Ohio State certainly didn’t look like a championship team in its 49-20 loss at Purdue on Saturday night, and one might say the Buckeyes haven’t looked like a championship team all year, or at least for its past few games.
Yet even though the Buckeyes are no longer undefeated, and were defeated in ugly fashion in West Lafayette this past weekend, their chances of achieving their biggest goals for this season are still alive.
If Ohio State can win the rest of its regular-season games, it will still win the Big Ten East. If the Buckeyes can win the rest of their regular-season games and the Big Ten championship, they’ll still have a good shot at making the College Football Playoff. And if the Buckeyes can win their way back into college football’s top four and make the playoff, it remains possible that they can still achieve their top goal of winning a national championship.
So as the Buckeyes move forward from their 29-point loss to the Boilermakers, and into their bye week with an eye toward the remainder of their season, they’re still motivated by the same objectives as they were before.
“We can still make the Big Ten championship, and we got to do what we do to possibly make the playoffs, but we still have a lot of football ahead of us,” Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins said after Saturday’s game. “Right now, we’re 7-1. Not what we thought we were going to do vs. Purdue, but we still have an opportunity to go win some more games, so we’re going to make the most of it.”
For Ohio State to make a run at a conference title or anything beyond that, it has to play better. The Buckeyes scored a season-low 20 points on Saturday night even though Haskins set a single-game school record for passing yards, largely because they scored just six points in four trips to the red zone, while running for barely more than three yards per carry (76 yards on 25 attempts). They gave up a season-high 49 points and 539 yards on Saturday, as their defense continued to be plagued with allowing big plays. Ill-timed penalties were also costly on Saturday for the Buckeyes, who have now committed 8.3 penalties per game this year.
The Buckeyes recognize that they cannot accomplish their goals without improvement in all three phases of the game.
“We've just all got to look in the mirror and see what we could have did better,” said Ohio State wide receiver Terry McLaurin.
If they do that, though, the Buckeyes remain confident that they can elevate their play to the championship-caliber level they strive to achieve.
“It’s not just one thing or another, it’s a collective unit, and we’ve got to figure out how we can play better football together,” Haskins said. “And once we figure that out, we’re going to be where we need to be.”
“We can still make the Big Ten championship, and we got to do what we do to possibly make the playoffs, but we still have a lot of football ahead of us.” – Dwayne Haskins
Unexpected losses to teams they should have been able to beat have seemed to have a rallying effect on the Buckeyes that has led to stronger play after those losses occurred in recent seasons. After suffering a 35-21 loss to Virginia Tech in its second game of the season in 2014, Ohio State concluded the season with 13 straight victories to win a national championship. After a 17-14 loss to Michigan State in 2015, an Ohio State team that had played underwhelmingly all year rolled to a 42-13 victory over Michigan and a 44-28 victory over Notre Dame in its final two games of the season.
And after a 55-24 loss to Iowa last season – which Saturday night’s loss to Purdue felt an awful lot like a repeat of – the Buckeyes bounced back to win their final five games of the year, including three games against top-15 teams (Michigan State, Wisconsin and USC).
“When you’re on a roll, it’s not like you feel like you can’t get touched, but you don’t know what taste is like to lose, and it almost makes you recalibrate and get your mind right,” McLaurin said. “Look yourself in the mirror, all of us men in the locker room, and see what you can do to get better. Not what the guy next to you can do, what you can do, and as a leader, that’s my job to make sure everybody feels that.”
Though there’s reason to be concerned about the issues that have plagued the Buckeyes all season, and finally caught up with them in their eighth game of the season, Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer expressed confidence after Saturday’s game that his team will bounce back again.
“We have good players, good coaches,” Meyer said. “We’re going to get to work. We lost a game last year and came right back. So we have good guys, and we're going to work our you-know-what’s off, and get this thing right.”
Ohio State safety Jordan Fuller was hesitant to compare what happened on Saturday night to what happened at Iowa last year, but he too expressed confidence that the team will bounce back from defeat, though he said it’s now more important than ever for the Buckeyes – especially for team leaders like himself – to work in harmony and get better.
“We just got to stick together, and we still have a lot of football left this season,” Fuller said. “These moments obviously you don’t want, but it’s all about how you respond. And we have the talent, we have the leadership, we just got to really self-evaluate over this week and into next week and get on the right track.”
Ohio State’s next opportunity to demonstrate that it is on the right track and get back in the win column will come two Saturdays from now, Nov. 3, when the Buckeyes host Nebraska at Ohio Stadium.