COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) In the days leading up to Ohio State’s big-time Big Ten showdown with Michigan State last week, offensive coordinator Tom Herman said the message was simple.
”Our mantra for the week was we were going to empty the chambers,” he said. ”We needed to be very aggressive. That was a staff-wide, offense-wide kind of a philosophy.”
Against a program that prides itself on its defense, the Buckeyes (8-1, 5-0 Big Ten, No. 8 CFP) showed how far – and how quickly – its offense has developed.
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The performance, including five total touchdowns from quarterback J.T. Barrett, pushed Ohio State back into the national conversation as it heads into Saturday’s game at Minnesota (7-2, 4-1 Big Ten, No. 25 CFP).
Before the season, coach Urban Meyer and others had huge questions about an offensive line missing four starters and a running attack without 1,500-yard rusher Carlos Hyde.
And that was before the three-year starting quarterback, Braxton Miller, was lost for the season with a shoulder injury.
Still, the Buckeyes have a stadium full of options when they call a play.
With Barrett, a redshirt freshman, at the controls they are averaging 46 points and 512 yards a game.
It takes a lot for Meyer, with two national championships on his resume, to be impressed. But even he was stunned by such production during the Michigan State game.
”It’s the best performance that we’ve had since we’ve been here,” the third-year coach of the Buckeyes said. ”We probably had more yards against other teams. But that was against a legitimate top-5 defense in America and a bunch of NFL players on that defense.”
The Buckeyes ran for 268 yards on 41 carries (6.5 per attempt), led by Hyde’s replacement, Ezekiel Elliott, who gained 154 yards on 23 carries. Barrett – a minor surprise as the starter when Miller went down – completed 16 of 26 passes for 300 yards and also ran for 86 on 14 carries.
The linemen, who looked more like matadors in the 35-21 home loss to Virginia Tech in Week 2, allowed only one sack and provided terrific blocking for Barrett, Elliott and the three Buckeyes with at least 90 yards receiving.
”We’re starting to play well as a full team at all positions,” said line coach Ed Warinner, who had to replace three linemen who started last week in the NFL. ”We’re starting to get confidence. We have a lot of young guys playing and/or inexperienced guys if they’re not young. So the whole thing is coming together as we planned, when we need it to.”
Elliott is averaging almost 100 yards rushing per game and has scored seven touchdowns. Eight receivers have double-digit catches.
But Barrett has been a revelation. Just nine games into his college career, he’s just two back of the school record of 36 touchdowns Miller ran and passed for a year ago. He’s been a part of at least four TDs in the majority of his games.
Not a bad fill-in.
”He’s trusting us more to make these plays,” said Michael Thomas, the Buckeyes’ reclamation project of a leading receiver (31 catches, 538 yards, 7 TDs) whom Meyer says was close to being left off the team. ”He’s more patient in the pocket now. He’s sitting back there, he’s making his reads and he’s letting it go.”
Meyer, critical of his team several weeks ago, has come around.
”Early in the season we were not a great team,” he said. ”This is the most improved team that I’ve been a part of.”
Then, he did some stumping for the Buckeyes.
”I’ve been fortunate to be around some championship-level teams,” he said. ”A team continues to grow like they are, like this, there’s no question this is one of them.”
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