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What we learned about Ohio State’s offense during the spring game

It looks like new offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson knows what he’s doing.

NCAA Football: Ohio State Spring Game Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

When looking back during Urban Meyer’s tenure, the offense has been borderline unstoppable at times, but it’s also been severely exploited against legitimate defenses in his few losses at Ohio State. If one thinks back to the Buckeyes’ biggest offensive explosions against good defenses (2014 Wisconsin, 2014 Michigan State, 2015 Oregon, etc.) it has been the vertical passing game that stands out at the major difference between then and what has transpired on the field in the prior two seasons. With Ed Warinner out and Kevin Wilson in at offensive coordinator, it’s safe to say that the quarterbacks and receivers have already made strides in the vertical passing game.

See how the new-look offense was able to combine for 654 passing yards and seven touchdowns through the air during Saturday’s spring game:

Quarterbacks

J.T. Barrett

J.T. Barrett Passing Chart

Designed Runs Dropbacks Completions Incompletions Scrambles Underthrows Overthrows Throwaways
Designed Runs Dropbacks Completions Incompletions Scrambles Underthrows Overthrows Throwaways
0 13 8 3 1 0 2 0
Pressured Sacked Hit PBU Batted LOS Drops DPI Total TD
2 0 0 0 0 1 0 1

Per usual, J.T. Barrett was criticized on social media from Buckeye fans. But in fact, he will be your starter in 2017 and will succeed in this offense. Kevin Wilson is looking to attack the middle of the field on short stuff, while testing the perimeter with the deep ball. If you take away the interception (where he most likely would have scrambled due to pressure), Barrett made sound decisions and took what was given to him.

Barrett made a couple of nice throws that he wouldn’t have made last season (the Campbell reception if you scroll down) and he has guys like Benjamin Victor, Terry McLaurin, Parris Campbell, K.J. Hill and Johnnie Dixon who have taken substantial steps forward since last season. Wilson is going to design plays to make things easier for both Barrett (screen game, quick stuff to the middle of the field) and the receivers. Barrett does have the tendency to be inconsistent at times due to random lapses in his mechanics, but overall he played a solid game and was able to spread the ball around to a variety of receivers — including the tight ends.

Repeat after me: J.T. Barrett is not in a quarterback competition and he will be the starter for the 2017 season.

Joe Burrow

Joe Burrow Passing Chart

Designed Runs Dropbacks Completions Incompletions Scrambles Underthrows Overthrows Throwaways
Designed Runs Dropbacks Completions Incompletions Scrambles Underthrows Overthrows Throwaways
1 24 14 7 1 0 2 0
Pressured Sacked Hit PBU Batted LOS Drops DPI Total TD
3 2 0 0 1 0 0 3

As of now, Joe Burrow looks like the safest of the two backups to be next in line this season behind Barrett. He has game experience — albeit in mop-up duty last season — and consistently makes the solid, safe play.

Below, Burrow looked like a veteran by looking off the safety, then lofting a pass into Johnnie Dixon’s arms for six.

As you’ll see below, Haskins was impressive, but it should surprise no one if Burrow gets his name called if Barrett goes down.

Haskins

Dwayne Haskins Passing Chart

Designed Runs Dropbacks Completions Incompletions Scrambles Underthrows Overthrows Throwaways
Designed Runs Dropbacks Completions Incompletions Scrambles Underthrows Overthrows Throwaways
1 34 23 11 0 0 3 2
Pressured Sacked Hit PBU Batted LOS Drops DPI Total TD
4 0 0 3 1 0 0 3

From a pure production and “wow” factor, Dwayne Haskins stole the show at quarterback. He displayed elite arm strength, plus-accuracy and proper decision making. Although Burrow may be the safer option to manage a game in the case of a Barrett injury, Haskins possesses the higher and more talented upside. The ball flies off of his hand on intermediate throws and he has consistent touch and accuracy on deep throws.

On this throw below, Haskins put enough air on the ball where only Dixon could make a play on the ball, lofting it right over the defensive back’s head.

Haskins made multiple plays throughout this game and even if Burrow starts off the season as Barrett’s backup, he possesses more upside for next year’s grueling quarterback competition.

Running backs

Mike Weber, Demario McCall, J.K. Dobbins

With Mike Weber obviously running with the first-team, there was little to be seen with him since he was playing a game of two-hand touch. That left us to learn more about Demario McCall and J.K. Dobbins, who look like the clear backups at tailback behind Weber.

With Dobbins receiving the most praise during the spring when he jumped over Antonio Williams on the depth chart, it was McCall who stood out during the spring game. McCall has the extra gear that Dobbins doesn’t possess and he looks like the perfect change-of-pace back. But if it were up to me, McCall needs more touches and should be on the field more — possibly in the H-back role.

His speed flashed last season as a true freshman in mop-up duty, and it looks like he has added muscle onto his frame, which has made him even more dangerous and well-rounded as a playmaker. All in all, Demario McCall looked like the most dynamic skill player on the field during the spring game and Kevin Wilson needs to find a way to get him 10-plus touches per game.

On the other hand, Dobbins looked like a true freshman playing in his first “game” at the collegiate level. He’s bigger than expected and showed flashes, but it looks like he jumped Antonio Williams based more on the lack of what Williams brings to the table, rather than Dobbins truly stealing the job.

His “welcome to college football” wake-up call came in pass protection, where he was rocked back into Haskins by a blitzing linebacker, resulting in a pressure and a throwaway. Expect Dobbins to play McCall’s true freshman role, where he gets valuable reps during mop-up duty.

H-Backs

Parris Campbell, K.J. Hill, Eric Glover-Williams

All three of these players looked the part on Saturday, but this looks like the clear pecking order. All three possess the ability to catch the ball, carry the ball and make plays with the football in their hands. The most glaring change — and something Buckeye fans have been begging for the past two seasons — has been Kevin Wilson’s implementation of the wide receiver screen game, where Barrett and the receivers will be able to take advantage of soft coverage or a 2v1 on the perimeter. Barrett will likely be able to quickly check to the screen if he sees off-coverage or a numbers advantage. With Ohio State’s athleticism on the perimeter, their inability to create separation on the outside, and the offensive line’s inconsistency last season, it’s mind boggling that there was zero resemblance of a screen game until now.

Campbell, Hill and Glover-Williams all showed the ability to make plays out of the slot, and Wilson used their speed to create separation. He used them on crossing patterns, shallow crossers, quick outs and banana (a rounded off corner route) routes to utilize their speed to get them open, rather than have them run precise routes out of the slot. If the spring game showed us anything, these guys (especially Campbell) will be extremely busy under Wilson.

Wide receivers

X: Binjimen Victor, Austin Mack

Z: Terry McLaurin, Johnnie Dixon

As mentioned, Kevin Wilson was brought to Ohio State to fix the inconsistent (and bad at times) passing game, and through the spring it looks like it’s going in the right direction. We told you above how Wilson is helping the H-backs (slot WR) and designing plays to get them open, but it also looks like they’re going to go more vertical on the perimeter.

Victor was targeted early in the end zone on a fade route, and he was targeted a few times after that on the same route. It’s clear they want to utilize his blend of size and speed to win contested balls — something that no receiver was able to do, besides Noah Brown versus Oklahoma, last season. Victor has clearly made significant strides in the weight room and no longer looks like a lanky young receiver anymore. Although it looks like he may be rotating with Mack at times, Victor should get the majority of the snaps and should be the starter at the X.

Now, the most exciting part of the afternoon was the emergence of the oft-injured Johnnie Dixon. Dixon will likely start out the season behind Terry McLaurin, but if Dixon is able to stay on the field and continue to perform at this level, there is no reason why he shouldn’t be able to split time or even take the majority of the snaps from McLaurin. We mentioned Dixon as a “player to watch” and he checked off just about every box during the spring game.

It wasn’t just his team-leading receiving yards or his two touchdowns on five receptions, it was his ability to gain separation off the line of scrimmage, show top-end speed, quickly come out of breaks and accelerate. Coming out of high school, Dixon was Meyer’s most polished outside receiver that he recruited at that time, but has been unable to shake off the injury bug. With Dixon feeling “the best he’s felt in a long time,” it’s apparent that this is the truth and not just lip service.

Dixon had a couple of nice vertical routes, but his most impressive moment of the day came on a 7-yard hitch where he came back to the football, accelerate out of the break and turn up-field for a solid gain.

The emergence and health of Johnnie Dixon could be the difference between a good receiving corps and a very good or great receiving core. Kevin Wilson is going to want to air it out, and it looks like J.T. Barrett may have a full arsenal of capable weapons in 2017.