In a game that was one of the most explosive days in school history, Ohio State conducted an offensive clinic in front of the largest crowd to ever gather inside the time-tested Horseshoe.
Before 108,362 people, the Buckeyes amassed 710 total yards of offense, 45 first downs, and 101 plays before vanquishing in-state foe Cincinnati Saturday night.
Behind the legs of sophomore running back Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio State rushed for 380 yards and dominated the Bearcats at the line of scrimmage all night long.
“After Virginia Tech, we were just hungry. We knew we had to come out, we wanted to kick someone’s ass,” Elliott said. “I think Kent State was a good game for that and I think we added some more momentum with this game.”
After the bout, Meyer expressed confidence in Elliott, who ran for 182 yards and one touchdown on 28 carries.
“Before he leaves here he could be one of the great backs of Ohio State. A long way to go. I like the way that group works right now.”
“Tonight was a night I really needed. I really needed some momentum," Elliott said. "I think it’s all downhill from here and all the running backs we played, played great. Rod (Smith) was running harder than I’ve ever seen him in my life and when you see your fellow backs out there playing hard and on special teams, it motivates you. You go harder.”
Their contributions helped kindle an offense that was more or less unstoppable against the hapless Bearcats defense.
“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.”
Redshirt freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett was equally — if not more — impressive, throwing for 330 yards and four touchdowns on 26-of-36 attempts. Meyer, though, said the youngster still needs to work on seizing command of the offense.
“I kept screaming "Peyton Manning" at him, because when I study or just get to watch games, Peyton Manning's still as good as I've ever seen as far as taking control. And (J.T.’s) not there yet. So take control of the offense. Other than that, very accurate today throwing the ball.”
Offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Tom Herman said Barrett appears to play better when he thinks less.
“Not to play amateur psychologist, but I think he’s sometimes a bit of an overthinker and so when you just keep calling plays and let him run them, I think he does a good job because he doesn’t over think too many things.”
Yet, Ohio State was far from flawless.
The pass defense — which helped in the team’s undoing last season — was gashed by quarterback Gunner Kiel and a talented group of wide receivers for 352 yards and four touchdowns. Most disturbing was how the Bearcats were simply able to break free for big plays over and over throughout the evening.
Co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach Chris Ash said he’s not losing sleep over it.
“I’m not gonna stay up tonight, I can tell you that. I gotta get up early enough and I’m here late enough as it is, but we’ll address it tomorrow. We just won a game. We’re gonna enjoy victory. I don’t what you guys want, but we’re going to enjoy victory over a team that has a good quarterback, good receivers. We were concerned about their pass game going in, you take away three plays — which you can’t — we played the rest of them pretty decent. Now, we gotta get the three that we gave up fixed, we can’t allow that, we’re not gonna allow that, its not acceptable but we’ll get it addressed tomorrow.”
“They’re not breakdowns. They’re one-on-one situations where guys made mistakes. They didn’t even necessarily make mistakes, they got beat in one-on-one situations, that’s not a breakdown. That’s not a schematic breakdown, I couple of them are discipline things and some of them might be techniques we can improve on, but no necessarily breakdowns, there’s nothing wrong with the effort.”
Still, this year’s pass defense was supposed to be different. It’s been more of the same four games in.
“We've got to get that fixed,” Meyer said. “You can't play championship football until that gets fixed.”
And Meyer, who vowed to be more involved with the defense than ever before last spring, said he won’t “micromanage” but will have his say Sunday.
“I felt like when they started running by us, that's a problem. So we'll just have to reevaluate what we're doing, who we're doing it with, and make sure we're giving our team the best opportunity to win. And that will take place tomorrow.”
When asked if it was a personnel issue, Meyer maintained the right people are playing in the right places, “but obviously I saw what you saw.”
“So I'll be ready to address that more, because that's going to be a hard conversation tomorrow. I want to challenge throws and play bump and run coverage. If you have the personnel keep doing it. If you don't, you've got to adapt. And our guys hang in there with us, and so maybe Cincinnati's receivers are that much better than Ohio State's receivers. I don't know. That's just something we've got to evaluate. It's still early. But it's not like this is not going to be addressed and get worked on.”
It had a lot to do with why Ohio State gave up an early and commanding 23-point lead.
“Pissed,” Meyer said half-joking. “Great teams don't do that. I didn't want to take anything away from UC because UC is a legitimate (team) — probably the best throwing team we've faced since we've been here … when Coach (Tommy) Tuberville says he's got the best group of receivers he's ever had, everybody takes a deep breath and goes, ‘Really?’ I asked him after the game and he's got a good team. But we're Ohio State, too, so we better learn how to play pass defense and get that fixed.”