Redshirt junior quarterback J.T. Barrett and the Ohio State Buckeyes faced a third-and-12 from their own 36-yard-line last Saturday against the Northwestern Wildcats. Barrett threw a deep pass down the sideline to redshirt junior wide receiver James Clark who had beaten his man down the field. But the pass was too far ahead of the outstretched Clark and OSU was forced to punt for the fourth consecutive possession.
In its three games prior to the Wildcats, OSU’s offense failed to move the ball through the air for big sums of yards, and the pass to Clark was one of few attempts down the field in the No. 6 Buckeyes’ 24-20 victory. The absence of a big play in the passing game has raised suspicions on the quality of the play-calling from the coaching staff. However, OSU coach Urban Meyer believes Barrett is simply taking what the defense presents to him.
“Yeah, the team we played … they played soft enough that, that forced it — that’s why you saw a lot of the intermediate stuff that we started the game (with),” Meyer said. “And J.T., I thought, played really well.”
Barrett was 21-of-32 with 223 yards passing against the Wildcats, with his longest connection to redshirt freshman wide receiver K.J. Hill on the game-winning touchdown drive in the fourth quarter. Barrett said after the game that the Northwestern defensive backs were playing 10 to 12 yards off of the ball, which forced the signal caller to find checkdown and intermediary routes. On Tuesday’s Big Ten coaches’ teleconference, Meyer agreed with Barrett’s observations, saying Saturday was not a good indication of the team’s ability to throw downfield.
The Buckeyes receiving corps is still a young unit, Meyer and Barrett both acknowledge that. However, that’s not to say the downfield passing game won’t be a point of emphasis in practice.
“I think you could create some double moves, so (the defense) can bite on one move and hit them with another move,” Barrett said on Monday. “I think you just take what they give you, not force things. We like scoring fast and things like that but there’s not a problem of a 10-play drive that ends in a touchdown. As long as we’re scoring, I really don’t have a problem.”
In earlier games against Bowling Green and Oklahoma, Barrett took several shots down the field to receivers, making OSU’s offense seem like a daunting task for just about any defense in America. But 2016 has been a tale of two seasons for the OSU offense.
Over the past four games, the offense has not been as potent as usual since Meyer took the headset at OSU. However fans just might have to accept the offense for what it is.
Meyer and Barrett both said that they believe the passing game is at a good place right now, but agreed that it can improve. One way it can is the presence of a deep threat and consistent chunk plays in the passing game.
Barrett said OSU’s defense forces him in practice to throw the ball downfield, cutting everything off underneath. To whether that translates to the field this week against No. 10 Nebraska, Barrett had reassurance for Buckeye fans on Monday.
“Yeah. It’s going to happen,” he said.