BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH Enlarge
COLUMBUS — Style points are for figure skaters, GQ cover boys, and the Pac-12.
Big Ten football? Not so much.
As Ohio State moved past one primetime showcase game and prepared for another in Saturday’s trip to No. 16 Northwestern, its focus is on running the nation’s longest winning streak to 18 games — and, if you ask coaches, nothing more.
The fourth-ranked Buckeyes (5-0, 1-0 Big Ten) know they are fighting a battle of perception created by the diminished recent state of the Big Ten. For Ohio State to crash the national title game, there is a camp that believes the Midwest’s best team will not only have to win every game but look good doing it.
Monday, though, coach Urban Meyer flicked the talk aside. Two days after OSU shut down its name-your-score offense and shifted into preservation mode in the fourth quarter of a 31-24 win over Wisconsin, he said, "We’re not really concerned about style points."
"We made a decision that the way we lose that game is turn the ball over," Meyer said.
OSU instead sat on a 31-14 lead in the fourth quarter, turning back the clock to Tressel-ball. Its second-half offense featured 27 runs, eight passes, four punts, a touchdown, and a field goal. In the fourth quarter, after quarterback Braxton Miller had matched a career-high with four touchdown passes, all but two of the Buckeyes’ plays were rushes by Miller or senior bruiser Carlos Hyde.
It was a new twist on an old story. All year, Ohio State has exploded early, scoring 116 of its 241 points in the first quarter before decelerating. Saturday was no different, only this time it was not a show of mercy against an overmatched opponent.
So what exactly is the balance between putting up gargantuan numbers and ensuring victory? Offensive coordinator Tom Herman said there is none.
"What gets lost is the offense and defense and special teams, they’re not mutually exclusive," Herman said. "We all work together. When you have a 17-point lead in the fourth quarter, the way you approach how you are going to call the game changes significantly, and I would think any football coach — I’d hope — would tell you the same.
"Do the fans want to see everything they saw in the first quarter in the fourth quarter? Absolutely. Good for them. But it's not going to happen. We have a responsibility to win the game. We don't have a resposibility to put up ‘x’ number of points or ‘x’ number of yards. There were certainly very justifiable reasons for approaching the game the way we did there in the fourth quarter."
If the strategy did not impress the pollsters, the results — for the 17th straight time — could not be disputed.
Style points? Herman laughed.
"There's a reason there is talk radio and message boards and everybody in here has a job," Herman told a room filled with reporters Monday. "And that's to discuss things that are probably never, ever, ever discussed in the staff room. You guys decide to lose sleep over it, and that’s fine."
JOHNSTON SHINES: Ohio State’s Cameron Johnson said the biggest misconception Americans have about his homeland is that all Aussies enjoy "shrimp on the barbie" and Foster’s beer.
"It’s not even brewed in Australia anymore," he said Monday, laughing.
Another misconception may be Austalians know only one brand of football. Johnston, the Buckeyes’ 21-year-old ex-Australian Rules football player, was named the Big Ten’s special teams player of the week after dropping all six of his punts inside the 20-yard line — including a 55-yard boot that pinned Wisconsin at its own 10-yard line with 1:29 left.
EXTRA POINTS: Senior left tackle and St. John’s Jesuit graduate Jack Mewhort and senior wideout Corey Brown were named the Buckeyes’ co-offensive players of the week. ... ESPN’s College GameDay will be at Northwestern (3-1) on Saturday for the first time since 1995. Ohio State is 20-10 all-time in games the show has been on site. ... Cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs addressed Bradley Roby’s uneven night against Wisconsin. Though the junior All-American had an interception, he was burned several times in man coverage by Badgers star wideout Jared Abbrederis, who pulled in 10 passes for a career-high 207 yards. "Great corners have very limited consciences," Coombs said. " We made a determination that in order to win, we had to stop the run. That's what they do very, very well. So you commit a lot of guys to the box, and we left [Roby] on an island against a very gifted player. I don't think that game was up to his standards, and I'm sure he would tell you the same thing. But at the same time, [Roby] made a lot of plays."