For the last week, Ohio State has talked of being an improved, ravenous and furious football team — one that’s decided it will pillage its way back into a fluid national picture after early-season growing pains looked like they might capsize a campaign that began with championship aspirations.
After smashing Rutgers, 56-17, on a cold, soggy and windy afternoon in Columbus, the Buckeyes — which are gutting their adversaries since a stunning loss to Virginia Tech — look like the team that was thought to challenge for the Big Ten title and a coveted spot in college football’s inaugural postseason playoff.
Urban Meyer has done his best to temper his team’s churning and overflowing momentum, but he can only do it for so long.
“We’re not that good,” he told ESPN’s SVP and Russillo Friday.
Yet as the rain pitter-pattered off Ohio State’s helmets while they galloped back toward the locker room after the game, the Buckeyes do, in fact, look that good lately.
Meyer — a master technician of using self-deprecation as motivation — is buying in; he says one-loss Ohio State is a top-10 team.
"Someone will blog it out and say ‘Here's Coach Meyer ranting and raving again,'" he said. "I'm not ... I think we're playing at a pretty high level right now."
Which is why, after dismantling four-straight challengers since that loss to the Hokies, there is a certain confidence that abounds within the 13th-ranked Buckeyes.
“We wake up saying we like our chess pieces compared to other teams. Take that for what you want it to be,” junior linebacker Joshua Perry said. And since that breeds contentment, it is a sentiment duly met with a certain anxiety.
“Complacency is awful in this business,” Meyer said. It repulses them.
“That’s a bad word,” Perry said. “We’re trying to eliminate that word from our vocabulary.”
And Meyer — who has Ohio State playing its best football with critical nighttime bouts against Penn State and defending league champion Michigan State looming — will be damned if it gets fat and sassy now. After all, that's what might've cost it a trip to the sport's zenith last season.
"I think toward the end of the year last year, we were doing so well and kind of got a little bit complacent," Perry said. You know, the bad word.
That explains why the Buckeyes — who amassed 585 yards and 31 first downs on 71 plays — overwhelmed Rutgers Saturday. The offense, which is surging at a historical rate after its fourth-straight 500-yard, 50-point outpouring, gut-punched the Scarlet Knights up and down the field.
J.T. Barrett — who's ascended from the wide-eyed redshirt freshman charged with replacing the injured Braxton Miller to one of the country's most-efficient quarterbacks — was superb. He completed 19-of-31 passes for 261 yards and three touchdowns. He rushed for 107 yards and two scores on seven — mostly unscripted — carries.
With a band of emerging playmakers — like running back Ezekiel Elliott, H-backs Dontre Wilson and Jalin Marshall, wide receiver Michael Thomas and tight ends Jeff Heuerman and Nick Vannett —the Buckeyes spread the football left, right, up and down.
Ohio State's long-maligned defense forced the mistake-prone Gary Nova to run for his life and rendered the Rutgers quarterback ineffective for most of the afternoon to cement what seems like the most complete game of the season for the upswing Buckeyes. And here is where complacency, for Ohio State or the New England Patriots, can creep in.
Perhaps, then, it makes sense why players and coaches spoke of this aversion as if it were printed and passed out as big, bold-faced talking points prior to speaking with reporters after the game.
“We can win by as much as we did, but we’re not going to be satisfied if we don’t close out the game,” Perry said.
“I mean, it feels good, but we’re never satisfied,” redshirt freshman linebacker Darron Lee said.
"It's something that's engrained in the program: It's that never-satisfied mentality," co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Luke Fickell said. "And it's not always the easiest way to live your life, but we understand that ... that's the expectation."
Added Marshall: "We try to stay away from looking at what’s happened on the outside of our program, but you’ve gotta look at it because it’s right there in front of us."
How they walk that line will define them. But if you stare at it for too long, the big picture can be overwhelming. It can consume you. Ohio State is utterly determined to not let that happen.
"We just beat this team pretty badly and it almost felt like a loss, that just shows the hunger," Lee said.
Supper won't be served for a few months.
“We’re never satisfied,” Lee said. “Probably won’t be until the season’s over."