COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) After blowing away opponents in the first four games, Ohio State's plummet has included offensive woes, an upset by unranked Penn State and a narrow escape against three-touchdown underdog Northwestern at home last week.
Coach Urban Meyer has taken to calling the team a ''project'' and ''a work in progress,'' as if to reset expectations that soared in the first month of the season, when quarterback J.T. Barrett was breaking school passing records and new ball-hawking stars were emerging on defense.
The No. 6 Buckeyes (7-1, 4-1 Big Ten) will need to improve to get through the rest of their schedule unscathed - especially Saturday night against No. 9 Nebraska (7-1, 4-1) and the annual season-ending tussle with No. 2 Michigan.
The offensive line has struggled to protect Barrett at times, and receivers aren't consistently getting open downfield. Game-changing deep balls are few and far between. The defense is allowing big gains.
But Meyer and team leaders insist the Buckeyes haven't gotten off track, that the stumbles are natural growing pains for a squad that returned just six starters from last year.
''I guess I'm not normally like this, but I see a lot of positives from our team because I know what we're playing and I know these young guys, and they are getting better because I see it from maybe a different angle (and) viewpoint than a lot of other people,'' Meyer said Monday.
''I like the fact that you get in a street fight and you win it,'' he said, referring to the Northwestern game, which was in doubt until the Buckeyes mounted a clock-eating drive to finish it off, 24-20. ''And that's a good sign the future's very bright here. You've got a bunch of young cats going and swinging hard and practicing hard.''
Barrett has contended all along that there's nothing wrong with his unit.
''I don't think (we've) regressed by any means,'' said Barrett, who threw for 223 yards against Northwestern but didn't complete a pass over 19 yards until the fourth quarter.
''We like scoring fast and things like that, but there's not a problem with a 10-play drive, either, that ends on a touchdown,'' Barrett said. ''So as long as we're scoring I really don't have a problem. ... We always want to progress and get better, but I think it's at a good spot.''
Middle linebacker Raekwon McMillan offered some perspective: He noted how difficult it is for a team of mostly inexperienced players to go on the road and win in night games, as the Buckeyes did at Oklahoma and Wisconsin this year. The loss to Penn State at Happy Valley also was a raucous night game that ended in overtime.
''We'd love to be 3-0 in those situations, but to come out 2-1 is impressive for such a young team,'' McMillan said.
Meyer is urging his players to enjoy the wins, no matter how they come and against whom.
''I know I'm not doing that to myself. I've tried to express that to the team as well,'' Barrett said. ''We work all year for 12 guaranteed games, and when you win a ballgame you don't want to overlook that.''
More AP college football: www.collegefootball.ap.org
Follow Mitch Stacy at http://twitter.com/mitchstacy