A grade card on No. 1 Ohio State’s 38-12 win over Western Michigan, a game that was a step in the right direction, but not necessarily as big a step as the Buckeyes need to take if they’re going to contend for back-to-back national championships.
The return of big plays stood out most on Ohio State’s offense. In the previous two games against Northern Illinois and Hawaii, OSU had only four plays of 20 yards or more. It had five of them Saturday and could have had two or three more if some underthrown passes would have had just a little bit more zip on them.
The offensive line blocked well for Cardale Jones (19 of 33, 288 yards, 2 TDs, 1 interception) and Ezekiel Elliott (124 yards on 16 carries) and the receivers seemed energized, both as pass catchers and blockers. Curtis Samuel had a 40-yard run and a 40-yard reception. The offense produced 511 yards but still didn’t give off a vibe of total domination.
Jones owned most the playing time at quarterback one week after he had been replaced in the second quarter by J.T. Barrett after throwing two interceptions. This week, Barrett did not appear until 6 1/2 minutes were left in the game and did nothing to move ahead of Jones.
On a day when the offense took a step forward, the defense — which had looked invincible against Northern Illinois and Hawaii — came down to earth a little. Western Michigan was able to run the ball throughout the game (169 yards on the ground) and had drives of 16 plays, 14 plays and 12 plays.
Maybe the best news was that sophomore linebacker Raekwon McMillan had an outstanding game with 16 tackles. Linebacker Joshua Perry, as usual, was around the ball with 13 tackles. Defensive lineman Adolphus Washington had an interception for a touchdown. It was the third game in a row that OSU’s defense scored.
All-American defensive end Joey Bosa either is getting held a lot or not being quite as much of a factor as expected so far.
Special teams: A-
Tyvis Powell blocked a field goal. Cameron Johnston landed punts inside the 10-yard line twice and averaged 51.5 yards a kick. Jack Willoughby continued to be accurate on short field goals, hitting a 30-yarder, his fourth in a row since missing his first of the season. And he kept all his kickoffs in bounds.
Penalties erased a blocked punt and shortened a punt return by Jalin Marshall or it could have been a really big day for the special teams.
Ohio State looked like a No. 1-ranked team at times on Saturday, but not all the time. It brought back memories of the way it played the second half of last season in bursts but did not sustain them for the long haul. The standards have been set extremely high and that’s something OSU will live with all season.
There seemed to be more certainty and less hesitation offensively. Greater clarity in the quarterback situation and better blocking could have been a part of that. This week’s opponent, Indiana, gives up 32 point a game, so the opportunity for more offensive growth seems to be available.
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414 or follow him on Twitter at @Lima_Naveau.