BLOOMINGTON, Indiana – How many times can you flip the switch, expecting the light to come on and still be surprised when it doesn’t?
No. 1 Ohio State’s 34-27 win over Indiana on Saturday was the fourth time in five games that it did not look quite like what would be expected from a top-ranked team with a lineup made up mostly of players who were part of winning last year’s national championship.
Ezekiel Elliott was every bit of what he was a year ago with a career-best 274 yards rushing and touchdown runs of 75, 65 and 55 yards against the Hoosiers.
But that was the first time since an 80-yard touchdown run in the opener at Virginia Tech that he had run untouched through a defense.
Other than Elliott, the best of the rest were solid performances, but there were few outstanding ones. And some things were alarming. That was coach Urban Meyer’s word to describe three turnovers – two fumbles by wide receiver Jalin Marshall and an interception thrown by quarterback Cardale Jones.
This Saturday’s game against Maryland will be the halfway point of the regular season and Ohio State still hasn’t hit its stride. In fact, it has many strides to make if it wants to get through the next seven games unbeaten.
After unimpressive performances against Hawaii, Northern Illinois and to a lesser extent, Western Michigan, there were questions if OSU looked like a No. 1 team.
Now, it might be fair to ask if it looks like one of the top four teams who will get invitations to the College Football Playoff.
Style points count in that race, as last year’s 59-0 win over Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game proved. And Ohio State has been less than impressive more often than it has been impressive.
Last year, everything fell into place, though many people have forgotten about the close call at Penn State, a struggle at Minnesota, a come-from-behind win against Indiana at home and the fact that Michigan led for much of that game.
The magical run through the three postseason games with a third-string quarterback might have created expectations that there was so much talent on the roster that anyone could be plugged into any position and it would turn out great.
It’s possible that some people outside the program became mesmerized with how many stars recruits have. Maybe some of these guys aren’t playing up to their four-star or five-star rating and never will.
Name one area that has been consistently strong this season, other than Elliott’s run of 10 straight games of 100 yard or more rushing, dating back to last season. It can’t be done.
The quarterbacks, receivers and offensive line have all been up and down. The defense looked dominant early but it has taken a step backward the last two games.
Urban Meyer, the rest of the coaches and the players say there is no room for fear or doubt.
“There is no knee jerk reaction,” defensive coordinator Luke Fickell said on Saturday. “We know we just have to continue to do the things we do. We can’t panic.”
Six week from now, Ohio State might be the dominant team so many people expected it to be.
But right now it isn’t. And the only thing that will reassure a nervous fan base is to go out and dominate the weak teams and find a way to beat the strong ones.
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414 or on Twitter at @Lima_Naveau.
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