COLUMBUS — Ever since their loss to Virginia Tech, the 13th-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes (4-1, 1-0 Big Ten) have been one terribly tough nut to crack.
While the defense has demonstrated a little more consistency over the past month, the offense has morphed into perhaps the finest head coach Urban Meyer has ever coached.
I know, that's a quite a huge statement, being that Meyer has two national championships on his resume.
But ever since that loss to the Hokies, the Buckeyes have been going Vegas on the scoreboards, lighting up the opponents for 56 points and 624 yards per contest. Those numbers rank tops in the nation — minus the first two outings where Meyer admitted he was a "little conservative."
"We're a young team that's getting older," Meyer said Monday, during his weekly media luncheon in Columbus. "Sometimes you anticipate that, but it doesn't happen. You're seeing a lot maturity starting to occur."
The emergence of freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett has fueled the more liberal approach.
Barrett, who was viewed by many at the beginning of the season as just a young guy trying to fill in for injured starter Braxton Miller, is looking like the best quarterback the Buckeyes have had since Troy Smith's Heisman Trophy-winning season in 2006.
Barrett is currently third in the FBS in quarterback efficiency (186.3) and ninth in passing touchdowns (17). He is on pace to shatter the Buckeyes single-season mark for passing TDs.
"You see a freshman quarterback that's playing really well right now," Meyer said of Barrett. "You also see the young receivers starting to develop, and an offensive line that's solidifying itself," Meyer said.
The Buckeyes will host Rutgers (5-1, 1-1) on Saturday (3:30 p.m., ABC), and will be looking to give the Scarlet Knights the same Big Ten welcome party they provided to fellow newcomer, Maryland, their last time out.
Just like OSU, Rutgers also possesses a talented signal caller in fourth-year starter Gary Nova.
Nova, who is second in the conference behind Barrett in passing efficiency (170.9) and touchdown passes (13), is coming off career weeks in wins against Tulane and Michigan, where he totaled 695 yards and seven TD tosses.
Nova, and the Scarlet Knights, will certainly be another nice test for an ever improving Buckeyes' defense.
"We've got to crank it up against (Rutgers)," Meyer said. "Their last game was a tremendous effort by their quarterback. He threw for 400 yards. Their defense played well.
"Obviously, there's an incredible environment going on at Rutgers right now, so we have to be ready to go, and I'm sure we will."
While the quarterbacks in this game will garner most of the media attention, the outcome of the contest may be decided by who can control the clock by running the football.
This is a clear advantage for the Buckeyes, who have rushed for 311 yards per game over the past three outings.
Sophomore Ezekiel Elliott has been the catalyst in the Buckeyes' backfield attack, hitting the century mark twice (321 total) in the last two weeks.
Look for the Buckeyes to take their 50-point streak to four games as they play the role of unruly hosts to the Scarlet Knights.
Lee's Prediction: OSU 52-24