COLUMBUS — The growth curve wasn’t smooth for Ohio State.
The Buckeyes would show flashes of their potential. They would play well in bursts. There would be signs of progress that were followed by regression and more hand-wringing about issues that plagued the program all season.
But however Ohio State got to the point where it had its absolute best effort ready when it mattered most doesn’t matter much now. The Buckeyes eventually got there right on time, stepping up to win the Big Ten East Division, decimate their rival and remind the college football world that they are certainly worthy of a national-title shot after a 62-39 win over No. 4 Michigan on Saturday at the Horseshoe.
The victory sends the Buckeyes on to Indianapolis to play Northwestern for the Big Ten title with the possibility of returning to the College Football Playoff looming out there as well. But before turning the page to the week ahead, Lettermen Row is taking one more look back at The Game and What We Learned about Ohio State in its most complete outing of the season.
Ohio State has championship mentality
There have been questions about the leadership, doubts about the coaching staff and a few bouts of inconsistency at times during the regular season. But Ohio State ended it by leaving no doubt that it could elevate its game and answer a huge challenge, digging deep to finally tap into its enormous potential with a championship on the line. Veterans like Parris Campbell, Dre’Mont Jones, Johnnie Dixon and Jordan Fuller all helped establish the kind of effort that was going to be required to knock off the Wolverines. The coaching staff put a tremendous game plan together, allowing the defense to finally shine while the explosive offense picked apart Michigan. And there can be no question about how the Buckeyes respond in a pressure situation now.
Dwayne Haskins gives Buckeyes a chance against anybody
Michigan had built its reputation over the course of the regular season, making it all the way to the final week as the top-ranked defense in the country. That didn’t happen by accident, and it was well earned. But Dwayne Haskins carved the Wolverines up like they were a scout team at a Tuesday afternoon practice, which makes it as clear as ever just how valuable and dangerous he is for the Buckeyes. Ohio State will obviously be a significant favorite over Northwestern next week, but what Haskins did in The Game is another reminder that even stingy defenses are going to have problems dealing with his arm. And that gives the Buckeyes a chance to make some noise no matter who they play if they do wind up in position for an invite to the College Football Playoff.
Ohio State pass rush back in business
For the first time since the injury that altered the course of the season on the Ohio State defense, it was possible to watch the Rushmen work and not need to wonder how different they would look with Nick Bosa on the field. Obviously the Buckeyes would be much, much more tenacious with the best player in America in the rotation. But Jonathon Cooper, Robert Landers, Chase Young and Dre’Mont Jones were leading a charge that seemingly kept Michigan under constant pressure from the opening drive to the final possession, finishing with three sacks along with a handful of near misses that could have made that number even more impressive. Cooper, in particular, really appears to be rounding into form as the Buckeyes gear up for Northwestern.
Buckeyes spinning wheels with Tate Martell package
Just about the only thing slowing down the most explosive offense in the Big Ten was Ohio State itself. Inserting Tate Martell a couple weeks ago seemed like a unique approach for a red-zone attack that appeared to need a spark. But toying with a role for the backup quarterback and taking Dwayne Haskins off the field seems to be doing more harm than good. The Buckeyes stalled out late in the first half after inserting Martell and calling some zone-read looks for him, and they doubled down on that in the third quarter by plugging him in for a first-and-goal series starting at the 5-yard line. Both of those drives ended in field goals, which only really stands out as a problem since Ohio State was having no issue moving the football or scoring with Haskins in control.
Urban Meyer can’t, won’t lose The Game
By now it’s well established how seriously Urban Meyer takes the rivalry and his role in maintaining the traditions and high standards for Ohio State. But even now that his personal unbeaten streak against Michigan has reached seven games and it’s become an annual tradition for the Buckeyes to claim another pair of Gold Pants, it’s important to keep in mind how remarkable it is that Meyer is consistently able to get his team ready to perform under so much pressure in a rivalry setting. Considering how much this version of Jim Harbaugh’s Michigan had going for it heading into Saturday, it’s almost impossible to envision what it would take for Meyer to ever lose in this storied series.