The inquiry seemed to interest Urban Meyer, but he was hesitant to go into great detail.
One month into the season, how close is his seventh Ohio State football team to its ceiling?
“I think that’s a great question — because you’re 5-0 and we haven’t played close to our best game,” he said. “It’s all relative.”
The Buckeyes are ranked No. 3 in both major polls heading into a game against Indiana on Saturday.
September showed many strengths but also a few potential weaknesses.
Of course, the Buckeyes might have been tested more than any of the potential College Football Playoff teams to this point in the season, too.
Three weeks ago, they outlasted a ranked TCU team on a neutral field in Texas.
Last week, they overcame a 12-point deficit in the fourth quarter to defeat then-No. 9 Penn State.
“That was two sledgehammers going against each other, two very talented teams,” Meyer said of the 27-26 clash with the Nittany Lions. “I think you watch the film and at times (we look) awesome. The fourth quarter on offense was perfect. Not perfect, but well done. The first two quarters, you can’t say, ‘You’ve got to do this, you’ve got to do this.’ Look at who you’re playing against. They did a very good job with what they were doing which was basically pressuring us 80 percent of the time, and we didn’t handle it well. We ended handling it well the second half.”
Then he broke off his answer.
“This team, to answer your question, there is a tremendous ceiling on this, and we haven’t got close to it.”
Statistically, Ohio State has few peers so far this season in terms of scoring points (49.0 per game, sixth in the country), gaining yards (557.0 per game, fourth), passing yards (346.6, eighth), passing efficiency (186.6, fourth) and net punting (44.3, fourth).
The Buckeyes are 13th in the country in third-down conversion rate (50.0 percent) and tied for 15th in turnover margin (1.0).
While the country’s 33rd-ranked running game has taken a big of a back seat to the pass so far, 2010.4 yards per game is nothing to sneeze about.
What about the defense?
Here’s where the numbers are less impressive.
While Ohio State is 27th in the country in the most important statistic — points per game (18.8) — they have given up a lot of yards. The nation’s No. 63 run defense (154.8 yards per game) and No. 47 pass defense (202.2) added up to No. 52 overall.
Worse yet, the Buckeyes are among the most-penalized teams in the country, having had 8.4 accepted per game (112th) for 80.6 yards (116).
So, does Meyer want to see just how good this team can be? Yes, but he also didn’t want to dwell on the topic with the 4-1 Hoosiers up next.
“With all due respect, we went on the road twice, against TCU, a top 10 team on the road and Penn State on the road,” Meyer said. “I don’t know any school in the country that did that this year. We walked away with wins. Also we lost one of the top football players in America (Nick Bosa) on defense. We’re just coaching our tails off to make the guys better. Young players have to contribute. The ceiling here is — we don’t have time. We are just working on what we have to worry about.”
Scouting the Hoosiers
What Meyer’s team has to worry about Saturday is an Indiana team that has been flipped from offense-first under former head coach Kevin Wilson (who is now an offensive coordinator at Ohio State) to one that wins with defense under Tom Allen.
The Hoosiers have an average offense piloted by Peyton Ramsey, a sophomore dual-threat quarterback from Cincinnati Elder who reminds Meyer some of Penn State star Trace McSorley.
“He’s a gutsy player, man, and he’s one of those guys that creates something out of nothing,” Meyer said of Ramsey.
He started four games last season, but it is his squad now.
Ramsey leads the Big Ten in completion percentage (115 for 162, 70.1 percent) and averages 207.8 yards passing and 34.0 yards on the ground.
Allen said he has developed more patience this season.
“I think the improvement has come in his poise and confidence of knowing where to take the ball,” Allen said. “He is very patient in the pocket with his eyes downfield.”
Although his squad looks to have a good shot to qualify for a bowl this season, Allen presented no illusions about the challenge the Hoosiers face this week.
“We’re excited to be 4-1 at this stage of the season and have the opportunity to head to Columbus and take on a great football team,” he said, noting Ohio State’s depth sets the Buckeyes apart from the rest of the conference.
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