Three years ago, the Buckeyes went into the break leading Akron by a paltry 3-2 score, then trailed going into the break a week later at Washington. Two seasons ago, OSU trailed vs. both Ohio and USC and last year's Buckeyes were tied with the Trojans and also looked bad during a later loss to Purdue.
That hasn't been a problem this year. Averaging 31.6 points per game in the first half, the Buckeyes have been quick to show they mean business.
"It has been emphasized," safety Tyler Moeller said. "Our coaches tell us all the time, we have to come out here on fire. We have to show it from the start that we're a good team and we're going to be there all day. We're not just going to show up at halftime and be like, ‘Let's go.'
"From the snap of the ball, we're going to get after them, and I think we've been showing that lately."
Though the offensive numbers have been impressive, the early charges thus far have been led in each contest by the defense. The Buckeyes have forced a turnover the first time the opposing team has had the ball in all three games, as Dorian Bell forced a fumble on the opening kickoff vs. Marshall, Nathan Williams intercepted a Miami pass and Moeller got a pick on the second play from scrimmage vs. Ohio on Saturday. The OSU offense converted all three turnovers into an early lead.
"I didn't know that. That's pretty cool," a smiling Moeller said Tuesday. "That's exactly how we want to set the tone. The defense has been doing a great job of getting turnovers and making plays and setting up the offense."
Though the Buckeyes have given up 21 points in the opening halves of the first three games, all three touchdowns were allowed by special teams and not by the defense. In the first half so far this year, the stop troops have forced eight turnovers and allowed an average of 4.3 first downs, 33.3 rushing yards, 84.3 total yards and 2.98 yards per play.
That dominance, in turn, has helped the Buckeye offense. Ohio State has started nine of 25 first-half drives in opposing territory, scoring on every one of those drives to compile 47 points. Overall, the Buckeyes have points on 16 first-half drives this season.
"We just come out, we know what we're doing, we know what the opposite team is going to do," tight end Jake Stoneburner said. "We feel like if we just come out and play our game we'll score. The defense has been helping give us awesome field position, and we feel like we should be able to do that every game."
In all, the Buckeyes have averaged 13 first downs per first half as well as 94.3 rushing yards, 280.3 total yards and 6.67 yards per play. OSU has committed a single first-half turnover – Terrelle Pryor's interception vs. Ohio at the end of the half Saturday – and topped 250 yards in all three opening halves.
"I think it's satisfying," wideout Taurian Washington said. "We just go in there and try to satisfy our other teammates and try to satisfy our coaches and maintain our goal."
The first-half explosiveness has come in stark contrast to past seasons. The excellent 2006 offense put up 19.8 points per first half, a number well short of the current pace, while the numbers declined to 16.8 in '07, 14.4 in '08 and 15.2 a season ago.
"When you come out starting slow, people start doubting you and you feel like you didn't play too well," Stoneburner said. "When you come out firing and clicking on all cylinders, you feel pretty good as a team knowing we came out and we were prepared and we were ready to play."
Added Moeller, "I've been here for five years, and every year we've had a good team where we always come out pretty slow. They saw that and they emphasized it pretty good to us this year."
The way Moeller described it, a veteran group of players has been excited to follow that message.
"There's a sense of urgency that the time is now," he said. "We have a great team and we have great players on this team, and we know if we're going to win it we have to do it now. We have to come out there every game and give it our all."