Buckeyes hit break with eye on passing improvements
FILE - In this Saturday, Nov. 26, 2016, file photo, Ohio State running back Curtis Samuel runs the ball against Michigan during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Columbus, Ohio. Ohio State didn't win the Big Ten, but the Buckeyes will play for a much bigger prize. Their national title hopes are still very much intact. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete, File)
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) Now that the suspense is over and Ohio State has secured a spot in the College Football Playoff, the Buckeyes have some time to address their biggest weakness – throwing the ball down the field.
Star quarterback J.T. Barrett is the linchpin of Ohio State's offense for his ability to run and improvise, and his candidacy for Big Ten player of the year is a testament to that.
But too often this season, the Buckeyes' receivers have struggled to get open, or Barrett's passes have been off target. So even with one of the nation's most dynamic quarterbacks, Ohio State hasn't had much in the way of a downfield passing game – something that may need to change to beat Clemson on New Year's Eve.
Against Michigan – the country's top defense – Barrett picked up more yards rushing (125) than throwing (124) in a 30-27 overtime victory. Noah Brown led all Ohio State receivers with three catches for 40 yards, and Barrett was sacked eight times.
Brown looked promising early in the season but hasn't developed into the reliable deep threat the Buckeyes sought.
Neither has anyone else.
''We have a lot of work to do in certain areas,'' Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said Sunday.
The mantra around the Ohio State program is ''nine units strong,'' meaning that all position groups – quarterback, running back, receivers, tight ends, offensive line, defensive line, linebackers, cornerbacks and safeties – must be up to the task. Meyer acknowledged that hasn't been the case, and the next few weeks will give the team valuable time to work on it.
''We're so young and there's so much improvement (needed) – everybody in this room knows what it is – we have to get much better,'' Meyer said. ''So the challenge has already been laid across the table in the last week with the players and coaches, that for us to compete at this level, we have to be nine strong, and at times we're not nine strong. And that has to happen.''
Barrett has deflected criticism of the passing game, noting Ohio State's success is partly linked to its ability to take what defenses provide.
When pressed, though, Barrett acknowledged he needs to be better at getting the ball in his receivers' hands.
''You get in these tight ballgames, and you're going against great DBs,'' he said, ''(receivers are) going to be open, but it's not going to be by much. I think I can do a better job of ball placement to make it easier on them. They're getting open but there's not breakaway, which is fine. They did their job to get open, and I have to do a better job getting them the ball.''
Because they didn't play in the Big Ten championship this past Saturday – Ohio State was shut out in favor of Penn State due to a tiebreaker – the Buckeyes will have five weeks between games.
''I think with the time we have,'' Barrett said, ''we're going to be in a good place.''
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