Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer said back at Big Ten Media Days his No. 1 concern with this year's team was the play of the offensive line.
The Buckeyes had to replace four starters from last year's group and after a poor performance in a Week 2 loss to Virginia Tech, it looked as if the line may be a problem for the remainder of the season.
But in Saturday's 50-28 victory over Cincinnati, Ohio State's offensive line did not look like one of its biggest weaknesses. In fact, it looked like one of its strengths.
"We're an offensive line‐driven team and they won the game for us," Meyer said. "And they controlled that line of scrimmage. They protected our quarterback."
They also opened up gaping holes for running backs Ezekiel Elliott and Rod Smith as the Buckeyes ran for 380 yards as a team and gained 710 yards of total offense, third-most in school history.
“All the credit goes to the offensive line," quarterback J.T. Barrett said. "They got it started for us and that’s what Coach Meyer always talks about in relying on them to keep the offensive going.”
Barrett Has Career Day
Speaking of Barrett, the redshirt freshman had his best game of his career, throwing for a career-high 330 yards to go along with four touchdown passes. He also ran for a career-high 79 yards. More importantly, however, he did not have a turnover.
"I think it just goes to our preparation during the week. Coach Herman is doing a great job with me just understanding the offense so I'm not just back there panicking or anything like that."
Barrett's 409 total yards rank second all time in Ohio State history behind only Art Schlichter's 412 against Florida State in 1981. He's the first Buckeyes' quarterback to have back-to-back 300-plus yard passing games since Troy Smith in 2005.
Through the first four games of this season, Barrett has thrown for 1,087 yards and 13 touchdowns.
“He’s playing very well," H-back Dontre Wilson said of Barrett. "I always knew he had it in him because he’s such a great leader. He works really hard and now, he’s just perfecting his craft.”
Ohio State's 710 yards of offense are impressive as is, but what's even more impressive is the balance in which it achieved that number.
The Buckeyes gained 380 yards on the ground and added 330 through the air, despite running the ball 65 times as a team compared to just 36 pass attempts.
“Having a good balanced offense is super hard for defenses to prepare for and I think that’s a big thing looking at the stats sheet," tight end Jeff Heuerman said. "Now, looking at the next game, we’re not a one-attack offense. We can run and throw the ball.”
Pass Defense Still a Question
In addition to Meyer's concern about the offensive line, he's also been very vocal about this team's pass defense.
Against the Bearcats, Ohio State faced its first real challenge in that regard, as well, and the Buckeyes did not look particularly strong in that department.
Cincinnati quarterback Gunner Kiel went 21 for 32 for 352 yards and four touchdowns and wide receiver Chris Moore caught three passes for 221 yards. All three catches went for touchdowns. Ohio State couldn't seem to limit the Bearcats from making the big play.
“When you do what we do, you’re gonna put yourself in one-on-one situations and you’ve gotta win those one-on-one battles," Ohio State safeties coach and co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash said. "Right out of the gate, Vonn (Bell) didn’t win his one-on-one battle and then I thought we played pretty well until the last touchdown there at the end of the first half really hurt where Eli (Apple) got beat over the top."
Cincinnati also had a long touchdown reception at the beginning of the third quarter, but Ash said the big plays aren't a result of a lack of effort from the Buckeyes.
“There’s nothing wrong with the effort," he said. "We’re putting guys in one-on-one situations and we’ve gotta win some of them. Can we coach up or clean up a couple of things with the technique? Absolutely. But there’s nothing wrong with the effort.”