The most interesting thing Urban Meyer said Monday wasn’t that J.T. Barrett could see some time in the red zone to give the Buckeyes more of a running threat at QB near the end zone – though that was plenty interesting as well.
It wasn’t that Braxton Miller graded as a champion despite two touches for a total of 5 yards as well as a penalty that took a touchdown off the board for the Buckeyes – though that was interesting as well.
No, to me, the most interesting thing was what the Ohio State head coach said about his team’s performance – once that seems to have brought out the most negativity among the fan base this season.
There were sloppier performances for the Buckeyes earlier in the season – a slow-to-get-going home win vs. a bad Hawaii team, a one-possession win vs. a Northern Illinois team now on a three-game losing streak – but something about the way the team played in its Big Ten win on the road at previously unbeaten Indiana seems to have ruffled the feathers of both Buckeye fans and media observers.
Yet, Monday, Urban Meyer had a positive view of the way the Buckeyes played in a chilly Bloomington. When asked if he saw a team at Indiana that appeared close to being great, Meyer answered in the affirmative.
“I did this time,” he said. “Good question. The foundation of our offense is control the line of scrimmage. Did we do that? Yes. Perimeter blocking? yes. Our guys did an excellent job and hit the downfield play-action pass. Okay. We had a couple of downfield shots. We hit Michael Thomas and Jalin Marshall off the top of my head.”
Yes, for all the consternation of the way the Buckeyes have performed on offense – and make no mistake, things have moved in fits and starts so far this year for Ohio State – there are positive indicators that things are starting to come together.
You still have Ezekiel Elliott, whose historic 274-yard day showed the interior run game that paved the way to the national title last year could be kicking into a higher gear. You have a group of wide receivers that has received good reviews for its ability to block on the perimeter the past two weeks, a major strength a year ago and a problem at times the first three weeks. The passing game hasn’t been consistent but seems to still have potential, and let’s not forget the Buckeyes are coming off of consecutive weeks with more than 500 yards of offense.
As Meyer also said in postgame, it would have been a much more solid performance for the Buckeyes without the turnovers, and you can add in penalties, too. Three turnovers – all in Indiana territory – helped take points off the board that made the frantic finish unnecessary. Then there were 10 penalties, including Miller’s that took a touchdown off the board on a possession that ended without points.
“We score and we chop a guy,” Meyer said. “Just there's some back-breaking (penalties) – and same on defense. We had six penalties, I think, on defense.”
But the next words from Meyer could very well be true.
“So it's very close,” he said. “I don't like to use the term great because I don't know, it's all relative to – usually I don't say great because what's that mean? We’ve had improvement … and the penalties and turnovers, that stops efficiency. So I think we're on the border of being very good.”
There was also the effort the Buckeyes displayed on the road, overcoming a difficult-to-watch injury to Corey Smith to bounce back immediately. That type of effort – as displayed in a tough road win – was the kind of thing that shows Meyer the Buckeyes are on the right track, even if the results still haven’t quite started to show it.
“I mean, as far as the indicators that there is an issue, that was one of the hardest we played in the last two years this past week,” Meyer said. “I didn't say we played perfect. I didn't say we played efficiently or actually smart, when you have stupid penalties and you're in a minus-3 in the turnover ratio.
“But those things are fixable. When you start getting effort and attitude and the things you just mentioned, that's where red flags start showing up and I don't feel that at all. And I've watched for that like a hawk because I've seen that infiltrate a team before.”
So yes, the Buckeyes aren't where they need to be -- or want to be. But the most important stat -- 5-0 -- shows a team that still has a good chance to get there.