Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett captured Buckeye Nation’s confidence with his competent and consistent play; he’s now starting to receive confidence from the national media. On Sunday, USA Today named Barrett the top freshman in college football for the midway point of the season.
Obviously, mid-season honors warrant nothing more than a passing glance. However; what it does show is others are picking up on Barrett’s outstanding performances. As he continues to gain more confidence and elevate his play, he can take Ohio State’s offense to an even higher level.
Statistically speaking, Barrett is having a phenomenal start to his season. In his last three games, he’s thrown for 909 passing yards and 14 touchdowns. Those 14 touchdown passes are the most ever for a Buckeye quarterback over a three-game stretch. There are many things that have made his success possible, here’s a look at a few.
Simply, Barrett looks like a different quarterback from the Navy game until now. An excellent example of this is two plays. During the Navy game, Barrett rolled out, missed a wide open receiver in the end zone and fired a pass intercepted by Navy’s Parrish Gaines. The play showed both Barrett’s lack of comfort in the pocket and his inability to see the field.
Now fast forward to the Maryland game. On the second drive, the Buckeyes were in the red zone. Before snapping the ball, Barrett read the defense, made adjustments in the formation and found Jalin Marshall for the nine-yard touchdown pass. This example shows Barrett’s ability to read the defense, make adjustments on the fly and see the field clearly to find the wide open receiver.
It’s clear he has looked much more comfortable in the pocket. Even when the pass protection breaks down and he hears footfalls from defenders closing in, he remains calm, he reads the coverages and takes what the defense gives him. While his confidence and accuracy have gone a long way to help Ohio State’s offense surge in recent weeks, he hasn’t been the only one to elevate his game.
Offensive line steps up
At the start of the season, Ohio State’s offensive line was Urban Meyer’s main concern. Considering they were the second least experienced line in the country in combined starts, it was easy to see his worry. The line struggled in the first two games, particularly in the fourth quarter of the Virginia Tech game. However, since that time, they have played more cohesively and exerted their will on overwhelmed defenses.
The stats do not lie. In the first two games, the Buckeyes failed to average more than five yards a carry. Since then, Ohio State averaged at least five yards a rush in each of their last three games. As their running game emerges, thank in part to the line’s play, it adds another dimension to the most versatile offense Ohio State has had under Urban Meyer.
The Buckeyes have found their primary back in Ezekiel Elliott. In his last two games, Elliott has elevated his game with an explosive running style where he creates more yards after the initial contact. His consistency has gone a long way in helping the Buckeyes add a dynamic running attack to their offense.
Going into this season, one of the more puzzling aspects on offense had been Ohio State’s lack of development at the wide receiver position. While this unit is far from polished yet, some playmakers are stepping up their game in a big way.
Michael Thomas is the receiver with the best big play ability. In five games, he has had 17 receptions for 322 yards and five touchdowns. His athleticism has made him a huge asset in the passing game.
Devin Smith continues to be Ohio State’s deep threat receiver. He is second on the team with 313 reception yards and five touchdowns. He averages 28.5 yards per catch.
Another player that is gaining more confidence is Jalin Marshall. Marshall has that unique combination of agility and speed to be a threat in both the running and passing game. As he develops, the Buckeyes have another player defenses must account for in multiple ways.
Lastly, the tight ends, arguably Ohio State’s most neglected group on offense, have stepped up in big ways. Nick Vannett and Jeff Heuerman have the athleticism that makes them nightmare matchups for defenses. Since the emergence of the running game, both are receiving more looks in the passing game and are delivering when they receive the opportunities.
Overall, the Buckeyes’ offense is showing growth in all areas. While Barrett is starting to receive national attention for his play, his supporting cast has also done an exceptional job of elevating their play as well.