Ohio State’s offense has never had a more statistically productive stretch than it has had over the past five games.
Having never previously had five straight games with 500 or more total yards in school history, Ohio State has had more than 580 yards of total offense in each of its last five games. Ohio State has also scored more than 50 points in each of its last four games, matching a school record set by the 2014 national championship team for consecutive 50-point games.
Ohio State has posted those numbers all the while taking starting quarterback J.T. Barrett and many of its other offensive starters out of all five of those games early, forgoing the potential to likely put up even bigger numbers in order to give second-string quarterback Dwayne Haskins and other backups playing time.
The schedule has set up nicely for Ohio State to put up big numbers, as the Buckeyes have faced five straight opponents – Army, UNLV, Rutgers, Maryland and Nebraska – who lacked the talent on defense to match Ohio State’s offensive talent. Before that five-game stretch, Ohio State scored only 16 points on 350 yards in its loss to Oklahoma, the Buckeyes’ only game so far this season against a ranked opponent.
Nonetheless, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer is confident, if also cautiously optimistic, that his offense’s historically impressive statistics are indicative of real improvement that will carry over to games against tougher competition, including the Buckeyes’ next game against Penn State on Oct. 28.
"I think (Ohio State quarterback) J.T. Barrett and his chemistry and the timing with the receivers are as good as it’s been," Meyer said on Tuesday’s Big Ten teleconference. "We’re very realistic about what’s coming down the street here, down the road, but there’s been a lot of positives. But I think any time you see the execution in the passing game like it’s been, there’s a lot of good things going on."
The key to Ohio State’s offensive surge – which has the Buckeyes ranked second in the Football Bowl Subdivision in average yards per game (577.3) and third in points per game (47.3) – has been improved communication, Meyer says. Freshman running back J.K. Dobbins, who leads the Buckeyes with 840 yards from scrimmage, agrees.
"We just came together as a team and fixed all of our problems," Dobbins said after Saturday’s 56-14 win against Nebraska. "It wasn’t any play calling, I feel like it was all on us. We just, we weren’t playing together as a team. And now that we are, the great thing is we can still get better."
While Ohio State’s rushing offense has been among the best in the country, rushing for at least 275 yards in each of the Buckeyes’ last three games, the Buckeyes’ improvements have been particularly noticeable in the passing game, as Meyer noted. Barrett has demonstrated increased trust and confidence in his wide receivers, who believe their quarterback has elevated his level of play and say they have tried to keep pace.
"I feel like we’re getting a lot better as far as just our compatibility with J.T.," said redshirt junior wide receiver Terry McLaurin after Saturday’s game. "Just to see where we’ve come from a month ago and how far we still can go, it’s exciting."
Barrett said he believes every unit on the offense, through working hard in practice, has improved over the course of the season and gained confidence in one another.
"Whether it be myself, O-line, receivers, tight ends, I think everybody’s approach is just keep on getting better," Barrett said. "And with that, I see the growth and the progression of what’s happening on offense. So I think that’s what everybody’s seeing right now."
Ohio State’s players aren’t the only ones whose communication has improved since the start of the year. Meyer says he has also seen offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson and co-offensive coordinator Ryan Day consistently improve their rhythm with one another, which has also played a big part in the offense’s improvement.
"The communication is very good," Meyer said of Wilson and Day. "It’s very smooth. I think they feed off each other, I think they’re excellent coaches and very familiar with the personnel."
Senior center Billy Price, the captain of Ohio State’s offensive line, says he believes the offensive players are playing more freely and aggressively than they did last season, and he credits Wilson and Day – both in their first year on Ohio State’s coaching staff after replacing Ed Warinner and Tim Beck – with allowing that to happen.
"I think that’s what really truly different is the dynamics of the offensive staff really have been the reason why guys are flying around so much," Price said. "We’re having fun and playing fast."
Putting up big numbers against inferior opponents isn’t anything new to Ohio State’s offense this year; the Buckeyes had six games with 45 or more points and nine games with 400 or more yards last year, good enough for the Buckeyes to lead the Big Ten in total offense and rank second in the conference in scoring offense for the season, yet that did not lead to success in games against their toughest opponents, like their losses to Penn State and Clemson.
Meyer and his players are confident, though, that this year is different.
"The key to the championship year in ‘14, in our great years that we’ve had is that when you get to the big games that the offense continues to perform. Last year, that did not happen," Meyer said. "However, I do feel that it’s much smoother. I feel the communication, the play calling is, I think, excellent right now, and the development of players.
"I just like the development of the offense right now, so we’ll see if we’re having this conversation in a few weeks," Meyer added. "If we are, then that means we’re a legitimate top offense."