Few things are more enjoyable than the chance to be inside a college football stadium on game day. Especially when it’s the chance to watch Ohio State.
The pageantry of college football is unmatched in American sports. Up close, it’s awe-inspiring — especially watching it from the sideline, a way that most folks only dream about. I’m really, really fortunate that I get to do that every weekend.
When you’re watching it from the sideline, though, there are things you’re sure to miss. That’s why it’s important to get home and watch it again from the couch. With a nice, cold beverage.
I’m doing that now. Taking a few hours for Scarlet and Gray replay, seeing things that might have been missed at first glance during Ohio State’s 56-0 decimation of Rutgers on Saturday.
Here are my thoughts from this second glance of the Buckeyes and Scarlet Knights.
Ohio State did what it was supposed to do
Let’s not ignore the obvious: Army, UNLV and Rutgers aren’t good football teams. That said, when you watched Ohio State in the prior two weeks, there were some ugly patches and inconsistencies.
That wasn’t the case on Saturday, as the Buckeyes dominated from start to finish. The best teams do that when they face teams like this; they leave no doubt.
The Buckeyes did that, without any hiccups or speed bumps for the first time in five games. Progress won’t necessarily look the same every week and is hard to buy into when facing subpar opponents, but this was progress for Ohio State.
J.T. Barrett, pushed by competition, avoiding escalation of troubles
Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett broke the school’s record for passing yards in a career on Saturday night.
His night — 275 yards and 3 touchdown passes — was efficient and productive. The first quarter ended at just 7-0 with Barrett completing 4 of 6 pass attempts for 33 yards, but in his postgame media availability Barrett lamented his early efforts, saying he was “pressing” because he wants to be perfect.
Then he righted the ship. Over the years, Barrett has had many games where things went really well from the start. Look at the Ohio State record books and that’s obvious. The games that matter to Buckeyes fans and the world of college football analysts though, in those games — especially in the last year — Barrett let early struggles turn into late struggles. In those tough games, it’s as though Barrett has allowed his detractors to live in his head, with their voices getting louder with each incompletion.
If there’s a chance for the Buckeyes to get back into the College Football Playoff picture (and there is), it will be J.T. Barrett who leads them, but it may be Dwayne Haskins and Joe Burrow who pushes him there. There is always value in competition, and the unrest among the Buckeyes fan base — while at times egregious, out of line and sometimes just flat-out uninformed — has no doubt put the established starter on notice and eliminated any chance of him just being “comfortable” in his role regardless of productivity.
In the last three games — and you have to consider the competition Ohio State has faced, of course — Barrett has avoided succumbing to the pressure he puts on himself and accounted for 11 total touchdowns (10 passing, 1 rushing). Realizing that there are talented guys behind him champing at the bit and ready to play, may play a part in that.
There is no such thing as too many offensive options, right?
Ohio State could be on the verge of testing this theory.
We’ve seen what J.K. Dobbins can do since the season opener at Indiana, and he’s been just as good in every opportunity since. Barrett is a serious run-pass threat. Mike Weber is back healthy and scored 3 touchdowns vs. Rutgers. Demario McCall is finally close to 100 percent after dealing with hernia issues since the spring. The sophomore tailback/wide receiver showed flashes of the brilliance he’s capable of against the Scarlet Knights. His 18-yard dash in the fourth quarter from the Buckeyes 6-yard line happened in a flash, and he followed that up with a 48-yard touchdown bolt five plays later. Johnnie Dixon, healthy, looks explosive and finds himself open more and more. Binjimen Victor is a problem for defensive backs. Parris Campbell has shown repeatedly this season that he’s a serious threat every time he touches the ball.
Then there’s Austin Mack, K.J. Hill, Marcus Baugh, and Terry McLaurin.
There are a lot of options for Urban Meyer, Kevin Wilson, Ryan Day and Barrett to utilize and maybe there’s no superstar (yet), but that may be the exact reason it could work out in Ohio State’s favor. Unlike the 2015 season, when there was a need to try and force the ball to Ezekiel Elliott or Mike Thomas or Braxton Miller — or 2016 with Curtis Samuel — the current version of the Buckeyes are just getting the ball to the guy who is open.
Why have one go-to guy when you can have five go-to guys?
These freshmen can play
Ohio State brought a lot of first-year freshmen to New Jersey this weekend. Sure, not all of them played — big-time prospects like Tate Martell and Wyatt Davis are still in possession of their redshirts despite traveling — but the ones who did are proving the recruiting analysts right: These kids can play.
We’ve seen Dobbins as noted, so he’s not a surprise, but the Buckeyes are putting Chase Young, Baron Browning, Pete Werner, Jeffrey Okudah, Haskell Garrett, Amir Riep, Isaiah Pryor and Blake Haubeil in position early and often to make plays on defense and special teams.
I think, as a recruiting guy, you see the value of the versatile athletes the Buckeyes are bringing in, but it’s impressive to see this talented 2017 class all over the field the way they are already.
For a program that has been so affected by early departures to the NFL — and with another exodus expected following this season — it’s imperative to get the young guys ready, and Meyer is doing that. Since his arrival at Ohio State, he’s insisted he’d prefer to not redshirt freshmen, but this time around he’s making sure of it.
By my count, here are the freshmen who’ve touched the field in 2017:
Thirteen out of 20 freshmen in the 2017 class have played, and 16 (those 13 plus Martell, Davis and Jerron Cage) have traveled.
The Buckeyes are using this stretch of games against poor competition to prepare for the future.
Concerns heading into homecoming
So, let’s look ahead — because this Rutgers game feels like it won’t ever end — to Maryland.
Here are my concerns looking at the Terrapins and beyond.
- Penalties: Ohio State was flagged 10 times for 106 yards. They’re No. 112 out of 129 teams in fewest yards penalized per game. At least there were no defensive pass interference calls.
- Ohio State only registered 1 sack (Dante Booker) as teams continue to make throwing the ball quickly their top priority. There was zero sacks against Army (understandably as it doesn’t throw the ball), and the Buckeyes are averaging 2.4 a game, but a year ago forcing quick throws worked because of how good the Ohio State secondary was. To this point, the back half of the defense this year hasn’t been able to take advantage of that ferocious pass rush.
- Defensively, it’s hard to complain about much, but with the loss of Dre’Mont Jones for a game or two ( a leg injury), the suspension of Michael Hill, the loss of Malik Barrow for the season, and Chris Worley’s ankle keeping him off the field, the middle of the Ohio State defense suddenly feels a little bit soft. Maryland’s team speed, especially running back Ty Johnson, could provide an unexpected test.
- Ohio State’s offensive line seems to have these random lapses in pass protection that undermine any growing confidence in their ability to protect Barrett against teams like Penn State, Iowa, Michigan State and Michigan.
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