TCU Forces Ohio State to Reveal Its Limits—and Its Ceiling—in Last Game Without Urban Meyer

TCU gave the Buckeyes all they could handle for most of Saturday night's showcase game, but the talent amassed by absent coach Urban Meyer won out.
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Ohio State passed its final and toughest test without Urban Meyer in what ended up being a convincing 40–28 win over No. 15 TCU on Saturday in Arlington, Texas. For a while, it didn’t seem like the Buckeyes would come out of this primetime battled unscathed, struggling to keep up with the Horned Frogs’ tempo and trailing by one at halftime. But the Big Ten favorites rallied, with a big boost from their defense and special teams, and now Meyer gets his program back with a perfect 3–0 record.

When this college football season started, Ohio State was a popular choice to win its conference and make it to the College Football Playoff, with a roster talented enough to run with the likes of Alabama, Georgia and Clemson. Then as the third Saturday of the season went off the rails elsewhere with similarly-hyped top-10 teams Auburn and Wisconsin taking their first loss, Ohio State overcame adversity to win a tough non-conference game without the sideline direction of its head coach.

A storyline heading into this matchup was that TCU would be Ohio State’s first real test of the year. It proved to be just that. Trailing 21–13 in the third quarter, and missing star defensive end Nick Bosa who left the game with an injury, the Buckeyes finally took control over the course of a thrilling four-minute span.

It started when first-year starting quarterback Dwayne Haskins hit Parris Campbell for a 63-yard touchdown catch and run that cut TCU’s lead to 21–19 with 6:58 remaining in the third quarter. Sixty-four seconds later, 286-pound defensive tackle Dre’Mont Jones intercepted a shovel pass from TCU quarterback Shawn Robinson and returned it 28 yards for a touchdown to give the Buckeyes a 26–21 lead.

TCU tried to get tricky on the ensuing kickoff but was flagged for an illegal forward pass on an attempted cross-field lateral. That drive ended with Horned Frogs punter Adam Nunez bobbling the snap on fourth down, which led to a blocked punt. Two plays later, Haskins found K.J. Hill for a 25-yard touchdown to widen the lead to 33–21.

The Horned Frogs wouldn’t quit. With 1:06 left in the third quarter, Robinson found TreVontae Hights for a 51-yard touchdown to cut the lead to 33–28. But Ohio State ultimately sealed the victory with an interception by Malik Harrison with 2:37 remaining in the game.

Now the worst is over, and Meyer gets his team back without a blemish on its record. Still, some flaws were uncovered against the first good team on the schedule. The Buckeyes’ defense struggled against TCU’s tempo, and containing Robinson’s legs and arm proved more difficult. Haskins, however, was strong in his first big test since his relief duty in last year’s Michigan game, completing 24 of 38 passes for 344 yards and two touchdowns. These were positive notes on a day when Big Ten comrades Northwestern, Purdue, Illinois, Nebraska, Maryland, Rutgers and Wisconsin all lost to unranked non-conference opponents.

The Buckeyes host Tulane in Meyer’s return next week before traveling to Penn State on Sept. 29. Then the conference schedule appears winnable until tough November meetings with Michigan State and Michigan.

The Buckeyes simply needed to get through the first three weeks without Meyer. And they proved to have the right talent and coaching to do it.