While Ohio State is one of just eight remaining undefeated teams in college football, having won all seven games it has played this season, the perception surrounding its last couple of wins hasn’t been great.
Although the Buckeyes ultimately earned a 49-26 victory over Indiana and a 30-14 victory over Minnesota, controlling both games in the second half, they struggled out of the gates in both games – more specifically, they continued to allow big plays on defense and struggled to move the ball consistently in the running game – and trailed both unranked opponents in the second quarter before eventually taking care of business in front of home crowds at Ohio Stadium.
The No. 2-ranked Buckeyes have done enough to win every game they’ve played this season, and Ohio State coach Urban Meyer doesn’t want that to go unrecognized. But he also acknowledged the notion that his team must continue to improve isn’t wrong.
“When you have 500-plus yards, they don't score for almost three quarters,” Meyer said in reference to Saturday’s game against Minnesota, “But we can play much better. I'm not disagreeing with anything. You enhance your strengths and work on your weaknesses – every team has weaknesses – and there are some things we have to work on.”
Much of the frustration that Ohio State fans have expressed over the past couple weeks, despite the team’s wins, has stemmed from the fact that the Buckeyes seemingly haven’t gotten better in the areas in which they have struggled. Their rushing yards per attempt have declined in every game since the beginning of the season, while the defense allowed 7.07 yards per play to Minnesota’s offense, the most by any team against the Buckeyes this year.
Even though the Buckeyes haven’t been able to demonstrate profound improvement on the field, Meyer says he is seeing positive progress from his team, particularly in regards to the steps forward that young players are making.
“I do feel like we're getting better,” Meyer said.
“We can play much better. I'm not disagreeing with anything. You enhance your strengths and work on your weaknesses – every team has weaknesses – and there are some things we have to work on.”– Urban Meyer
Meyer highlighted true freshman safeties Josh Proctor and Marcus Hooker, who are both now playing on special teams (with Hooker making his debut on the kickoff unit Saturday), as well as true freshman wide receiver Chris Olave, redshirt freshman guard Wyatt Davis and redshirt junior left tackle Joshua Alabi as being among the players who are impressing him with their development.
Meyer said Olave is “really starting to help us out” with his play on special teams, that Davis “is getting very close to playing time” and that he thought Alabi “did a pretty good job” stepping in and playing 25 plays at left tackle after Thayer Munford, who is probable to play this week, left Saturday’s game early with an ankle injury.
The Buckeyes haven’t had a week off from playing a game since the season began, and they are playing for the eighth straight Saturday this week, when they travel to West Lafayette, Indiana, to play Purdue in what will be their third night game (7:30 p.m., ABC) away from home this year.
All of that adds up, too, forcing the Buckeyes to overcome injuries and fatigue and try to improve upon their weaknesses within the framework of also preparing to play a different opponent week in and week out.
Ohio State can’t use any of that as an excuse, however, as it looks to earn another win and improve to 8-0 this weekend, and Meyer knows the Boilermakers – who have won three straight games and currently rank 10th in the Football Bowl Subdivision in total offense (510.2 yards per game) – could provide one of the toughest tests of the season yet at Ross-Ade Stadium, where Ohio State has lost four out of seven games dating back to 2000.
“We've had a tough road, but it is what it is, and this is a big one,” Meyer said. “This is a big one before the bye week.”