Ohio State blasts overmatched Rutgers, but offense still needs some fine-tuning … Barrett throws interception but sets record for career TD passes … Are future opponents getting a blueprint for slowing Buckeyes?
COLUMBUS — You may think it would be hard to quibble with a team that wins 58-0 after building a 51-zip third-quarter lead. But your friendly correspondent can find a dark cloud in any silver lining. If you’re looking for someone who could consume a delectable meal at a fancy restaurant and walk away saying, “Yeah, but the butter was too hard,” I’m your guy.
My wife has a name for me: Eeyore, the gloomy character from Winnie-the-Pooh. Thank God for unconditional love.
But while Ohio State was pulverizing Rutgers on Saturday, I had this nagging feeling that its offense wasn’t as crisp and polished as it will soon need to be with a back-loaded schedule.
The unit was sluggish at the start. Maybe it was bye-week rust. Or perhaps the lack of inspiration can be attributed to the caliber of competition.
Even the crowd of 105,830 was sedate. That is, other than when former coach Earle Bruce, still a beloved figure, dotted the “i” during the pregame Script Ohio.
But here are some concerns going forward:
Finding targets: The Buckeyes will be able to run the ball against standard defenses. As adept as Barrett is at operating the zone read, they’re tough to handle with Curtis Samuel and Mike Weber as options.
Weber finished with 144 yards on 14 carries and Samuel 68 on nine.
But if opponents load up to stop the run — think Michigan State’s 17-14 win last season — the Buckeyes could have trouble if Barrett is reduced to being a pocket passer.
The fourth-year junior is accurate enough — although he threw his second interception of the year on tipped ball on the opening possession — but from my perch in the press box, the receivers aren’t shaking defenders and getting separation.
That may be because they’re so raw. Athleticism isn’t an issue, but they might not be precision route-runners yet.
Barrett became Ohio State’s all-time leader in career touchdown passes with four against Rutgers, giving him 59 in 27 games. But he’s being forced to throw into tight windows. Against better defenses — assuming there actually are some on the horizon — the offense could get bogged down.
Barrett’s four scores went to different receivers, all on short throws: Dontre Wilson (18), Terry McLaurin (14 yards), Marcus Baugh (16) and Samuel (5).
But quarterback records aren’t hard to achieve at Ohio State, where Woody Hayes had such disdain for the pass that his teams could go whole games without attempting one. During his run from 1951-78, the Buckeyes threw for a mere 127 TDs. In 1958, they didn’t have any.
But Barrett looks to be one of the five most indispensable players in the country. The Buckeyes can’t afford to get him hurt. That’s why keeping him on the field in a blowout doesn’t make sense. He wasn’t pulled until it was 51-0 late in the third period.
That might help his Heisman campaign, but it’s also flirting with disaster.
Fooling nobody: The Buckeyes are still running the Wildcat, which makes me want to yank large tufts of hair from my head every time I see it.
Barrett lines up at receiver for a direct snap to Samuel or Wilson. Both of those guys are a slight improvements over Braxton Miller, the Wildcat specialist last year. But it’s a wasted play. They never gained more than three yards. All 11 defenders know what’s coming. Uggghh!
Unless the Buckeyes are willing to throw a pass out of that formation — just one will do — that page needs to be ripped from the playbook. Now.
Home-run threat missing: The Buckeyes have a swarm of killer bees on their kick-coverage teams, but they look lame again this year on their kick-receiving units.
Punt returner Dontre Wilson was advertised as a game-breaking all-purpose back as a recruit, but the senior from Texas has yet to show that on the field.
Those hidden yards can make a big difference. The last return for a TD came from Jalin Marshall in 2014. That’s a long time between celebrations.
Hello, defense: Rutgers actually moved the ball against Ohio State. OK, that only lasted one quarter. But the Buckeyes gave up at least one first down on the Scarlet Knights’ first four possessions and didn’t force a three-and-out until midway through the second period.
The visitors sabotaged a promising drive with a 17-yard loss on a double reverse, fumbling twice on the play and having to fall on the second one. If they hadn’t self-destructed, they might have scored first.
But while the defense didn’t enhance its reputation as a ball-hawking unit since it didn’t create a turnover, it’s hard not to be impressed with that outfit through four games.
The Buckeyes have more depth on the defensive line than they’ve had in years. DT Robert Landers, a redshirt freshman from Wayne, had two tackles for loss, including a sack. He may be their most disruptive player among the front four. And he doesn’t even start.
The final tally in total yards was ridiculously lopsided: Ohio State 669, Rutgers 116.
That means the Buckeyes gave up 42 yards after the first quarter. Granted, the Scarlet Knights managed only seven points at home against Iowa last week, but that still qualifies as a lock-down performance.
Even Eeyore would admit that.