Ohio State’s offense was, well, not good to close out last season, highlighted by the unforgettable 31-0 loss to Clemson in the College Football Playoff.
In the Buckeyes’ final three games – against Michigan State, Michigan, and Clemson – quarterback J.T. Barrett averaged only 112 yards passing per game; more than 80 yards less than his season average. And with the passing game completely stalled, the entirety of the offensive production was put on the shoulders of running backs Mike Weber and Curtis Samuel.
Ohio State was fortunate to escape Michigan State and Michigan in consecutive weeks to close out the regular season, but with Clemson given almost a month to prepare for the Buckeyes’ one-dimensional offense, it was no surprise to see the Buckeyes look completely defeated every time the offense took the field on New Year’s Eve.
In the Buckeyes’ two games before their offensive skid to close out the season, however, the offense was firing on all cylinders. Barrett threw for a combined 543 yards and six touchdowns, defeating both Maryland and Nebraska 62-3. Ohio State totaled over 550 yards in both of those contests, and it was because Barrett was throwing the ball downfield.
Against Michigan State, Michigan, and Clemson, Barrett’s longest pass was a lowly 24-yard completion against a 3-9 Michigan State squad. Contrast that with Barrett’s 75-yard completion against Nebraska, and one can start to quantify Ohio State’s passing struggles.
There’s no question that Ohio State has been a run-first team under head coach Urban Meyer, but without a downfield passing game, that run-first mentality quickly becomes a run-only mentality. The Buckeyes are, without a doubt, a much better team when the passing game is flowing; specifically the downfield passing game.
Look no further than the 2014 postseason, where the Buckeyes – behind the arm of third-string quarterback Cardale Jones – blew through Wisconsin, Alabama, and Oregon en route to the National Championship. With Jones a threat to throw deep nearly every play, opposing defenses had no choice but to leave the box open, giving running back Ezekiel Elliott acres of space to run free.
In each of Jones’ three games at starter, “12 Gauge” threw a touchdown pass of at least 45 yards.
Elliott may have been named MVP of the College Football Playoff, rushing for 476 yards and six touchdowns. But none of that would have been possible without Jones’ downfield passing game.
If Ohio State is to return to the College Football Playoff next season, Barrett and his receivers have to start challenging opposing secondaries deep.
Now, Obviously Barrett doesn’t quite have the rocket arm possessed by Cardale Jones, but that doesn’t mean he can’t throw it deep on occasion. Much of Ohio State’s anemic passing game last season was due to play calling and inexperience. This season, with new offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson and a host of former five-star and four-star receivers, the downfield passing game can only improve.
J.T. Barrett is a good quarterback. He’s not the 2014 Big Ten MVP for no reason. Once Ohio State can rediscover its downfield passing game, there’s no telling what this team can accomplish.
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