NCF Nation: J.T. Barrett

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The first Ohio State game plan of the season was light on offensive variety.

It didn’t include many changes in personnel. There weren’t a lot of adjustments that could be made as the Buckeyes focused largely on doing just a few things well instead of risking the possibility of spreading themselves too thin.

[+] EnlargeJ.T. Barrett
Greg Bartram-USA TODAY SportsLed by quarterback J.T. Barrett, Ohio State has scored 50 or more points in four straight games.
They were inexperienced at quarterback, starting what amounted to be an entirely rebuilt offensive line and counting on a handful of skill players who had barely been used in meaningful action.

Fast forward half a season and nearly every part of that formula has changed dramatically, most notably starting with the playbook the Buckeyes now have at their disposal that is making it seemingly more difficult to prepare for them every week.

“Just look at the play sheet against Navy compared to now,” coach Urban Meyer said. “There’s 70 percent more there than what it was.

“I think the quarterback, offensive line, the receivers have all opened up the playbook because they're much more mature. They’ve grown up fast.”

That has challenged the coaches to keep pace with the rapid development. And they’ve responded by continually adding new wrinkles, expanding the personnel rotation and then watching as the young Buckeyes soak it all up and wring out an offensive deluge on helpless opponents, scoring 50 points or more in four straight games.

A first-time starter in that disjointed win over Navy and a subsequent loss to Virginia Tech, redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett is now brushing elbows statistically with the top quarterbacks in the nation. Perhaps most impressively, he’s rewriting the record books that have Braxton Miller’s name all over them and arguably playing at an even higher level than the injured two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year thanks to an accurate arm, good decision-making and underrated athleticism as a rusher.

The offensive line that moved its only returning starter to a new position while breaking in four first-time contributors has now established chemistry and is once again blowing open holes for the spread attack. And behind those blockers, Ohio State is cutting loose a host of speedy threats at running back and wide receiver, trusting them with both the football and new assignments just about every game -- like the sparkling new Wildcat package that Dontre Wilson unveiled in another blowout last weekend against Rutgers.

That may just be the tip of the iceberg on the expanded play sheet, which offensive coordinator Tom Herman isn’t afraid to keep building on as long as the Buckeyes prove they can keep handling it.

“It’s the same offense,” Herman said. “It’s just different adjustments, different usage of personnel and better developed players. We’re better up front, we’re better at quarterback, we’re better at the skill positions. The sign of a good team is continual improvement, and I think we’re on that track right now. To say it’s a different offense, it’s not, but the players are certainly coming into their own.

“We’ll keep growing, obviously. But I think right now we’re in a good place.”

The Buckeyes have certainly come a long way in a hurry since that early loss, and the journey has been so dizzyingly quick, it can be easy to forget that the roster is still young.

That may mean mistakes may inevitably pop back up as the level of competition goes up against better defenses like Penn State’s on Saturday or in the huge showdown at Michigan State on Nov. 8. Of course, it might also suggest that the Buckeyes are only just scratching the surface of what they might be capable of doing offensively.

“As long as you have good checkers, you can keep going and going,” Meyer said. “That's where you just have to keep going.

“The better your checkers, [the options] are endless.”

And that is making the checkerboard increasingly difficult to defend.
Christian Hackenberg was the big name as a Big Ten freshman in 2013. Now, that torch has been passed to Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett.

The Buckeyes' redshirt freshman appears to be on the rise, while Penn State's sophomore has struggled to repeat the success from his first season. They’ll meet Saturday night in Beaver Stadium. So, in the meantime, here’s a look at both quarterbacks -- the good, the bad and the ugly.

Barrett

The good: He’s performed so well since Week 3 that he’s started to enter the Heisman conversation. Just take a look at the numbers in his last four games: 86-of-120 (71.7 percent), 1,170 yards, 17 touchdowns and one interception. He’s recorded a QBR of at least 75.8 in the last four games, and he posted a 98.8 QBR in his last game, against Rutgers. His improvement has been well-documented, whether it’s in the running game, his poise or his ability through the air. Said Penn State linebacker Mike Hull: “He doesn’t turn the ball over, he makes smart throws, he’s a great runner -- so he really has been the whole package for them so far.”

The bad: Barrett has been praised for his production in the last four games, but his opponents haven’t exactly been challenging. Kent State currently ranks No. 97 in total defense, Cincinnati is No. 120, Maryland is No. 99 and Rutgers is No. 82. The two best defenses he’s played -- Navy (No. 70) and Virginia Tech (No. 20) -- both came in his first two starts when the playbook was limited. And that’s where he fared his worst. So at this point, there’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg argument. Barrett is undoubtedly talented, but just how much did his opponents’ bad defenses influence his numbers?

The ugly: There’s very, very little from Barrett that can be classified as “ugly.” Really, only one game -- and that was the loss against the Hokies. Virginia Tech blitzed mercilessly, and Barrett just couldn’t adjust. He finished 9-of-29 with three picks and took seven sacks. Statistically, Barrett will face only one better pass defense this regular season than Virginia Tech: Michigan State.

Hackenberg

The good: Going back to last season, Hackenberg has had a penchant for the comeback. In his last 13 games, he’s engineered four last-minute game-tying or game-winning drives: Illinois and Michigan in 2013 and UCF and Rutgers this season. He is widely regarded as a future first-round NFL draft pick -- if not the No. 1 pick overall -- and several Big Ten coaches have sung his praises. Michigan’s Brady Hoke and Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald both said this season that he’s one of the best quarterbacks in the country. Said Ohio State coach Urban Meyer: “Obviously, we got a lot of respect for that big quarterback, Hackenberg.”

The bad: By any measure, this season has been a disappointment for Hackenberg so far. He’s thrown more interceptions (7) than touchdowns (5). But a lot of his struggles can be traced back to a patchwork offensive line that features one returning starter and two former defensive tackles at offensive guard. He’s been sacked 20 times so far this season -- the most in the Big Ten -- while he was sacked just 21 times all of last year. He also has little run support, as only seven teams in the nation are averaging fewer rushing yards per game. He’s starting to develop bad habits, and frustration appears to be setting in.

The ugly: There’s a lot more to write under this section than for Barrett. For one, Hackenberg’s QBR this season right now sits at 38.0 -- a decrease in 18.6 points from last season, the largest decrease for any Big Ten quarterback. And there have been quite a few other lowlights. Early in the season, Hackenberg's frustrations boiled over on TV and resulted in a gif that made the rounds on sports blogs. As was mentioned before, his offensive line also hasn’t done him any favors, and they made national headlines when one blocker closed his eyes and mistakenly blocked a teammate. And James Franklin can’t seem to make up his mind as to whether to have offensive coordinator John Donovan in the booth or on the field.

B1G early look: Setting up Week 9

October, 20, 2014
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Curse the double bye, as we have another week coming up with just five Big Ten games. But there are a few good ones on tap, including a couple intriguing rivalries. Here's your early look at the storylines for Week 9:

1. Can Michigan close the Bunyan-sized gap with Michigan State? Based simply on this year's performances, Saturday's game between Michigan and Michigan State could be one of the most lopsided in the history of the Paul Bunyan Trophy series. The Spartans are riding high, having won 13 straight Big Ten contests, while the Wolverines are just 3-4. Michigan State has won five of the past six in this rivalry, including three straight in East Lansing. The inability to beat his rivals is a big reason Brady Hoke is fighting for his job right now. Maybe the Wolverines can rally behind their embattled coach. If not, this has a chance to get ugly.

2. Will Ohio State keep it rolling? The Buckeyes have scored 50 or more points in each of their past four games to build their case for the College Football Playoff. This week brings their toughest road test of the season to date, a night game at Penn State. Beaver Stadium will be decked in white, and Nittany Lions fans will do their best to rattle young quarterback J.T. Barrett. Penn State's defense is probably the best one Ohio State has played in at least a month as well. Of course, the Lions have lost their first two Big Ten games and are having all sorts of issues with their offensive line, which they spent last week's bye week trying to solve. Don't be surprised if James Franklin and his staff throw out some new wrinkles this Saturday night.

3. Make-or-break game in Madison: Is Maryland for real? Is Wisconsin a serious contender? The season has failed to adequately answer these questions thus far. The Terrapins are 2-1 in their first year in the league and are coming off a solid win over Iowa. They've been up and down (the down includes a home blowout loss to Ohio State), but they also have a lot of explosive playmakers. Wisconsin has a Heisman Trophy candidate in Melvin Gordon but hasn't figured much else out on offense, especially in the passing game. The Badgers already have one conference loss and likely can't afford another one if they want to win the West Division. Can Wisconsin keep pace with Maryland's skill players like Stefon Diggs? Can the Terps' shaky defense slow down Gordon? One team will be left standing as a serious division contender after Saturday.

4. Beckman's last stand? Illinois coach Tim Beckman may well have to make a bowl game to save his job this season. That means the 3-4 Illini probably have to win this week at home against Minnesota, because the rest of the schedule isn't kind. The Gophers sit atop the West Division at 3-0 but looked vulnerable to a big-play passing offense on Saturday against Purdue. Illinois will have to follow the Boilermakers' game plan, though either Aaron Bailey or Reilly O'Toole must make a big jump at quarterback. Here's the best reason to predict that Minnesota will come away with the road win in Champaign: Beckman's defense is surrendering a Big Ten-worst 271.1 rushing yards per game. David Cobb could run all day.

5. Rutgers' mettle being tested: You really wanted to join the Big Ten, Rutgers. Well, here you go. After dealing with the piping-hot cauldron of the Horseshoe last week -- where the Scarlet Knights got scalded in a 56-17 loss to Ohio State -- Kyle Flood's team jumps back into the fire this week with a trip to Nebraska. It's harder to imagine many more difficult back-to-back road challenges than that in the Big Ten, and it highlights the difficulty of Rutgers' second-half schedule (a November trip to Michigan State still awaits). Nebraska looked terrific last week in the second half at Northwestern and must simply avoid complacency before the big West Division showdowns arrive the final three weeks (at Wisconsin, Minnesota, at Iowa). For the Scarlet Knights right now, this is mostly about survival and not letting a promising season go up in flames
Programs like Ohio State are like Air Force One: They're never supposed to disappear from the radar screen.

There are several places in college football where the national spotlight fixates, and Ohio Stadium is one. When Urban Meyer is prowling the sidelines, the glare is even brighter.

But Ohio State has been somewhat of a forgotten team since 11:54 p.m. ET on Sept. 6. That's the moment when Virginia Tech completed a 35-21 win against the Buckeyes in Columbus.

It wasn't just the shock of the loss or that it marked Ohio State's third defeat in four games after a 24-0 start under Meyer. It was that Ohio State fulfilled the doom-and-gloom outlook many had after quarterback Braxton Miller's season-ending shoulder injury in August.

[+] EnlargeJ.T. Barrett
Greg Bartram/USA TODAY SportsJ.T. Barrett has really stepped up the past four games, throwing 17 TDs to one pick and rushing for 263 yards and three TDs.
The Buckeyes stalled against Bud Foster's complex, aggressive defense. Quarterback J.T. Barrett, making his first home start, completed 9 of 29 pass attempts with three interceptions and a touchdown. An offensive line featuring four new starters surrendered seven sacks, and the Buckeyes averaged just 2.7 yards per rush. The supposedly upgraded defense showed the same old warts against the pass and especially on third down (9 of 17 converted).

It was one of those worst-fears-fulfilled kinds of nights. The loss, while surprising, followed a narrative many had mapped out the moment Miller's labrum tore during an innocuous throw in practice.

So Ohio State became a forgotten team nationally and, to a degree, in the Big Ten -- as crazy as that sounds.

Well, it's time to take notice again. No Big Ten team is playing better than No. 13 Ohio State. And few quarterbacks nationally are playing better than Barrett.

Since the Virginia Tech loss, the Buckeyes' numbers are staggering. They've outscored their opponents 224-69. They set a team record with four consecutive games of 50 or more points and tied a team mark with four straight games of 500 or more yards.

Barrett's four-game line: 1,170 pass yards, 17 touchdowns, one interception (none in the past three games), 68.3 percent completions, 263 rush yards, three touchdowns.

"He's throwing it on time, throwing it early, trusting what he sees, directing traffic, going through his progressions, not getting freaked out with a little pressure," offensive coordinator Tom Herman recently told me.

He has accounted for at least four touchdowns in all four games, the longest active streak in the country and the longest for a Big Ten quarterback since former Purdue star Kyle Orton in 2004, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Offensive line coach Ed Warinner once again worked his magic, simplifying things so a group that looked like a liability in Week 2 has become a strength.

"Until you understand Algebra 1, you can't take Algebra 2," Warinner told me. "You just have to be patient and trust that playing hard and having good fundamentals will carry you through. Eventually, you can build on that with your changeups, your exceptions, your adjustments.

"People get caught up in thinking, 'I'm a really good coach. I've got these guys who never played and look at all this stuff I told them.' And you don't get anything done."

Ohio State also is getting it done on defense during the win streak: 12 sacks, 23 tackles for loss, eight interceptions. The Buckeyes held both Maryland and Rutgers well below their averages for yards and points. They suddenly rank in the top 25 nationally in points allowed (24th), opponent adjusted QBR (21st), pass yards allowed (16th) and first downs allowed (20th).

"We're playing at a pretty high level right now," Meyer said of his defense.

But what about the competition? Ohio State hasn't beaten a ranked team during its run. Unlike teams in the SEC, Pac-12 or Big 12, the Buckeyes' schedule has allowed them to regain their mojo. But you play who you play, and Ohio State has destroyed everything in its path.

It's all pointing to the Nov. 8 showdown at No. 8 Michigan State, which hasn't lost at home since 2012. Both teams won 56-17 on Saturday, but Ohio State seems to be playing at a higher level. The Buckeyes are No. 5 nationally in ESPN's Football Power Index, which measures team strength as a future predictor.

According to FPI, Ohio State has a 48.5 percent chance to win the Big Ten, the third-highest percentage of any Power 5 team and by far the highest percentage in the league, as defending champion Michigan State has just a 23.7 percent chance. Yes, we all know FPI has never been high on the Spartans, who remain the team to beat in this league until proved otherwise.

But the numbers favor Ohio State, which, according to FPI, is the one-loss team from a Power 5 conference with the best chance (27 percent) to finish with just the sole blemish.

So everyone must pay attention to the Buckeyes again, including the playoff selection committee. Virginia Tech is a bad loss that seems to be getting worse. But the circumstances surrounding Ohio State with Miller's injury should be considered, if the committee members stay true to their word.

Ohio State has few résumé-boosting opportunities left: trips to Michigan State and Minnesota, and the Big Ten title game.

But if the Buckeyes continue on this trajectory, they should be in a familiar spot: playing for championships.

Big Ten helmet stickers: Week 8

October, 19, 2014
Oct 19
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Reviewing the best and brightest performances from Week 8 in the Big Ten.

Minnesota RB David Cobb: The Gophers’ senior had 14 carries for 76 yards before the end of the first quarter. Minnesota’s human perpetual motion machined finished Saturday’s back-and-forth battle with 194 yards and a touchdown on 35 touches. His early pounding also helped set up several big play-action completions for the Gopher offense.

Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah: Four touchdowns, including two in the fourth quarter to pull away from Northwestern in a 38-17 win, gets Abdullah another sticker to add to his well-decorated helmet. He had 146 rushing yards, which makes him the first player in Cornhusker history to rush for more than 1,000 yards in three seasons. He’s the third Big Ten back to get past four digits in the rushing column this season.

Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett: The rookie is now the full-fledged leader of an impressive Ohio State offense. He accounted for five touchdowns (three passing and two rushing) while hanging 56 points on Rutgers. He threw for 261 yards and ran for 107 more without making any costly mistakes.

Minnesota DB Cedric Thompson: Thompson bookended Saturday’s 39-38 victory with a pair of momentum-swinging interceptions. He picked off Purdue’s Austin Appleby on the first play of the game and brought it back to the 2-yard line. He clinched the game with a very athletic catch at midfield with 2:31 left on the clock.

Michigan State RB Jeremy Langford: The Spartans put together a definitive 56-17 win over Indiana with a team effort on offense. Tony Lippett had 123 yards receiving and a couple highlight catches. Nick Hill led the team with 178 rushing yards -- 76 of which came on a garbage time touchdown. But Langford stood above them with his three rushing scores. The first two came when the game was still in doubt and the third was a fourth quarter knockout punch that helped the Spartans kick their recent trend of not slamming the door after they build a lead.
Five observations from Saturday in the Big Ten:

1. Ohio State and Michigan State are widening the gap over the rest of the league. The Spartans and Buckeyes continued their march toward Nov. 8 in East Lansing with resounding wins by identical scores of 56-17 over Indiana and Rutgers, respectively. The Buckeyes topped 50 points in four consecutive games for the first time in school history and dealt the Scarlet Knights their worst loss in 12 years with an introduction to the big-time side of Big Ten football. MSU was slow at the start, as Indiana’s Shane Wynn and Tevin Coleman scored on long runs, but Michigan State blanked the Hoosiers in the second half. Just as importantly, both Big Ten powers climbed closer to consideration for the College Football Playoff as two top-10 unbeatens went down.

[+] EnlargeJ.T. Barrett
Greg Bartram/USA TODAY SportsJ.T. Barrett is playing at a high level as Ohio State's offense continues to roll.
2. J.T. Barrett is a Heisman Trophy darkhorse. No, we’re not kidding. The same redshirt freshman who struggled mightily in the Buckeyes’ loss to Virginia Tech the past month has played better than any quarterback in the country as of late. He ran for 107 yards and two scores and threw for 261 and three touchdowns against Rutgers. Under his guidance, Ohio State has averaged 614 yards over its past four games, albeit against suspect defensive competition, though Rutgers appeared set to pose a challenge. Barrett won’t be considered a serious candidate unless he can play like this, without a blip, for the rest of the season.

3. Minnesota might never win pretty, but it almost always wins. The Golden Gophers beat Purdue 39-38 behind two interceptions of Austin Appleby by safety Cedric Thompson, including the game-clincher with 2:28 to play. Minnesota is 3-0 in the Big Ten for the first time since 1990. It was a typical Gopher effort, with 194 rushing yards from David Cobb and just nine completions from quarterback Mitch Leidner, who threw two touchdowns. Give credit to fast-improving Purdue, for sure, but this game deviated from Minnesota form only in that the Gophers trailed at halftime -- they earned the first win in 23 such occasions under Jerry Kill -- and needed a 52-yard field goal by Ryan Santoso for the decisive points with 4:59 left.

4. In spite of Minnesota’s start, Nebraska still looks like the best in the West. The Huskers beat Northwestern 38-17 at Ryan Field and outscored the Wildcats 24-0 in the second half to move to 6-1. Barring an upset win in Lincoln by Rutgers or Purdue over the next two weeks, Nebraska will be 8-1 on Nov. 15 when Bo Pelini’s team travels to Wisconsin for a final stretch that includes Minnesota and Iowa. In bouncing back from a loss to Michigan State, Nebraska displayed new depth at the line of scrimmage against Northwestern and found new ways to feature spark-plug freshman De'Mornay Pierson-El, who threw a touchdown pass to QB Tommy Armstrong Jr.

5. It might be November (if even then) before we understand Maryland and Iowa. The Terrapins overcame a slow start to beat the Hawkeyes 38-31. Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown returned from a back injury, suffered in the second half, and receiver Stefon Diggs and cornerback Will Likely contributed their usual big plays. But is Maryland really a threat to get to nine wins and a New Year’s Day bowl? Maybe, in the watered-down Big Ten. What about Iowa, still a player in the West Division with its favorable schedule but unable to break through in a winnable game Saturday? Just as the Hawkeyes’ offense appears to have gained speed, the defense took a step back in College Park.

Big Ten viewer's guide: Week 8

October, 17, 2014
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Let the second half of the season begin.

The Big Ten's West Division is still as muddled as ever, Rutgers is searching for more respect, and several teams still aren’t secure at quarterback. This week's games could help make the overall conference picture a bit clearer, but plenty of time – and storylines – remain. Here’s a look at Saturday’s games and what to expect (all times Eastern):

Noon

Iowa (5-1) at Maryland (4-2), ESPN2: The Terrapins have had a week to rest, and they’ll need it against a tough Hawkeyes team. Iowa scored an uncharacteristic 45 points last week, and Maryland’s defense is giving up more yards – but fewer points – than the Hawkeyes’ last opponent, Indiana. This is an interesting matchup for a lot of reasons. Not only is Iowa trying to remain atop the West, but we could possibly see four quarterbacks. Kirk Ferentz still wants to play both Jake Rudock and C.J. Beathard, while Randy Edsall won’t hesitate to pull C.J. Brown for Caleb Rowe if Brown struggles the way he did against Ohio State.

Purdue (3-4) at Minnesota (5-1), BTN: The Boilermakers shocked the Big Ten last week by hanging 31 points on Michigan State -- and that wasn’t lost on Minnesota coach Jerry Kill, who praised Purdue’s offensive line. With Austin Appleby now playing well at quarterback, this isn’t the “gimme” game it appeared to be a few weeks ago. Regardless, Purdue’s run defense is still lacking, and that’s not good news against Minnesota. David Cobb is rushing for more than 136 yards per game, and he’s one of the more underrated players in the Big Ten. He isn’t just the spark in this offense, he’s the engine – and he’ll again be key to the Gophers’ success. If Minnesota keeps winning, voters in both polls won’t be able to ignore this team for much longer.

3:30 p.m.

[+] EnlargeJ.T. Barrett
Jamie Sabau/Getty ImagesJ.T. Barrett's rapid improvement has the Buckeyes as a big favorite at home against Big Ten newcomer Rutgers.
No. 8 Michigan State (5-1) at Indiana (3-3), ESPN: This matchup is happening at the worst time for the Hoosiers. Not only is starting quarterback Nate Sudfeld out for the season, but backup Chris Covington will reportedly not play Saturday, either. That leaves true freshman Zander Diamont, who weighs 160-some pounds, according to Indiana coach Kevin Wilson. Indiana boasts the nation’s leading rusher in Tevin Coleman, but it’s no secret Michigan State will stack the box and dare the Hoosiers to pass. And even if Indiana succeeds in scoring, it still might not be enough to keep up with a balanced Spartans offense. It could be a long day for Indiana.

Rutgers (5-1) at No. 13 Ohio State (4-1), ABC/ESPN2: Rutgers is the surprise team in the Big Ten right now, but there would be no bigger surprise than if it were able to knock off the Buckeyes at the Horseshoe. Quarterback J.T. Barrett is rolling, running back Ezekiel Elliott is solid and the Scarlet Knights’ defense will be tested, B1G time. Ohio State holds the advantage in scoring defense, total defense, pass defense, scoring offense, passing offense and rushing offense. Rutgers has embraced its underdog role so far this season, and it’s a big underdog in this one.

7 p.m.

No. 19 Nebraska (5-1) at Northwestern (3-3), BTN: The Wildcats have faced three one-dimensional offenses in a row, but that ends with the Cornhuskers. Not only does Nebraska have one of the nation’s best running backs in Ameer Abdullah, but quarterback Tommy Armstrong is also fourth in the Big Ten in both passing yards per game and pass efficiency. This is the highest-rated offense (No. 10 in total offense) that the Wildcats have faced all season. Nebraska’s defense isn’t too bad, either, and Trevor Siemian will have to be on top of his game for Northwestern to stand a chance.

Required reading

Big Ten midseason overview

October, 14, 2014
Oct 14
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The Big Ten entered 2014 with a few high-profile opportunities to raise its flailing image.

Things started out well enough, as Wisconsin took a 24-7 lead on LSU in the third quarter on opening weekend. And it was pretty much all downhill from there for the Badgers, who wound up losing 28-24, and the rest of the league. Other early-season losses by Michigan State (at Oregon), Ohio State (Virginia Tech) and Iowa (Iowa State) relegated the Big Ten to its same old status as a middle-of-the-pack (at best) power conference.

As a result, the league needs some breaks just to get a team into the four-team College Football Playoff. Yes, conversation about the inaugural playoff has dominated the sport a little too much so far. Then again, when's the last time you heard anybody talking about who might play in this year's Orange Bowl?

The Big Ten might not place a team in the Rose Bowl -- site of a national semifinal this year -- unless Michigan State and Ohio State run the table the rest of the way, or if a team from the wide-open West Division like Nebraska or Minnesota really surprises.

Not everything, of course, revolves around the playoff, and there have been some good stories in the Big Ten during the first half. The conference boasts three of the top four rushers in the nation. The oft-mocked addition of Maryland and Rutgers doesn't look so bad as the two teams are a combined 9-3. Purdue has already tripled its win total from a year ago. The NCAA sanctions at Penn State were lifted -- though no relief was provided for the Nittany Lions' offensive line. Five teams sit at 5-1, setting up an interesting race toward ... wherever the league champion might wind up in the postseason. (Hey, how about that Orange Bowl?)

So reasons for hope remain in the Big Ten for the second half. Though maybe not so much in Ann Arbor and Champaign.

[+] EnlargeMelvin Gordon
Mary Langenfeld/USA TODAY SportsMelvin Gordon has already topped 1,000 yards and has 13 touchdowns halfway through the season.
Offensive MVP: Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon. It's so hard to choose between the fantastic running backs in this league, as Indiana's Tevin Coleman leads the FBS in rushing and Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah has been a warrior. Gordon has received very little help from his team's passing game, yet he has piled up 1,046 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns, including four straight games of at least 175 yards.

Defensive MVP: Ohio State DE Joey Bosa. There's no runaway winner of this award yet, but Bosa has built on his impressive freshman campaign of a year ago to become one of the most disruptive pass-rushing forces around. He has seven tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks and three forced fumbles.

Biggest surprise: Few people gave Rutgers much of a chance to contend in the school's first year in the Big Ten, especially given the Scarlet Knights' murderous schedule. But with an improved Gary Nova at quarterback and a stout defense, Rutgers sits at 5-1 at the halfway point. The back half is still treacherous, including games against Ohio State, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Michigan State, but Kyle Flood's team has shown it can't be taken lightly.

Biggest disappointment: Michigan, naturally. The Wolverines (3-4) beat Penn State last week at home, finally ending a streak of seven straight losses against Power 5 teams. Blowout losses against Notre Dame, Utah and Minnesota, and the Shane Morris concussion controversy have put Brady Hoke squarely on the hot seat.

Newcomer of the year: Losing Braxton Miller did not end Ohio State's playoff chances, largely because of the rapid growth of freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett. After struggling in a Week 2 loss to Virginia Tech, Barrett has blossomed into one of the top players in the Big Ten. He leads the league in total offense, pass efficiency and passing touchdowns (17).

Best coach: Jerry Kill, Minnesota. With apologies to Flood, no coach has maximized his talent more than the head Gopher. Minnesota is 5-1 and tied atop the Big Ten West Division, with its only loss coming at TCU. Kill's team finds ways to win without an overpowering offensive attack.

Best game: Indiana 31, Missouri 27. This game had a little bit of everything, with both teams combining for nearly 1,000 yards of offense and the Hoosiers scoring the winning touchdown with 22 seconds left after Missouri had hit what looked like the game-winning field goal. The road win in SEC country was also one of the league's few bright spots in nonconference play. Unfortunately for the Hoosiers, they haven't been able to duplicate that performance.

Biggest games of the second half: Armageddon arrives on Nov. 8 in East Lansing, Michigan, when Ohio State travels to Michigan State in a possible playoff eliminator. Other big B1G games are mostly in the wide-open West, including: Iowa at Minnesota (Nov. 8), Northwestern at Notre Dame (Nov. 15), Nebraska at Wisconsin (Nov. 15), Wisconsin at Iowa (Nov. 22) and Nebraska at Iowa (Nov. 28).
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Christian Hackenberg’s numbers may have taken a steep drop compared to last season, but you’ll draw some funny looks from teammates and opposing coaches if you imply he’s regressed.

[+] EnlargeChristian Hackenberg
Jim O'Connor/USA TODAY SportsStats don't tell the entire story for Penn State QB Christian Hackenberg.
 He’s thrown more interceptions (6) than touchdowns (4) so far, but his reputation inside football circles hasn’t declined. Really, it’s only magnified. Opposing coaches don’t praise J.T. Barrett, Gary Nova or Wes Lunt -- three of the conference’s top four quarterbacks in pass efficiency -- with the same kind of laurels they bestow upon Hackenberg. So it isn’t just lip-service.

Michigan coach Brady Hoke: “Christian Hackenberg is one of the great quarterbacks in this country.”

Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald: “Christian Hackenberg is as good as anybody in the country.”

Rutgers coach Kyle Flood: “I haven’t seen all the quarterbacks around the country, but I find it hard to believe there’s a better quarterback in the country that we’ll face as an opponent than Christian Hackenberg.”

On the surface, the stats tell a simple story of a struggling quarterback whose production has fallen compared to 2013. But dig a little deeper, and the drop-off seems justifiable.

The offensive line -- to put it mildly -- has struggled mightily. According to ESPN Stats & Info, Hackenberg is under pressure on nearly 10 percent more of his dropbacks this season compared to last year. The contrast is actually even starker than that, considering Hackenberg has to throw the ball quicker to avoid such pressure.

Still, he's well above-average in dealing with a collapsing pocket. The average signal-caller in the Power Five completes 35 percent of his passes under pressure. So far this season, according to ESPN Stats & Info, Hackenberg is completing 48.4 percent of those passes -- an increase of 5.5 percentage points over last season.

And, for those closest to Hackenberg, those numbers aren't much of a surprise.

“He’s poised in the pocket,” Penn State wideout DaeSean Hamilton said. “He knows what to do with the ball whether he’s under pressure or he has all the time in the world. He’s a great quarterback.”

Sure, overall, his numbers aren’t quite up to snuff compared to 2013. But that’s where a few other variables come in. Penn State hasn’t been able to offer any run support against teams not named UMass, and Hackenberg has been forced to carry the offense. In four games, he’s accounted for at least 75 percent of Penn State’s total yards. In three (UCF, Rutgers, Northwestern), he’s accounted for more than 83 percent. That makes it all the more harder for last season's Big Ten freshman of the year. Everyone already knows what's coming.

“The defense sort of knows you’re going to be back there dropping back every time,” Hackenberg said Wednesday, speaking generally about the absence of a run game. “It makes it easier for them.”

No Big Ten quarterback has dealt with lesser run support than Hackenberg. Illinois averages fewer rushing yards but still runs for a half-yard more a carry. But, twice this season, Hackenberg has stepped off the stat sheet and stepped up in critical times that numbers can’t measure.

Against Central Florida, he went 4-of-6 for 47 yards on a late game-winning drive -- and he picked up a critical first down on 4th-and-3 when he rushed for eight yards. Against Rutgers, he was even better. He finished 3-of-4 for 74 yards on a late game-winning drive -- and converted the same third down twice due to a holding call.

Hackenberg hasn’t been perfect, and there’s still obviously room for improvement. But he’s also easily one of the Big Ten’s best -- even if the postgame stat sheet doesn’t always seem to agree.
Dantonio/MeyerUSA TODAY SportsMark Dantonio, left, and Urban Meyer have their teams on course for another huge B1G showdown.

In case a reminder was needed after another chaotic weekend on the field, rankings, projections, underdogs and favorites don't usually mean a whole lot to college football. The best laid plans typically don't last long.

But there is one from the preseason that suddenly appears to be back on track. Though there is still more than a month to go until what was presumed to be the biggest battle in the Big Ten actually kicks off on Nov. 8 in East Lansing, Michigan, what is the fun in just sitting around and waiting until then to start talking about it. Now that No. 8 Michigan State and No. 15 Ohio State seem to be on a collision course again, who is in better shape for that matchup and to potentially win a Big Ten crown?

We are breaking it down Take Two-style.

Austin Ward: Ohio State

Go back through the checklist of reasons the Buckeyes were picked as the top contender in the conference and a potential factor in the College Football Playoff before the season started. Dynamic quarterback, dangerous defensive line, explosive weapons at the skill positions, and a decorated coaching staff that has proven it can get the most out of the talent on hand.

What exactly has changed since then?

Certainly Braxton Miller's injury was a meaningful loss given his experience and the two Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year trophies. But don't look now, after an early hiccup J.T. Barrett is actually on pace to post better passing numbers across the board and looks every bit as suited to run Urban Meyer's spread offense as his predecessor. And all those same talented players at wide receiver, running back and tight end that were supposed to make Miller's life easier are doing precisely that for Barrett, with the only challenge finding a way to get all of them touches.

The defensive line might not be the best in the nation thanks to the indefinite suspension of Noah Spence. But as long as Joey Bosa is around to wreak havoc on the edge and Michael Bennett and Adolphus Washington are still handling their business on the inside, the Buckeyes are still as fearsome up front as anybody in the Big Ten.

And don't forget that Meyer, a two-time national champ, is still on the sideline overseeing the entire operation.

Ohio State has some weaknesses, and anybody who favored the Spartans initially still likely has the same reasons to point to at this stage of the season. The head-to-head meeting is on Michigan State's turf, it won the last matchup on a neutral field and the Buckeyes still look suspect at times in the secondary.

But after putting that early loss to Virginia Tech behind them and moving on from Miller's injury, the Buckeyes are starting to look exactly like a conference contender should. Based on the preseason predictions, nothing has changed.

Josh Moyer: Michigan State

Let’s not overthink this, Austin. The Buckeyes are definitely improving every week, but they have played just two teams with winning records so far -- and they have only won one of those games (Virginia Tech, Maryland). So I think it’s a little premature to start saying Ohio State boasts a better team than the defending Big Ten champion.

I’m not saying the Spartans’ schedule is all that much harder, but they have at least impressed with a good win against Nebraska. Plus, they have played two ranked opponents. No Ohio State opponent is even receiving votes in either poll. And you mentioned Barrett's gaudy numbers, but he has played just one defense -- Virginia Tech -- that is ranked within the top 85. Have the Buckeyes really been tested yet?

Michigan State is the safe pick, the easy choice here. Meyer called his secondary an "Achilles’ Heel"; Michigan State has no glaring weakness. Cincinnati actually posted more passing yards and passing touchdowns against Ohio State than Oregon did against Michigan State.

True, the Spartans’ 2014 defense isn’t as good as 2013. Even head coach Mark Dantonio admitted that. But it’s still forcing turnovers (No. 4 in the country), still limiting yards (No. 11 in the country), still racking up sacks (No. 3 in the country) and still limiting rushing yards (No. 4 in the country.) Ohio State just can’t compare right now.

On top of it all, Michigan State’s offense is clearly better than last season. Connor Cook and Jeremy Langford aren't putting up video game numbers, but they have been solid. And give me Tony Lippett over Devin Smith any day. The Buckeyes are a good team, but the Spartans are the better team right now.

We’ll find out for sure on Nov. 8 but, until then, Michigan State will still remain No. 1 in our Big Ten power rankings, Vegas will still favor MSU over OSU, and voters from Ohio to California will still agree in the polls that the Spartans are the better team. Because they are.

Weekend Rewind: Big Ten

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As an unprecedented five of the top eight teams in the Associated Press poll lost in Week 6, the Big Ten experienced a calm Saturday by comparison.

But what would you have thought in August if told that on the first Saturday of October, Michigan would lose to Rutgers and Wisconsin would fall to a Northwestern team that started the season with losses to Cal and Northern Illinois?

Chaos.

With each of the 14 teams now underway in league play, it’s something more like a controlled mess.

Northwestern leads the West Division, set for a showdown on Saturday at Minnesota. Imagine that.

Michigan’s bowl prospects look bleak.

Oh, and Purdue won a league game. Let’s get to the Weekend Rewind.

[+] EnlargeRutgers defense
Noah K. Murray/USA TODAY SportsRutgers' defense gave Michigan QB Devin Gardner fits this past Saturday as the Scarlet Knights won their first game in the Big Ten.
Team of the week: Rutgers, baby. The Scarlet Knights and their fans partied hard on Saturday night after a 26-24 win over the woeful Wolverines, the first Big Ten victory ever for the New Jersey school. Incredible to think that Rutgers, picked by many to finish last in the Big Ten East, is a late defensive lapse against Penn State away from a 6-0 start. To beat Michigan, the Scarlet Knights got 404 yards through the air and three touchdown passes from quarterback Gary Nova and a Kemoko Turay block of Matt Wile’s long field goal with 3:01 to play.

Biggest play: Let’s go to the game billed as the biggest of the week. It unfolded as a dud for three quarters, then turned into a thriller as Nebraska rallied for 19 points in the final 13 minutes, falling 27-22 as Trae Waynes intercepted Tommy Armstrong Jr. with 30 seconds left at the Michigan State 17-yard line. No play was bigger, though, than MSU linebacker Ed Davis’ strip of star I-back Ameer Abdullah at the MSU 7-yard line after Macgarrett Kings fumbled a punt midway through the second quarter. Nebraska recovered at the 24, got a first down and appeared ready to score a touchdown to cut into the Spartans’ 14-0 lead. But Shilique Calhoun recovered Abdullah’s fumble and raced 38 yards to set up a field goal that extended Michigan State’s edge to 17-0. It kept momentum with the Spartans, who needed every point at the end.

Big Man on Campus (offense): Ohio State freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett threw for 267 yards and rushed for 71, leading the Buckeyes and their suddenly potent offense to a 52-24 win at Maryland. Barrett, over the past three games, has thrown for 909 yards with 14 touchdowns and one interception, compiling a raw QBR of 87.0, sixth-best nationally.

Big Man on Campus (defense): Northwestern freshman safety Godwin Igwebuike intercepted Wisconsin quarterbacks three times, and they were all big in the Wildcats’ 20-14 win. He picked Tanner McEvoy in the end zone to end the Badgers’ opening drive, got Joel Stave – again in the end zone – with less than six minutes to play and intercepted Stave near midfield with 18 seconds to play.

Big Man on Campus (special teams): Michigan State senior punter Mike Sadler performed like the All-America selection that he is, pinning Nebraska three times inside its 20-yard line on nine punts. Sadler punted to the 1-yard line in the first quarter and to the 2 late in the first half. Even the punt returned 62 yards for a touchdown by DeMornay Pierson-El required an exceptional effort just to field the ball. Really, though, Sadler earns this recognition for petting his imaginary cat during the game in a nod to this ongoing conversation with Faux Pelini.

Biggest faceplant: The Nebraska offensive line. Michigan State presented the toughest challenge of the season, no doubt, for the Huskers’ front five, but what happened? Nebraska rushed for 47 yards – more than 300 below its season average – and averaged 1.3 per attempt, both low figures in 88 games under Bo Pelini. Armstrong, before Saturday, had been sacked three times in five games; the Spartans got to him for five sacks and applied relentless pressure for much of the night. And while it wasn’t quite a faceplant, there was this lowlight from left guard Jake Cotton.

Big Ten helmet stickers: Week 6

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Tipping the cap to the best and brightest performances in the Big Ten on Saturday.

Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett: Urban Meyer has publicly backed Braxton Miller as his quarterback for next season, but the Buckeyes might be headed for a heated battle if Barrett continues developing at this frightening pace. The redshirt freshman has been on an absolute tear over the last three games, keeping his red-hot play rolling with 267 passing yards, 71 more on the ground and 5 total touchdowns in a 52-24 blowout on the road against Maryland.

Purdue QB Austin Appleby: The Boilermakers snapped their 9-game losing streak in the Big Ten, and they might have found an answer at quarterback that can keep them competitive moving forward. Appleby accounted for three touchdowns, proving effective as both a rusher with 10.9 yards per carry and as passer thanks to just 5 incompletions in a meaningful 38-27 victory at Illinois.

Indiana WR Shane Wynn: There’s been a spark missing from the passing attack for the Hoosiers early in the season, but Wynn provided the type of explosion they’ve been looking for with a pair of touchdowns in the 49-24 win over North Texas. Wynn only caught five passes but averaged more than 25 yards per reception as Indiana hit the halfway mark in its bid for bowl eligibility.

Northwestern S Godwin Igwebuike: What can the redshirt freshman possibly do for an encore after that splashy starting debut? Igwebuike nabbed three interceptions to spark the Wildcats to another upset victory, this time 20-14 over Wisconsin, playing an integral role for a defense that has suddenly turned the team into a contender in the West Division. Ibraheim Campbell might have a hard time getting his job back now.

Rutgers DE Kemoko Turay: The Scarlet Knights got a huge outing from quarterback Gary Nova to drive the offense, but it was the playmaking pass-rusher and kick-blocking specialist who clinched the historic Big Ten victory, 26-24 over Michigan. Turay chipped in another half of a sack before soaring to swat down Michigan’s last-gasp field goal, setting off a wild party at Rutgers.

Michigan State WR Tony Lippett: The touchdown binge continued, with the Spartans senior making two more visits to the end zone -- scores that wound up being more valuable than they seemed after Nebraska’s furious comeback bid in the fourth quarter that fell just short in a 27-22 Michigan State win. Lippett has a touchdown in every game and eight overall after catching one and rushing for another to keep Michigan State’s playoff hopes alive.
Five observations from Saturday in the Big Ten:

1. Michigan State and Ohio State are sharpening their teeth. So much for Nebraska as the Big Ten’s lone unbeaten. The Spartans, despite turning the ball over three times in their own territory in the first half, built a 27-3 lead through three quarters and held off a furious late Nebraska rally for a 27-22 victory. The MSU defense looked salty as ever through 45 minutes and neutralized Nebraska I-back Ameer Abdullah. Meanwhile, the Buckeyes continued their offensive resurgence. Since their Sept. 6 loss to Virginia Tech, freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett has led OSU to three straight showings of 50-plus points and more than 500 yards. On Saturday, it was 52-24 at Maryland as Barrett accumulated 338 yards of total offense. Considering the chaos that unfolded elsewhere in college football on Saturday, the Spartans and Buckeyes are moving back toward contention for the College Football Playoff. Their meeting on Nov. 8 in East Lansing is a de facto elimination game.

[+] EnlargeBrady Hoke
Alex Goodlett/Getty ImagesWith their loss to Rutgers, Brady Hoke's Wolverines fell to 0-2 in the Big Ten.
 2. Things are getting worse for Michigan coach Brady Hoke. Rutgers and quarterback Gary Nova became the latest to celebrate at the expense of the Wolverines after the Scarlet Knights beat Michigan 26-24 in Piscataway for the school’s first Big Ten win. Kemoko Turay blocked a long field goal with three minutes to play, and Nova threw for 404 yards and three scores. The big story here, though, is Michigan, which dropped to 0-2 in the Big Ten for the first time since 1967. Hoke, after this third straight loss, appears incapable of turning this around.

3. It’s time to take Northwestern seriously. Be honest: Who had given up on the Wildcats after opening losses to Cal and Northern Illinois? Coach Pat Fitzgerald got tough with his team, and it worked. Maybe all NU needed was a taste of Big Ten football. It drilled Penn State last week and capitalized on four interceptions Saturday to beat Wisconsin 20-14. Freshman safety Godwin Igwebuike collected three picks, including two in the end zone. These guys play defense, despite surrendering a career-high 259 yards to Melvin Gordon. At 2-0, Northwestern is alone atop the West Division with opportunities to take control of the division in the next two weeks at Minnesota and against Nebraska in Evanston. After Saturday, it’s as realistic as any other scenario.

4. Wisconsin has a situation at quarterback. It’s not a great one, either. Junior Joel Stave made his return at Northwestern. In difficult circumstances as the Badgers trailed 10-0, Stave competed admirably after overcoming a mental hurdle just to get back on the field. He finished 8-of-19 for 114 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions. He was picked off twice late in the fourth quarter. Senior Tanner McEvoy, who did not play in the second half, finished 4-of-10 for 24 yards. So what now? Presumably, if Stave lost the job only because he was incapable of operating -- and now he’s fine -- then perhaps it’s his position. Likely, the decision is more difficult. McEvoy and Stave possess different strengths, so maybe they’ll both fit into the offense. Regardless, the Badgers need better play at QB than they received against Northwestern.

5. Austin Appleby’s time has come. The Purdue sophomore completed 15 of 20 throws for 202 yards and a score in his first career start as the Boilermakers won a Big Ten game for the first time under coach Darrell Hazell, 38-27 at Illinois. Appleby rushed seven times for 76 yards and two scores to lead a big-play attack. Where has this been for the past year and a half? It came against Illinois, yes, but any league win is cause for celebration for Purdue.
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The nonconference season wasn't ideal for Ohio State, but it's making the most of a clean slate and once again looking like a contender.

The No. 20 Buckeyes dove into Big Ten play and made a huge splash Saturday afternoon at Maryland, welcoming the newcomer to the league with a thorough beatdown that made clear which program was on the right track to compete for the East Division title. A quick look at Ohio State's 52-24 demolition of the Terrapins.

How the game was won: The Buckeyes are once again operating at an elite level offensively, but it was the revamped, aggressive defense that made the biggest difference on the road to open Big Ten play. Defensive end Joey Bosa was relentless up front and a force in the backfield, the secondary grabbed four interceptions, and the concerns about pass coverage were forgotten for at least one week.

Game ball goes to: J.T. Barrett. The development of the redshirt freshman over the past month has been a sight to behold. Barrett’s command of the offense, decisions in the zone-read game, accuracy as a passer and five total touchdowns all make him look like a veteran, not somebody who has made only five starts. He is just getting better, and the Buckeyes are showing no signs of slowing down the tempo with Barrett taking the snaps.

What it means: The race is still in its early stages, but the blowout revealed plenty about the candidacy of both teams. As was expected all along, the Buckeyes have more than enough talent to win the East Division and play for the league title even after a somewhat shaky start that included a nonconference loss to Virginia Tech. On the other side, Maryland turned some heads early with a decent start and a road win against Indiana, but it doesn’t look quite ready to knock off the best in the Big Ten.

Playoff implication: The early loss certainly cut down on the margin for error, but the Buckeyes appear to be back on track to contend for a spot in the four-team field thanks to the high-powered offense and a defense showing signs of turning the corner. The Buckeyes certainly can’t be ruled out of the conversation given the way they are rapidly improving with so many youngsters in the lineup. The calendar is still circled for the trip to Michigan State on Nov. 8, which could determine the fate of both programs.

Best play: Ohio State wide receivers coach Zach Smith calls them ""wow moments," and Michael Thomas added another to his highlight reel. The athletic target had to go up and snag a pass from Barrett in the corner of the end zone, winning a one-on-one battle in the fight for the ball and then somehow getting his toes down before falling out of bounds for a score that sent the Buckeyes on their way.

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What’s next: The Buckeyes are off with their second bye of the season next week, giving them another opportunity to tweak the defense and allow Barrett a few more practice reps as he zips through his learning curve. Their push for a division championship resumes Oct. 18 with a matchup against the other conference newcomer in a home date against Rutgers.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The physical difference is plain to see.

The height is the same, but Ezekiel Elliott is about 20 pounds lighter than the guy who came before him.

The unique mentality requires a bit more of an explanation.

[+] EnlargeEzekiel Elliott
Greg Bartram/USA TODAY SportsEzekiel Elliott has proven to be a worthy heir to Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde.
Ohio State's current starting running back is the first to admit he'd prefer to make tacklers miss and get to the perimeter, while his predecessor thrived on contact and seemed to go out of his way to bowl over defenders.

The offensive system isn't even exactly the same now, either, with the Buckeyes dialing up the tempo to unprecedented levels and rotating through their personnel at the skill positions instead of largely relying on two main guys to carry the load.

But for all the ways he might not fit the mold Carlos Hyde left behind, it looks clear that the two share at least one key trait after Elliott tallied 112 yards after contact last week in a performance that would have made his old mentor proud.

"Well, yeah, I'm not as big of a back as Carlos," Elliott said. "I can't take as many hits as him. He's more of a bruiser-type back, and I have a little more finesse to me.

"But just being a running back, you've got to be tough. You have to have some bruise to you."

Elliott might not pack quite the same punch, but Cincinnati certainly left Ohio Stadium black and blue last weekend after the sophomore relentlessly pounded away at its defense. He unofficially announced himself as a worthy heir to Hyde in the backfield.

He also showed the same ability to handle a healthy workload while appearing to gain strength as a game goes on. Elliott wore down the Bearcats with his 28 carries for 182 yards while adding 51 more on 5 catches. The record-setting outing with 45 first downs and 710 yards was sparked largely by Elliott and the rushing attack, a throwback to last season ago when Braxton Miller was teaming with Hyde and posting eye-popping statistics at nearly every turn.

That explosive dynamic was notably absent during the Week 2 loss to Virginia Tech, with redshirt freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett and Elliott struggling to make an impact. The defeat put Ohio State's playoff candidacy on the ropes quickly. Elliott finished with just 32 yards on 8 carries against the Hokies, and there certainly wasn't much happening after contact in that game.

But like seemingly everybody else on an inexperienced offense, the improvement every week has been pretty evident as Elliott grows more comfortable with his role and responsibilities. The Buckeyes figure to only grow more dangerous as a result.

"On Saturday, he did the job you would want a Carlos Hyde to do," co-offensive coordinator Ed Warinner said. "But he's a different runner than Carlos. He's playing with very low pad level, he plays with great energy, he's explosive and he finishes runs with great pad level. He doesn't want to make direct contact. He wants to edge defenders, which always allows you to finish runs and come out the other end.

"He's developed, and here we go starting to show that on the field."

Against the Bearcats, Elliot left a lot of defenders having to pick themselves back up while he kept moving down the field.

That's been a familiar sight for Ohio State opponents over the last few seasons. While the guy doing it now has a different method, it's already shaping up to be just as effective.

"That's definitely one of our core values in the running back room," Elliott said. "Get those yards after contact, fight with that extra effort.

"You can't just be all outside, you know? You've got to have a downhill aspect to you."

After a bit of a slow start, Elliott has the ball rolling that way now and Ohio State is building momentum again in the process.

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