When the Ohio State football team took the field over the weekend, just three of the offensive starters were regulars in the lineup last season.
But despite playing with little experience under their belts, OSU’s offense still managed to put 66 points on the board. While that can partially be attributed to the team’s game plan and what coach Urban Meyer called an advantage in the column against Kent State, the impact of some young players with natural ability is undeniable three weeks into a new season.
In the shutout win against the Golden Flashes, 23 different freshmen and redshirt-freshmen took the field, with six of those players contributing either yards or points on offense.
Meyer said the plan going into the game was to get the ball in the hands of some of the young skill position players on offense to give fans a taste of what they might see going forward.
“I’m really excited about our young skill, and I was hoping to try to get Buckeye Nation and the stadium to see some of those guys out in open space,” Meyer said.
He went on to single out freshman running back Curtis Samuel, sophomore H-back Dontre Wilson and redshirt-freshman H-back Jalin Marshall as young players he’s “excited to get out in open space.”
While Wilson played as a freshman in 2013 and scored three total touchdowns, Samuel and Marshall each found their way into the end zone for the first time in their collegiate careers against Kent State. Samuel led the team with 100 yards on the ground and pair of scores while Marshall caught a three-yard touchdown pass to go along with a 51-yard punt return.
Marshall said despite some injury setbacks in his young career — which contributed to the decision to redshirt last season — the journey to being a contributor on the OSU offense was worth it.
“This is a great university and crowd to play for,” Marshall said after the game. “I feel great being able to get in the end zone and help my team every week.”
Samuel said the impact he and the freshman class have made so far this season doesn’t come as a surprise.
“We’ve brought up a lot of good guys on the team, at practice everybody is competing,” Samuel said. “Young guys, we each try to go out there and just make plays wherever we can, and we’re doing it.”
To get the ball in the hands of Samuel, Marshall, Wilson and others, the OSU offense has relied on the distribution skills of redshirt-freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett.
Barrett, who was the third-string quarterback heading into the fall, has already showcased his talent three weeks into the season on his way to picking up three Big Ten weekly awards. He took over the starting job after senior Braxton Miller went down with an injury just days after Barrett had moved past redshirt-sophomore Cardale Jones on the depth chart.
The Wichita Falls, Texas, native was named the Big Ten Freshman of the Week after OSU’s Aug. 30 win against Navy. He picked up that same award and the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week honor after the win against Kent State.
“I feel like I’m progressing each week,” Barrett said after leading OSU against the Golden Flashes. “I’m just trying to get better each week. I definitely feel more comfortable every week as I get more reps. Things are starting to slow down for me in the game.”
Things slowed down just enough against Kent State for Barrett to leave his mark on the school’s record book. He tied former OSU quarterback Kenny Guiton for the school record with six touchdowns passes and threw for 312 yards in the win. The performance made him the first Buckeye signal caller to throw for 300 yards in a game since Troy Smith did so in 2006 — the same season he won the Heisman Trophy.
Outside of Barrett, Samuel and Marshall, a trio of other freshman contributed to the offensive success OSU had against Kent State.
Freshman wide receiver Johnnie Dixon made his debut for the Scarlet and Gray and carried the ball four times for 20 yards. Redshirt-freshman tight end Marcus Baugh hauled in the first pass of his career in the second quarter, which went for a two-yard touchdown. Along with Baugh, Samuel, Barrett and Marshall, freshman kicker Sean Nuernberger put points on the board with a 41-yard field goal to start the second quarter.
OSU is scheduled to have a bye week before taking on Cincinnati on Sept. 27 at Ohio Stadium. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m.