LINCOLN, Neb. — Eventually Ryan Day might walk to the podium after an Ohio State win and admit that he’s completely satisfied with what he saw.
That would probably be only after a national championship was secured, though, because otherwise the first-year coach is making it quite clear that every week he’s still expecting more growth from the Buckeyes no matter how dominant they might have looked to anybody else.
To the untrained eye, there once again was seemingly little reason for concern with Ohio State and ample evidence that the program can again get back to the College Football Playoff and put Day to the test of being unabashedly pleased with the performance. The Buckeyes were utterly dominant in every phase during the 48-7 destruction of Nebraska on Saturday night at Memorial Stadium that had been hailed all week as a measuring stick for them.
And if there is still room to grow, that has to be a truly terrifying thought for the rest of the Big Ten.
“No, I mean, this is just us trying to improve every week and get better,” Day said. “This was a major challenge for us, so I’m proud of that. But we’ve still got a long way to go.
“This doesn’t mean anything if we don’t keep it going. … I’m proud of the way these guys came out here and played hard. We talked all week about what it was going to take to win this game on the road, and we came in hitting on all cylinders.”
The Buckeyes were firing right from the start, and they never looked back as they cruised to their fifth consecutive easy win to start the season. What did the latest victory for Ohio State reveal about the program? Here’s what Lettermen Row learned during the trip to Nebraska.
Chase Young isn’t slowing down for Ohio State
The season isn’t even halfway complete for the Buckeyes, and the supply of superlatives to describe the way Chase Young is playing is already running low. The junior defensive end is quite simply playing like the best defender in the nation, and there’s a strong case to be made that he’s the best overall player right now. Young is unblockable. Young is playing with a relentless motor. Young is single-handedly forcing opponents to alter their schemes to account for him. The surefire first-round pick next spring was only credited with one sack and forced fumble in the win over the Huskers, but make no mistake: Chase Young changes everything for the Buckeyes.
Ohio State run blocking is vastly improved
The rushing attack as a whole is more dangerous simply because the threat of the quarterback run has returned for the Buckeyes. But that alone doesn’t explain all the success for an attack that piled up 368 yards and 3 touchdowns on the ground. Tailbacks J.K. Dobbins and Master Teague are both running hard, and Justin Fields is a legitimate weapon with his speed at quarterback. But all of those guys reaped the benefit of all the impressive work up front by the offensive line, which didn’t even miss a beat despite playing without starting right tackle Branden Bowen. The Buckeyes opened massive holes all game long, and a handful of them were cleared by Joshua Alabi — a reminder that the unit is deeper and dramatically improved from a year ago.
Athleticism of linebackers lifting Buckeyes defense
Nebraska quarterback Adrian Martinez was looking for a chance to use his feet and an escape hatch from the pocket. Instead he found five different Buckeyes swarming him in the middle of the field, shutting him down on a play that essentially summed up the entire evening for the Huskers. Baron Browning was playing as a spy on the quarterback on that particular stop, and his ability to run with a dual-threat weapon and pursue the football from his spot at linebacker opens up so many defensive options for the Buckeyes. He and Malik Harrison are both freakish athletes, and along with the hard-hitting Pete Werner, those three guys combined for 4 tackles for loss among the 17 total hits they gave Ohio State. It’s hard to believe that the Buckeyes have improved so dramatically on defense with virtually the same personnel, but the progress is undeniable.
Patience pays off for Ohio State receivers
The opportunity to make an impact in the passing game isn’t going to come around consistently for the Ohio State wideouts, and they’re all aware of the situation. With so many different weapons at the skill positions and a surging rushing attack, the amount of balls thrown to each of the Buckeyes is going to be limited. That means maximizing every target when it comes, which Austin Mack clearly did with his head-turning touchdown grab. It means being ready if only one possible touchdown grab is on the table for a guy like Garrett Wilson, who didn’t miss his shot in the corner of the end zone. And it also means accepting a quieter performance sometimes knowing that more chances for somebody like Chris Olave could pop back up next week — and that his work as a blocker is just as valuable to the offense as a whole. Give the Ohio State wide receivers credit for the job they’re doing, even if the numbers seem relatively modest in the box score.
Justin Fields is special weapon for Buckeyes
The sophomore quarterback has only played five games, but there are virtually no signs of Justin Fields slowing down from a record-setting pace. In fact, it seems like he’s only getting better, adding more elements to his game each week and posing even more problems for defenses trying to slow him down. Fields already has accounted for 23 touchdowns for the Buckeyes this season and is far ahead of where even the program expected he would be at this point. Considering where Ohio State fits in the national landscape and the gaudy statistics he’s putting up, it’s already reasonable to expect that he could be in New York as a Heisman Trophy finalist.