Ohio State needed more than a win Saturday against Army.
The Buckeyes left last week’s loss against Oklahoma facing questions about their offense that went beyond personnel to the soul of Urban Meyer’s offensive philosophy.
Here are five encouraging developments from Ohio State’s 38-7 win over the Black Knights, and one thing still to worry about.
1. The Buckeyes ran the ball with non-quarterbacks
A week after running backs J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber had one less carry than quarterback J.T. Barrett (not counting sacks), the load shifted against Army.
Barrett only carried five times (he was sacked twice) and was efficient with those, averaging over eight yards per carry.
Dobbins got the rock 13 times for 172 yards while Weber toted it four times for 13 and receiver Parris Campbell carried twice for 26.
Along those lines…
2. J.K. Dobbins is the truth.
A year ago, Ohio State was one of the nation’s best rushing teams, but the Buckeyes didn’t get a lot of big plays on the ground. They had to settle for grinding teams down with Barrett and Weber.
The freshman from Texas has fixed that problem early this season.
Dobbins not only has breakaway speed but the moves to make people miss on the first and second levels of the defense. He’s still strong enough to break arm tackles when running between the tackles, too, so it’s no surprise Meyer called him, “the perfect back.”
Campbell also gave the running game a shot of excitement with a 59-yard touchdown run, but it was called back for holding on fellow receiver Austin Mack.
3. They stretched the field horizontally.
Screen passes haven’t been a huge part of the Ohio State offense recently, but they made a big comeback against Army.
That not only gave the passing game a shot in the arm, it also kept the defense from squeezing the running game too hard.
“I think a lot of those quick bubbles that we threw definitely opened up a lot more stuff, whether it’s the running game or intermediate passing,” Campbell said. “I just think defenses worry too much when you get seven, eight yards on the bubble. They get nervous about that, so they widen out and then everything else opens up.”
4. Ohio State utilized RPOs.
Meyer said after the game he liked the production on RPOs — “run-pass options.”
Several times early in the game, Barrett had the option to hand off or throw a short pass, and he kept Army off balance doing both.
The option has traditionally been a strong part of his game, but RPOs haven’t always been a major part of the OSU offense.
“You see J.T. pull the ball and kick it out there and get really plus yards,” Meyer said. “We've got to really keep going with that.”
5. The passing game produced explosive plays.
There still wasn’t much going on deep (a bomb down the sideline was just beyond the reach of the intended receiver, and another was overthrown down the middle), but Ohio State had seven passing plays that went for at least 15 yards.
Terry McLaurin, Austin Mack, Binjimin Victor, K.J. Hill and tight end Marcus Baugh all had catches of 16 yards or longer.
One way or another, Ohio State needs those types of explosive plays to be a dynamic offense and put up more points against the better teams on the schedule.
Barrett finished 25-for-33 passing for 270 yards and two touchdowns, breaking the Big Ten record for total TDs along the way.
Urban Meyer on JT Barrett pic.twitter.com/3BD7Ca3gaL— Marcus Hartman (@marcushartman) September 17, 2017
And yet it would not exactly be nit-picking to note Barrett still had some accuracy issues.
Neither of Barrett’s deep pass attempts were on the money, and Baugh had to reach far behind his body to catch a pass down the middle when he was wide open. At least a couple of short passes were off-target, too.
Meyer was, not surprisingly, more interested in appreciating his senior QB’s accomplishment than harping on the negative after the game, but those misfires still felt like an elephant in the room.
Will they be an issue again on another day?
That seems more likely than not, but that’s why the changes evident against Army are so important.
The lighter the load on Barrett, the better the Buckeyes should be.