True tests lie ahead for Ohio State’s improved offense

Oct 02, 2017
Ohio State running back Mike Weber rushes for a touchdown against Rutgers on September 30, 2017 at High Point Solutions Stadium in Piscataway, New Jersey. (Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images)

Less than one month after Baker Mayfield claimed the center of Ohio Stadium for the Oklahoma Sooners, planting his flag in the middle of the Block O logo, the Ohio State Buckeyes look like a different team.

The Buckeyes buried that 31-16 loss on Sept. 9 under a trio of blowouts: 38-7 over Army; 54-21 over UNLV; and 56-0 Saturday over Rutgers.

The passing game had the most to prove, and it has responded. J.T. Barrett threw three touchdown passes in the season opener against Indiana, none against Oklahoma and 10 in the last three games.

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Every week, Barrett sets a new record. He became Ohio State’s all-time leader in passing yards (7,622) on Saturday in New Jersey, passing Art Schlichter. Of course, everyone knows the true tests for Barrett and the offense lie ahead.

“I see improvement,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said Monday. “The good thing about this team and this coaching staff is we’re not walking around with blinders on.”

As No. 10 Ohio State (4-1, 2-0) prepares for a 4 p.m. game Saturday against Maryland (3-1, 1-0) in Columbus, there is still a question of whether the success of the passing game is a mirage or the new normal.

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The last three opponents haven’t provided a good test for the Ohio State offense. Maryland won’t either. It ranks 13th out of 14 teams in the Big Ten in scoring defense (30 points per game) and 11th in pass defense (248 yards per game).

Meyer twice described Maryland as “very good” in his press conference Monday. He expects a better matchup than the three previous weeks.

“Where are we?” Meyer said. “I think we’ve improved. Anybody can see that. When it comes time this week, can we continue against very good competition?”

The Terrapins won 51-41 at Texas in their opener, and they’re coming off a 31-24 victory at Minnesota. However, they haven’t matched up well against Ohio State in recent years, losing 62-3 to Ohio State, 49-28 in 2015 and 52-24 in 2014, the first season Maryland played in the Big Ten.

In all likelihood, Ohio State’s offense will put up more big numbers this week. Numerous playmakers have emerged.

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Johnnie Dixon had the big game against Rutgers with three catches for 115 yards, including two touchdowns. Mike Weber, slowed by a hamstring injury most of the season, returned to a more prominent role with 10 carries for 44 yards and three touchdowns.

The game was decided at halftime for the second straight week. Ohio State’s starters didn’t get extended playing time.

“J.K. Dobbins, I think he only had six carries,” Meyer said. “We want to get him 12 to 15. But things happened, and all of a sudden you look up at the scoreboard and say, ‘Get him out of the game,’ because there was no other reason that we pulled him out other than that. Mike Weber had three touchdowns but we didn’t get him loose. There’s areas of improvement. I feel like the normal development of playmakers is taking place.”

Notes: Ohio State announced its game at Nebraska on Oct. 14 will start at 7:30 p.m. and be televised on Fox Sports 1. … Dre’Mont Jones (leg) will not play this week. Linebacker Chris Worley (foot) is probable. Running back Antonio Williams (undisclosed injury) is questionable. Safety Erick Smith will miss his second straight game. Meyer said, “He’s go to handle his business.” … Meyer named linebacker Dante Booker the defensive player of the game for his performance against Rutgers. Dixon and Barrett shared the offensive award.