If the Ohio State football team needed something to steady its nerves, a 66-0 blowout against Kent State on Saturday was about the best medicine it could get.
Despite being heavy favorites against the MAC team, the Buckeyes entered the game with a number of uncertainties. News of junior defensive lineman Noah Spence’s ineligibility broke less than 24 hours before the game after he reportedly failed a second drug test, and a defeat against unranked Virginia Tech a week before left questions of the level at which OSU could compete without senior quarterback Braxton Miller.
The Buckeyes left all questions at the door with the win over the Golden Flashes, something OSU coach Urban Meyer said he expected to see.
“I thought we would (play like that) after the week of practice we had,” Meyer said Saturday following the game. “We’ve all been in those games where you’re just sloppy for the 30 minutes, and it just wasn’t the case.”
After struggling mightily against the Virginia Tech Hokies Sept. 6, the Buckeye offense found its footing against the Golden Flashes.
For most of the game, KSU played a conservative defense: hybrids of 4-3 and 3-4 with two safeties back in coverage.
Redshirt-freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett dissected all forms of the Kent State defense, and threw for 312 yards and tied an OSU record with six touchdowns. The Buckeyes had five receivers with at least 40 yards and the team amassed a combined 284 rushing yards. Sophomore punter Cameron Johnston got work only once, when the game had long been decided in the fourth quarter.
KSU, meanwhile, was held to just 126 total yards and punted the ball 11 times.
OSU was able to practically run out the clock for the entire second half after redshirt-sophomore Cardale Jones came into replace Barrett at quarterback, and the Buckeyes continued to dominate each possession while Jones only completed two passes.
In his postgame interview, Meyer acknowledged “a little talent advantage” OSU has, but said the game should be helpful in building chemistry.
Despite the obvious mismatch, it was a game coaches and players said was important get back on track.
“We needed that. We needed a big win for ourselves and to show Buckeye nation that there’s nothing to worry about,” sophomore running back Ezekiel Elliott said.
Offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Tom Herman said the team’s major problems that were exposed by Virginia Tech were an issue of planning and execution, not talent.
“Our plan was better, and our execution of the plan was better,” Herman said about the KSU game.
Scheme aside, Meyer had also criticized his players the previous week for “disappointing” him, and said the fundamentals of the team were much better Saturday.
Fundamentals were also the biggest thing Herman said the coaches hoped to see improve, especially in a game against a lower level of competition.
“I was, for the most part, pleased,” Herman said. “Seeing the fruits of that labor on the scoreboard, I hope that will give them confidence going forward.”
If the Buckeyes needed to prove something Saturday, it’s hard to know for sure if it was possible to do that against a MAC team that was also defeated by Ohio University and the University of South Alabama in preceding weeks.
Redshirt-freshman offensive lineman Billy Price said he believed the result of the game had less to do with an unmatched pairing and more to do with the Buckeyes’ effort.
“I wouldn’t say it’s because we played a MAC team. For goodness sake, look at (Northern Illinois) last year, playing big teams and taking care of business. Whether it was (KSU) or another team, it was something we had to do,” he said.
The Buckeyes will have to wait to see if their success Saturday is an indication of more to come against tougher opponents.
OSU is set to have a bye this week and is scheduled to host Cincinnati before the beginning of Big Ten play Oct. 4, when the team travels to Maryland.