By Jim Naveau
COLUMBUS – A year ago, Urban Meyer called Ohio State’s football season The Chase.
Once The Chase ended with the intended result, a national championship, he labeled this season The Grind to indicate that much hard work lay ahead for the Buckeyes.
Four games into this season, No. 1 Ohio State has played below expectations in two of its victories and dominated an opponent as much as expected only once.
So, the question is if The Grind has become too much of a grind. Is Ohio State struggling to live up the expectations created by last season’s success?
“I’m really trying not to let that happen,” Meyer said on Monday at his weekly press conference. “I’m not going to let that happen. I’m watching it very closely.”
Senior offensive tackle Taylor Decker shrugged off high expectations as just something that comes with playing at Ohio State and with success.
“That’s just kind of how our program is structured. It’s hard. Last year people were not expecting us to do what we did and now everybody has that level of expectations that we should be untouchable and they’re going to hold us to those expectations,” Decker said.
“Whether that’s fair or not, that’s not for me to say. But those are the expectations people have and if we don’t perform to their expectations they’ll criticize us and let us hear about it.”
Ohio State (4-0) goes to Indiana (4-0) for its Big Ten opener on Saturday. The Hoosiers have opened the season with four consecutive wins for the first time since 1990 after beating Southern Illinois, Florida International, Western Kentucky and Wake Forest.
Three of those wins were by a touchdown or less and three were come-from-behind wins, so the expectation is that OSU will continue to dominate a series in which it has lost only twice since the early 1950s.
Recent history says the Hoosiers can be troublesome for Ohio State at times, though.
Last year, Indiana led 20-14 late in the third quarter before Jalin Marshall’s 54-yard punt return for a touchdown gave OSU the lead for good on its way to a 42-27 victory.
Three years ago at Indiana, Ohio State led 52-34 with three minutes to play and ended up having to cover an onside kick in the final minute to escape with a 52-49 win.
Some other thoughts from Meyer:
— GOING DEEP: After last Saturday’s 38-12 win over Western Michigan, Meyer lamented quarterbacks Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett under-throwing three or four deep passes. After watching the films, he raised that number to five or six.
He called that “very uncharacteristic for our quarterbacks” and said, “That’s something that we’re going to work extremely hard on.”
— DEFENSE DOWNGRADED: One week after 10 defensive players were named “champions” for playing well in a 20-13 win over Northern Illinois, only Joey Bosa and Adolphus Washington were judged to deserve that level against Western Michigan.
“We were a little bit disappointed in our overall performance,” Meyer said.
— OFFENSIVE COACHES TAG TEAM: Meyer said co-offensive coordinator Tim Beck, working from the press box, and coordinator Ed Warinner on the sidelines worked better together in the Western Michigan game.
“It went much better. I think Tim’s just transitioning. And I knew it would happen. But Ed, I thought, did a really good job,” Meyer said.
— ELLIOTT IS OK: There is no reason to worry about Ezekiel Elliott even though he has gone three games without one of the big runs that became his trademark the second half of last season, Meyer said.
“I get that question every once in a while, ‘What’s wrong with Zeke?’ And I think, ‘What’s wrong with Zeke? Zeke’s playing fantastic.’ But a lot of his big hits last year were because of the perimeter blocking. It was a little bit better.”