the past month, the chatter engulfing Ohio State football focused on the lack of productivity on offense after scoring no more than 24 points in the three games heading into last Saturday night's prime-time matchup with then-No. 10 Nebraska.
Those concerns were buried in a resounding manner with the 62-3 manhandling of the Cornhuskers in Ohio Stadium that was the largest point total against a top-10 team in school history.
The fifth-ranked Buckeyes not only improved their image around the country with the blowout win over the No. 10 team in last week's College Football Playoff rankings, they stayed on track for a monster Big Ten showdown with No. 3 Michigan in three weeks.
Before the Buckeyes (8-1, 5-1 Big Ten) turn their attention to the Wolverines, they have to attend to the next two games on the schedule, starting Saturday (3:30 p.m., ESPN) in College Park, Md., against Maryland (5-4, 2-4) and then staying on the road at Michigan State the following Saturday.
“We really didn't do anything different. It's about execution,” Ohio State H-back Curtis Samuel said after Saturday night's beatdown of Nebraska. “In previous weeks, we didn't execute at the highest level whereas (Saturday) we did.”
The Buckeyes compiled 590 yards of total offense and quarterback J.T. Barrett was really humming, completing 26 of 38 passes for 290 yards and four touchdowns. Two of the scoring passes went to dynamic H-back Curtis Samuel — a 1-yarder at the end of the first half and a 75-yard hookup to start the second half.
“Everything was clicking, the run game, the pass game,” Barrett said. “It was good for us to go out there and show we could throw the ball downfield.”
It wasn't supposed to be that easy against Nebraska, but an interception by safety Damon Webb for a touchdown on the first series of the night set the tone.
“That was a great start to the game,” Ohio State defensive end Sam Hubbard said. “I don't think we could ask for a better start defensively.”
Buckeyes safety Malik Hooker added a second pick-six in the second half, intercepting a pass and returning it 48 yards for a touchdown.
For Hooker, it was his fourth interception and second pick-six of the season. Ohio State has set a team record with six interceptions returned for scores this year.
“A defensive score gives momentum to the offense and that's what we try to do every time,” Ohio State cornerback Marshon Lattimore said. “If we get our hands on the ball, we try to score so we can put points up on the board.”
That they did. Sixty-two of them. More important for the Buckeyes, they won the first of four November games that will define their season.
“There's no room for mistakes now,” Hubbard said. “You play for championships in November. This is our first step of four big games.”
Next is Maryland, which was pounded Saturday by Michigan in a 59-3 loss. The Terrapins, coached by former Meyer assistant D.J. Durkin, were staggered by the Wolverines.
“We're going to get back to work and figure out what to do with the next team and how to bounce back,” Durkin said after the pounding at Michigan. “We've had some ups and downs for the season, but the good thing is, we've bounced back every time. I don't know if it's been as quick as we'd have liked, but we've bounced back. We'll do it again.”
Maryland could be missing several key players when Ohio State visits Byrd Stadium.
Quarterback Perry Hills has a recurring throwing-shoulder injury that flared up again last week at Michigan. He is considered day-to-day. Ty Johnson, the team's leading rusher, is dealing with a lower body issue that forced him to leave Saturday's game in the third quarter.
“This is obviously something he's been dealing with throughout the season, and I think it will be more of the same,” Durkin said of Hills. “He's made it through some games fine, and some games he's taken a hit on it and it's forced him out for a little bit. He was wanting to come back in that game.”
Maryland could use all hands on deck against Ohio State. Durkin is impressed with the Buckeyes' overall speed.
“We've got a big test in front of us,” he said.
The temptation now is for Ohio State to look forward to the annual showdown with Michigan at the end of the regular season.
“There's no chance,” Meyer said, adding later, “beat Maryland.”