COLUMBUS — The best team in the country was again on full display at Ohio State.
It didn’t matter one bit that the best player in the nation wasn’t.
Obviously the top-ranked Buckeyes are better when Chase Young is on the field, and he could easily be the difference when it comes to facing legitimate competition in the national-title race — and Maryland certainly didn’t fit that bill on Saturday at the Horseshoe. Perhaps that grain of salt is necessary in evaluating the absolute thrashing the Buckeyes put on the Terrapins in the 73-14 blowout, but the way they did sure seemed like a clear reminder that their dominance isn’t built solely around Young.
Maybe the Buckeyes wanted to prove that point while waiting on a resolution with the status of their superstar captain. Perhaps they just wanted to give him a win that would boost his spirits while his return for the stretch run hangs in the balance. Either way, the message was unmistakable yet again: Ohio State is still the most complete team in college football, and it can still get even better.
“They all wanted to show they’re a team,” Buckeyes coach Ryan Day said. “This is a defense, and this is a defensive line unit, that is more than just one person. And I think they had their chests out and were proud of the way they played today, and they should have been.
“They played with an edge and something to prove. And any time our guys come out with something to prove, we’re dangerous. So, overall I thought we all had that approach — but especially the defensive line.”
Young wasn’t out there with the Rushmen against Maryland and wasn’t even in the stadium while sitting out during what will be the first game of an indefinite suspension for the investigation into a possible NCAA violation last year. His absence still loomed over the entire afternoon, although not because he did any damage to Ohio State’s chances of blowing out Maryland.
While the Buckeyes were warming up in the morning, national reporters were speculating about how many games Young would miss — including one report of a four-game expectation at Ohio State that school personnel emphatically, publicly refuted.
When the Silver Bullets took the field with Zach Harrison and Tyreke Smith flying around on the edge, it was a reminder that those were Young’s snaps and potentially his three sacks that could have provided more momentum to his Heisman Trophy campaign.
And once the demolition was mercifully over, the postgame press conference with Day and a handful of Buckeyes was still primarily focused on what happens next with Young. But those answers, just like the way Ohio State responded on the field, reflected no shortage of confidence that everything is going to work out fine — even when Young isn’t available.
“I mean, we just handled it the same way as every week,” Smith said. “When one goes down, the next guy has to step up — so, who is it going to be? I think everybody just went to another level in terms of their own game, just went to an elite level to go out there and do the best they could to show that they’re capable of playing at a high level.
“Yeah, we had some guys out there you usually don’t see, and they were doing well. That’s just a glimpse of what we’ve got going on.”
The latest peek at the power of the Buckeyes might get discounted a bit by the opponent, and the backups probably could have played the entire game and still cruised past Maryland. But there were plenty of examples that reinforced the lessons that have already been learned about this Ohio State squad during the first two months of the season.
The Buckeyes have the offensive firepower to outscore anybody, and Justin Fields is allowing the playbook to expand every week. The defense didn’t miss a beat when the starters were on the field, pitching a first-half shutout, racking up 11 tackles for loss and forcing two turnovers. And the special-teams battle remained comically lopsided in favor of Ohio State, which unveiled a gorgeous, perfectly-executed onside kick just to show off a little early in the game.
There is no weakness at Ohio State. And when Chase Young returns, it’s only going to get stronger.
“A lot of guys on this team have been through adversity with our coaching staff, with me as the head coach,” Day said. “So, this isn’t anything new. Our guys didn’t flinch. There’s a bunch of guys on our team [with the mentality]: ‘OK, got some adversity, let’s go, let’s pull this thing together. Let’s show everybody how tight this team is and what we’re made of and show our character.’
“We went through a little adversity this week. Adversity reveals character and our character was at the forefront of this game. I thought we came out and showed that we are made of something special here.”
The guy who wasn’t out there is undeniably special. But in case anybody forgot, Ohio State also has a whole bunch of them in reserve.