COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) – Billy Price knows all about the angst over Ohio State’s recent performances, and the left guard for the top-ranked Buckeyes has a message for those worried fans.
“To address the criticism, I think everybody just needs to relax,” he said Monday. “We will take care of our business.”
It worked out for Ohio State on Saturday, when it won 34-27 at previously unbeaten Indiana after entering as a three-touchdown favorite.
The outcome was in doubt until cornerback Eli Apple broke up a pass in the end zone by Hoosiers backup quarterback Zander Diamont on the final play.
It was an ugly win. The Buckeyes (5-0, 1-0 Big Ten) turned the ball over three times, got two field goals from four trips to the red zone and committed eight penalties for 109 yards.
“Two areas of strength in the past are not strengths right now,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. “We’re hitting that really, really hard, and that’s turnovers and that’s red-zone production.”
Ohio State has fumbled 14 times, losing six, and thrown seven interceptions. Its minus-four turnover margin is tied for 101st out of 128 teams.
Also, the Buckeyes are 108th in red-zone conversion with 12 scores in 16 attempts (75 percent), including just six TDs (37.5 percent).
Meyer is not ruling out bringing in backup quarterback J.T. Barrett for Cardale Jones during red-zone situations when the Buckeyes host Maryland on Saturday.
Last season, with Barrett taking the majority of snaps, Ohio State converted 63 of 74 times (85.1 percent), including 53 touchdowns (71.6 percent).
“We’ve thought about it,” Meyer said. “We’ve had that conversation. At this time we haven’t made any decisions on that.”
Price said Ohio State’s explosive offense – Ezekiel Elliott had rushing TDs of 55, 65, and 75 yards in the second half against the Hoosiers – can be a problem near the goal line.
“Given a confined space, it makes it easier for the defense just because they don’t have as much ground to cover, especially as we go vertical or we go sideline to sideline,” he said.
But the Buckeyes stopped themselves at times at Indiana (4-1). Although Jones completed 18 of 27 passes for 245 yards, he was off target on consecutive throws on one red-zone series and threw an interception deep in Indiana territory on another.
“We had three turnovers to their none and we still found a way to come out with a ‘W’,” he said after the game. “But we can’t expect that each week.”
No, the expectations are much higher for a team that opened the season with a 42-24 win at Virginia Tech and showed promise of more.
Ohio State since has posted unimpressive wins against Hawaii (38-0), Northern Illinois (20-13) and Western Michigan (38-12). The players, particularly Jones, received nasty Twitter comments following the Indiana game.
“It comes with the game itself and (us) being a heightened offense and we’ve got a lot of special players,” Price said. “But fans, you have no idea what’s going on, unfortunately.
“It’s frustrating on our end, especially when I see tweets being thrown at Cardale. It’s not pretty. I’ve been on the receiving end of those … just stay in your lane.”
Despite the misfires and miscues, Meyer saw positives in the Indiana game, particularly the ability to control the offensive line of scrimmage and better perimeter blocking by the receivers.
He stopped short of saying he felt the offense was close to being great but added, “I think we’re on the border of being very good.”