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The Ohio State offense was a roller coaster ride against Northwestern

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It started good, looked bad and then finished off the game.

Northwestern v Ohio State Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

After a disappointing performance against Penn State, the Buckeye offense was back on track against Northwestern... But not for long.

The opening drive was a thing of beauty. It featured five J.T. Barrett completions on six dropbacks, with one overthrow and zero pressures. It was a perfectly executed nine play, 94-yard drive that only took 2:56 off the clock. The second drive resulted in a field goal, due to a poor third down call — when Dontre Wilson took the reverse into the boundary — but the third drive was immaculate. It was a 15 play, 80-yard drive that took 8:34 minutes off the clock.

After the third drive, Ohio State led Northwestern 17-7 with 6:17 remaining in the first half. At that time, Barrett dropped back 18 times and completed 12 passes. They only called two designed runs, and the offensive line did their jobs. He was pressured only twice and was sacked once on those 18 dropbacks.

Then it got stagnant.

J.T. Barrett’s passing chart vs Northwestern

Designed Runs Dropbacks Completions Incompletions Total TD Scrambles Overthrows Throwaways
10 35 22 10 1 2 5 1
Pressured Sacked Hit Pass break-up Batted at LOS Drops Turnovers Defensive PI
4 1 2 3 1 1 0 0

The thing about this week’s chart is that it’s actually not bad. On the negative side, the designed runs were up from six against Penn State to 10 — mostly in the second half when the Wildcats cut into the lead and they needed to move the chains. During the early successful touchdown drives, they let Barrett throw the ball on third down and used creativity in their play calls.

The major positive was the offensive line play. As we know from last week, the offensive line allowed 26 pressures, seven hits and six sacks on 51 dropbacks. They rebounded mightily against the Wildcats, allowing only four pressures, two hits and one sack on 35 dropbacks.

Here’s the pocket they gave Barrett on the key 3rd-and-7, that allowed him to find Noah Brown for a first down. Looks like night and day from last week:

Overall, I thought Barrett played well, but once again, do not believe the staff put him in the correct position to play to his full potential. He showed flashes of how he looked against Oklahoma during the first three drives, then before halftime and up until the final drive, the play calling went stagnant and conservative again.

This throw on 3rd-and-12 is excellent. Barrett hung in the pocket, surveyed the field, took a hit and found his third option. Dangerous, but great throw to Marcus Baugh to move the sticks.

If one were to look at the boxscore, they would be pleased with Curtis Samuel’s 14 total touches. But when looking at the tape, they were once again not up-to-par. They came out of the gates throwing the ball to Samuel twice, but he only had one carry in the first half. He then carried the ball on the first snap of the second half resulting in a 23-yard gain. Ed Warinner then dialed up a few option plays -- which were sniffed out quickly — to get Samuel the ball, but Samuel doesn’t need gimmicky plays or creativity to gain yardage. Mike Weber should be the main ball carrier, but Samuel is more talented than just a change-of-pace back. He needs carries that go with the flow of the offense.

Here’s an example of a third down speed option. Northwestern was very prepared for this play and they didn’t think for a second that Ohio State would pass the ball on 3rd-and-6. Samuel was stuffed for a loss and the Buckeyes were forced to punt.

The final drive to ice the game was the most unconventional, successful drive of the Urban Meyer era. After holding Northwestern to a field goal inside the 10-yard line, the Buckeyes received the ball with a chance to finish the game. Northwestern had enough confidence in their defense that they were fine settling for a field goal, rather than going for the tying touchdown. The Buckeyes needed two first downs to end the game and they decided to PASS the ball on first down with 3:31 left in the game. They clearly didn’t trust the ball in the air after the third drive, but they decided to throw the ball — which resulted in an incomplete pass and the clock stopping. After Barrett ran for 3-yards, he found Brown for 16-yards. Barrett threw the ball with confidence and Brown got separation on the defensive back.

After gaining no yards on a designed run, Barrett threw an incomplete pass into traffic. Then on 3rd-and-10, one would expect either a designed QB run out of empty or a quick pass to keep the clock running, or force Northwestern to call a timeout if they didn’t gain 10-yards.

It looks like Northwestern didn’t get the memo. They were in man coverage on 3rd-and-10, which gave Ohio State numbers in the box. They motioned Samuel out of the backfield — which allowed them to recognize man coverage when the linebacker followed -- and it was up to the offensive line to win a five-on-four battle. I’m thinking this was a packaged play, where they would have thrown a swing pass to Samuel if the linebacker sat in the box, since they would have had the blocking advantage on the perimeter. Instead, there were no unblocked defenders within 10-yards of the line of scrimmage. First down. Game over.