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It is hard not to blame Urban Meyer for being so caught off-guard. With how his team played over the last month, a public display and destruction of a top-10 opponent didn't exactly figure into his thought process as Ohio State took the field on Saturday night.
“A lot of respect for Nebraska and their coach is a friend of mine. And their only loss a hard-fought overtime game last week. One of those back-to-back night games, so just the wear and tear. But just an A to Z very good performance by our guys.”
The Buckeyes owned all phases of the game against the Cornhuskers on their way to a 62-3 demolition of Riley's club, when even though Meyer called off the dogs in the third quarter 17 more points went up on the board. J.T. Barrett led a charge of explosive plays despite missing some easy throws where he had receivers wide open for even more scores.
But he hit one that fans and media members alike thought was never coming back—a 75-yard bomb to H-back Curtis Samuel. The junior shed a tackle and ran away from the safety to put 6 points on the board. The score made it 38-3 on the first play of the second half.
“We were just able to execute the shot plays,” Barrett said. “I think the main thing was the offensive line. What that means is when they're playing like that we were able to distribute the ball and then when we were running they were driving guys all off the ball. When the offensive line plays like that, that's when we have those type of games.”
“It was a great game tonight,” Samuel added. “Everything was clicking, the run game, the pass game. Everything was going great tonight.”
And Meyer: “I know he misfired on a couple, too, but J.T. played fantastic and he was very sharp, spread the ball, spread the entire—we finally hit some downtown shots, too, to Curtis, and Curtis was outstanding. And he's very healthy right now. And I mean he's a piece of the puzzle. That's a giant piece of the puzzle.”
Samuel and Barrett are arguably the most important pieces to what Ohio State wants to do with its 2016 season. But what Barrett said about the offensive line in front of him rings true too—that group struggled in the loss at Penn State and in the few weeks prior.
On Saturday, it paved the way for Mike Weber's rushing touchdown when Pat Elflein pulled and took out a defender much like he did a week earlier against Northwestern. The Buckeyes ran for 238 yards on 42 carries, Barrett didn't get sacked on his way to 290 passing yards and four touchdowns and everything looked like it did earlier in the year.
“I didn't think this was going to happen,” Meyer said.
“You never see that coming,” offensive coordinator Ed Warinner added. “You’re playing a really good team, well coached, highly rated. We knew we had good offensive pieces. We had put together good games earlier in the year and it was time to put another one together. We did tonight. Our players came around.”
Ohio State did not punt the entire night. Really the only gripe Meyer can find is with his punt returner, as Dontre Wilson muffed yet another attempt that Nebraska recovered. Ohio State's defense forced a turnover on downs following the exit of quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. but Samuel took over duties on the next punt. He then yielded to true freshman Demario McCall, who actually ended the night with a game-high 73 rushing yards to go with a 15-yard punt return.
“Demario looked great, didn't he?” Meyer said, before a reporter asked if his role could expand in the near future. “He might now. He's probably going to be our punt returner. I'm going to evaluate that over this next few days, but I thought he was very good. I thought Branden Bowen and the offensive line, the next guy in, and played very well. And A.J. Alexander contributed. So that was good to get those guys in.”
Plenty of players saw action like they did in September when the Buckeyes dropped 77 points on Bowling Green in the season opener. You don't expect that kind of production against a conference foe with one loss, however. But Damon Webb's pick-six started the scoring barrage early. The Cornhuskers countered with a field goal but failing to get into the end zone crippled any chance they had at making a game of it. Barrett led a scoring drive and finished it with a 7-yard pass to Terry McLaurin after buying time and evading pressure. Not even 5 minutes later, Weber found pay dirt. Game, set, match.
“We had a good game plan. We were able to execute, and it was a good feeling to go out there and play so well especially against a top-10 opponent,” left tackle Jamarco Jones said. “It’s a ton of fun to go and let loose and play with your teammates.”
“It was great out there going out there making plays,” Samuel said. “My guys right behind me making plays too. I see the excitement on their face and I do what I do for them, for the guys on my team and for the coaches.”
Ohio State got the ball to Samuel on a jet sweep a few times and found ways to get him open in the short to intermediate passing game. Then Barrett lofted the 75-yard bomb to start the third quarter, a play that had been missing for weeks, mainly because opposing defenses played deep to take it away but also because the quarterback missed some of his guys when he had a chance.
“If they're going to play us off and not let us throw the ball deep we're going to take what we can get,” Samuel said. “Because once we get the ball in our players' hands we can take it for 10, 20, 30 and get it going down the field.”
“All the great ones miss some, you have to keep trying and keep swinging,” quarterbacks coach Tim Beck said. “[J.T.] came out the second half and hit it so I think he was good.”
Pretty much everyone on Ohio State's team was good on Saturday night. Nebraska was hapless to stop the bleeding once it started in earnest in the second quarter.
“It looked very strange to me. I didn’t feel like we played very loose,” Mike Riley said. “I thought we were tight early but the fact of the matter is that we really couldn’t do a lot offensively and we couldn’t get them off the field defensively.”
“Just bad football on our part,” star Nebraska safety Nathan Gerry said. “Especially early on, we gave a really good football team some opportunities. When you are playing a good football team, you can’t do that. They took advantage of our mistakes.”
It all added up to a statement win on national television for the Buckeyes.
“It is a little relief to know that right now I saw some explosiveness that we kind of have been lacking in some positions,” Meyer said. “And I think relief is probably the correct word, that we've all been waiting for that to happen. No better time than the month of November to get that thing going.”
Added Barrett: “I just feel like the preparation was right. We had a great practice Tuesday and Wednesday. I think the past couple weeks we also worked well too it was just understanding that come to game day there are adjustments that we have to have made and if we had done a better job in the past couple weeks, somebody would be judged for that. I knew we were on the edge of it to really break through.”