You can see the light at the end of the tunnel for the Ohio State offense.
They’ve traveled through the darkness. Hands have grasped for the rocky walls the last two months as the Buckeyes looked for some kind of guidance on how to move forward. There were some stumbles. The uneven footing proved troublesome to traverse in their formerly famous fast-moving fashion.
Points have not been as easy to come by this year as they have in the past under head coach Ryan Day.
In fact, this is the first year since 2015 that the Buckeyes have had four regular season games in which they’ve failed to score at least 30 points. And there are still two regular season games to play.
But in the darkness the signs of hope can still be seen.
Junior running back TreVeyon Henderson returned three weeks ago after missing three games with an injury. In his three games back, he’s averaging 117.7 yards rushing per game and 46.3 yards receiving per game.
Henderson is averaging seven yards every time he touches the ball. That’s the kind of offense that can smooth out the ground for everybody following behind him.
Despite missing those three games (and sitting out the second half in Saturday night’s blowout win), Henderson still has more carries of at least 20 yards (8) than anybody else in the Big Ten this year.
He has brought consistency, toughness, and explosiveness to this Buckeye offense.
If that’s not a path forward, then nothing is.
But Henderson isn’t alone. Junior receiver Emeka Egbuka has also returned from an injury, as has senior tight end Cade Stover who missed the game at Rutgers a week ago.
Stover caught seven passes for 79 yards in the first half of last night’s game — a game the Buckeyes led 35-3 at the half. Egbuka produced 1,151 receiving yards a year ago and was instrumental in the September win at Notre Dame. He is a welcome addition for everyone on the offense.
The Buckeyes are also now using more and more two-back sets, which featured senior “receiver” Xavier Johnson carrying the ball four times out of the backfield for 40 yards against the Spartans.
It is not a coincidence that as these players are returning from injury and growing into effective roles, quarterback Kyle McCord had his best game as a Buckeye.
McCord has had his ups and downs this season, but on Saturday night he was all up, completing 21-of-25 passes in the first half. He finished 24-of-31 for a career-high 335 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions.
He was under control, confident, and accurate.
Ryan Day and McCord both credited the time he he had to throw, which led to the proper footwork in order to produce the accuracy that this offense has grown accustomed to over the years.
McCord was barely pressured by the Michigan State pass rush. The offensive line gave him large lanes to throw through. That same offensive line has continued to grow and improve. They’re not perfect yet, but they’ve picked up their pace.
And yet through all of the scrapes and stumbles, there was a constant voice of calm in the absence of light in the form of Heisman candidate receiver Marvin Harrison, Jr.
It doesn’t really matter how dark and damp the descent is when you have somebody like Harrison who can pull you through anything. He has been human night-vision for the Buckeyes this season, posting 59 receptions for 1,063 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Against the Spartans, he had seven catches for 149 yards and two touchdowns. He also had a 19-yard touchdown run on an end around.
He had the Michigan State secondary more confused than a foreign language episode of Jeopardy. They tried to bracket him with double coverage, but he ran through it like it was a yellow light on an abandoned street.
The darkness is lifting for the Ohio State offense, and it couldn’t be happening at a better time. The Buckeyes host Minnesota in six days. Once the clock hits 0:00 on that game, the ball will drop on Michigan Week.
You can actually see it from here, and you don’t need to squint.
The good news for Ohio State is that the offense looks like it has finally found its way out of the tunnel and is heading towards the light.
But “heading towards the light” can have different connotations.
Especially when it comes to what The Game is going to mean for both Ohio State and Michigan this year and years down the road.