The Buckeyes are unbeaten and well within striking distance of a spot in the national championship game at No. 4 in the first BCS standings. Ohio State leads the Big Ten Leaders Division and looks like the class of the conference. The OSU offense is coming off arguably its best game of the season, posting 495 yards in a 34-24 victory against Iowa last weekend.
Yet it's not all sunshine, puppies, rainbows and happiness in Columbus. While the offense is playing well in recent weeks, Ohio State's defense has seen stints of subpar play. The unit remains the Buckeyes' biggest question mark.
Ohio State beat the Hawkeyes by double digits but struggled mightily at times on defense, especially in the first half. Whether it was on long drives – Iowa scored touchdowns on drives lasting 12 and 15 plays – or on quick strikes like the 85-yard touchdown reception by Iowa tight end Jake Duzey late in the third quarter on a busted coverage, the vaunted Silver Bullets had an afternoon to forget.
Not that they did, of course.
"The first three drives were alarming," OSU head coach Urban Meyer said on Monday, referencing the two touchdowns and a field goal Iowa used to take a 17-10 second-quarter lead.
Defensive line coach Mike Vrabel was a little more blunt in his description of the early going against Iowa.
"Call it what it is. They beat the (crap) out of us," he said.
Defensive lineman Michael Bennett agreed with Vrabel's assessment.
"I'm not allowed to cuss, but I would say the same thing," the junior said. "There's not any way around it, especially after watching film, they beat the crap out of us."
The secondary took the blunt of criticism from fans after the game, especially after junior quarterback Bradley Roby was ejected for targeting in the first half. But it was more than just the passing game that struggled. The defensive line posted little pressure and was often pushed around in the first half, while the linebackers did not make big plays.
The second half went better for the Buckeyes. Other than the long TD pass from Iowa QB Jake Rudock to Duzey, the Hawkeyes were held off the scoreboard. Vrabel was happy to see the team persevere.
"It doesn't always go how you draw it up," Vrabel said. "You go out and work on something all week and you prepare. And I think as a player you go out there and it's not always roses. It's not always you dominating somebody.
"But then you look up and you have a chance to win a football game. At that point in time, you have to clear everything and go on and find ways to make plays, like guys did late in the game. Certainly we don't want to play like that, but there's times during the course of a season or game where it's not going well. And you have to find the will to go and win a football game."
To a man, the coaches and defensive players said on Monday that improvements will need to be made. The Buckeyes rank in the top 25 nationally in yards allowed (333 per game, 15th) and points allowed (19.9 per game, 22nd). Those numbers are far from poor, but they're not up to snuff for a team with national title hopes.
"We have good enough players. We have good enough coaches," Meyer said. "We have to play better."
Bennett expects the Iowa game to be an outlier.
"I don't think that's going to happen at all the rest of the season," Bennett said. "They say the best way to learn is to learn from a win instead of learning from a loss, so we'll just learn from it."