Whether the question was whether OSU could find success against a bear defensive front from a Big Ten opponent, or if redshirt-freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett could continue to develop, the Buckeyes are set to head into a bye week with improvement — but not overhaul — in mind.
The Lantern sports editors picked five of the most important takeaways for OSU coming off Saturday’s 52-24 win.
1. The Barrett era is in full swing
There’s no way around this one — no matter what co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Tom Herman says. Barrett is simply light years ahead of where he was expected to be at this point in the season.
Herman has continuously said he isn’t surprised by Barrett’s play, but if that’s the case, the Wichita Falls, Texas, native would have at least locked up the backup spot well before senior Braxton Miller went down with an injury.
Barrett’s numbers against Maryland were — once again — highly impressive. He completed 18 of 23 pass attempts for 267 yards and four touchdowns, while also finishing second on the team with 71 rushing yards and another score.
So far this season, the Rider High School product has accumulated 1,354 passing yards and 17 touchdowns, and run for 276 yards and two more touchdowns. His 186.3 passer efficiency rating is the best in the Big Ten and fourth best in the nation. Barrett’s average of 326 total yards per game also puts him atop the conference, and tied for 13th in the NCAA.
Those numbers are good — really good — no matter who you are. The fact that he’s an inexperienced redshirt-freshman who would have been an afterthought if not for Miller’s injury just makes it that much more impressive.
2. Sophomore defensive lineman Joey Bosa is probably the best player on the team
Not only is Bosa arguably the best player on the team, but he’s one of the most dominant players in the nation.
His numbers aren’t earth-shattering quite yet, but he takes over games and causes a lot more havoc than simple sacks and tackles for loss can show. But that said, Bosa’s numbers are still very strong as he leads the Buckeyes with 3.5 sacks and seven tackles for loss.
On top of tallying one sack and 2.5 tackles for loss against Maryland, he also helped force a throw from Terrapins’ redshirt-senior quarterback C.J. Brown that was intercepted by redshirt-freshman linebacker Darron Lee. That play led to an OSU touchdown pass from Barrett to redshirt-junior tight end Nick Vannett and more or less sealed the game for the Buckeyes.
3. The Buckeye offensive line is hitting its stride
Ever since the Buckeyes gave up seven sacks in a loss to Virginia Tech, the OSU offensive line is starting to impose its will on opposing defenses.
Granted, they haven’t quite played a team as talented as the Hokies since then. But after breaking a school record against Cincinnati and keeping a balanced offense against the Terrapins, the Buckeyes have every reason to be excited about their line.
In its last two games, OSU has turned the ball over just once and has amassed more than 1,200 offensive yards. Add Barrett’s impressive decision-making to the improving line play, and you have the makings of a top-tier offense.
We’re not saying the Buckeyes boast one of the better offenses in the country, simply because they have done it against B-list opponents. However, think about this: three of OSU’s six offensive touchdowns Saturday were scored by freshmen or sophomores and there is just one starting senior on the offensive line.
Plenty of cause for excitement if you are a Buckeye fan.
4. Michael Thomas is emerging as a star
With uncle and NFL legend Keyshawn Johnson in attendance, redshirt-sophomore wide receiver Michael Thomas put on a show.
Thomas led the Buckeyes with 75 yards on four catches Saturday, none more impressive than his lone touchdown in the back of the end zone and over the back of a defender.
The catch was Johnson-esque and occurred right in front of the OSU section of Byrd Stadium.
There is no doubt that Thomas is the Buckeyes’ best overall receiver right now, and if he continues to be Barrett’s go-to guy, he could very well go down as one of OSU’s best if he continues to play like he is.
5. Special teams make a difference
There’s no doubt that OSU would have won even without Lee’s interception and the ensuing Vannett touchdown, but there’s also no doubt that it was a big momentum shift in the game.
And none of it would have happened without sophomore punter Cameron Johnston.
His 69-yard punt that pinned the Terrapins deep in their own territory was one of the biggest plays of the game, and especially big for him after he struggled earlier this season.
While stalled drives haven’t been a big problem for the Buckeyes, coach Urban Meyer can rest easy when OSU does have to punt if Johnston keeps booming kicks like that, instead of shanking them straight out of bounds.
There’s still a problem with redshirt-senior kicker Kyle Clinton hitting the ball out of bounds on kickoffs, but the coaching staff seemed to fix that later in the game by having him kick down the hash marks instead of toward the right corner.
The Buckeyes are scheduled for a bye week before taking on Rutgers on Oct. 18 at Ohio Stadium. Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m.