In a game in which Ohio State was expected to dismantle Kent State, the Buckeyes did exactly that, and then some.
Still, it’s hard to gauge what a 66-0 blowout of the comprehensively inferior Golden Flashes means in the bigger picture and what it means for a team that got exposed against Virginia Tech a week earlier. It’s why Urban Meyer was among the first to put the win in perspective.
“I thought our guys played well. Obviously a little talent advantage, but we had to have a game like this. Normally that's a first game, especially when you have a young quarterback and a young offensive line, but I'm glad we played like we did.”
In particular, redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett lit up Kent State’s defense for 312 yards, six touchdowns and one interception on 23-of-30 passing. He tied the school record for most touchdowns thrown in a single game, which was set by Kenny Guiton last year. It was a drastic rebound after taking seven sacks and throwing three interceptions against the Hokies.
“On purpose — and early in the first half — I wanted to throw a lot. I wanted to force him to make plays, and receivers — it's not just him, it's the whole combination of quarterback/receivers. I thought he played good. I thought there was a couple misses, too, now that we could have had. But a young quarterback needs to do that, and we actually did some empty. I think he'll be a good empty quarterback, five-receiver set. So we're still, once again, figuring out exactly how we're going to be moving the ball as an offense once we start getting to the Big Ten season.”
Because, admittedly, Meyer said Ohio State has yet to discover an offensive identity this season.
“We're still kind of trying to figure out who we are offensively. The identity was clear two years ago: it was Braxton Miller right, Braxton Miller left, because that was kind of our best player. Last year, we developed this big tailback (Carlos Hyde) and a really good offensive line, so that identity was started. Still at this point, I think we have a lot of speed, and you can tell we're trying to get guys in open space to see what they can do because you've got Jalin Marshall, who's a very talented guy; Dontre Wilson, I could go down the list. But we're still trying to get our hands on exactly who's going to touch that ball.”
With guys like Wilson, Marshall, Michael Thomas, Corey Smith and Devin Smith notably on the outside and running backs Ezekiel Elliott and Curtis Samuel, Ohio State figures to have the talent it wants/needs to start building an offense that spreads the ball around. As such, Meyer said the Buckeyes will “practice hard” during the bye week.
“A lot of what you do in a bye week is depending on what kind of team you have. But our guys need repetitions. Football is a game of organized chaos out there, and the more often you get players in those situations — like on a two-a-day practice last Tuesday, I went 55-play ones-on-ones and twos-on-twos, and I've never really done that before, and I didn't script it that way. I was watching them practice, and I'm looking at these young players out there who need to get the coaches off the field and let them play, so I am trying to get our players as many reps as possible by the time we get to the Big Ten season, and this was a great opportunity for that.”
Because even though the Buckeyes say they’re trying to move forward after a gutting loss to Virginia Tech last weekend, the fallout of the defeat still aches. Redshirt freshman guard Bill Price recalled the days following the loss.
“I mean it was overwhelming, there’s no doubt about it. We come in Sundays, it was kind of reserved, it was more or less ‘Wow, that really happened.’ But as the weak got on, we had a good practice Tuesday, we had a strong practice Wednesday and Thursday cleaned things up and we felt pretty confident coming into this week.”
“You still have a sick feeling in your stomach about last week, but we're moving forward, and I see a lot of young guys that are going to have great futures at Ohio State.”
Thrashing Kent State was a step in regaining confidence and momentum, but it doesn’t tell us much about whether the Buckeyes are any closer to fixing the defects that doomed them against the Hokies — you know, things like a porous offensive line, streaky production from the wide receivers and running backs.
Offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Tom Herman said:
“I wanted to see energy, I wanted to see a team — or an offense at least — that was angry about what happened. I want to see an offense that — because of who we were playing, we needed to really focus on fundamentals and execution, which we didn’t last week.”
On defense, Ohio State smothered Kent State, but who knows how it’ll perform against teams its own size.
“I think effort was good. I think we denied throws … you're really going to be challenged in two weeks with the Cincinnati group of receivers and their quarterback. But I think everybody has heard me say I just want to challenge throws, and I thought you saw that today. Once again, not taking anything away from Kent, our opponent, but we obviously overmatched them a little bit, and I wanted to see what I saw, and it seemed like they had a hard time moving the ball on us, which should happen.”
Because, in the end, Saturday was about Ohio State’s progress in addressing defects that could continue to problems down the line. It wasn’t about how many points it could score against Kent State or how badly it could suffocate its offense. Junior linebacker Joshua Perry said it opens the door for intense self-evaluation.
“This is a game where if you make mistakes, you can be extremely critical and you look at it in a different way.”
And whether the Golden Flashes wanted it or not, they had their hands full with an Ohio State team still irked by last weekend’s loss. Barrett said Meyer told the team it needed to play upset.
“He talked about, with the loss last week and being at home, we should be mad, we should be angry and it just so happened Kent State was on the schedule.”