The Ohio State Buckeyes can exhale — finally.
In an off-key start to the season, the Buckeyes hit all the right notes in Saturday’s 38-7 victory against the Army Black Knights. It was neat, tidy, decisive enough and pretty efficient. And for OSU, it was needed. Boy was it needed.
Remember, the Buckeyes (2-1) worked like crazy to clinch a nervous opening-night win at Indiana. It was a win, but at Ohio State that’s usually not enough.
Then came a home bludgeoning at the hands of the Oklahoma Sooners, a sure signal for fans to overreact, even panic, though it must be acknowledged that the Baker Mayfield-led Sooners are darn good and maybe even championship-ready.
“Losing is awful,’’ Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer said. “Sometimes those things happen. You work really hard to not allow it to happen. You go through the discomfort of being crushed to extremely angry and (then do some) self-reflection. What could you have done better?’’
Against Army, the Buckeyes did a lot of things much better.
Much-maligned senior quarterback J.T. Barrett let the game come to him, finishing 25 of 33 for 270 yards and two touchdowns, plus a rushing score. Barrett broke the Big Ten Conference’s all-time record of touchdowns responsible for — he has 107, beating the 106 from former Purdue star Drew Brees — and that’s no small accomplishment. Once Barrett got the record, freshman backup Dwayne Haskins (4-for-4 passing) got his first action.
The Buckeyes had 270 rushing yards — including 172 (on 13 carries) from true freshman flash J.K. Dobbins. The Buckeyes should feed Dobbins — over and over. And it seems that’s where Ohio State’s offense is headed. Sophomore Mike Weber, a 1,000-yard rusher last season, looks like he’s destined to become a bit player.
Fun with numbers: Ohio State had 586 total yards, despite getting beaten by nearly 14 minutes in time of possession. That’s not surprising against Army. The encouraging thing was Ohio State made the most of its opportunities.
Ohio State surrendered an 18-play, 99-yard touchdown drive to the Black Knights. It was easy to wonder if Ohio State’s offense would ever see the ball again. Still, that was the only score the Buckeyes gave up. Army rushed 59 times for 259 yards. For the most part, though, Ohio State’s defense played with discipline and fire. Defensive coordinator Greg Schiano left the booth to coach from the sideline, a move that Meyer hoped would bring more coach-to-player emotion. It worked. Look for it to stay.
There were other factors to absorb defensively. Ohio State utilized three safeties in the secondary — Damon Webb, Jordan Fuller and Erick Smith — a wrinkle that helped on run support. Meanwhile, starting middle linebacker Chris Worley, an important factor against Army’s triple-option offense, left with a second-quarter injury. He was replaced by the wonderfully named Tuf Borland, a redshirt freshman who performed brilliantly with 12 tackles.
There was a lot of angst over Army’s arrival all offseason because of the difficulties presented by the option. Coming off the loss against Oklahoma, the anxiety was exacerbated. All things considered, giving up just a touchdown to the Black Knights must be viewed as a big win.
If you closed your eyes, you would’ve never known that things had gone sideways in Columbus. The Horseshoe was packed. Ohio State looked like it was supposed to look. It took care of business.
Now it continues through the layup line, getting UNLV (which opened by losing against 45-point underdog Howard) at home then Rutgers on the road.
Expect the Buckeyes to get on a month-long roll and prepare for Oct. 28 at home against Penn State for what could be the Big Ten’s game of the year.
Beating Army hasn’t cured everything for the Buckeyes.
But Ohio State can finally exhale.
At this point in the season, the Buckeyes needed that secure feeling.