Is Ohio State Back Among The Elite?

Does a 45-7 destruction of Michigan State show the world that Ohio State is now back among the elite teams in college football? The Buckeyes have been a disappointment for most of the 2008 season, but Saturday's performance could be a sign that OSU just might be ready to live up to the hype surrounding this team at the start of the season. Bill Greene takes a look back at the Buckeye win.

It can be argued that Ohio State's 45-7 domination of Michigan State last Saturday was one of their top performances in the past few years. The Buckeyes were dominant defensively, and the offense exploded early, as they left East Lansing with a very convincing win.

For Ohio State, it was a tough week leading up to the game as players questioned each other and second-guessed Buckeye head coach Jim Tressel. The team was clearly being challenged to raise their level of play, and obviously the Buckeyes responded as Tressel hoped they would.

Offensively, it was easily the best game of the year for the much-maligned offensive line. After having their manhood questioned by one of their teammates, this group was dominant from the start. The left side, in particular, was especially effective in leading Chris "Beanie" Wells and Terrelle Pryor to huge chunks of yardage, often against fronts designed to take away the running game. Alex Boone, Jim Cordle and Mike Brewster deserve a lot of credit for leading the Buckeyes to 185 yards of offense in the first quarter and staking Ohio State to a commanding 21-0 lead.

Freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor bounced back from a poor performance against Purdue and was the complete game-manager Tressel expects from his signal-caller. Pryor's bomb to Brian Hartline, where Hartline out-fought the Spartan secondary for the football, was the highlight of an efficient passing performance. Pryor ran for 94 yards on the ground, and once again played error-free football.

Superstar tailback Beanie Wells is now almost fully recovered from an early-season foot injury, and Wells rushed for a game-high 149 yards. Wells also scored two touchdowns and keyed the Buckeye running attack. Wells' performance is even more impressive, knowing that every defense the Buckeyes face is stacked against him.

Defensively, it was another game of total dominance, as this unit has found its stride and is clearly one of the top groups in the country. The main focus was to stop Spartan tailback Javon Ringer, and the Buckeyes held him to a paltry 69 yards. Defensive coordinator Jim Heacock has been dialed in since the second half of the Wisconsin game, a span of 10 great quarters, as the defense is now playing the type of football it is capable of.

Once again the Buckeyes' defensive effort was led by All-Americans James Laurinaitis and Malcolm Jenkins. The dynamic duo led the team in tackles, and controlled the Spartan offense throughout the game. Jenkins is making a claim as one of the top cornerbacks to ever play at Ohio State, as he has raised his play to the highest level. Laurinaitis continues to be the steady rock in the middle, and he needs to continue playing great football for the Ohio State defense to remain dominant.

Penn State is the next challenge for Ohio State, and the Buckeyes may well be underdogs in this game, a fact that doesn't happen often in Columbus. Ohio State will need to play its best game of the year to beat the Nittany Lions, as Penn State has exploded out of the gates in defeating every opponent.

A raucous home crowd, combined with a much improved Buckeye team, could be the answer to handing Joe Paterno his first loss of 2008. The Lions haven't had much success in Columbus since entering the Big Ten, and a win by the Buckeyes will go a long way toward propelling Ohio State to its third straight outright Big Ten title.

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