COLUMBUS, Ohio — Forget about the growing pains. Maybe all Ohio State needed was a fresh start.
With no Buckeye Leaf stickers on the black, cannonball helmets that went with the throwback uniforms, Urban Meyer’s team made the most of the clean slate with perhaps its most complete performance of the season. Similar to the impressive outings from early in the season, before the October lull, the No. 6 Buckeyes looked like a legitimate threat to crash the College Football Playoff.
Although it isn’t a stretch to think the Buckeyes will be back in one of the top four spots when the new rankings are released Tuesday, thanks to an impressive 62-3 demolition of No. 10 Nebraska on Saturday, what the victory really did was allow the Buckeyes to regain their confidence and effectively clear the path for the only matchup that truly matters. With just road trips to Maryland and suddenly hapless Michigan State left, the stage is all but set for what should be a truly epic edition of The Game against Michigan on Nov. 26.
After a couple weeks of hand-wringing about an offense struggling to regain its explosiveness, the Buckeyes picked apart the Huskers seemingly at will. J.T. Barrett was again in command of the passing attack and completed 26 of his 38 passes for 290 yards and four touchdowns.
In search of targets to take a step forward, the Buckeyes had nine players haul in a catch before Barrett was allowed to get some early rest in the fourth quarter. After facing questions about whether Ohio State should expand Curtis Samuel’s role, the star H-back had 12 touches by the end of the first half and racked up 178 total yards with a pair of touchdowns.
After an uncharacteristic outing, in terms of yardage allowed, a week ago, Ohio State’s defense also recaptured some of its September magic. The dynamic secondary opened the game by returning an interception for a touchdown for the fifth time this season, which set a school record, then tacked on another one in the third quarter to extend the record, with Malik Hooker continuing his breakout campaign with his fifth interception and second score of the year.
Although Hooker’s transition to the lineup has been largely seamless, with so many first-time starters all over the roster, it might have been inevitable that Ohio State would hit a rough patch. That certainly looks to be over now — just in time for the Buckeyes to restart their momentum three weeks before a showdown that is looking bigger every week.