Once Unproven Commodities, Playmakers Emerged Against Cincinnati

By Patrick Maks on September 30, 2014 at 3:15 pm
Rod Smith FTW

For much of the offseason, Ohio State talked of having a newfound cache of playmakers that would take its already powerful offense to even greater heights.

It’s why — even when the team lost star quarterback Braxton Miller a week before its season opener — the Buckeyes maintained they could still compete for championships. 

Names like Dontre Wilson, Ezekiel Elliott, Michael Thomas, Jalin Marshall, Curtis Samuel and Corey Smith were splashed into mainstream conversation like holy water on Palm Sunday. 

Along with returning starters like Devin Smith and Jeff Heuerman, they would be enough to offset the losses of Carlos Hyde, four offensive lineman, and Corey "Philly" Brown — critical cogs behind Ohio State’s high-powered unit in 2013.  

Yet when push came to shove against Virginia Tech a few weeks ago — the first chance for the Buckeyes to make good on all that talk and all that hype — those shiny, new weapons on offense were nowhere to be found.

The Hokies stifled Ohio State's running game and blanketed a hapless group of wide receivers on the outside. With little help from his supporting cast, redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett crumbled and was sacked seven times. The Buckeyes lost 35-21 and, all of the sudden, the buzz around all that young talent gave way to the sobering reality of life without proven commodities. 

Fast forward three weeks and a 50-28 outburst against Cincinnati Saturday tells a different story. In an outing in which Ohio State amassed 710 yards of total offense, 45 first downs and 101 plays, a much more comfortable Barrett carved up a bad Bearcat defense and, unlike that dismal performance against the Hokies, had help from emerging playmakers around him. 

"It is a street fight to get the ball right now," head coach Urban Meyer said Monday.

Notably, Elliott bullied his way to 182 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries. It was a career day for the talented, but unproven, sophomore running back and a giant leap in production after being rendered ineffective against Virginia Tech.

"They played some bear against us, and we added some offense for that particular defense," Meyer said. "So we have a lot of confidence in Ezekiel Elliott, and I think he's, before he leaves here, he could be one of the great backs of Ohio State. A long way to go."

But for now, all the Buckeyes need from him is to be productive. 

Added Elliott: “Tonight was a night I really needed. I really needed some momentum," he said after the game. "I think it’s all downhill from here and all the running backs we played, played great. (Senior running back) 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.”

Apparently, it was contagious. 

The receivers — which have underperformed for the better part of the last three years — dismantled Cincinnati's defensive secondary left and right. Wilson, the speedy H-back who was also kept at bay against the Hokies, led the team with 71 yards on six catches. In fact, 10 different players caught a pass and three different players caught a touchdown — including Elliott's 51 yards on five catches.

The Buckeyes spread the ball around because they could.

And while it's an entirely different conversation of whether the team can withstand a defense like Michigan State's, a young crop of skill players took a much-needed step toward being proven playmakers. 

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