MADISON – In the world of college football factories, Ohio State is churning out high quality products with Urban Meyer pulling the strings as its chief foreman.
Ohio State had nine underclassmen declare for last year’s N.F.L. draft, one shy of LSU’s record in 2013, and had a record 12 players selected in the first four rounds, including one from every defensive position.
And yet, here the Buckeyes are as the second-best team in the country with an explosive offense and a dominant defense, a combination that could lead them to the school’s second national championship in three years.
“That’s the sign of a really healthy program,” head coach Paul Chryst said. “When you lose really good football players and can replace them with really good football players, I think that means your program is in really good position. Certainly that’s what they’re doing and what (Meyer) has done there is really impressive. That doesn’t just happen.”
Ohio State (5-0, 2-0 Big Ten) ranks second in the FBS in scoring defense, allowing just 10.8 points per game. The only FBS team to not allow a rushing TD this season, Ohio State ranks fourth in the nation in total defense, ninth against the rush, fifth in passing yards allowed, second in pass efficiency defense and first in red zone defense.
In Saturday’s 38-17 win over Indiana, Meyer said five defensive linemen and three cornerbacks graded out with “champion” efforts.
“A big thing with a lot of the bigger programs, their teams, they’re not going to do tons of different looks but they’re going to be good at what they’re running,” Wisconsin quarterback Alex Hornibrook said. “Obviously they have some good defensive players they trust in one-on-one coverage, just like Michigan and Michigan State, so you can expect a little bit more of that stuff.”
But as blistering and swarming as Ohio State is defensively, its offense is a juggernaut. Third in the FBS and first in the Big Ten with 53.2 points per game, the 266 points scored by the Buckeyes over the first five games are the most in program history.
Worst yet for opponents, Ohio State does it with balance. In five games, Ohio State has totaled over 440 yards and a 6.0 yards per play average four times, including 776 yards and 8.9 yards per play in a 77-10 pasting of Bowling Green in the season opener.
Tailback Mike Weber leads the Big Ten with 113.2 yards per game to go along with four TDs (81 of his 83 carries have gone for positive yardage), athlete Curtis Samuel leads the Buckeyes in all-purpose (755) and receiving yards (345) and receiver Noah Brown tied the school record with four touchdown catches at Oklahoma.
But perhaps the key cog of the entire roster is junior quarterback J.T. Barrett, who is 20-2 as a starter, is averaging 241.8 yards of total offense per game and has accounted for 86 touchdowns (60 passing and 26 rushing).
Chryst compared Barrett’s poise and knowledge of the offense to a point guard, since the entire offense “goes through him,” while junior outside linebacker T.J. Watt said Barrett stresses defenses in multiple ways.
“He can pretty much do it all,” Watt said. “He has a great arm. If you keep him in the pocket he can definitely pick you apart on defense a little bit, and he can throw as well. He’s very dangerous on the run. He trusts his running backs a lot, so on the zone read he doesn’t have to keep it all the time. He’s going to trust that his running back and his offensive line are going to block really well for him. Definitely a lot of weapons to prepare for this week.”
Ohio State has won a school-record 19 consecutive true road games, the longest such streak in the nation. All those wins have come under Meyer, including a 21-14 overtime victory in Madison during his first season, the second of what has been four straight victories in the series for the Buckeyes.
The two schools haven’t met since Ohio State’s 59-0 blasting of Wisconsin in the 2014 Big Ten championship game, the final game of the Gary Andersen era.
“I try to forget about it,” cornerback Sojourn Shelton said. “I’ve never lost to any team like that before that game. Whenever I think of being in just a bad place in football, that game pops up, but it’s all motivation. You got to be able to use that to fuel you.”