WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind.
Ohio State coach Urban Meyer is already installing his open week game plan.
He wants players to stop talking about the national title quest and ignore anyone who dares to bring it up.
No, the man with two national championship rings, a top-five ranking and a perfect 21-0 record since coming to Columbus isn’t trying to downplay what the Buckeyes are really chasing, he’s trying to avoid this week’s one potential pitfall: Distractions.
“We have to make sure we’re not worried about anything like that,” Meyer said Saturday. “That’s the unfortunate thing about [open] weeks. You let guys go for weekends and they start hearing stuff like that and we just have to come back stronger and faster.”
It’s hard to fathom the Buckeyes (9-0, 5-0 Big Ten) playing any better than they are now.
Since taking their first open date, the week of Oct. 12, Ohio State has outscored Iowa, Penn State and Purdue by a combined 153-38. In its latest rout, Saturday at Purdue, the Buckeyes led 28-0 after one quarter, 42-0 at halftime and wound up handing Purdue (1-7, 0-4) its worst home loss. The 56-point loss equals the school’s record, matching 56-0 defeats to Iowa in 1922 and Chicago in 1907.
Ohio State’s dominance goes far deeper than blowouts, though.
On Saturday, the Buckeyes topped 600 yards in total offense for the second straight week.
The defense limited Purdue to just 116 total yards, forced two turnovers, added six sacks to its Big Ten-leading total and pitched its second shutout of the season.
And it could have been even worse if a 60-yard punt return for a score hadn’t been called back because of an illegal block.
That’s enough to get anyone who follows college football talking — anyone, that is, outside the Ohio Stadium locker room.
“I definitely feel like everybody’s a lot more focused,” running back Carlos Hyde said. “We’re getting toward the end, we have this [open] week coming, let everybody get rested and get back fresh and then come out these last three games and be explosive.”
So Meyer isn’t going to allow the Buckeyes, who haven’t lost in 22 months, to let up now.
Rather, he’s going to continue to push them hard by correcting the flaws he found in Saturday’s victory at Purdue — even if nobody else saw what the Buckeyes did wrong.
What’s left for Ohio State?
There’s a trip to Illinois on Nov. 16, a home game against Indiana on Nov. 23 and, of course, the annual showdown against bitter rival Michigan on Nov. 30.
Win all three and the Buckeyes will finally play in the Big Ten championship game on Dec. 7 in Indianapolis.
Win that, and the Buckeyes head to Pasadena for the postseason, either to play in the Rose Bowl game or the BCS national championship game.
While that’s what Ohio State will be talking about, Meyer’s message is completely different.
“We have a really focused team right now,” tight end Jeff Heuerman said after catching five passes for a career-high 116 yards and one TD at Purdue. “Coach Meyer talked about it all week, a team that’s playing with a purpose and such focus is a hard team to beat. I think that’s where we’re at right now.”
The only key player who sat out this weekend was backup running back Jordan Hall (knee), and the Buckeyes didn’t miss him. Ohio State did lose three starters during Saturday’s game — defensive tackle Michael Bennett with a stinger, right tackle Taylor Decker with a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee and middle linebacker Curtis Grant with a sprained ankle. Bennett and Grant, Meyer said, should be available for the Illinois game.
Decker’s injury is expected to need one or two weeks to recover.
So Ohio State will spend this week tuning up for the stretch run — and tuning out all the idle chatter about their title hopes.