Have you ever dislocated something? The body's reaction to that particular injury is a bizarre (if anatomically unsurprising) one. It hurts, a lot, but when the offending part is finally reset, the pain vanishes almost instantaneously. The mind doesn't really believe it—how can that much pain just disappear that quickly?—but it's gone. Since it's so hard to believe, you spend the next few minutes waiting for the other shoe to drop; surely the pain must be coming back any second. But it never does.
This is how it's felt to watch J.T. Barrett these last two games. His hot hand and newfound accuracy almost boggle belief, given what his first two games looked like, and you'd be forgiven for still waiting for that proverbial pain to come.
Here's the thing: it might not come back at all! And it almost certainly won't come back this weekend against Rutgers.
Name: J.T. Barrett
Height/Weight: 6'2, 220 lbs.
Line: 76/120 passing, 966 pass yards, 10 pass TDs, 1 INT, 43 rush attempts, 174 rush yards, 2 rush TDs
After an up-and-down day against a newly-feisty Indiana defense and an absolute collapse against playoff hopeful Oklahoma, Barrett has looked like a new man. In the Buckeyes' last two games against teams from outside the Power 5, he's bumped his completion percentage from 55.7 to 63.3, thrown 7 TDs and no picks (compared to 3 TDs and 1 pick), and played so well that Dwayne Haskins and even Joe Burrow got playing time at QB in blowout wins.
Rutgers is hardly the kind of high-caliber defense that should make Ohio State fans fret—quite the opposite, really, and it'll be a huge upset if Dwayne Haskins isn't in for at least full quarter. But the Scarlet Knights are better than both UNLV and Army were, 79th in team S&P+ compared to 102nd for the Black Knights and 112th for the Rebels.
That difference gets even more stark if you only look at defensive S&P+, where Rutgers, despite a 1-3 record, ranks an astonishing 23rd in the country. (Army comes in at No. 89 here, while UNLV sits alllll the way back at No. 128.) Rutgers isn't a good football team, but they do have Chris Ash at the helm, and there are signs of life stirring for his program in Ash's second year on the job. The co-architect of Ohio State's championship defense has a thankless job with a limited talent pool; it's showed in Rutgers' lackluster offense. But just like he did in Columbus, Ash seems to have some real mojo when it comes to the defensive side of the ball.
The Scarlet Knights don't have the horses to hang with the Buckeye offense for more than a quarter or two, but they have a few talented defenders to throw at Barrett and co. Linebacker Trevor Morris brought down Nebraska players three times behind the line of scrimmage last weekend en route to racking up 13 total tackles. Defensive end Darnell Davis is absolutely a threat to get past Ohio State's occasionally head-scratching (but improving!) offensive line. And DB Kiy Hester has recorded INTs in back-to-back games, including a 33-yard pick-six last weekend.
What to watch for
One of the biggest knocks on J.T. Barrett has been his tendency to float easy throws past wide open receivers, especially more than ten yards down the field. But whatever he, Ryan Day, and Kevin Wilson have been doing in practice, it's starting to pay off. The senior QB was throwing absolute darts to his targets against UNLV last weekend, hitting guys on the numbers with throws that had more oomph than he's typically shown in his career. It paid off, too, to the tune of five TDs in less than a half.
The question, then, is if he can keep that trajectory going against the third straight opponent that the Buckeyes should stomp. He's got an arsenal of 4- and 5-star talent at his disposal, including many receivers who are finally coming into their own after much-hyped arrivals a year or two ago. There are also the out-of-nowhere talents like C.J. Saunders and Rashod Berry, who for all we know might be good for 150 yards and a pair of TDs between them this week. (Or maybe we'll at least get another look at Saunders slapping hands with a teammate mid-play.)