Ohio State's offense clicking as Peppers, Michigan arrive
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) When Ohio State's passing game was sputtering last month, J.T. Barrett kept saying everything was OK. Even after the loss to unranked Penn State, the quarterback insisted no big changes were necessary and the offense was on track.
The quiet Texan's confidence and patience paid dividends.
The Buckeyes went out and routed then-No. 10 Nebraska 62-3 to open November and swamped Maryland by the same score a week later, with Barrett throwing for 680 yards and six touchdowns in the two games.
The wind blew down Ohio State's passing attack last week against Michigan State, but the Buckeyes escaped with a 17-16 win. Mike Weber rushed for 111 yards and a touchdown, and Barrett ran for 105 yards and threw a 24-yard touchdown pass to Curtis Samuel.
No. 2 Ohio State is preparing to face the best defense it's seen all season in No. 3 Michigan on Saturday, with terrific linebacker/defensive back Jabrill Peppers, a game-changer who has to be accounted for on every play, and perhaps the nation's best secondary. Michigan leads the nation in limiting opponents to 245.6 yards per game.
''We have a respect for them,'' wide receiver Terry McLaurin said. ''Just watching a couple of clips within the last couple of days, the press man, they're going to load a lot of the box and as a group we have to beat man coverage. That's why you come to Ohio State. That's why they recruit you, to come beat man coverage.''
While Barrett spread the ball around earlier in the season, Ohio State's offensive resurgence has been built around the dual-threat quarterback; Weber, who is the third Ohio State freshman ever to run for over 1,000 yards; and Samuel, a hybrid back who runs the ball and catches passes with equal skill. Wide receivers have become mostly supporting players.
''We've got a lot of different things in our offense that allow us to utilize all three of those playmakers, and there's other guys, too,'' center Pat Elflein said. ''Our receivers are playing well, they're blocking well, which allows for the whole offense to open up. As long as we keep doing that, we'll hit our shots and we'll keep playing Buckeye ball like we have been.''
Barrett said it begins and ends with the play of the offensive line. During the October swoon, the line struggled in pass protection and Barrett was constantly on the run. Adjustments were made.
''I think our O-line is doing what they need to do, and if our O-line plays well then we have a good day on offense,'' Barrett said. ''The main thing is that the offense has really opened things up for the guys running and also for me running the ball.''
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said Barrett is hard to predict because he's able to do so many things well. The junior is responsible for 99 touchdowns in his Ohio State career, seven shy of Drew Brees' Big Ten record.
''Slippery,'' Harbaugh said. ''Tough runner, like a running back, but he's got the vision of a quarterback, he's got the throwing ability of a quarterback. There's times where he can put the ball into the tightest of windows. He plays with a lot of confidence. He's an outstanding player. It's a unique combination for a quarterback to have all those things.''
Samuel has emerged as the go-to guy for Barrett. He leads the team in receiving with 790 yards and seven touchdowns, and has rushed for another 650 yards and seven scores. In what promises to be one of the more intriguing matchups of the day, Samuel could line up in the slot and be staring across at Peppers.
That's a matchup that makes the game even more intriguing, if that's possible. The winner stays in the mix for the College Football Playoff.
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