After a slow start to the season, the Ohio State offense is starting to get up to speed.
As the Buckeyes head into Big Ten play Saturday, they are trying to build on a record-setting performance from their game against Cincinnati in which they accumulated 710 yards of total offense and totaled 45 first downs.
The offensive output did not come as a surprise to redshirt-sophomore offensive lineman Pat Elflein, who said even after the Virginia Tech game in which OSU allowed seven sacks, the offensive line has always believed in its abilities.
“We never really lacked confidence. That’s the standard of how the offensive line at Ohio State plays and we played to that standard on Saturday and we are going to keep playing to that standard,” Elflein said. “The standard was set last year, and that’s how we have to play.”
Last season, the Buckeyes ranked fifth in the country running the football as they averaged 308.6 yards per game on the ground. OSU currently ranks 23rd in rush yards per game with 241.5 yards per game.
Contributing to the bulk of OSU’s yards on the ground against Cincinnati was sophomore running back Ezekiel Elliott, who made his presence felt against the Bearcats as he rushed for a career-high 182 yards on 28 carries.
Co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Ed Warinner said Monday he expects Elliott to continue his play against the Maryland defense on Saturday.
“He’s playing with very low pad level and so he plays with great energy. He’s explosive. And he finishes runs with great pad level,” Warinner said. “And he doesn’t want to make direct contact. Ezekiel is playing great right now. We just have to keep him going.”
Despite only accumulating an average of 195.3 rushing yards per game in its first three games, the Buckeye offense amassed 380 yards rushing against the Bearcats to go along with 330 yards passing.
Coach Urban Meyer said he would like to see more steadiness on offense.
“What I think is going on best is the balance right now. When you start looking up at the scoreboard and you see 250 or 300 (yards) each that’s a good sign,” Meyer said Wednesday. “The last two years have been kind of run-dominated and to win those big games you can’t be 220 run and 68 pass. You’re going to lose that game.”
The passing efficiency of redshirt-freshman J.T. Barrett is something that has greatly contributed to the offensive surge for OSU. Barrett became the first Buckeye quarterback since Troy Smith in 2005 to account for back-to-back 300 yard passing games.
Senior tight end Jeff Heuerman said that he never has any doubt that Barrett will perform.
“That’s just how he is. He is a great leader,” Heuerman said Wednesday. “He is super poised, and it doesn’t surprise me how he handles his business.”
Barrett, who has been nicknamed by some in the program as “the distributor,” has done just that, as seven offensive players have caught five or more passes on the season.
One of those players is sophomore H-back Dontre Wilson, who led OSU in receptions with six against Cincinnati and has earned high praise from Meyer.
“He is so little, and when you are in a balanced offense, you gotta be able to block and do all of the things,” Meyer said. “He was a little bit of a token player last year. But he has gained 15 pounds, he is stronger and is much more suitable. Also, he is the kind of guy that we wanted to run him a little bit.”
Wilson has become a much more important part of OSU’s offense as he has totaled 11 receptions and nine carries for a total of 238 yards and a touchdown in the first four games of the season. His 11 catches are good for second on the team behind only redshirt-sophomore wide receiver Michael Thomas (13).
His pass catching is something that Meyer said Wilson has been working on since the offseason.
“He has got pretty good hands,” Meyer said. “He is a little bit of a body catcher, but he has really worked hard on it. I like where he is heading.”
Despite all of its playmakers, Meyer said his Buckeye offense will need to continue to be efficient to compete against Maryland’s defense.
“Athletically they are really good. They do enough change up where there (are) two different looks you have to prepare for in the secondary,” he said. “They are the most athletic defense we have faced so far this year.”
The Buckeyes are set to take on Maryland on Saturday at Byrd Stadium in College Park, Md. Kickoff is scheduled for noon.