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J.T. Barrett and the Ohio State passing game went horizontal versus Army

Simplifying the offense will only make the quarterback better in the long run.

NCAA Football: Army at Ohio State Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

We’ve been asking for changes to Ohio State’s offense for what seems like years now, and although it may not have necessarily been those exact changes...we finally got a new look on offense against Army.

After two weeks of the same vanilla play-calling that has plagued Ohio State’s offense since Tom Herman moved on, it looks as though new offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson has been handed over the reins of the offense.

As mentioned when Urban Meyer hired Wilson in the offseason, he would make life easier for the once-accurate J.T. Barrett and get him back to what he’s best at: making quick and smart decisions with the ball in his hands. Wilson would do this by calling higher percentage throws and route combinations to his highly touted perimeter players. Ohio State’s wide receiver room is not what it once was from a future NFL wide receiver standpoint; it’s mostly a group of athletes who aren’t precise route runners, but they’re arguably more dangerous with the ball in their hands.

Enter Week 3 versus Army.

J.T. Barrett Passing Chart vs Army

Designed Runs Dropbacks Completions Incompletions Total TD Scrambles Overthrows Throwaways
Designed Runs Dropbacks Completions Incompletions Total TD Scrambles Overthrows Throwaways
5 32 22 8 3 1 3 2
Pressured Sacked Hit PBU Batted at LOS Drops Turnovers Defensive PI
5 1 2 0 0 1 0 0
  • Wilson made it a point to get Barrett going by establishing the perimeter screen game and shorter route combinations. Army was playing a soft zone coverage that placed their defensive backs eight-to-ten yards off the line of scrimmage — and Wilson took advantage of it. In the first quarter alone, Barrett was 9-of-13 passing with all four incompletions coming over 10 yards and he finished 5-of-5 on passes thrown at or behind the line of scrimmage. Barrett finished the game 12-of-12 on passes thrown at or behind the line of scrimmage.
  • When scanning through Twitter, most Buckeye fans on my timeline were complaining about the lack of deep passing attempts and asked whether or not this quick-hitting screen game would work against the better teams in the country. In my opinion, yes it would work against the upper echelon teams if it’s read correctly by Barrett — and we know how well Barrett reads defenses in the read option.
  • Here are similar looks that Ohio State got against both Army and Oklahoma. Against Army, they threw the bubble screen to K.J. Hill before he made one defender miss on the perimeter. I personally would take Hill or Parris Campbell in a one-on-one situations with the ball in their hands against a cornerback in space just about every time. If Ohio State has the numbers on the perimeter, get the ball out quickly to the elite athletes and let them try to make a defender miss in space, while Terry McLaurin or Binjimen Victor block downfield.
  • These run-pass options and horizontal plays open up the running game (keeping the defense spread out) and shots downfield (when the corners begin to tighten up on the receivers). This was evident in the second half when J.K. Dobbins was able to gash the Army defense and when Terry McLaurin was able to take advantage of a defense that continued to give up chunks of yardage on run-pass options.
  • Below, the Army defense was so used to the bubble screen from the slot that they fell asleep on McLaurin. McLaurin did a great job of jogging out to a defensive back, mimicking a stock block and then catching the defense flat-footed. If Ohio State continues to lull teams to sleep on RPOs, a deep shot will come out of it. It’s just up to Barrett to finish the play.
  • J.K. Dobbins had another great game, but this offense will be even more dynamic with the one-two punch of Dobbins and Mike Weber. Weber didn’t get enough credit last season, especially as a pass blocker and also in short yardage. I could see a two-headed monster similar to Oklahoma’s 2016 running back stable of Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon.
  • As has been the case, this offense comes down to smart play-calling and J.T. Barrett’s accuracy. Barrett missed a few times downfield against Army, but establishing his confidence and rhythm early on will only help him as the game progresses. Expect two more tune-up games for the offense before they face potential back-to-back shootouts against Maryland and Penn State.