Ohio State — in particular head coach Urban Meyer — wasn't shy about voicing its thoughts toward a potentially deadly Western Michigan offense leading up to Saturday bout at Ohio Stadium.
Meyer called Bronco receivers Daniel Braverman and Corey Davis "NFL guys," and spoke of their near miss in the season opener against No. 2 Michigan State, a 37-24 loss.
After back-to-back underwhelming performances from the Buckeye offense against Hawai'i and Northern Illinois, Columbus natives grew more restless with each passing day prior to the 3:30 p.m. kickoff against Western Michigan. Chatter picked up when Meyer announced Wednesday he was sticking with Cardale Jones at quarterback, after the mountain of a man tossed two picks against the Huskies and seemed out of rhythm.
Things looked up for the Buckeye offense, however, in a 38-12 defeat of P.J. Fleck's squad when the unit racked up 511 total yards — 288 passing — and took care of the ball better than it had been.
"We played much better on offensive line. Controlled the line of scrimmage. The receivers had a very good day," Meyer said. "Offensively, it's close."
Jones performed admirably, finishing 19-of-33 for 288 yards and two touchdowns, but did fling an interception on an under thrown pass down the field to Jalin Marshall. It wasn't the first under throw of the day for Jones, nor the last, as he and the offense left points and potentially even bigger numbers offensively on the field.
"Just understanding what we were trying to do to them. We prepared in a slightly different way than taking some of the other balls, but that's not an excuse for throwing three or four of them short," Jones said. "Definitely the one that turned into an interception in the end zone. Just trusting my guys some more and having more faith in them to throw it."
The big-armed quarterback from Cleveland took all the blame for the missteps on the balls down the field, but the threat of it alone and a better performance by the offensive line resulted in a balanced attack on that side of the ball. Ezekiel Elliott ran for 124 yards and a touchdown, the ninth straight game he eclipsed the century mark.
"The offense did make strides," Elliott said. "We shot ourselves in the foot a couple times with some penalties, but we did make strides and we got some momentum and got a sneak peek of what the Buckeye offense can look like when we're going."
Ohio State committed a ghastly 12 penalties for 86 yards, but there were plenty of highlights sprinkled among the errors that resulted in the four-possession victory. Jones connected with Michael Thomas and Jalin Marshall for touchdown passes of 38 and 37 yards, Curtis Samuel ripped off a 40-yard score late in the game and Elliott hurdled a defender on two separate plays.
"This year it’s been a real emphasis it feels like from defenses to cut tackle me. I'm tired of taking those shots to the legs. So I decided to go up top a couple times."
The Buckeye defense can't be forgotten either, keeping Braverman and Davis mostly in check and only giving up one touchdown between the pair of them. The unit also produced six points of its own when Adolphus Washington picked off a Zach Terrell screen pass and rumbled 20 yards for a touchdown to put Ohio State up 24-6 before halftime. It was the third straight contest the defense scored a touchdown.
"Between me and y'all, I'm itching. I got to get one. This is ridiculous," safety Tyvis Powell said of the defensive scores. "Everybody's a part of this Zone 6, Zone 6, and I'm like, 'Why can't I do this, man?' So I'm definitely going to be on the lookout."
Powell finished the day with five tackles and made noise on special teams, blocking a field goal in the first quarter.
"We've been repping it, right? Through all this practice we've been doing it, but we go out there and do it in the game. When I got through, I was like, 'Oh snap!' And then when it hit me, I said, 'Oh my God! I blocked it!' I looked over and I was like, 'Wow!' I couldn't believe it. The stadium erupted, good to hear that noise and everybody go crazy. Good moment. Good times, man. Good times."
Overall, Powell was pleased with his performance, particularly in open field tackling against the speedy Braverman, Davis and WMU running back Jarvion Franklin. There was one tackle though, that he was glad he didn't have to make due to Washington's interception.
"If you watch it, it was going to be three linemen and a running back vs. just me, and it was going to be UGLY," Powell said.
The defense also recorded a pair of sacks and four tackles for loss. The defensive front created pressure as much as it could, even though Terrell typically got the ball out of his hands quickly. Pressure from players like Tyquan Lewis, Joey Bosa, Washington and Sam Hubbard resulted in a number of drive-killing penalties for the Western Michigan offense.
"Of course we held," Fleck said after the game. "We had a freshman tackle trying to block Joey Bosa."
Be that as it may, in the end Ohio State's offense took a major step in the right direction to ease the mind of its head coach and offensive coordinator. It was needed, too, because Big Ten play is right around the corner for the nation's top-ranked team. The Buckeyes travel to Indiana Saturday.
"It took us a little second to get rolling this year, but I think now since we’ve worked hard each and every day in practice I think we’re gonna be all right," Jalin Marshall said.
"I think it's great to finally take some deep shots," Elliott added. "We still gotta get that timing between the quarterback and the receiver down, got a couple PIs on them. It's great to get those big plays for the offense and those PIs help a lot. Just getting that momentum going."
Ed Warinner said the comfortability with quarterbacks coach Tim Beck is growing better and better each day, because when the offense tries to go quickly his eyes can be more useful from the box.
"Just getting Tim more involved in that process. Because he can see a little better, maybe have him help more in the passing game and kind of his vision, making more suggestions and rolling through things. Then when we were going tempo, sometimes it's easier to see everything faster from up there. We involved Tim Beck a lot more."
Add that to the fact Ohio State exits the non-conference portion of its 2015 schedule unscathed while Jones missed a few shots down field left Meyer pleased, but yearning for more.
"I've not seen the videotape, and it's hard to see exactly what goes on on the field, but I know at least three or four under thrown touchdowns, or potential big hits. We have to get those fixed."