Finally, there were no “Yeah, buts.”
Through seven games this year and even the 12 last year, Ohio State won every game, but always with some sort of deficiency.
Sometimes, it was the offense that was shaky. Sometimes, the defense. Occasionally, the kicking game.
Not one in Urban Meyer’s first 19 games as coach had the Buckeyes simply dominated a worthy opponent — you don’t count, Florida A&M — from start to finish.
Finally, they did just that in their 63-14 demolition of Penn State on Saturday night.
The lopsided win didn’t affect the Buckeyes’ ranking in the polls or BCS ratings, where they remain fourth.
But it did bolster Ohio State’s confidence.
“We probably played our best game of the season,” offensive line coach Ed Warinner said. “It was fun to be a part of.”
The victory matched the largest margin in the 28 games played between Ohio State and Penn State. The Nittany Lions crushed the Buckeyes by the same 63-14 score in 1994. Penn State hadn’t yielded 63 points in a game since 1899.
As it had done in the second half against Northwestern and all game against Iowa, the Buckeyes’ offense rolled. Ohio State (8-0) scored touchdowns on six of its seven first-half possessions to lead 42-7.
Running behind the Buckeyes’ powerful offensive line, Carlos Hyde rushed for 147 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries. Braxton Miller completed 18 of 24 passes for 252 yards and three touchdowns. He also ran for 68 yards and two scores before yielding to Kenny Guiton with four minutes left in the third quarter.
But the revelation on Saturday night was the defense. Pushed around against Iowa, Ohio State vowed that it would not be passive against the Nittany Lions.
“I think there was a lot of pressure on us,” safety C.J. Barnett said. “We all know that we weren’t playing to our capabilities. The offense was playing great, and the special teams were playing pretty good, but the defense was kind of lacking.
“It was a big emphasis that we play better. I think that we came out with a lot of energy, a lot of passion, and played well.”
The tone was set on Penn State’s first possession. The Nittany Lions drove to the Ohio State 12. Facing third-and-5, Christian Hackenberg tried to throw to tight end Adam Breneman. Iowa’s tight ends had given Ohio State fits the week before, and Penn State’s are arguably better.
But Hackenberg is a freshman, and he stared at Breneman as he ran his route. Corey Brown, a fifth-year senior, read Hackenberg’s eyes, drifted back and intercepted the pass.
“That was a game-changer,” Meyer said.
Later in the first quarter, Barnett intercepted another Hackenberg pass. Not coincidentally, Noah Spence was bearing down on the quarterback as he threw.
Spence, a sophomore from Harrisburg, Pa., was probably headed for Penn State until the Jerry Sandusky scandal broke. Ohio State swooped in and got a quick commitment.
Saturday was a breakout game for Spence. He had two sacks, including a strip of Hackenberg on the play before Barnett’s interception.
Ryan Shazier and Adolphus Washington also had a sack.
“We had a freshman coming into the ’Shoe,” Barnett said. “We had a great 12th man (with the crowd). There was a lot of pressure, a night game and all that. With being a freshman and never being in that environment, we were able to rattle him and get him uncomfortable.”
As a result, Buckeyes fans could finally feel comfortable in that the second half of a game would simply be a formality.
“I like where we are as a team,” Meyer said.