After Saturday’s 24-20 win over unranked Northwestern, the No. 6 Ohio State Buckeyes remained in a favorable spot in the national rankings, just outside the playoff cutoff with a few top-tier matchups still on their calendar. Even with such a prime position and the chance to build momentum against No. 9 Nebraska at home this Saturday, some fans are still worrying about the status of the team.
Following the victory over the Wildcats, OSU coach Urban Meyer was pleased with the way his team was able to overcome adversity and stick together when things got tough. Still, he called things a “work in progress,” and admitted the team has not been firing on all cylinders as of late.
But with eight games under their belt, the mantra remains the same. This team is young and is still learning, but still has a shot to reach the playoffs.
Redshirt junior guard Billy Price said after the game that the ultimate goal is still reachable for the team, but OSU cannot look too far ahead. For Price, the methodical approach is the best approach.
“Week by week,” he said.
The team has remained adamant that now is not the time to panic, and that they are still playing well. Although the team beat an unranked Big Ten opponent by only four points, the offense showed some improvement, while the defense made the plays it had to in crunch time.
OSU allowed the Big Ten’s leading rusher Justin Jackson to gain just 76 yards, his second lowest mark of the season. His lowest total came on a 12 carry, 42-yard effort against Illinois State, but Jackson was limited in that contest after a leg injury in the third quarter.
Close games might seem to be grounds for stress from fans, but Meyer is convinced these kind of games will help the team down the road.
“Ages your coach, (but) builds character for your players,” he said.
Some might find the team attitude as stubborn or prideful, but the Buckeyes have admitted the team must learn to play better as the season progresses. Defense, or lack there of in key moments, was a large part to the loss against Penn State.
Against Northwestern, the defense allowed some sizable chunk plays, including a 35-yard toss to Wildcats’ senior wide receiver Austin Carr, who smoked the Buckeyes’ secondary for 158 yards on Saturday. The plays that were memorable following the hard fought win were not the ones that gave up yards, rather than the ones that helped lead the Buckeyes to victory.
Even with the impenetrable veil of the defense now gone following a string of mediocre performances, OSU was able to get back on track on Saturday. Junior middle linebacker Raekwon McMillan said he is feeling good after a tough home win, and still feels the team is doing what it can at the end of the day.
“That’s one of our things that we come in and do,” he said. “Strive to be the best we can be each week, and at the end of the season we’re playing our best ball. (We’re) giving up some things that (are) schemed up against us that we just have to work through throughout the game to come out the other end with a W and make stops when we need to in the redzone.”
With all the outside voices around questioning the heart and the ability of the team, it would be easy for the Buckeyes to fold under the pressure and start dropping games on a frequent basis. But Meyer and the team have remained confident in the ability of the players to keep grinding and striving for the end season goals they set to start the season.
Redshirt junior quarterback J.T. Barrett is especially advocating for positive thoughts following a win. So much in fact, he even took a shot at the media members on Monday at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center for their harsh take on the team.
“It’s almost like last year,” Barrett said. “Last year we were winning games but it was almost … we came to talk to y’all and it was like we lost. Y’all remember that?”
Regardless of the outside noise surrounding them, OSU remains proud of the culture and effort of itself. Arguably the most important matchup looms just around the corner against No. 9 Nebraska in primetime, with playoff implications on the line.
Even with the outside criticism, Meyer remains on his one-track mind.
“We’re just going to go try to find a way to beat Nebraska,” he said.