"A great team win. We found out something about our team today, to go on the road in a hostile environment against a quality, quality football team and find a way to win."
That’s coach Urban Meyer talking last season about the Buckeyes’ big win vs. #20 Michigan State, but it easily could have come during the Northwestern post-game presser. That’s because the two games felt eerily similar. Meyer has continually cited the 2012 Michigan State game as the moment his 12-0 Buckeyes went from average to great. On a soggy field in Evanston the 2013 edition may have experienced the sequel.
The parallels in the two games are certainly there. In both contests, the Scarlet and Gray were playing their first B1G road game against a ranked opponent in a raucous environment. Both games also saw a less than perfect Braxton Miller turn the ball over three times, contributing to a second half opponent lead. Luckily for Ohio State, Miller was able to find his poise in both contests, converting 70+ yard drives in each to put the Buckeyes up for good.
The 2012 game was important because it was a moment where the team began to play for eachother, ultimately drowning out the noise that only an NCAA sanction can create.
The 2013 team has a different kind of noise, the kind only a weak conference can generate. Finally bowl-eligible, these undefeated Buckeyes have the chance to do what their predecessors couldn’t, but will the national perception stand in the way of that goal? Only time will tell, and there’s a lot of football to be played, but rest assured you’ll hear about the perceived weakness of the B1G until the final whistle. Nevermind an Oregon squad that’s playing in a conference with only one other true threat (no need to analyze that media types…just walk over this way and you’ll see our 339 different uniform combinations as well as our marquee win against a terrible Tennessee squad).
The Michigan State game also allowed Meyer to finally get a glimpse at what he had. Up until that point, his Buckeyes hadn’t experienced a true test. Despite playing down to their competition in each of the first four games, Ohio State had yet to meet an equal on the football field. In East Lansing, that’s exactly what they got. The trial by fire afforded the team the confidence and resolve to reel off the next seven.
In many ways, the game last Saturday was the first true glimpse at the 2013 squad. Essentially, this is what Meyer will have to work with for the remainder of the season. All players are back from suspension, while an injured Christian Bryant isn’t coming back (at least not in the near future). There are certainly areas that need to get better quickly (looking at you secondary), but that is the beauty of college football. The good teams get better as the season wears on.
The 2012 Buckeyes weren’t playing their best ball after the Michigan State game, in fact, they wouldn’t play to their full potential for another whole month. Despite wins piling up en masse the defense would give up an average of 33 points per game in October. It’s hard to win ‘em all when you’re giving up over 4 TDs an outing. But, the 2012 squad learned from each game, becoming more formidable as the schedule charged into November. In the team’s last three games, they were playing some of the best defense in the country.
The hope is this trajectory can be repeated in 2013. Surely by now you’ve read all of the doom and gloom pieces regarding this team’s secondary. Yes, they gave up 343 yards through the air. That needs to be corrected. Soon. The good news is, it can be. Quality talent coupled with relentless coaching yields a team that gets better week to week. The team that gave up 49 points to Indiana in 2012 wasn’t the same team that held UM’s Devin Gardner to just 171 yards, 2 TDs, and 1 INT (previously averaging 278 yards passing and 4 total TDs per game).
Last year’s Michigan State game was a jumping off point for a storybook season. It was a rallying cry for the team, and a warning shot to the rest of the conference that the team was for real. We may have just witnessed a similar moment on the banks of Lake Michigan.