While the defense has kept Ohio State No. 1 in the country and undefeated through three games, team members have made it clear that its current pace will not work throughout the season.
“We have to play better, we have to coach better, we have to play better. We have to execute. We have to do a better job as an offensive unit,” running backs coach Tony Alford said Monday.
In OSU’s first two home games — victories against Hawaii and Northern Illinois — the Buckeyes’ two quarterbacks, redshirt junior Cardale Jones and redshirt sophomore J.T. Barrett, combined to go just 35-of-61 for 314 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions.
Jones’ 4-of-9 start against Northern Illinois caused coach Urban Meyer to pull the plug on him for that game early in the second quarter. However, Meyer said on Wednesday that Barrett has not done enough to unseat Jones as the starter, and Jones will make his seventh consecutive start on Saturday.
After the Northern Illinois game, junior running back Ezekiel Elliott said that a more aggressive mindset is required to be successful regardless of which player is under center.
“The thing is, we’re just really not starting drives well,” Elliott said. “So we get behind and behind, and we’re the type of offense that’s always running, so that’s a problem.”
On Saturday, OSU is gearing up to welcome the Western Michigan Broncos for its fourth and final nonconference game, and third consecutive home contest.
The Broncos are paced by redshirt junior quarterback Zach Terrell, who ranks 10th in the nation with 947 passing yards through three games.
“I’m very excited for this matchup,” redshirt sophomore cornerback Eli Apple said. “They’re a very good receiving corps, for sure, and have a good quarterback as well, so I’m ready, I can’t wait.”
Missing in action
While the core of the Buckeyes is still mostly intact heading into the fourth game of the season, there are a few players who serve as valuable depth that OSU will likely be without on Saturday.
Redshirt freshman wide receiver Parris Campbell has started each of the Buckeyes’ three games this season opposite redshirt junior Michael Thomas but is still seeking his first collegiate reception.
That appears to be on hold for at least one more week, as the Akron, Ohio, product was not listed in the depth chart for the WMU game. Campbell left Saturday’s game during the first quarter with a left knee bruise and did not return. Taking his place at the second starting wideout spot on the depth chart is sophomore Curtis Samuel, who leads the team with 11 receptions.
Also away from the field on Saturday will be sophomore cornerback Damon Webb, who is suspended indefinitely from the team for an undisclosed violation of an athletics department policy.
“Damon was playing well for us, and he’ll be missed,” co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach Chris Ash said on Monday. “But we’ve got enough people that will fill in, and we’ll continue to get the production that we need.”
Finally, the date of freshman running back Mike Weber’s return from a meniscus tear is still not clear. OSU coaches have mentioned for a few weeks that he is near a return to make his debut.
“We’ll see. That’s a day-to-day deal as he works through with the trainers,” Alford said. The coach said the team doesn’t plan to redshirt the Detroit native.
Previously for Western Michigan
The first three games of the season for WMU were marked by inconsistency.
The Broncos began the season by putting somewhat of a scare into now-No. 2 Michigan State in a home game, falling 37-24 after cutting the deficit to 10 early in the fourth quarter. Terrell had a big game, completing 33 passes for 365 yards and two touchdowns, but two interceptions and seven sacks marred the effort.
The next game was not as encouraging for WMU, as it was crushed by Georgia Southern 43-17. Terrell threw three more interceptions, and the Broncos allowed 413 rushing yards.
Finally, in last week’s game they allowed 367 total yards to Football Championship Subdivision opponent Murray State, but won 52-20 to grab its first win. Terrell had a huge game, going 25-of-30 for 355 yards and four scores, without throwing a pick.
Against teams currently in Western Michigan’s Mid-American Conference, the Buckeyes hold a 31-1 record. The one loss? Just 111 years ago against Akron — known then as Buchtel College and coached by trophy-namesake John Heisman.
Northern Illinois had a chance to end that streak last week but came up seven points short. Now, the Broncos will get a crack at it Saturday. WMU has never faced the Buckeyes.
After wrapping up its nonconference schedule against the Broncos, OSU is set to travel to Bloomington, Indiana, to open up Big Ten play against the Hoosiers. Kickoff is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. at Memorial Stadium.