[in the soothing voice of Jim Nantz, like the one he uses when calling The Masters.]
Another Saturday afternoon has passed, which means one thing: Ohio State football completed another game. As the victory bell rings throughout campus, the Buckeyes captured their third win of the season, beating the UNLV Rebels, 54-21, behind an explosive offense, stout defense and spectacular punting game. Even in the blowout win, there were things to learn.
Let’s take a look at the five biggest ones.
How J.T. got his groove back
Since the loss at home to the Oklahoma Sooners, criticism has been raining down on all aspects of the team. Since the sport we’re dealing with is football, the brunt of the blame goes, by default, to the quarterback.
J.T. Barrett is that quarterback, and he silenced some of the haters last week in the win against Army. Against UNLV, Barrett had himself a first half to remember. It all began with the (very nice) 69-yard touchdown to wide out Parris Campbell on the Buckeyes second play from scrimmage.
It seemed that the first few weeks of the season showcased the growing pains of Barrett and the receiving corps. There didn’t seem to be any growing pains against the UNLV defense—granted, it was against UNLV, who lost to Howard in Week 1 after being 40-plus point favorites.
The play calling for OSU’s passing attack was way too predictable in the first few weeks. It was either a read-option, or a bubble screen; the same cookie-cutter, everyone-in-the-stadium-knows-what-is-coming designs that have hampered the Buckeyes in big games. There was almost a fear of throwing the ball downfield.
Fear of throwing downfield wasn’t evident against the Rebels, as Barrett was making throws down the heart of the UNLV defense, and threw precision passes to his receivers. A couple of his TD passes were absolute gems. One went to Binjimen Victor in a jump-ball scenario, and the other went to Terry McLaurin, who caught the ball in the northwest corner of the end zone. That second throw was right on the money. Here it is below:
McLaurin ran a corner route, and caught the ball at the only place he was able to catch it. That’s only possible if Barrett makes the perfect throw. J.T. only played in the first half, but his statline was extraordinary: 12-of-17, 209 yards, 5 TDs, 0 INTs.
At one point in the first half, Barrett was on fire—he connected on eight straight passes. The lateral throwing is still there, but the Buckeye offense is taking chances down the field, and connecting on them. By the time his afternoon was done, Barrett was responsible for seven “chunk” passing plays.
When the offense kept throwing screens and read-options, opposing defenses knew that the deep ball was out of the question for Ohio State. Now that the passes are going beyond the line of scrimmage and are being caught, the defense doesn’t really know what to expect.
This is the kind of offense we were expecting all along from OSU. This was the kind of passing performance that, two years ago, would’ve been covered on TV with the headline, “Is J.T. Barrett a Heisman contender.”
This was the game that got J.T. Barrett his groove back.
Zone 6 has entered the playing field
Ohio State’s receiving corps, also billed as Zone 6, was riding the struggle bus in the early going of the season. Things like dropped passes and a disconnect with Barrett proved to be costly, as that problem essentially took out OSU’s deep-ball passing game.
It was also a reason for the ineffective passing attack against Oklahoma.
They got a redeemer on Saturday with UNLV, as seven (!!!) different receivers caught touchdown passes. That’s a school and a Big Ten record.
Parris Campbell was the ringleader, catching three passes for 104 yards and a TD. Campbell’s 69-yard score on the second play of the game highlighted his specialty: getting to open space in a hurry. However, he did fumble the ball at the goal line later in the game. Right after that fumble, Campbell took a kickoff 82 yards deep into Rebel territory. While he still makes mistakes, Campbell is definitely the No. 1 guy for the Buckeyes’ receiving and kickoff unit.
While there is still a search for the No. 2 receiver on the team, a new contender entered in the second quarter. Walk-on C.J. Saunders played brilliantly when Dwayne Haskins came in and quarterbacked the team. Saunders caught a line-drive touchdown pass from Haskins—which was arguably the pass of the game.
Take a look below:
Haskins threads the needle pic.twitter.com/A5cZq5TcDr— Christopher Jason (@cjason112) September 23, 2017
Saunders ended the game with six receptions for 102 yards. By having Campbell and Saunders eclipse the 100-yard receiving mark, it was the first time a Buckeye duo did that since Ted Ginn Jr. and Santonio Holmes did it against Notre Dame in 2005.
It looks as if the QBs and WRs are both gelling after four games; this couldn’t come at a better time. The humbling against Oklahoma got this team on the right path, and they are becoming because of it. In the 60 minutes against UNLV, 13 different receivers caught a total of 31 passes for 474 yards and seven TDs.
Yes, you can make the case that this was against a non-Power 5 conference team, but this same unit struggled finding traction in the first three games of the season.
Is Zone 6 back? For one day, it sure looked like it. Next week they get Rutgers on the road. It’ll be a little more challenging than UNLV, but if the same confidence is brought to New Brunswick, N.J., then it wouldn’t be too far out of the realm of possibility to believe that Zone 6 will have a feast on primetime television.
Laundry on the field
We talked about two good things already. Now, it’s time to pivot to a bad thing. Ohio State has once again found a way to make the referees throw laundry out onto the field.
Penalties again were a problem for the Scarlet and Gray, and this time around, it caused points to be scored.
In one instance, a Buckeye pass interference on 4th-and-9 caused UNLV to get the ball back with a fresh set of downs, which led to a TD. Another instance was a roughing the kicker penalty on a 4th-and-4, which led to UNLV getting new life, and scoring on a 55-yard rush from Lexington Thomas.
There was also an offensive holding call that somehow still led to Barrett getting sacked; the ball getting kicked out of bounds by the kicker, Blake Haubeil; and the all-too-familiar false start.
A total of eight penalties were called on OSU and they totaled 85 yards.
If this were an anomaly, it’s not too concerning. But bad penalties keep happening to this team. Last week, it was an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for headbutting an Army player on a kickoff. While nothing like that happened this week, the theme of racking up penalty yardage continued.
Against Penn State, Iowa or Michigan, these penalties will be the difference maker. There is still time to iron out the kinks. But with this trend still happening, keep expecting to see 6+ flags being thrown on the Buckeyes in each game.
Were they really Running Rebels?
Entering Saturday, UNLV put together performances that saw them run for an average of 350.5 yards per contest. They got nowhere near that number against Ohio State. The Buckeye defense held the Rebels to 176 total yards on the ground, and held the visitors to just 55 yards rushing in the first half.
It’s worth focusing on that 55-yard first half performance, as that’s when we saw both teams with their first-stringers on the field. Running back Lexington Thomas had a whopping 11 yards of rushing on eight carries in the first 30 minutes, before busting open the 55-yard TD in the second half. It’s safe to say that the first-string Buckeye defense was no joke.
Overall, the Rebels ended with 264 total yards of offense. Quarterback Armani Rogers was basically running for his life in the pocket. He got sacked four times, and was knocked down, pressured and hurried all afternoon. Oh, and he threw two picks on consecutive drives in the first half.
Star wide receiver Devonte Boyd was contained, only getting three receptions for 48 yards. Normally, Boyd picks up over 100 yards per game—and that’s a big reason for why he’s considered the best receiver in the Mountain West.
The first-team OSU defense manhandled a UNLV offense that has been known to put up points. If there was one component of this Buckeye team that you shouldn’t be concerned about, it would be the defensive line. For real, if you found the most pessimistic person on the Earth, and showed them film from the first half of OSU-UNLV, he/she would probably say, “they look fine.” (Now, if you showed film of the OSU secondary to that same person, they may start to sweat and pace around the room, mumbling stuff about how the Buckeye pass defense is gonna get torched by Trace McSorley).
Teams that rely on the run will have a bad time when playing Ohio State. The Buckeyes proved that notion on Saturday.
Drue Chrisman is a man of his word
A while back, I wrote about punter Drue Chrisman and his water bottle flipping skills. A couple weeks back, Chrisman talked after practice about how he was focusing on “flipping the field.”
It’s evident now that Chrisman is two things: 1) a water bottle flipping legend, and 2) a man of his word.
Since Cameron Johnston left, the new face of Ohio State punting has kept up the consistency of his predecessors. Twice against UNLV, the Buckeyes called upon Chrisman for his services—and he delivered. Both kicks went inside the 20-yard line, and one punt went beyond 50 yards to get there. Entering the Rebels contest, Chrisman had seven straight punts downed at or within the opposition’s 15-yard line.
Flipping the field is no joke. By having quality punts, the opposing team’s offense gets caught in a pickle by not having a lot of field (and momentum) to work with.
Totally expect the redshirt freshman to keep up the good work. If the man can make insane water bottle flips, then he can totally down a punt within the 20, as 100,000-plus people are screaming.
He’s got ice water in his veins.