November 23, 2014

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Shaun Bennett: Big win just what the Buckeyes needed

COLUMBUS — Ohio State picked a good night to play its best game of the season.
With the nation watching on primetime television, the Buckeyes stunned a Penn State team that was coming off a week’s rest and an upset victory over No. 18 Michigan, beating the Nittany Lions 63-14 at Ohio Stadium on Saturday night.
The victory wasn’t unexpected, but Ohio State entered the game as a
15-point favorite and nearly tripled that spread before halftime. Before the third quarter was complete, Braxton Miller was replaced by Kenny Guiton, Carlos Hyde was benched for Jordan Hall and the Horseshoe started to empty.
To say the Buckeyes needed a dominating win over a credible opponent is an understatement.
Ohio State has been fending off a storm of criticism throughout the season. Many in the national media didn’t believe the Buckeyes deserved their No. 2 preseason ranking, and the voters quickly complied with the sentiment by sending Ohio State down the rankings ladder even though the Buckeyes continued to run their unbeaten streak into the high teens — it now stands at an even 20.
The Buckeyes apparently play in an inferior conference, beat up on mediocre non-conference opponents and struggle to beat the best opponents on their schedule in a convincing manner.
The critics won’t give Ohio State credit for playing a top-notch opponent Saturday night — Penn State was beaten by American Athletic Conference member Central Florida and routed by Big Ten lightweight Indiana — but nobody can deny the Buckeyes showed off some weapons that will make any defensive coordinator in the nation start to sweat.
Miller showed the flashes of brilliance that had many believing the junior quarterback was a frontrunner for this year’s Heisman trophy. He completed 18 of 24 passes for 252 yards and three touchdowns. He also ran 11 times for 68 yards and two more scores, showing off blazing speed and jaw-dropping moves along the way.
Hyde again proved why he is the top running back in the conference, picking up 147 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 16 attempts — 9.2 yards per carry.
Guiton shined in relief by rushing for a pair of touchdowns, true freshman Dontre Wilson caught a touchdown pass from Miller and set up another score with a 49-yard kickoff return, and wide receiver Devin Smith turned the Penn State secondary into a giant slice of Swiss cheese.
The defense also had big moments in the victory. Junior linebacker Ryan Shazier finished with 10 tackles and a sack, C.J. Barnett and Corey “Pittsburgh” Brown nabbed first-half interceptions and sophomore linebacker Noah Spence delivered powerful hit after hit, including a pair of sacks and three tackles for losses.
But the non-believers will say the Buckeyes did all that against sub-par players, and if they face a superior opponent — Alabama, Florida State and Oregon seem to get the most praise — their statistics and success will be greatly reduced.
Therein lies the problem for Ohio State and head coach Urban Meyer, who has yet to lose a game since taking over the Buckeyes program, yet can’t seem to gain the respect someone with a 124-23 career record and a pair of national championships probably deserves.
What if Ohio State is a great team that just can’t seem to prove it because of its schedule? What if those players could produce big numbers and plays against the best programs in the country? What if Meyer continues to do what he’s done in coaching stops all over the nation — find a way for his team to win the game?
It’s obvious that Ohio State will need to go unbeaten and win its BCS bowl before those outside the state will begin to warm to the notion that the Buckeyes are an elite team. But the number of “haters” is beginning to dwindle as the winning streak continues to grow.
With the dominant showing against Penn State on Saturday, the Buckeyes hope some of the newly recruited believers are the BCS voters.
Contact Shaun Bennett at 329-7137 or sbennett@chroniclet.com. Fan him on Facebook and follow him @ShaunBennettct on Twitter.