First, the good news: The Urban Meyer-led Buckeyes are a perfect 8-0 and look to be the cream of the crop in the Big Ten, despite being unable to participate in postseason play.
The bad news? They're have not exactly been consistent this season, nor have they closely followed Meyer's "Plan to Win," the tenets the two-time national championship-winning head coach believes guides his teams to success. They are:
1. Play great defense.
2. No turnovers.
3. Score in the red zone.
4. Win the kicking game.
Ohio State is certainly finding success this season, but the Buckeyes have not always adhered to Meyer's script. The Buckeyes have won games in which the defense did not play well (at Indiana) and when they have committed several turnovers (four against Purdue and three against Central Florida and Michigan State). OSU has had some issues in the red zone, as well, failing to score inside its opponents' 20-yard line twice apiece against Miami (Ohio) and Indiana.
Even the kicking game hasn't been perfect. Punter Ben Buchanan has had two punts blocked, vs. UAB and Indiana, respectively. Kicker Drew Basil has attempted only five field goals this season – missing two – and had a failed extra point against California. Basil also handles the kickoffs, and Purdue ran back one of those last week for a 100-yard touchdown by Akeem Hunt.
The Buckeyes haven't been a well-oiled machine, but they've done enough to win. Their inconsistency is evident when listening to Meyer's weekly press conference each Monday. He usually begins his time with the press by listing off his champions from the previous game – those players who are graded by coaches as having winning performances.
Following the Indiana game on Oct. 13, one in which the Hoosiers piled up 481 yards and almost pulled off an improbable comeback before falling 52-49 to OSU, Meyer had no defensive champions. Then on Monday, a week later and after Ohio State's 29-22 overtime victory against Purdue, he had no offensive champions.
"You can tell there's a little inconsistency right now with our team," Meyer said Monday. "Certain games you see an offense, I'll read out six, seven names, and on defense none, and vice versa. That's just where we're at. Got to get a lot better."
After the IU game, Meyer put an added emphasis on defensive improvement. The work paid off. Despite some shaky moments like Akeem Shaver's 83-yard touchdown reception on the first play from scrimmage, the Ohio State offense had a fairly solid afternoon against the Boilermakers.
Now, it is the offense looking for a bounce back. Offensive coordinator Tom Herman said the work started after Sunday's victory meal.
"You walk in yesterday and say, ‘Hey boys, congratulations. Hell of a job. You guys found a way to win and continue to do so. But you didn't play well. You just didn't, and I'm not going to sugar coat it. I'm going to be as honest and direct as I can with you. I didn't coach well enough. Our coaches didn't coach well enough. You didn't play good enough,' " Herman said.
Fortunately for Ohio State, the efforts so far have been enough to bring a perfect record into Saturday's 5:30 p.m. kickoff at Penn State – despite not always sticking to Meyer's plan. That, however, presents a "glass half full/half-empty" situation: Are the Buckeyes fortunate to be unbeaten because of OSU's not-too-taxing nonconference slate and a down Big Ten? Or perhaps the future is extra bright because Ohio State has not yet played its best game.
The final few weeks of the season will go a long way in showing which is true.