After last Saturday’s 24-21 loss to unranked Penn State (5-2, 3-1), Ohio State has found themselves with more questions than what they started with since the beginning of the season.
Or at the very least, those questions that had seemed to get squashed after throttling then-ranked No. 14 Oklahoma on the road, 45-24, and followed it up with a sound beating of Rutgers, 56-6, began to creep into the minds of Buckeye fans and pundits alike when they “barely” got past Indiana at home, 38-17.
But the offense did not look crisp in that win against the Hoosiers.
Quarterback J.T. Barrett went 9-of-21 (43 percent) passing for 93 yards with a QB efficiency rating of 86.25.
All of those were season-lows at the time and still are after the seventh game of the year.
Through the first four games, Barrett had thrown for 888 yards (222 yard avg), 14 touchdowns and completed 68 percent of his passes.
And had only been sacked twice.
Since Rutgers, though, he has completed 55 percent of his passes with three touchdowns and averaged 188 yards per game.
He has also been sacked nine times in the last three games, six of them coming last week against Penn State, alone.
When asked if the Buckeyes (6-1, 3-1) had maybe gone soft after rising to No. 2 in the polls and did not seem as angry and playing with a chip on their shoulder as they had to start the season, head coach Urban Meyer said that was something he would look at later.
“Angry? I don’t know. I think those are legitimate questions (but) I’m just trying to beat Northwestern and we’ll reflect some other time,” he said during Wednesday’s post-practice press conference at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.
Barrett said they will go back to grinding it out to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
“I think we just have to go to work. Losing happens in football. We do the best we can to prevent it. All the work we put in in the offseason, training camp, so that we try to do our best to succeed and not lose. You go back to what you were built upon. Toughness, grinding, I think that’s what we are going to go back to, and try to make sure this doesn’t happen.”
The quote of the week, though, came from fourth-year junior offensive guard Billy Price who channeled his inner Aaron Rodgers on what he told some of the underclassmen on the team.
“The crazy thing is we’ve only lost five games in five years. The sun still came up today. We’re very blessed to be at a place like Ohio State where you only lose five games in five years. It’s incredible. We’ve been here before, this is not something that happens often, but we grow from this, we get tighter together. We focus on us, we don’t worry about anybody else.” On being successful in an environment like Happy Valley “Just take a deep breath and focus on what you need to do. You can’t tell them to be quiet, so you just focus on what you do, what you can control, and make sure that we are cohesive as an offensive line. That’s all that really matters.”
Meyer said the loss to Penn State, though, has taught this team some lessons in both football and life.
“They’re getting better and we just got to keep pushing and grinding and fight through a little adversity. As a coach you really enjoy watching guys grow up. You get kicked in the teeth, you don’t enjoy that but that’s also part of the game.”
To Barrett and the offense’s credit, the week before Penn State they slugged it out against a stout Wisconsin defense that had only been allowing 291 total yards per game and a league-leading 90 rushing yards, gaining 411 total yards including 185 on the ground.
The then eighth-ranked Badgers had two weeks to prepare for the second-ranked Buckeyes and were squaring up in Camp Randall Stadium, which is a notoriously tough place to play.
Fast forward one week later and No. 2 OSU once again hit the road to take on a Nittany Lion team that also had two weeks to prepare.
And the Buckeyes had to play in front of 107,280 rowdy fans who had not seen their beloved Blue and White beat the Scarlet and Gray in Beaver Stadium since 2005.
A talented, yet still young Buckeye team who was undoubtedly worn out both physically and mentally from the challenge of playing two good Big Ten teams on the road finally collapsed.
Barrett said the team will be ready, though, come Saturday against Northwestern.
“I think it’s one of the things where you put your helmet on, tighten your chinstrap a little tighter, bite on your mouthpiece a little harder. Not like it wasn’t before, but everything definitely matters. Just make sure that we don’t look over the small details because those are the things that help us win games.”
Center Pat Elflein said the team has been extremely focused this week for the Wildcats.
“It’s got to be tunnel vision, there’s no other option. You got to learn from what happened but you can’t dread on that because there’s no good in doing that and it’s all got to be focused on the next game and getting ready for that.”
Ohio State comes back home this Saturday for their matchup against the Wildcats (4-3, 3-1) and kicks off at 3:30 p.m.