|Urban Meyer and his players celebrate following their win over Nebraska at Ohio Stadium. (US Presswire)|
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- This was Urban Meyer's statement game, and it wasn't a pleasant statement for Nebraska or anyone else in the Big Ten. Ohio State's first five games under Meyer were victories, yes, but they weren't statements. There were notable achievements -- Ohio State's first game under Meyer, its first win, its first win on the road, and so forth -- but through five games the Buckeyes hadn't cleared their throat and bellowed their intentions to the rest of the league.
The Buckeyes bellowed Saturday.
They blew out Nebraska 63-38, scoring in all three phases and producing 498 yards of offense and making the following statement in deed, if not word:
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We're not losing this year.
That's what the Buckeyes blurted with this 25-point billy-clubbing of Nebraska, a pretty good team with some pretty bad holes. Nebraska has a quarterback who doesn't pass all that well and a defense that doesn't tackle all that well, but in a down year for the Big Ten the Huskers could still win the Legends Division and beat whoever comes out of the Leaders Division to get into a BCS bowl. Nebraska might be the best bowl-eligible team in the Big Ten.
But Ohio State is the class of the conference.
That was the statement the Buckeyes sent the rest of the league on Saturday, an especially ominous statement given that Ohio State is only going to get better -- a lot better -- in the coming years. Even with the Buckeyes facing NCAA sanctions that will keep them out of the 2012 postseason and cost them nine scholarships over the next three seasons, Meyer recruits too well and he coaches too well and he hires great assistants too well. For most of the Big Ten, the time to beat Ohio State is now.
And nobody's doing it. Michigan State couldn't do it last week in East Lansing. Nebraska couldn't do it Saturday in Columbus. Who's left? Nobody who's going to be favored to do it, I'll tell you that much. The Buckeyes have six games left, and just three look difficult -- Penn State, Wisconsin and Michigan. And of that trio, the most dangerous opponent, Michigan, has to play at Ohio Stadium.
All teams can improve as the season rolls along, but few are doing it at the same rate as Ohio State. The Buckeyes are still counting their time under Meyer in months, not years, making every game -- and every day of practice -- a day to get markedly better. And they're doing it, as Nebraska discovered Saturday.
"I'm learning every week, man," said OSU sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller. "They throw new stuff at us every week, and [I'm] just trying to get it down pat. I don't think this is what we're capable of. We have a lot more to do."
Miller isn't getting more accurate -- he might never get more accurate -- but he is making better decisions. The results Saturday were superstar-like: 186 rushing yards on 16 carries, with a touchdown; 127 passing yards with another touchdown; zero turnovers.
Running back Carlos Hyde bruised Nebraska with a career game: 28 carries, 140 yards and four touchdowns. Backup Rod Smith burst 33 yards for a touchdown. And the running game should keep getting better, what with Jordan Hall, the team's top running back entering Saturday, expected back from the knee injury that sidelined him against Nebraska -- and with the offensive line improving by the week.
"I didn't think our offensive line would come to [this]," Meyer said. "They didn't look the way we wanted them to look in January. Good kids, though. Good tough guys. They're the ones who have really developed. Even early in the season I didn't feel it -- I didn't feel us changing the line of scrimmage against early teams. But I'm starting to see us changing the line of scrimmage now. They're changing the line of scrimmage against some very good defensive lines. The last two we played [Michigan State and Nebraska]? Those are very good defensive lines."
This is a very good Ohio State offense, and offense wasn't even half the story from Saturday. The Buckeyes also got touchdowns from its defense and special teams, and clamped down on Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez in a way nobody had been able to do this season. Martinez entered the game ranked 11th in the country in pass efficiency thanks to an 11-to-1 ratio of touchdowns to interceptions, but the Buckeyes intercepted him three times -- two by cornerback Bradley Roby, who returned his first pick 41 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter -- and held him to 40 yards on 18 carries.
Senior defensive lineman John Simon led the OSU defense with two sacks among his five tackles for loss, and Corey Brown returned a punt 76 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter, part of a 49-14 Ohio State avalanche after Nebraska opened an early 17-7 lead. The rout was on. All that was left was the final score, and the look ahead.
In a down year for the Big Ten, who's going to beat Ohio State this year? Or will the Buckeyes go down in history with such bittersweet teams as Texas A&M from 1994, Auburn from '93 and Oklahoma from 1973 (and '74) as unbeaten, but postseason-ineligible, powerhouses?
The next few months will determine Ohio State's place in history -- and the next few years will establish where they are nationally. Here's my prediction: They're going to become the most likely program to end the SEC's streak of national championships, which is six years and counting. Don't believe me? Listen to Meyer, who was smiling as he made the following comment:
"We had a bunch of recruits in that locker room afterwards," he said. "You start talking about the future, that's the name of the game. You start getting recruits and you go forward.
"We're not where we want to be. Not even close."