For the last four weeks, the theme of the Ohio State offense had been spurts of excellence, mixed with static periods of limited production. The offense that took the field on Saturday night, in front of a crowd of 108,750, was anything but static in OSU’s 62-3 thrashing of Nebraska.
The No. 6 Buckeyes received an early boost from their defense against the No. 10 Cornhuskers. On its first drive, Nebraska senior quarterback Tommy Armstrong, Jr. threw a pass that was deflected by redshirt sophomore cornerback Marshon Lattimore, then returned 36 yards by redshirt sophomore safety Damon Webb for a touchdown.
Since that moment, OSU was playing with a cushion which enabled the offense to execute at its full potential. But what made the difference for OSU on offense was a return to OSU coach Urban Meyer’s signature up-tempo style.
During last week’s game against Northwestern, OSU scored on its first drive for the first time all season. A commanding 9-play, 94-yard drive in under three minutes displayed just how difficult it can be to slow down OSU’s offense. Its next touchdown drive against the Wildcats took over eight minutes and 15 plays.
On Saturday, redshirt junior quarterback J.T. Barrett connected with redshirt sophomore wide receiver Terry McLaurin on the first touchdown pass, the fourth player with a reception on the first drive. The next possession, redshirt freshman Mike Weber ran the ball 23 yards into the endzone for a three-score lead that only continued to grow.
“I knew we were on the edge of it, to really break through,” Barrett said. “I wasn’t surprised.”
With seven seconds left in the first half, OSU swelled its lead to 31-3 heading into the break. On first-and-goal, Barrett ran to the line, jumped up and found Samuel five yards deep in the endzone for the score. It was a dominant 15-play drive of 85 yards that took just 3:39 off the clock. Barrett exemplified poise in the pocket, leading his team down the field solidifying what wound up being a rout over a top-10 team.
Only one of OSU’s touchdown drives on Saturday night took over five minutes, and that score was the result of a 98-yard drive in 11 plays. Co-offensive coordinator and tight ends coach Ed Warinner said that because of the identity of the offense, more success is seen when the offense is up-tempo.
“Offensive football is about rhythm,” he said. “We play a lot of guys in the skill positions, so we can keep up that pace … We’d like to play that way because I think it’s hard for defenses to keep up with that. That’s the style we love to play and that’s our goal.”
Junior H-back Curtis Samuel is one of the playmakers at the skill positions that helps establish the pace of play for OSU. His ability to run outside and catch the ball downfield opened up holes all over the field for OSU to exploit against Nebraska. He said that the way the team practices, the offense is trained to play at that pace.
“Just playing fast and keeping guys on defense in the game,” Samuel said. “Get them tired and keep pounding and pounding because we work and we condition and we’re ready for up-tempo.”
Barrett and Samuel each finished the day with two of their best statistical performances. Barrett threw for 290 yards and four touchdowns while completing 26 of his 38 passes. Samuel accumulated 13 touches through three quarters and 178 total yards, including a 75-yard reception for one of his two scores.
A blowout win on Saturday night was the statement game that OSU had missed in the month of October. For its first game in the final month of the season, the identity of Meyer’s 2016 team laid a foundation against Nebraska that it can build on.
“I hope,” Meyer said about his team’s found identity. “At least for the next 12 hours. We’ll see what happens next week.”