COLLEGE PARK, MD – In contrast to the popular idiom, good news traveled real fast to the Ohio State Buckeyes football team yesterday. Even if some associated with the school tried their best to ignore it.
Soon after the Buckeyes’ 62-3 demolition of the Maryland Terrapins was over, Jerry Emig, the team’s media relations coordinator, was busy directing select players up a flight of stairs just beyond the visitor’s sideline towards the top of a small knoll on the South end of the field, where most of the Columbus-based media had assembled to get postgame sound. As Emig was letting the press know that their time with talking with the players was almost up, the sound of chatter about the game gave way to the sounds of bewilderment, confusion and utter joy from certain pockets of the mass humanity.
“For real? That happened?” That’s right, whichever Buckeye player I heard utter that, as some of the journalists scurried to pull out their phones to confirm that No. 2 Clemson had just lost to Pittsburgh, pretty much assuring the the No. 5 Buckeyes would appear inside of the top four of the next College Football Playoff rankings next week. Once I was able to confirm that news myself, I found myself standing next to Emig, who was enjoying a brief second to his own to breathe after directing the selected players in and out of press availability in his gray suit. I turned to him and asked, “So it sounds like the players know what happened [with Clemson], right?”
At that split second, Emig, whose job requires him to master PR speak, had a smile on his face, but then delved into coach speak: “All we’re worried about is the next game against Michigan State,” he said, as he walked away from me and made his last round to tell all of the media that availability was closed.
Point made. Focus on the next game. Focus on getting better. Besides, it’s not like their arch rival, unbeaten and third-ranked Michigan, was the team that lost. An entire party might spontaneously break out.
Michigan did lose, approximately three hours later. How fast did that news spread onto the flight back to Columbus?
It’s that time of the year again, when Urban Meyer has a national championship worthy team playing its best football of the season once the calendar turns to November. No matter if it’s 2004 while at Utah, in 2008 for the Gators with Tim Tebow under center full time or two years ago during Meyer’s latest championship run in Columbus, the goals were the same: dominate the opposition and leave nothing up for debate.
The Buckeyes secured their second consecutive 62-3 win on the backs of both quarterback J.T Barrett and H-back Curtis Samuel, the former once again a Heisman candidate and the latter a dark horse contender. Barrett accounted for four touchdowns – two through the air and two through the ground – while keeping up his high efficiency when dropping back (18-of-27 passing). Samuel, who can line up in any position on the field, showed his versatility in the first half. Of Samuel’s three touchdowns, two were rushing, including lining up as a receiver and taking a handoff on a reverse to score from five yards to end the competitive nature of the contest and gave the Buckeyes a 35-3 lead. Earlier, with less than a minute left in the first quarter, Samuel, lined up out wide to the right, sprinted past his cornerback defender and made a diving over-the-shoulder catch in the end zone from 36 yards.
“There’s not many guys like that who can do it all,” Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer said after the game. “We’ve had tight ends before that were dual purpose guys but he’s a tough one to defend. He’s a really good player.”
What’s scary, especially when Meyer’s teams can sniff a national championship, is that those really good players, who also get a sense of the finish line, improve their games even more as a championship nears. Maryland got the brunt of that tonight, like a nationally-ranked Nebraska did the week before. Michigan State will feel it next. Then it will be the toughest test, Michigan, to end the season.
How tough of a test a game is may not matter though, especially if it involves an Urban Meyer team that’s looking like a runaway train. We’ve seen it before.