ARLINGTON, Texas -- At least the Buckeyes are battle-tested. Now it's time for their embattled coach.
Three games into a controversy-filled season off the field, No. 4 Ohio State is undefeated on it. More than that, the Buckeyes are undeterred. It wasn't them who dragged the program into a morass that resulted in an assistant getting fired and their coach becoming the subject of an investigation.
Through the ordeal, the players have shown something in short supply at times in Columbus, Ohio, these past few months -- character. The latest example was a 40-28 intersectional win over No. 15 TCU.
It was earned through adversity, a comeback, satisfaction and a lingering question: After what the team has accomplished to this point, how does the program become better when Urban Meyer takes over following his three-game suspension?
"I don't have a great answer for that question," defensive tackle Robert Landers said.
That's probably a good place to leave it as the (next) Meyer era begins next week against Tulane. The Buckeyes have dutifully proven themselves by outscoring their first three opponents 174-57. On Saturday, they came from behind on the "road" (at AT&T Stadium) after trailing by eight points in the second half.
There is no certainty this will continue now that the game manager has changed. Meyer could be just as much of a distraction as an improvement. Acting coach Ryan Day, the offensive coordinator, has been excellent in his stead.
"Is there an A++ in the grade book?" quarterback Dwayne Haskins said of Day.
Now about that next step.
There will be a TCU-like challenge in two weeks when Ohio State visits Penn State. But through three weeks, there are those around the program who can't remember things being any better. Consider that on the first "off" night of the season, Ohio State …
- Piled up 526 yards
- Scored two defensive touchdowns
- Scored four touchdowns in a span of 9 ½ minutes in the second half
- Watched the maturation of Haskins, a budding Heisman Trophy candidate
"I know Coach Meyer is pretty excited," Haskins said after throwing for 344 yards and two touchdowns. "I know he's probably doing his little shadow boxing in the living room right now. I'm sure we'll see him [Sunday] for meetings. He's going to be pretty jacked up."
In a football sense, it's time for Buck Nuts everywhere to be jacked up. They had the majority of fans in AT&T Stadium, a place where the Buckeyes had won the first College Football Playoff in 2015. It's also a place they hope to return Dec. 29 for the Cotton Bowl semifinal.
But there are questions beyond Meyer. For the first time this season, Ohio State was held without an offensive touchdown in a half. It was obvious early on that TCU wasn't Oregon State and Rutgers, which were outscored 134-29 in OSU's first two games.
Ohio State's defense never did seem to get used to TCU's tempo. Darius Anderson's 93-yard rushing touchdown in the first half for the Horned Frogs was the longest play from scrimmage ever against Ohio State. All-American defensive end Nick Bosa was lost to what was reported to be a groin injury.
TCU deserves a load of credit for extending a 14-13 halftime lead to 21-13 on Anderson's 16-yard scoring run 4:17 into the third quarter. Did the Buckeyes blink? Almost.
"We all looked each other in a the eye and said, 'Look, this game's not over. We're only down by a point. That's the worst half of football we've probably played this season. We have so much room to grow,'" said defensive tackle Dre'Mont Jones.
About five minutes later, Jones plucked an errant Shawn Robinson shovel pass out of the air and rambled 28 yards for a 26-21 Ohio State lead.
Earlier, Bosa's strip sack had allowed teammate Davon Hamilton to scoop up the fumble for a 10-0 Buckeyes lead.
Still, it was off night at Jerry World for Ohio State because, for once this season, an opponent punched back against the Buckeyes. TCU was more than game, coming this close to announcing itself as a player on the national stage.
The Frogs look good enough to challenge Oklahoma in the Big 12. A playoff berth might be too much to ask, but you better believe they've looked at the calendar. There are 105 days left until the CFP semis.
"Here's what I thought," TCU coach Gary Patterson said. "I thought we didn't allow them a touchdown in the first half defensively, and they turned up the knob and we had to do better."
For now, it's time to remember the Buckeyes for who they are right now. Now we know why Ohio State fans have been clamoring for Haskins. The sophomore patiently waited his turn by J.T. Barrett last year.
In three games, he has completed 78 percent of his passes and thrown 11 touchdowns. The offensive line that outweighed TCU's defensive line by an average of 47 pounds finally asserted itself and protected him.
Even without Bosa, this looks like an elite defense.
Now, all Ohio State has to do is add the new guy to the mix. That mix includes a stew of anticipation and uncertainty.
"He's chomping at the bit," said strength coach Mickey Marotti, Meyer's closest confidant on the staff, "probably pacing in his house."
All of it also begs another question: Why haven't the Buckeyes cracked while controversy has swirled around them?
"At the end of the day, how we look at it is, everybody has moments and events in their lives," Landers said. "This is a moment where … some of us felt like God hand-picked us for this situation."